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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

Punching Paper

In the semi-auto guns different ammunition yielded varying results. Groups ranged from as big as a couple inches at 100 yards to just about the same hole with others.

And some guns were really accurate with specific ammunition. For example, the Barrett REC7 really liked the 110-grain Pro Hunter rounds. And using the same ammo, the Wilson Combat yielded a group that would make any precision rifle shooter happy, measuring well under .5 inches. Even with the 12.5-inch barrel the PWS upper yielded a couple of quarter-sized groups with the 85-grain TSX.

With the bolt gun the most accurate round was the 110-grain Accubond with a best group a bit under .5 inches. Everything else went through that bolt gun into groups right around .75 inches or so. Not bad, considering none of it is match grade. The bolt gun was definitely more consistent across the board as you might expect, but the semi-autos are capable of some pretty good accuracy.

Putting the paper targets behind some glass, I decided to give the rounds a tough real-world test. Unfortunately, I only had time to do this with one type of ammunition. Still the results were quite impressive,

The range was 50 yards level to the windshield to require some deflection. The Accubond was tested, as this is our glass round of choice in the department's .308 rifles and this gave me some basis by which to judge the performance of the 6.8 SPC.

My shots went through the windshield and into the paper at pretty much the point of aim. Deflection was insignificant, and I actually saw less spalling with the Accubond 6.8 than I normally do with my department-issued round.The bullet held together on all three shots with no jacket separation. My verdict is that the 6.8 SPC performs just as well as a .308 at 50 yards.

Muzzle Velocity

As one might expect the longer barrel produced the best muzzle velocity results.

Climate conditions on the day of the testing also were a factor. It was a warm day, pushing 90 degrees, pretty windy, and about 30 percent humidity. The range is at about 5,000 feet above sea level.

The fastest round that I tested was the 85-grain TSX, which averaged 3,221 feet per second (fps) out of the bolt gun. All of the other rounds topped out at about 2,700 fps. The 12.5-inch PWS reached 2,470 fps from the TSX, making it a great entry round. For the most part, the velocity difference was about 250 fps between the 20-inch and the 12.5-inch barrel.

Given these muzzle velocity numbers, I have little doubt this round would effect immediate incapacitation with the appropriate shot at any range inside 300 yards, certainly at real-world police sniper distances.

And the 6.8 SPC is a smooth shooter. Even with such high muzzle velocity numbers these rifles have no appreciable recoil. That was especially true of the bolt rifle. With the rifle held properly you can watch your hits.

My testing leads me to the conclusion that the 6.8 SPC is viable as a dedicated urban police sniper rifle cartridge. It's optimized for a 16-inch barrel and that enables an urban shooter to use a more compact sniper rifle or even an AR-style rifle that can double as an entry weapon or patrol rifle. This cartridge has proven itself in the AR platform so a sniper team could easily run both the primary and secondary in the same cartridge and not give away any firepower out to 300 yards.

One major concern is ammunition selection. A variety is available but match rounds would be nice. Still the ammo I tested performed very well and sometimes exceptionally. I recommend TTSX if you need penetration. If you want expansion and bullet retention the 85-grain TSX may be the ticket. The 110-grain Accubond has potential as a glass round and produced some excellent accuracy as well.

One major drawback for the 6.8 SPC as a sniper round is that you won't find purpose-built bolt-action sniper rifles in this caliber. However, custom-made bolt-action rifles can be purchased.

Finally, I don't believe that an operator or officer should ever take the word from an "expert" that he or she needs to change equipment. You have to match your equipment to your mission and your environment. So I don't want you to rush out and adopt the 6.8 SPC as your sniper round just because I say so. However, if you're looking to make a change, do your own test. You may really like the results. 

Lt. Dave Bahde is a 20-year veteran of South Salt Lake (Utah) PD and an experienced SWAT team leader, SWAT sniper, and firearms instructor.


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Comments (1)

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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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