How to buy firearms: precision rifles

By Lindsey J. Bertomen

The precision law enforcement rifle, designed to deliver reliable and accurate direct fire when necessary, is only one component of a system that includes the rifle, scopes, cartridge, platform, team, infrastructure, training, and policy. Here, we’ll address the rifle aspect of this system. The rifle should not be used independently of the system, regardless of how simple this might sound.

Although the average law enforcement engagement is far of short of 100 yards, the precision shooter must have equipment and training enabling engagements of beyond 400 yards. Ideally, the precision rifle should be capable of launching a 150+ grain bulletin in excess of 2000 fps measured at 100 yards.

Questions to ask:
1. Who will deploy with this rifle? What is their mission?

2. Does your bullet supplier carry the appropriate cartridges?

3. What is the geography of our response area? If` there is an airport or large body of water (one square mile or more), the agency needs two rifles: one in a .30 (or so) caliber, one in .455 to .50 BMG.

4. Is a rifle the best tool for the job? Many agencies seek a precision rifle when they really should be looking at a carbine.

5. What is the policy on rifle and carbine deployment?

Most precision rifles are bolt action with magazine capacities from two to five rounds. This is an obvious choice, but it is not the only choice. Select the appropriate caliber first, then the action. Although some purists would disagree, the type of action — rolling block, break action, falling block, semi-auto — generally will not affect the accuracy of the rifle, unless other factors are present.

Free Floating
Most accurate rifles have free floated barrels, which mean the barrel is proximate, but never touches the stock material. In compliance with the laws of physics, a bullet expands the barrel, as it moves down the tube, similar to a snake swallowing an oversized meal. This creates a whipping action in the barrel, indiscernible to the eye, but easily demonstrated on the range. Allowed to whip freely, it behaves consistently. If the barrel touches stock during its expansion, the motion becomes unpredictable. Many gunsmiths have begun firmly bedding the action of their rifles and free floating the barrel.

A free floated barrel has a theoretical limit to its length. If you were wondering if there is an advantage to having a longer barrel, it depends. Manufacturers will know the ideal length for the combination.

If a barrel is fluted, the whipping action is lessened. Most of the time, this is an advantage. However, consistent behavior is the desirable goal, not reduced whipping.

Recent data suggests that synthetic stock material produces the most accurate shots. This is debatable — wood and laminated stocks have taken many benchmark competitions. For the law enforcement shooter, the adjustable ones are best, given the variety of uniforms and shooting positions.

Regardless, a precision rifle stock should be noticeably heavier than the sporting counterpart. Weight is good as it dampens both recoil and vibrations.

Scope Mounting
A precision rifle should have some means of solidly mounting a scope. The current standard is to use mil specification rail cuts. This is a plus for a tactical rifle as it allows room for backup sights and eye relief options.

If the trigger is adjustable, it must be calibrated to a particular specification and a discoverable document must be created. Rifle triggers have their own personalities and there are desirable and undesirable characteristics. Above all, they should be sturdy and well encased in the action and stock.

As long as the rifle falls within reasonable limits, do not balk at the price of a rifle. This statement is a response to the question, “How long will this purchase last my agency?” The answer is simple. It will last longer than the career of the officer who covers down behind it. Precision rifles last a long time.

Bottom Line
There are three steps to making an intelligent purchase of a precision rifle. First, shoot the rifle a lot. The more data one has, the better the decision. Second, rely on the reputation of the manufacturer. Third, rely on your agency’s informed officers to make the final decision.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.

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