First, let’s understand what I mean by, ‘Designated Marksman Rifle.’ Simply put, it’s any rifle that can reliably hit to and beyond the maximum effective limit of the riflemen being supported. That means if you’re going to support ‘off the rack’ AR’s or iron sighted .30 caliber rifles being used by your NPT, you’re going to need something that can hit consistently between 550 and 650 meters and be effective. Effective means ‘put the target down.’
For Illustration Purposes – Dead German Soldier circa WWI
Extrapolate that to mean the platform and cartridge chosen must be able to do what it needs to do at the specified range typically with the first shot (that doesn’t necessarily mean kill, either. If you have 3 zombie bikers coming, and you gut shoot or hip shoot one, and they actually care about their buddy, it’s going to take the other two to get him out of the line of fire). That can buy time for you to dislocate to another shooting position for further support or cover the egress of your NPT from the situation. Most folks think of the 7.62NATO round or even the .300 Win Mag to fill the role, but I’m thinking of a now, for the most part, ignored cartridge that when originally introduced, was used as a 1,000 yard cartridge. Over the years with advances in bullet design, propellants, primers, and all things ballistic, as well as the excitement new rounds and platform design causes, it has all but been relegated to the dust bin of history other than for hunting excursions. Don’t get me wrong, I dearly loved the 7.62NATO round; at one time had a Fulton re-worked Norinco M14 that was MOA with irons and really enjoyed the .300 Win – I spent about 5 years doing precision with home rolled 200gr Sierra HPBT Match Kings from a very, very accurized Remington 700 Sendero that routinely stayed sub – MOA at 1,000 yards – awesome rifle and cartridge to load and shoot experiencing its capabilities. But it was real expensive! The base rifle was $650 off the rack, then there were the accurizing modifications, such as cryogenic treatment to relieve all stresses in the steel from the manufacturing process; the re-crowning of the barrel to a perfect 11 degrees (ensures consistent gas release) then the action was trued, the trigger replaced with a Timney, a Leupold M-8 Fixed 10X
I’m sure the older and very experienced shooters have now surmised I’m thinking of the 30-06 Springfield. Excellent round, and very versatile. It can be loaded up to 220 grain bullets and down to 110gr bullets. It can have a .22 caliber ‘accelerator’ projectile loaded by way of a sabot. Amazing round. Developed and deployed in 1906, over 113 years ago, it still packs a HUGE punch and is very accurate when either purchased as a match round or loaded as an extreme performance round, usually by an experienced hand loader. Personally, I’m a Sierra HPBT Match King 175gr guy, but 168’s work just as well.
The platform to choose for a DSM rifle, in these days of wanting to do everything for a dollar, is a now seldom pursued used hunting rifle with a 22 inch barrel called the Savage 110. These things come cheap, and many don’t know that Savage accuracy out of the box beats many high end competitors in the rifle business at a price point that can defy belief. Do a few accurizing modifications as described below, and you’ve got a really good DSM.
Yes, I like Savage rifles. I’ve got two right now. One is a project rifle, and the other a Scout. They are out of the box extremely accurate. That’s not the point, though.
The point is tuning a John Doe ’06 bought OTC for comparably few dollars into a very precise over-watch or support rifle that a reasonably trained rifleman can make sing. Especially in times of emergency conditions or circumstances. If, for whatever reason, the rifle is ‘lost,’ it is inexpensive enough to have an identical copy (or two) at the former owners finger tips. If you already have one languishing in your safe or you can get your old uncle or grandpa to give you theirs, you’re ahead of the game.
To be clear, this is not a ‘sniper’ rifle, either (and a DSM is not a sniper – a DSM is simply a rifleman who can shoot extremely well and has the calling to provide ‘pause’ to an approaching enemy). The barrel is pencil thin; the stock is standard; the trigger may be polished, but it’s not going to be in any stretch a ‘precision trigger’. The optics are not going to be anything to write home about, either. In fact, I’d consider using the optics the rifle came with, so long as the glass is clear, doesn’t fog, and provides at least a 9 to 12 power magnification. It probably won’t have mil-dot reticles, either. The standard “thick-n-thin” reticles will do nicely, especially when the rifleman learns how to use them to estimate range against a known target’s size. Here’s an example of what might be on a scope coming with a used rifle like this one.
