What is a Sniper Rifle?

Is there a concise definition of the term ‘sniper rifle?’ To use a specific example, what exactly differentiates this from this, aside from the obvious presence of a scope? I’ve examined a sample of the former in a gun store; it’s not threaded to accept a tripod. So obviously that has to be modified somehow. What other significant changes need to be made to convert the first gun into the second?

Distinguishing characteristics, for starters.

I don’t have a cite, and I’m going from memory of something I saw years ago; but I think that some/many/most military sniper rifles have armoury-made barrels, as opposed to the ones that come from the factory. There are many modifications that can be made to make a rifle more accurate and I think a sniper rifle that is used for its intended purpose would take advantage of them, while civilian ‘sniper rifles’ might not.

A sniper rifle is a rifle used by a sniper, nothing more or less. These days optics are considered de rigueur, but it wasn’t always so. Gamers, fanboys, and weapons fetishists may tell you otherwise, but they tend to get wrapped up in what snipers use rather than in what snipers do. All the emphasis on accurizing, state-of-the-art optics, and so on is really recent. In WWII, for example, the majority of snipers simply used their nation’s service rifle fitted with a scope that today would be considered primitive. The rifle may or may not have been selected for accuracy.
This is yet one more topic in the world of gun discussion where the emphasis tends to wrongly be placed on the arrow instead of on the Indian.

That seems like a romantic oversimplification.

Why can’t there be both snipers (people trained in marksmanship, fieldcraft, etc.) and sniper rifles (rifles manufactured and modified for distance shooting)? In WWII, a lot of technology wasn’t pursued simply because it wasn’t available. That’s like saying a tank is any armed and armored vehicle driven by a tanker. It’s really not. Both sniper rifles and tanks exist to fill specific niches; true, those niches can be occupied by other equipment under the operation of an extremely skilled operator, but at a disadvantage. A rifle purpose-made for accuracy over distance, stealth, etc. is a better tool for the task than, say, a sub-machine gun, and perhaps slightly better than generic “combat rifles”. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place because there wouldn’t be weapons categorized as sniper rifles to begin with. Why would militaries incur the logistical headaches of fielding a useless weapon category if it didn’t provide some advantage in certain conditions?

Generally speaking, sniper rifles are precision-made, bolt-action, center-fire, medium-caliber rifles that are designed and assembled to be very accurate.

Sniper rifles used by law enforcement tend to be more accurate than those used by military, and are set up for short to medium range targets. Military sniper rifles tend to be more rugged, and are set up for medium to long range targets.

A sniper rifle is a rifle used by a sniper. Full stop.

The heavily modified and accurized rifles that fill the wank magazines are better referred to as precision rifles. Possessing one doesn’t make you a sniper. Not even every mook running around in the military with a scoped and accurized rifle is a sniper. A true sniper, in the modern (US) military has a skillset that includes more than just accurate shooting. You give Carlos Hathcock (RIP) an off-the-shelf Remington 700 and a scope like your typical Pennsylvania deer hunter might have and he will wreak a much greater slaughter than some random shmoe with the highest dollar precision rifle you care to buy him. The rifle doesn’t make the sniper.

You’re arguing a point nobody denies. Mere possession of a sniper rifle does not make one a sniper. Agreed.

It’s the reverse we’re concerned with. Usage by a sniper does not magically transform any old rifle into a “sniper rifle” – because doing so would cause you to lose a perfectly useful weapon category.

There is a specific type of weapon designed for enhanced range and accuracy, just as there are rifles designed for rate of fire, portability, durability, or some hybrid of the above criteria. That any of these weapons will fail to reach full potential when used by an unskilled operator is a given, and does not mean they cease to have specific design goals and intended roles.

A “sniper rifle” isn’t a honorific given to weapons used by an esteemed class of soldier, it’s a logistical categorization for a weapon designed for one purpose over another.

(Missed edit)
Whether you want to call them “precision rifles”, “sniper rifles”, or “marksman rifle” is beside the main point, that having that categorization (whatever you decide to term it) is a useful distinction from rifles of other types.

“Sniper rifle” is just the most common term for this category of weapon. If you want to change the term, that’s up to you, but that’s different from saying the category shouldn’t exist at all.

Can you elaborate on this? I’m trying to understand how a ballistic projectile can be more accurate at longer distance.

Just to name a few improvements one can make to a rifle to make it more accurate at longer distances:

Longer Barrel.
Heavier Barrel.
Free Floating Barrel.
Improved bedding.
Improved Trigger.
Improved Trigger.
Improved Trigger. (worth repeating)

ETA: Even the size, shape, number and twist radius of the grooves inside the barrel will effect accuracy.

Any thread that references Simo Häyhä is a good thread.

Consider that most of the same properties that a military would look for in a sniper rifle are also properties that a hunter would look for in a rifle for shooting deer. A sniper rifle might be better than a hunting rifle, but only in so far as those who use them can afford to spend more, and they’re not going to be qualitatively different.

Exactly. High-end hunting rifles and what are commonly called sniper rifles differ in application rather than in their qualities as rifles. Which brings me back to my main point: precision rifle is a better term because it describes the gun’s properties rather than what the gun’s user does. Häyhä’s weapons had very little in common with what the gamers and wank books call “sniper rifles.” Anybody want to disagree that he was a sniper or that his iron-sighted Mosin-Nagant was a sniper rifle?
“Sniper rifle” has become, more than anything, a marketing term that gun makers can use to sell their product to shooters who have never been, and never will be, snipers.

A nitpick - in modern military parlance, a sniper and a marksman ware two different things, and carry different types of weapons.

Sure. It’s a matter of degree. A sniper rifle is more similar to a “hunting rifle” (especially a scoped one) than, say, an automatic assault rifle. In this case, the tradeoff is between cost and (for example) even more range, magnification, accuracy, etc., perhaps beyond what is necessary or affordable for the average deer hunter.

Consider “race car”, “fast car”, “commuter car”, and “car”. In the end all are essentially the same platform modified to fill specific niches. In a pinch, one could serve as the other, just less effectively. And under the control of a good driver, any one of them would be more effective, but they’re still built for different roles.

Slight highjack: I went through this with the definition of “Sexton’s Shovel” (which a proper vampire-hunter uses to drive the stake through the undead’s heart…) Turns out there isn’t any specific kind, or shape, of shovel: it’s just whatever shovel the Sexton uses.

I knew of this distinction, but I never fully understood it… I thought the difference between a “sniper” and a “designated marksman” is that the former operates in tiny teams (2 people?) with an emphasis on stealth and fieldcraft, whereas the latter is a soldier in a normal infantry squad who’s skilled in long-range marksmanship minus the subterfuge. Is that accurate?

If so, why do they not carry the same weapons? Is it a tradeoff of range vs versatility?

If it’s just a matter of what to call this category of gun, I actually agree with you. A “precision rifle” is a more precise, and less abused (so far), term. It’s not a very popular term yet, but still.

Just as long as we’re clear that the category exists :slight_smile:

ETA: Hayha was an extraordinary sniper who could use ordinary weapons to extraordinary effect. His weapon, had it been considered among today’s peers, probably would’ve been considered a “hunting rifle”, however vague that is. Not to downplay his skill, but the technology has certainly improved since then.

The category of precision rifles absolutely exists and they are fielded by people who put them to different uses. Including snipers.:wink: