Even the idea of this article: the best sniper rifle, is a complex concept. It’s hard to maintain absolute accuracy in an informational article when the general public uses words that are very strictly defined, to cover multiple classes of firearms. The terms “long-range precision rifle”; “sniper rifle”; “anti-personnel rifle” and “anti-materiel rifle” are generally conflated upon each other to mean the same thing.
What denotes the specific category of real-world use that a particular rifle would assume, depends on the operator of said firearm. If that operator is a target shooter, it’s most accurately defined as a long-range precision rifle. If they are a sniper in the classical military or law enforcement definition of the term, then it would be denoted as a sniper rifle
Similarly, if a person who operates a rifle is a support gunner for a group that requires removing mechanisms and static objects or vehicles in a war zone, it would probably best be described as an anti-materiel rifle, and so on.
Specifically, the word sniper rifle is used to denote a rifle that a sniper would use. In the most general sense, because snipers are mostly government enabled, military bound individuals, and the concept of sniper operations is limited to their specific use cases, it’s hard to define a civilian sniper rifle. But let’s take a moment to find out the characteristics of what the best sniper rifles would have and why a sniper would want to use those features or capabilities, and then we can determine some candidates for the list.
This list is essentially going to be a set of the best long-range precision rifles, with tactical features and long-range proven success. This concept will generally equate to the concept of the best civilian sniper rifle.
Bear in mind that most of the famous sniper rifles are either not even available to the public; require huge investments in manual labor to produce the results desired, or are exceptionally hard to find on the civilian market.
There has been a significant market demand for high powered, centerfire, long range capable rifles for decades, and that demand is increasing all the time as the market grows in overall size. That said, the idea that civilians would be utilizing a sniper rifle is a bit inaccurate in most cases. Nevertheless, the concept of a sniper rifle and the characteristics it embodies makes the terminology very desirable as a catch-all concept for those trying to describe a whole class of rifle.
One could accurately describe the best sniper rifle as having these general characteristics:
- A rifle that is deadly at long range
- A rifle that is exceptionally accurate
- One that is made for precision adjustment and relies on both the operator’s training and the build out of the firearm and the sighting mechanisms to allow for such accuracy
- One that can deploy in austere conditions and will be imminently reliable in extreme variations of those settings
- A rifle that is easy to utilize and can be trusted to repeatedly deliver significantly better accuracy than comparable widely available firearms otherwise available to the specific user
A sniper might want the following characteristics more specifically:
- A high-powered centerfire rifle cartridge with a proven performance past 800 meters
- A long barrel to maximize velocity and bullet stabilization
- A finely tuned interface which eliminates potential for flex and excess play in the mechanism and therefore, excess noise or potential for unnecessary accuracy degradation
- The ability to equip a suppressor for some removal of shot signature
- A field serviceable weapon with simple parts configurations and robust internal parts
- A rifle that is exceptionally durable
- The ability to easily pair specific mechanical or optical tools to help improve shot placement and reliability of long-range hits
- A heavy barrel to minimize heat related concerns with accuracy, and deliver more stable harmonics
- A proven track record of reliability
There are plenty of other characteristics a sniper would desire on a rifle to make it ideal. But this should suffice for the purposes of this article.
In fact, what defines what is considered a sniper rifle has to do with the conditions it is deployed in as well.
A semi-automatic sniper rifle could be desirable in certain settings. One with a shorter barrel or which looks similar to an infantry soldier’s primary firearm would be desirable in certain scenarios. A gun that shoots a 50-caliber bullet might be desirable over a .308 depending on the setting and the ambient surroundings, whereas a 50BMG might be entirely too much gun for closer objectives that require rapid relocation after a shot or series of shots.
In historical context, a sniper rifle has been so many different things. There are sniper rifles from Russia that only shoot on average 2-3 MOA, when counterparts deployed by a different miltary might be able to obtain a quarter minute of angle or a ½ minute of angle at their peak.
That doesn’t mean the rifle cannot be classified as a sniper rifle, but it does show extreme variance in the overall characteristics and deployment of the terminology and of the arms themselves, depending on who is involved and the mission objectives, etc.
Now that we have sufficiently examined the characteristics, the following list includes the best market available sniper type rifles for civilians right now. Later in the article you can see a brief listing of honorable mentions that includes some of the most storied sniper rifles in history and gives a brief overview of the rifles that are hard to find, expensive to acquire, not available to civilian population or too obscure to make them viable mainstream market firearms.
The best part about this list is that a majority of the rifles on it can be purchased immediately by clicking through the links, and they are generally available in-stock and they meet a substantial amount of the characteristic references in the article to qualify as the “best sniper rifle”. And, you can get one if you have the desire to.
An interesting side note: Hollywood would have us believe that there is such a thing as a best .22 Sniper Rifle. But this author’s contention is this: such concept is easy to prove as a fallacy.
A true sniper rifle would, by necessity require absolute stopping power, absolute reliability and the longest range potential for a given scenario. None of these requirements could repeatedly be sufficiently fulfilled by a .22 cartridge. Even a .22 Magnum would be unable to achieve the desired results reliably because it des not offer enough stopping power (small grain weight and only moderate power after flight on distant targets), or deflection resistance (too lightweight a projectile) and it has a lack of absolute reliability because of the rimfire cartridge casing.
Even the .22 Hornet would suffer from most of the same deficiencies even if it is more reliable thanks to the centerfire primer.
Simply put – it’d be very hard to make a realistic argument for a .22 sniper rifle based on the classical definition of a sniper’s needs. But to each their own.
The best long-range precision rifles:
Best Sniper Rifles for Civilians
Accuracy International – AXMC 338 LM Rifle
Most Accurate Sniper Rifle
The big daddy of the .338 Lapua world, this is a firearm that has pioneered a new type of long-range precision firearm that relies more on finesse than on world-beating power. The central figure in this rifle is the cartridge and its incredible ability to fly straight for a long distance and deliver acceptable energy on target.
The chassis system was all but invented by the Accuracy International team and the characteristics of this rifle ticks all the boxes of a classic sniper rifle but adds to the tactical accoutrement through interesting and cool features.
Instead of killing with brute force like the .50 caliber, this is an 1800+ meter rifle that kills personnel with precision and a flat trajectory. The power is still immense, even at that distance, as well as the velocity, but the overall structure and weight of the gun for what it can deliver, makes it an interesting option compared to most 50 caliber options, especially when stealth is a necessity.
The round is significantly easier to suppress, from a signature perspective, than a .50BMG and delivers performance that equates to at least 80% of realistic operating capacity from an efficacy standpoint.
The gun can also change to a .300WM or a .308WIN in a minute or two with a quick-change barrel and bolt and magazine inserts. A 27″ barrel on the .338 variant (the best ballistics of the bunch by a long way) offers sublime accuracy and the spate of options like a folding stock; iron sights; optics mounting ability to the chassis and the unbelievably reliable magazines from AI mean that this is a significant option across the board.
- Great feature set, includes interesting things like a buttstock ground spike for stability
- Quick change caliber options available
- Exceptionally reliable and battle proven around the world in many conflicts by military users and during peacetime by law enforcement
- Price is huge
- Pretty Heavy
Springfield Armory – M1A
Best sniper rifle for competition shooting
A modern take on an old school infantry precision rifle. This is a precision gun made from the M14/variants that was in major use by the US military in the modern era prior to the last three generations of precision rifles.
It offers exceptional accuracy, a solid cartridge base and a proven track record, while being easily man carried and suitable for ranges out past 1000 meters (realistically) for highly trained personnel.
While there are more modern firearms and better ballistic options than the .308WIN, this is still a legitimate precision rifle for today. Highly utilized in three gun matches and in competitive shooting this is a civilian based variant of a gun that saw actual combat use. The civilian version is also highly accurate, whereas the military variant from decades ago was considerably less so.
The semi-automatic operation means follow-up shots are quick; the barrel is well made and extremely accurate and at 22 inches, squeezes the most out of the .308.
The stock is very good and continues to be tweaked by factory in each new iteration and the iron sights are proven to be exceptional. The 10 round magazines (and capability for larger capacity mags as well) gives a shooter ample supply of high-powered cartridges for intermediate ranges.
- Excellent all-purpose stock
- Ridiculously durable and foolproof for a semi-auto with a long barrel
- Easily available to the market – supply exceeds demand most of the time, but demand for such a good firearm should be higher
- Range is not as good as some on this list
FN – SCAR 20S
There are some people who used the SCAR in battle who don’t love it. And while it did have some detractors, it is a proven firearm, and is an iteration of the ultra-light man carried semi-automatic precision rifle for everyday use.
By use case it likely didn’t see much dedicated sniper usage, but it certainly saw some, especially for joint operations special operators that were in hot zones during conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and surrounding areas.
It is fast, lightweight, hard to distinguish at a glance from infantry rifles and capable of high precision, while also offering huge capacity options.
It is durable and while a bit finicky, when maintained properly it is hard to beat for a day-to-day tactical rifle capable of long-range precision shots beyond 1000 meters.
All this, considering it has generally been deployed straight out of factory in as-issued condition.
The 11 lbs. weight and the 20 inch barrel make it a legitimate no-compromises rifle for fast movement and fast second shot capabilities in areas where moderate range, multi-target interdiction is required.
- As made at factory this is a monumental gun with the features, durability and accuracy standards
- Light weight
- Capable of high capacity and fast follow-up
- Hard to distinguish from infantry weapons in practice
- Barrel contour is lightweight
- Gas system and stock can be finnicky and not super robust from a durability perspective at times
Bushmaster – BA50
Bushmaster has some egg on their face for some of their past releases, but this is a firearm that manages to escape a lot of scrutiny; probably because it’s well made, a premium variant and offers huge firepower and absolute precision.
It is a gun that has seen more civilian use than military use, but it is also popular with large SWAT and specialty police force units because of the .50BMG and the adjustment capabilities of the buildout.
It is also a behemoth. It’s made for stationary, long range use and the thirty (30) lb. weight of the gun proves that. However, the overall length of 58 inches, and the heavy barrel of 30 inches means that recoil is relatively manageable, and the muzzle brake (the Advanced Armament Cyclops) also cuts follow-up shot timing significantly.
It is similarly designed to an AR and is therefore easy to understand with minimal interaction with the rifle platform.
The ability to mount huge optics easily on a built-in rail system improves return to zero time and helps with establishing the baseline accuracy metrics for precision shooting.
- Mild recoil compared to some other .50BMG’s
- Good adjustability and great baseline accuracy
- Easy to understand feature set
- Price is huge
Savage Arms – 110 Tactical Rifle
Best bolt action sniper rifle
This budget, but easy to use sniper rifle is a fantastic addition to this list. Sub 1 MOA accuracy out of a very well made .338 Lapua for under $1800 is virtually unheard of.
While no military action has been seen by the Savage precision tactical rifles, this is one that police forces everywhere have shown interest in and purchased for use in strategic long-range settings. To be able to achieve such long range and heavy stopping capacity, in a rifle at this price point is monumental.
Simply put, it’s hard to find a precision .308 for that price and this gun offers nearly double the effective range and none of the heavy customization requirements for a department or individual user.
Out of the box, this is as accurate as any of the high-end bolt actions from factory but offers a significantly better anti-personnel cartridge as the core offering.
It’s one of the lightest weight guns on this list at 10.7 lbs. and significantly more powerful than the others in its weight class.
- A huge bargain compared to other guns on this list generally, considering the stopping power and range and the baseline cartridge choice
- Sufficiently accurate for most endeavors a civilian would want to use it for
- Legitimately a 1500 + yard gun on every shot with man sized targets and extensive training – no .308 rifle on this list can say that
- No real CONS
Honorable mentions for the best historical sniper rifles:
A classic semi-auto .50BMG with some of the longest range confirmed kills in history, this is the powerhouse rifle used by snipers and anti-materiel teams in order to engage beyond enemy capabilities regarding shoulder-fired range. It is fast, accurate and ridiculously heavy. And it gets the job done.
A smaller bolt action driven chassis style precision long range firearm that makes sense in today’s warfare conditions and landscape. It is a standout, though, it doesn’t enjoy the same military volume usage statistics that other bolt actions or other precision long range weapons do.
More a one-off work of art than it is a production firearm, the results speak for themselves. The gun has some of the longest confirmed kills in history and despite being a large, heavy firearm, it is a preferred method when it comes down to one-shot-one kill type of conditions.
Remington 700 Tactical Chassis
A much more consumer centric version of the military staple, this is a chassis based bolt action rifle that is tuned at factory to acceptable standards for most shooters, though it isn’t approaching what a competent gunsmith can build on the same chassis and with the same 700 action.
It is the approachable bolt action civilian sniper rifle. A variant upon which this rifle is based, will serve in some capacity going forward for military and law enforcement sniper personnel.
The famous “bad guy” sniper rifle, this is a highly accurized “version” of the AK essentially, with the 7.62x54R cartridge at its core. While it was never able to achieve the levels of accuracy it needed to compete one on one with the above guns, it is a gun that has many records, confirmed kills and much praise in the Eastern bloc.
It is also no longer available because of import restrictions and state and federal firearm bans in the United States. Some prized variants can be found at auction for 12k – 35k USD, and they rarely are available to change hands, even then, they are subject to restrictions throughout the USA as far as purchases are concerned for one reason or another.
All of the above honorable mention rifles are in current use today, though the Dragunov SVD has had some changes made to it and specific deployments are not as plentiful as they were in the cold war era’s last decade or so.
These are modern day sniper rifles. The original American sniper rifle was probably the Sharps, in something like .44-77 falling block or something very much like it. While exceptionally well built, the accuracy and range potential of the gun and the stopping power it offered pales in comparison to what is available with modern smokeless powder cartridges; efficient, high tolerance machining methods and tooling and the tactical feature set of today’s rifles. Nevertheless, this was a model upon which an entire subsegment of warfighting was based.
As far as the concept of snipers: anti-personnel techniques employed by highly trained, long range precision shooters known as snipers or who have other specific names attached, are as relevant today as ever.
The above list of rifles is a compilation of what we consider to be the best sniper rifles available to consumers on the open market on a given day currently.