Derived from the Remington Model 700, the M24 sniper rifle was the primary precision anti-personnel rifle for nearly a quarter century and evolved to keep up with shifting doctrine.
The Basics Of The M24 Rifle:
- The rifle is 43 inche in overall length with a 24-inch stainless steel barrel.
- It's rifled with an 1:11.25 twist (.308 Win.) with 5R rifling.
- Its internal magazine holds 5 rounds.
- The M24 SWS utilized the 10x Leupold M3 Ultra scope with a Mil-Dot reticle and 42mm objective lens.
Kneeling down at roadside’s edge, an insurgent works frantically, while two armed men pile out of a car and stand guard with AK-47s. They’re up to no good, in plain view now, in the pre-dawn light. A cloud of dust from the vehicle’s sudden stop floats aloft on morning thermals, the day’s first mirage in a half-value crosswind.
An Army sniper and his spotter are watching.
The IED had to be placed quickly, but he wasn’t going to be fast enough.
And the crack of a rifle.
Before the improvised explosive—a hidden deathtrap for American troops or local children, whoever happened by one first—can be set, the terrorist is turned inside out, buckling over. Two seconds later, the sound of the distant shot, fired from some 900 yards out, echoes like the sharp crack of a whip through the mountainous valley. The Army sniper racks the bolt for another shot, but the mission is over; the caravan of terror speeds away.
Though the above account is fictitious, it is based on documented U.S. Military operations in Afghanistan. Point being, the U.S. Army is there and there's hell to pay on the enemy's side, because with them is the M24 sniper rifle.
Genesis Of The M24
For the enemy, the sniper rifle is a horrible contraption, pure death from afar. It was the culmination of more than four centuries of perfected tools and tactics used by the sharfscützen, or sharpshooter—or “sniper,” as the fine lads are called in these latter times. This rifle could deliver precision fire on enemy targets at 800 meters and beyond, was highly adjustable to fit any soldier, built on a field-proven and reliable action, and was, for those who would come to love this rifle in battle, built like a little Sherman tank. Between 1962, when the Remington Model 700 was first introduced, and 1988, when the U.S. Army settled on a new rifle for its sniper program, the design was truly perfected. It was the M24.
Indeed, the rifles procured by the U.S. military from the 1960s onward reflect a renewed focus on marksmanship training. There were other players in the field, of course. By 1966, when the Marine Corps M40 rifle was adopted (which were made in the Remington Custom shop from 40X Target Rifles), the mold was cast, but it would be nearly two decades before the Army would settle on its requirements. While the Army’s initial stab at a sniper training school was launched in 1955, it wasn’t until 1984 that the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center (SWC), at Fort Bragg, established the Special Forces Sniper School (known as the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course, or SOTIC). With a brand new school, the Army needed a rifle.
Up to that period, Army snipers had used a hodgepodge of weapons—the M21, M40-A1, Winchester Model 70, Parker Hale 1200TX, and French FR-F1, to name but a few. But planners needed standardization—and a centerpiece for their new training curriculum. Surely the government’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center, in New Jersey, was looking back on the success of the M40, when Remington’s proposal got the nod. The arms maker invested heavily into materials, testing, and workmanship and could not only hand the Army a rifle that met all its requirements, but also one that could boast of attaining levels of performance never before seen in a sniper rifle.
“Improvements in steel manufacture and barrel construction mean that the M24 shows no appreciable falloff in accuracy after 10,000 rounds,” reports Martin Pegler in Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper, “which is a considerable improvement over the expected 500-round life of the British SMLE of the First World War.”
The system was commissioned on July 15, 1998, with a $12,087,430 defense contract going to Remington Arms, the complete order to be fulfilled by February 27, 2010. What made the M24 project interesting is that Remington had never before undertaken a production sniping rifle. When the guns were finally delivered (the first batch on December 20, 1988), the cost was $4,995 each—but being fully tooled up for production meant “Big Green” was able to drop per gun cost to $3,900.
It surely is not your granddaddy’s Model 700. The M24 was built on the Remington 700 long action, with the original intent to chamber it in .30-06, but also with the option (thanks to influence from Special Forces), to later re-chamber it for .300 Win. Mag. However, at that time, there was a lack of military-grade .30-06 in the supply chain. That fact, combined with the need to standardize, meant most M24s were actually chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO, which is how they tended to remain.
The gun is 43 inches long overall, with a 24-inch 416R stainless steel barrel in a 1:11¼ twist. The barrel bore itself is interesting, because it is machined with a five-land/five-groove design (5-R). As a result, no two lands are directly across from one another. Additionally, the lands themselves are cut to 65 degrees, as opposed to conventional 90 degrees. This design was intended to reduce fouling and extend barrel life, both desirable attributes in the military’s various operational environments.
This specialized bolt-action has an internal magazine feed design, one within an HS-Precision stock (PST-011). The stock's length of pull is adjustable by more than two inches. Adjustment is via a distinctive knob, knurled and lockable, which sits between the recoil pad and butt stock.
The whole thing comes as a complete deployment-ready package: the Army would later designate it as the M24 SWS, or Sniper Weapon System. It is comprised of a massive Hardigg case, a Leupold Mark 4 M3 10x scope, cleaning accessories, M1903 leather sling, Harris bi-pod and Redfield Palma Match or OK Weber aperture-style sights. The gun can be readily identified by its distinctive front and rear sight post. The SOTIC Committee first approached Leupold to build a scope to replace the Redfields then in use. That’s when the M3 Ultra (today available as the Leupold Mark 4 M3) was born, a fixed 10x optic with Mil-Dot reticle and 42mm objective lens.
