The author takes an in-depth look at the sniper rifles behind the longest recorded shots in history.
Which sniper rifles are responsible for the longest confirmed kills in history?
Sniper rifles designed purely for long-range shooting have an appeal unlike any other weapon in man’s extensive arsenal. With the ability to reach out over thousands of yards and hit a target, the sniper rifle has captured the respect and awe of many generations since its inception. No rifle is more lethal and feared at long ranges than a dedicated sniper rifle.
Today’s long-range sniper rifles are perfectly balanced constructions of metal and synthetics, all built to get the job done and make the rifle a precise battlefield implement.
Let’s call out some of the rifles with the longest confirmed kills in history. Yes, the snipers behind the rifles made these shots, but each relied on their rifles to get the job done.
(Shot Distance: 2,657 yards & 2,526 yards)
This big .50 caliber beast is officially classified as an anti-material/anti-personnel weapon. Designated as the C15, it is the standard long-range sniper rifle of the Canadian Forces, who used it to log the second and third longest sniper shots in history.
Members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment sniper team, Master Corporal Arron Perry and Corporal Rob Furlong killed enemy combatants at 2,526 yards and 2,657 yards in Afghanistan’s Sha-i-Kot Valley in March 2002. When the shots were made, they were each the longest ever recorded, topping Carlos Hathcock’s feat in the Vietnam War. They held that designation until 2009, when Craig Harrison made his now famous shot (noted on this same page below).
The Tac-50 is a bolt-action platform with a large bolt, dual front locking lugs and spiral flutes to reduce weight. The heavy barrel is also fluted to dissipate heat and reduce weight. The Canadians pair the Tac-50 with a Leupold Mark 4-16mm LR/T M1 scope.
There are two variants of the Tac-50: the Tac-50 A1, which features a take-down fiberglass stock with a shorter forend, and the Tac-50 A1-R2, which is an A1 with a hydraulic recoil mitigation system consisting of a hydraulic piston installed in the buttstock, a setup that considerably reduces the gun’s heavy recoil.
Accuracy International AWM .338 Lapua Magnum
(Shot Distance: 2,707 yards)
In November of 2009, Craig Harrison, Corporal of Horse in the Blues and Royals RHG/D of the British Army, made a shot that stands as the longest recorded sniper shot in history. Harrison consecutively hit two Taliban machine gunners in Afghanistan at a range of 2,707 yards. That’s a mile—plus another 1,000 yards.
After about nine shots from his .338 Lapua Magnum Accuracy International AWM rifle (designated the L115A3 by the British Army), Harrison reported his first on-target kill shot, followed by another kill shot on the second machine gunner, as well as a third that disabled the machine gun.
The AWM is a bolt-action rifle specifically designed for magnum ammo and has a longer bolt to accommodate larger cartridges. Other components, like the bolt head and extractor, were beefed up to work with the size and pressure of magnum rounds. The rifle also comes chambered in .300 Win. Mag.
Though it is currently being phased out by the company’s new AX338 rifle, Accuracy International’s AWM holds two spots in the Top 10 sniper shots of all time list. The other was taken by another Brit, Corporal Christopher Reynolds, in August 2009, also in Afghanistan and at a range of 2,026 yards.
(Shot Distance: 2,515 yards)
In March 2004, Sgt. Brian Kremer of the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion put his cheek to the stock of his Barrett M82A1 and took a successful 2,515-yard shot in Iraq. The Barrett M82A1 is certainly the most famous rifle on this list, with its distinctive look and powerful characteristics that have made it a mainstay in pop culture.
The rifle was designed to harness the powerful .50 BMG round, which was originally developed for the M2 Browning machine gun, and possesses excellent long-range characteristics. The round’s high energy makes the Barrett effective against targets like vehicles, small structures and aircraft. With short recoil, semi-auto operation and a muzzle velocity of over 2,700 feet per second, the M82A1 is one of the most powerful single-person rifles ever carried into battle.
Staff Sergeant Nicholas Ranstad also used a Barrett M82A1 in January 2008 to take a record 2,288-yard shot in Afghanistan. In April 2004, Steve Reichart made a 1,716-yard shot with a Barrett M82A3 in Latifiya, Iraq.
(Shot Distance: 2,100 yards)
And that brings us to “The Legend” and his claim-to-fame long-distance shot. Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle used a McMillan Tac-338, chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, to kill an insurgent outside Sadr City, Iraq, in 2008 at 2,100 yards, just as the target was about to fire an RPG at a U.S. Army convoy.
The Tac-338 is essentially the same rifle used by Perry and Furlong, only chambered in .338, a round specifically developed for military long-range snipers, instead of the .50 BMG like the Tac-50. Kyle later said in his books and interviews that the shot was lucky. With the .338, the rifle is effective to 1,750 yards.
According to his book, Kyle used four types of rifles in sniper school and in the field: the MK-12, which is basically an M-4 with a beefier upper that fires 5.56mm rounds; the MK-11 Mod X Special Purpose Rifle (SR25) chambered in 7.62mm; the Barrett M82; and the venerable M-24 Sniper System, known to civilians as the Remington 700 bolt-action chambered in .300 Win. Mag, with a McMillan stock, custom barrel and original 700 action. Later, Kyle used one with an Accuracy International stock and a shorter barrel.
“The .300 is a little heavier gun by design. It shoots like a laser. Anything from a thousand yards and out, you’re just plain nailing it,” Kyle said. “I used a .300 Win. Mag. for most of my kills.”
Kyle used his .338 on his last deployment, favoring it much over the .50 cal. because “the bullet shoots farther and flatter than a .50 caliber, weighs less, costs less and will do just as much damage.”
(Shot Distance: 2,500 yards)
The Browning M2 is a very heavy machine gun designed near the end World War I by none other than John Browning himself. In 1967, Carlos Hathcock took a single shot with an M2 that held the record for the longest sniper kill for nearly 40 years.
Hathcock, the legendary USMC gunnery sergeant who was one of the most prolific snipers in history, mounted a telescopic sight to an M2 .50 caliber Browning (he wasn’t the only one to do so) and killed a Vietcong guerrilla at 2,500 yards, proving the .50 BMG’s excellent ballistics at long ranges with semi-automatic fire. This eventually led to the adoption of the cartridge as a viable sniper round, at least coming out of a 45-inch M2 barrel.
One only has to look at the service record of the M2 to see how incredible of a design it is. The heavy machine gun has been used extensively as a vehicle weapon, aircraft armament and for various other tasks from the 1930s to the present. Nothing beats the high-powered, long-range reliability of the M2 and the .50 BMG sniper rifles it spawned.
This photo gallery is adapted from an article appearing in May 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.