Long range precision shooting is the purview of a few individuals. Military and police snipers, and those 1000 yard benchrest shooters who represent the civilian engagement of the ‘far, far away’. But what about their equipment? Well in military operations you have precision shooters called designated marksman. These operate at the platoon level and have some sort of optics that are not generally available to most infantryman. In the US services these are the standard service rifle in 5.56 NATO or a 7.62 NATO platform, usually based on an M14. These guys provide precision fire for the squad or platoon, operate usually by themselves without an observer/spotter. They supply rapid accurate fire up to about 660 yards. Not true snipers as their job is to laydown accurate, rapid fire.
7.62 Ammo Cartridges
There exists a gap between the intermediate cartridge of the typical modern military rifle chambered in 5.56 x 45mm, 5.45 x 39mm and the 7.62 x 39mm cartridges. Where as the modern snipers are armed with 300 Winchester Magnums and .338 LAPUA cartridges. This creates a gap in firepower of the platoon. Theaters like the middle east with long open terrain are an ideal environment for the designated marksman. The primary attractiveness of the 7.62 NATO is its ability to perform past 300 yards, about the limit of the 5.56 NATO. Not that targets cannot be engaged beyond this range but the .22 caliber bullets of these rifles lack penetration and retained energy on targets between the ranges of 300 to 350 yards, though accuracy may allow engagement beyond these ranges. So, the 7.62 NATO is the medicine for the designated marksman. At the squad level there are usually someone with glass on the basic rifle, but snipers and designated marksman want a little more oomph. DM rifles sport heavy barrels and optics vs. iron sights and standard barrels of the infantryman.
5.56 NATO Caliber Rounds
The SDM or squad designated marksman usually are armed with a heavy-barrels and optics, but many use rifles in the 5.56 NATO caliber. The US Navy has the Mk 12 is a Special Operations weapon in 5.56 NATO with the 3.5 – 10×40 Leupold LR M3 a 2.5 – 8×36 TS-30 or a 3 – 9×36 TS-30 Mk 12 Mod 0/1. With a suppressor the 18-inch barreled weapon is design to digest a diet of 5.56 NATO with cannelured 77 grain bullets. These are good out to about 600 to 800 yards. This strictly a Navy weapon used by their SEALS.
Sniper’s 338 Lapua & 300 Win Mag
Snipers have no specific range for engagement but are usually armed to engage targets at ranges beyond the 660-yard capabilities of the DM. A sniper is a highly trained individual. They train in fieldcraft and are used in many instances to act as Intelligence, Surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance or ISTAR operators, this is recognized by the Marines who designate their shooters as Scout Snipers. The sniper weapons have migrated from the standard rifle cartridge the 7.62 NATO to more powerful round like the 338 LAPUA or the 300 Winchester Magnum with special ammunition, versus the DM with stand ammo and generally not match grade ammunition.
Semiautomatic VS Bolt Action Rifles
The DM (designated marksman) is a platoon level asset. The DM rounds out the platoon specialists; the grenadier and the automatic rifleman, SAW (squad automatic weapon) or SAR (squad automatic rifle, US Marine Corp). DMs operate with their organic unit, with an observer or spotter. Most DM/SDM rifles are semiautomatics, while snipers rely more on bolt action rifles. Semiautos are better if the enemy attempts to rush a shooter’s position, that is why DMs are armed with semiautos, versus the more precise but slower shooting bolt action rifles.