Video: William Brophy’s .50-Caliber Sniper Rifle

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An early example, William Brophy’s improvised .50-caliber sniper rifle nonetheless got the job done.

Like the dropping of Thor’s hammer, the .50 BMG packs a punch, especially from a sniper rifle. Old news to any dedicated gun hound, the massive cartridge has been a staple for military marksmen for the past few decades, delivering devastation from afar. Positively mind-boggling, some of the shots the .50-caliber has achieved makes one wonder how the shooters spotted their target in the first place, let alone deliver the payload. But, the cartridge as a precision bad guy eraser isn’t a recent development, even if it’s captured more interest as of late.

An early advocate of the military sniper, William Brophy scratched one together during the Korean War. Then a captain in the Army, he cobbled an extreme-range rifle with what he had on hand, which happened to be a captured Soviet PTRD 14.5mm antitank rifle and a Browning M2 barrel. Rounding things out, he outfitted it with a butt pad, bipod and a 20x Unertl scope. The results, well they speak for themselves; Brophy recorded hits from 1,000- to 2,000-yards out.


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Clever as it was, Brophy’s .50-caliber rifle had limitations. Heavy as a pile of scrap iron, it wasn’t fit for patrol; the captain utilized the gun primarily around bases. Despite this, the concept of precisely pitching hotdog sized bullets at enemy material or the enemy himself caught on and led to some pretty interesting skunk-works creations before it became standardized. Perhaps the most intriguing was Carlos Hathcock’s M2 outfitted with an optic. In 1967, the Marine sniper set the record for the longest confirmed kill with it, a lengthy 2,500 yards – a record which would stand until 2002.

Comparably, the modern-day M107 (the Barrett M82) are downright like Corvettes compared to these steamrollers. But no matter big or small they all had the same job — helping the U.S. Military reach out and touch the enemy.

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