High Tech on the Horizon New Advances in Sniper Systems and Gear
In the past decade and a half there has been a huge leap in the advancement of precision long-range shooting gear. The following covers just a few items that are key to the sniper community.
In the modern world of scopes today, there is an amazing list of great scopes to choose from. This market is vast and expands across the board. There are quality affordable scopes that have never been in the marketplace before—scopes that offer the newest reticles and really nice glass compared to lower-end scopes offered in the past.
Then there are really high-end scopes that range in various prices, shapes and sizes. From small scopes like the Ultra Short from Schmidt & Bender (S&B) or the Mark 6 3-18X from Leupold. Just because a consumer wants small doesn’t mean he has to suffer. The really high-end scopes like Nightforce, Steiner, Schmidt & Bender, Zeiss and Leupold still hold the top piece of the market as they grow and continue to offer amazing glass.
Now shooters can have 4×16, 5×25 and 7×35 depending on the job at hand. Each scope offers unique capability, but now shooters don’t get the negative traits with the higher powers. It used to be that a high-power scope was thought to have super critical eye relief and that mirage would blow it out most of the day. At least that is the way this author, a long-range instructor, use to think about them, but no more. Some of the high-power scopes are the author’s favorite all-around shooters. I tell guys just to manage the power by what they can self-spot. If a shooter can see the impact and adjust off it, then he can shoot at that power; but if he is missing his splash, it may be time to back off the power. This doesn’t mean one can’t have it for calling mirage and identification purposes and then just turn it down to shoot if one needs to.
Mind-blowing Scope Tech
The next generation of scopes will blow everyone away with the new tech that is coming. The sniper community has been pushing the Disturbed reticle and Data scopes for some time. This is a scope that provides the capability to stay in the scope with one’s eye. The disturbed reticles are capable of projecting information in the scope and can either morph a reticle based on DA and adjust it for the perfect ballistic reticle or a quick change of calibers and conform to any ballistics. This is amazing technology, but the issue is with self-spotting. Unless we can see where our own bullet hits through the scope by the shooter who sent it, we are giving up capability. The author believes there is a huge market for this tech but for the shorter range scopes and for the masses who might not be as fluent with ballistics. This is an awesome tool and is here to stay; it will be exciting to see what comes from it in the future.
The author believes that the next scopes to rule the optic world will be the data scopes. These are scopes that supply all the data in the upper portion of the reticle. Imagine being able to see cant and azimuth along with range, elevation and wind based off of a selected speed. There are no limits as to what one can project when it comes to data. We are just not adjusting the reticle or populating points on the reticle at a given area. We give the shooter the information in the scope and then he can use it accordingly. This is a really an exciting era.
When we look back we see the different style reticles of the past. These include basic crosshairs to MIL-Dot and ballistic reticles. Nearly all the militaries around the world use the Horus Vision T3. This is a drop-down gridded reticle in MILS that gives the shooter lots of capability compared to the reticles of the past. This includes precise, second-shot correction based off wherever the bullet hits in the reticle; the shooter only needs to drag that portion of the reticle over to the intended portion of the target and re-engage for a perfect second shot. But this is just one of the benefits of the gridded reticle. The MIL or MOA benefit is the speed in which the shooter can accurately engage targets without needing to dial. In the past, this was a huge issue as a lot of scopes had problems with tracking perfectly; some still have this problem today, along with returning to zero after dialing throughout the day. The speed and accuracy with which the gridded reticle offers shots against a scope that someone would have to dial have been the main reasons the switch was made. Another benefit of the gridded reticle is not having to count at night; just hold the needed MIL for the shot with no adjustment needed on the turret.
Next and probably the most important in respect to the T3 are the “wind dots.” These are time of flight wind deflection marks. The wind dots are based off of per MIL or MOA of drop. This way the shooter is able to perfectly calibrate the wind dot to any ballistic combination, so it works on every caliber at any DA. One of the big advantages is the fact the user can now see wind on the target as he places the reticle on the target and sees how many wind dots span across the target. The shooter can instantly see how much he needs to bracket or what he can get away with. This is so much faster than trying to compute a wind call in any other method, and it’s scalable and self-adjusting.
The new 1×8 ATACR with the T8 is going to be a huge game changer for the low-power range optics. The T8 reticle when matched with higher power optics will fit in perfectly for the hunting world. This reticle is unique in that it is a ballistic reticle that perfectly matches over 30+ calibers. This is due to the patented method of how to zero the weapon.
The author remembers when the rangefinders of the past had a matrix of range capability and price. It was believed back then, and this was not so long ago, that if the rangefinder was good to 1000m, one would have to pay $.50 a meter of capability; if one could reach up to 1500m, he would have to pay $.75 a meter; and anything over 1500m would cost $1.00 a meter—add binoculars into the equation, and it would double the cost. Today is not that world, even though some are still playing in that realm; we see companies like Leica offering a 2700-yard Geovid binocular for close to 3000; the 2700 that is very capable out to 2100 yards, the 2800 the author used last week out to 2500 yards, along with the 2400 that we hit 1900 yards with. Now these are not test ranges, and the author is not saying that that is their limit; this was just a quick test that yielded good results on grassy hillsides, not on big reflective targets. The 2700 is close to $950, and the 2400 is about $500—this crushes the matrix of the past. The new Horus rangefinder was tested, and that gave shooters hits past 1600m; it cost around $450. So the cost is going down for good lasers. This is great for long-range shooters as range is a huge component.
It is becoming commonplace for the shooter to have a weapons mountable rangefinder. This could be in the form of the Wilcox RAPTAR-S, the STORM, STORM 2, the Ruler or any of the other new lasers out on the market today. Being mountable is a huge advantage as these systems are now incorporating the ballistic engine inside rangefinders. As the shooter lines up on the target and presses a button, the range and solution can now be pushed to the Kestrel or data in the scope. We are reaching a closed-loop system in which we can engage a target that has never been seen in the past with equal accuracy.
We can’t talk about advancement without bringing up the Kestrel and what it has done for long-range shooting. Growing up, it was all about the data book and how much information one gathered in the past to just understand the effects of density altitude. Everything would be written down because we didn’t really know what mattered and what didn’t. There were a lot of assumptions that we took from the past as gospel, and now we know they are not true. Today the Kestrel gives us real-time effects of DA on the ballistic we are running, in a small handheld device. No more looking back in data books to see how the ballistics were effected at some point in time, but rather real-time correction in one’s hands at an affordable price—a true game changer that this author wished he had more space in this article to detail how much this has changed the precision shooter’s world. One thing is for sure: Nearly everyone serious about long-range shooting has a Kestrel 5700 with an AB ballistic solver. This says all it really needs to.
Speaking of ballistic solutions, back in the day, data books were commonplace. Then came the ballistic era, and this author found, as did many, all engines are not the same. When working in G1 or G7 drag models, most of the predictions are all the same until one gets to transonic; then things start to change. Without going back to history lessons and looking at how things have changed, the Applied Ballistic engine has done something no one else did, and that is building custom drag models (CDMs) for specific bullets. Bryan Litz pushed it to the next level for long range when he started shooting all his bullets through the Doppler at extreme distances and allowing the bullet to show the math that should be used instead of a comparison number we call a “BC.” This author has always said the bullet doesn’t lie. Bryan used the math it gave us instead of trying to predict what it might be. CDMs have changed long range.
Bryan also brought us the WEZ program, which is a great comparative analysis, and we can now find our own true hit probability at range. The program is an amazing tool that offers tons of information.
Twist and Bullets
Though this topic will be short and sweet, we cannot talk about advancement without looking at where we are today in comparison to years past when it comes to twist rates. The Greenhill and Miller formula gave us the ability to stabilize a bullet in supersonic, but perhaps, depending on bullet profile, not in past transonic shock waves. The author started testing fast twist for the government in 2005, and with the advent of new high BC VLD style bullets, the need for faster twist has finally become commonplace. It is unclear whether we are fully there, but people are starting to take notice. Running a 7 twist in a 308 is preferable, if this author has a choice, and so is an 8 twist in a 260, 6.5, 300WM, 300N and 7/300N. I had the first 9.35 twist made for the 338LM, and looking back it should have been maybe an 8.5 twist.
Fast twists are providing the capability to keep the bullet stable well into subsonic, and they are extending our ranges to levels we didn’t know were capable in the past.
In a world of technical advancement, the weapons we are shooting have come a long way. Just to take a look at the latest and greatest, Barrett has just won the ASR and for good reason. This author has 10 of these rifles along with 20 LaRue rifles in his school. The Barrett MRAD is, in his opinion, the best long-range rifle with a switch barrel and switch caliber one could ask for. This instructor changes barrel and caliber often, going back on the turret to the location that was the zero for that serial number barrel. It remains zeroed. The recoil management was the first mind-blowing feature on this gun, which speaks tons to the design of the stock. Most large caliber bolt guns may have a flip in the recoil, but not the MRAD. The ease of caliber change was amazing in that the barrel and bolt face can be changed in 42 seconds and be ready to shoot again. I think we have always had companies that could make good guns, but this is a new world in which one gun can be everything one needs for long range.
Advancements in caliber and bullets have been huge of late. The ASR was selected to be the 300N with the 215gr Berger bullet. This is much better than the 300WM pushing the 190gr and even better than the 338LM for distance. This gun will run 3150 with this bullet in the author’s guns with factory-loaded Berger ammo. It’s not hard to compare and see where trans and subsonic are and what the 10mph wind call would be if one wants to see how much better the 300N will be than what we have been shooting to date.
In this big new world of advancements in long range, the one thing that is always the make or break is the ammunition the shooter chooses. Extreme spreads and high standard deviations can rule the day and make a great weapon with the best scope and ancillary equipment just as common as something out of the 1800s. A couple of years ago, there was talk about what would be the next big step, and it was agreed that it would be the ammo used. We started asking for sniper variant ammo. This is ammo for which the powder is weighed. We know we have the capability to make good ammo, and there are a ton of shooters that do it all the time. It just means time and money, but this is the last big piece of the pie that gives long-range shooters the capability that they are all looking for. This instructor just bought a 375 Enabler and ammo from Applied Ballistics. One can’t expect to shoot 2 miles away when the ammo is running 45 ES. That’s why single-digit ammo is made.
A friend and I were having a conversation about ES and how it proves out every time at range. We have been involved in the testing on the wind sense project since 2008 and have shot thousands of rounds testing equipment, and ES will always rear its ugly head and take away capability at a distance. This is the next aspect that needs attention in order to give snipers hit probability at the distance we want them to have. Not to say it will be the last advancement, but we have come a long way, and the only big thing left is the wind.
Wind Sense Tools
Wind sense tools are maybe the most exciting new products developed in the past 10 years that have started to come into their own. This product is still being tested by the government. Since the first test in 2008 and every year after, this author can attest it just keeps getting better. The tool was large at first, but now it is about the size of a PLFR 15c. It can range and provide amazing wind calls in some of the hardest environments, and it performs amazingly at night. When wind sense products are ready for the market, the world of long-range shooting will be completely different.