Evolution of the Law Enforcement Sniper

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Modern law enforcement snipers may not realize how good they have it with the current catalog of high quality sniper rifles, scopes, and accessories. Back in the early 1980’s the typical police sniper rifle was often a bolt-action hunting-grade rifle salvaged from the property room. During STTU sniper programs and green light matches officers turned up with not just .308 Wins but also .223 Rem., .243 Win., 30-06, and even the odd 22-250.  Scopes were usually hunting-grade Redfields, Weavers, and Leupolds in the 3-9X range. The only LE snipers to have custom built M40A1s were the FBI snipers, while the US Secret Service Counter Sniper Teams had custom built 7mm Rem. Mags.

Washoe 1990

Early STTU sniper class in the late 1980s. By this time many LE snipers had upgraded to heavier barreled varmint rifles and bedded the actions.

Washoe County SWAT

Washoe County SWAT – 1990s 

With time and a little training, agencies began to invest in heavier barreled Remington 700 varmint rifles while also understanding the importance of bedding the actions and floating the barrels. Snipers also moved away from cheap military surplus ammo and hunting rounds into Federal Match ammo. Prior to the current Gold Medal Match, Federal match-grade ammo came in a red box, but both still used the Sierra 168 grain SMK bullet.  This was not the ideal bullet for punching through glass, but it was the most accurate .308 Win ammo for that time period.

Sniper Counter Sniper was written in 1986 to fill the need for a basic text on law enforcement sniper training and employment. It was also utilized by Special Operations Training units as an urban sniper manual. 

By the late 1980s sniper had access to custom sniper rifles built by McMillan and Robar. Gale McMillan was the designer and builder of the USMC M40A1 sniper stock which began a trend away from wood stocks and in to fiberglass stocks.


McMillan M40A1 with Unertl 10X scope

SR60D 1987

Robar SR60D .308 Win built on a McMillan Baker Special stock topped with a Leupold Ultra (Mark 4) 10X scope. (1987)

Mid to late 1980s also saw the introduction of the Leupold Ultra sniper scopes with external target turrets. At this time they were fixed 10X or 16X but would later become re-branded as the Mark 4 a Mil-dot reticle. SWAT snipers had also seen the limitations of a fixed 10X scope for urban operations where distances were 50-75 yards, so had asked for a lower magnification. The result was the robust, reliable 3.5-10x40mm Mark 4, complete with lifetime warranty.

Kestrel A3-5 Bartlein24

Modern tactical rifle built on a Rem 700 action with a Bartlein Heavy Palma barrel in a McMillan A3-5 stock. Scope is a Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56mm scope



About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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