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Searching for an Effective Small Caliber Sniper Round

Most police snipers work from less than 50 yards and a .308 can be overkill.

August 12, 2010  |  by Dave Bahde


For the vast majority of my 10 plus years on a SWAT team it has been my mantra that you train for what you do as a police officer. One aspect of training for what you do is to realize that just because a large big name department does something one particular way doesn't mean it's best for you. Each department faces its own set of unique challenges.

It is critical for you to take what works best for you in your operating environment. An expert's opinion is just that, opinion. Experience lends some credibility, but some of the stupidest and least practical tactics have come from "experts" with a ton of experience. This goes not just for tactics but for equipment as well.

Equipment for the police sniper has become heavily market driven. In some ways that's very bad, in others it's incredibly beneficial. Need may often drive innovation, but money often drives the ability to turn it into reality. The downside being it is often those with the money that drive the advertising. They can end up in the forefront with little regard to the practicality of the gun or item. This can lead to controversy.

In the police sniper world there rages a debate over caliber selection. And I feel well qualified to chime in.

Over my years as a sniper on a SWAT team I have fielded several different calibers of rifles including .308, .300 Win Mag, .300 WSM, .338 Lapua, 338 Norma, .50 BMG, and others. Given my second career in the gun business, I've also had the opportunity to sample rifles ranging in price from $500 to $5,000. Each of them served a purpose and served that purpose well.

The .338's are great for very long range and media penetration. The .300 Win Mag and Short Mag were great competitive rifles. And the venerable .308 has been my work horse over the years and strikes a good compromise for ranges from 50 to 500 yards.

But what about those agencies that never see police sniper engagements beyond even 100 yards? Which is likely substantially more than 95 percent of all police agencies. Big hunting calibers are just not optimal for these agencies' operations because of worries about overpenetration.

Unfortunately, options for smaller precision rifles are limited. The .223 has been tried and has suffered an issue or two with underpenetration and failure to immediately incapacitate the threat. So in most snipers' opinions that leaves the 6.8 SPC and the 6.5 Grendel.

May the Best Round Win

The argument as to which round is better-the 6.8 SPC or the 6.5 Grendel-is as volatile as the typical plastic vs. steel pistol argument, but I figured it needed to be addressed.

So as not to inflame the heated arguments that go back and forth between the 6.8 and the 6.5 crowds let me clearly state my purpose: The focus of this discussion is the viability of the 6.8 SPC cartridge as an urban police sniper round.

But let's look at the 6.5 Grendel. This round is best compared against the .308, and has some promising advantages at longer ranges, especially beyond 300 yards. Which is irrelevant to this discussion.

We are talking about up-close-and-personal work in an urban police environment. Even given the ability to deploy at ranges beyond 100 yards we never did. Most of the time we set up at 50 yards, and there were a couple of times 25 yards was all we had.

So, how flat a round shoots at 500 yards is not even a point of discussion. This is about an alternative to a .308 for those snipers who will likely never even see a 100-yard deployment and do not need the overpenetration or down range effect. I believe the 6.8 SPC is that alternative.

Tags: Hornady, Ammunition, Sniper Rifles, Barrett Firearms, Lightforce USA, Mike's Gun Sales and Service, Primary Weapons Systems, Silver State Armory

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

jhaataja @ 8/20/2010 8:24 AM

I've been a cop for over 24 years, a firearms instructor for 15 (sniper instructor for 5 years) and a police sniper with our municipal police department's (150 officers) part-time tactical team for 14 years. Before I would make a jump to the 6.8mm platform (from .308) I would like to see how much an issue over-penetration has been for agencies that have had shots fired by police snipers. Our last OIS with a sniper was from approx 75 yards. The suspect (who died) was shot through the left arm into the torso. The bullet (165 g Fed'l Tactical Bonded) did not leave the body, but stopped under the skin on opposite side of the body. Over-penetration may have occurred had not the bone been struck, but who knows for sure. This round has also performed excellently (no deflection nor fragmentation) through windshield glass at 100 yards. The .308 is a proven round. Data for it abounds as does a great selection of firearms and assorted ammunition. I, for one, would research different ammunition choices to prevent over-penetration before I switched calibers. Good articles. Keep them coming. They help to keep us from stagnating.

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