As good as it was, the M24 actually had a strange and somewhat rocky start. Initially, planners had worked with McMillan, which had given them a rifle with a large, bulky, prone stock. The reason for this was that, in the early days, the developers had been looking more for a training tool to teach prone shooting, rather than a completed sniper rifle outfit. But there were bedding issues in the early McMillans, and an H-S Precision-stocked weapon was brought in for testing by 1985.
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Military Adoption Of The Sniper Rifle
The M24’s ultimate fate hinged on a 1,000-yard shot. As told in Sniper magazine, Brig. Gen. James Guest attended a test firing not far from Fort Bragg, in 1985, and decided to do some shooting for himself. After less-than-stellar groups were fired from the M-21, he got down behind the M24 prototype.
According to the account of that day, the General’s first shot smashed the X-ring, after which he stood up and said, “Buy it.” That same General later testified before Congress about the problems with the M-21s, and it was he who secured the program its official funding to proceed. Had the General’s first shot landed off-mark, the outcome of this interesting firearm's history could have turned out much differently.
Funding secured, the caliber discussions began. With its long action, the .300 Winchester Magnum was a top contender to make the M24 a 1,000-yard and beyond gun, but other ideas were floated, in particular, the .338-416 and the early incarnation of the .338 Lapua Magnum.
Refinements to the M24 continued through 1986 and 1987, at which time the Army got completely involved in the program. The internal debate over cartridge chambering at this stage in the game had been narrowed down to the 7.62 NATO or .300 Win. Mag.; the big .338s were off the table, because shooters voiced concerns over excessive recoil. The Army settled on the 7.62, but those closest to the program made sure to keep the long action for future re-chambering to .300 Win. Mag., when logistics over ammunition could be worked out. It is unknown how many M24s are chambered in .300 Win. Mag.
Before final approval, the guns needed to be evaluated under field stress, so the Army Special Operations devised a competition, in the summer of 1987, to put M24 contenders from two prospective commercial suppliers, Steyr and Remington, to the test. Both were excellent samples of the platform, but the Steyr’s cold hammer-forged barrel reportedly began to shift point of impact, as things heated up. The stock also warped. By contrast, the Remington shot consistently, making the decision an easy one. By the end of 1988, the Army had its sniper rifle, and instructors at SOTIC had a gun for their program. Remington would continue to supply Big Army with the new M24s through February 2010, ultimately producing 2,500 rifles over the life of the contract.
Five years before Remington’s fulfillment came to an end, Knight’s Armament Company had been awarded an Army contract to replace the M24 with its M110, a semi-automatic weapons system. That change had been influenced by Special Forces snipers operating, since 2001, in the Middle East. The advantage of the long-range semi-auto option quickly gained popularity with soldiers and, in 2008, the first Army unit went into battle, in Afghanistan, armed with M110s. Still, the fate of the M24 wasn't completely doomed, because the military finally came back around to the idea of the Remington 700 long action upon which it was built and the excellent .300 Win. Mag. cartridge. This line of thinking was also influenced by Middle East operations, where the .300 Win. Mag. was providing sniper teams a much more suitable gun at the 1,200-yard range, yet with the 1 MOA or better accuracy of the M24 platform (as opposed to the .50 BMG and its 2.5 MOA accuracy).
Not unlike the international popularity of the prolific Mauser 98, albeit on a much smaller scale, other countries took notice of the M24. The Afghan military and at least seven other countries, including Iraq, Brazil, Georgia, and Japan, now use the rifle, and various police agencies and S.W.A.T. teams in the U.S. have adopted the once military-only gun for domestic law enforcement operations.
The Ever-Evolving M24
The military’s shifting doctrine are the winds of change that continue to shape the M24 and its role in the field to this day. The classic design approved in 1988 is still available from Remington and is in use by the military in more or less its original configuration. But variants have also crept into the picture in the M24A1, M24A2, and M24E1/XM2010.
The M24A1 and M24A2 are basically refined versions of the original, with a slightly different M40XB-style stock, detachable five-round magazine, modular accessory rail (for night vision), and a suppressor. The A1 is a 7.62 NATO gun, the A2 the .300 Win. Mag. version, and both are outfitted with Leupold’s Mark 4 M3 LR/T 3.5-10x variable scope.
The M24E1, or XM2010, is an entirely different animal. It bears nary a resemblance to the M24 designed by the SOTIC back at Fort Bragg in the late ’80s. It is indeed chambered for .300 Win. Mag., making it an effective 1,000-yard-plus weapon. Its 10-inch suppressor is said to reduce muzzle flash by 98 percent, recoil by 60 percent, and sound by 32 percent. The Remington Arms Chassis System (RACS) is a space-age looking thing, the ultimate adjustable folding stock. Like the M24A2, it has a detachable magazine, but its optics are actually more robust; the gun is outfitted with the Leupold 6.5-20x50mm variable-power first focal plane scope. An estimated 3,600 elite XM2010s were to be created, either from upgraded M24s or newly produced.
Civilian M24s Today
Today, if you’re a civilian shooter and want an M24 reproduction, you basically have three options: a gun can be custom built by a gunsmith or you can order one from one of the two firms that offer them in their regular lineups, those being Texas Brigade Armory and GA Precision.
If the Remington Model 700 is the greatest bolt-action rifle conceived during the last century, then the M24 is the very best of the Model 700s. From the collective minds of the Army’s best marksmen, all aspects of the rifle, from the trigger, stock, and scope to the lands inside the barrel, were developed and refined with clockwork precision for durability and ease of use by sniper school students in the classroom and on the battlefield. Indeed, it was the M24’s deadly accuracy that the enemy would come to fear wherever the gun and the men who use it were deployed.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest 2014 annual book.
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