All that has to be done to the Savage 110 ’06 after you’ve purchased it and taken it to the range to see what ammo it eats best (you’ll want to save your targets for comparison later when the accurization project is complete) is to, first, assess the trigger pull. If it’s not at about 3.5 lbs, and isn’t adjustable, take it to a competent gunsmith and get it done now. Once he’s done his work, take it back to the range and see how it performs again. Save these targets as well, and mark them “post trigger smoothing.” Then, the next step is to completely strip and detail clean/degrease it, recondition the barrel (easily done with JB polishing compound, some boiling water and dish soap (hint – do this outside to ensure you don’t hear the high pitched war cry of your spouse unit when she sees you doing this in the sink….ask me how I know). I’ll outline the method I learned for conditioned a barrel in another post (this method works so well that with a new out of the box rifle, your break in is done in about 10 rounds without cleaning between rounds).
Once the rifle is completely clean and the barrel has been reconditioned, the next step is to polish the bolt lug raceways in the action. JB’s is good for this as well, and all you do is smear a bit on the bolt lugs and work the action smoothly for about 30 revolutions all the way in and locked and all the way out.
Then you clean the action again….really clean it. Boiling water helps get all the crud out. While your at it, clean the bore again against anything that may have moved in during your action cleaning. And make sure to clean the lug recesses, too. You don’t want any gunk in there. You want the chamber pristine, as well.
Purchasing one of these kits, or something similar, will make you a happy camper.Once it’s clean, dry it thoroughly. Don’t worry about oiling it just yet. If you just have to for your own peace of mind, run and oily rag through the action and almost dry oily patch down the bore.
Now comes the hard part: You have to free float and bed the barreled action. Why? You want to ensure that the harmonics of the barrel steel when the round is fired is as consistent as possible from one shot to the next. This consistency means that the “Cone of Fire” (every rifle fires in a cone – no BS) will be as uniform and as small as the rifle’s inherent accuracy will allow. It’s usually evidenced by a triangular group when firing 3 shots properly (meaning breathing, sight picture, trigger depression, firing, and follow through all come together at the same time).
I am partial to atomized stainless steel bedding, but will also use Devcon fiberglass bedding material. So long as you have proper release agent. Pictured below is Brownell’s Steel Bed Kit, now about $60 or so at Walmart. Follow the directions precisely, especially as it involves applying the release agent, or you’re going to have a permanently affixed stock. And I mean permanently.
A bedded Savage stock after releasing the action from the bedding compound.
When you insert the action into the bedding compound, a simple way to free float the barrel is to have a pre-cut piece of coffee can plastic lid, about 2″X 3″, to place between the barrel and the stock near the front end of the stock. Once the action is secured into the bedded stock (and presuming the action has been thoroughly coated with spray or brush on release agent), the plastic will keep the barrel about 3/32’s or 1/8th inch at the most up from the stock.
Once the cure time has passed, you can unfasten the action retaining screws according to the instructions, and tap the action out of the bed. C.A.R.E.F.U.L.L.Y. Clean any excess bedding compound and painters tape from the stock and action, clean their surfaces, and reassemble your rifle.
Then paint it to match the area you may be operating in….then go back to the range. The example below should have the action, barrel and scope painted as well. Remember, looking cool isn’t the object of painting a rifle or any piece of equipment. The main objective is to break up the outline. Ugly is your friend. When you’re done, you might do a simple test: Lay your rifle down in some typical vegetation around where you live and walk 5 to 10 yards away. Can you easily see it? If not, you did it right.
That’s the ‘in a nutshell’ on how to get a DSM rifle with a spectacular cartridge that packs a punch. There are still components out there from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam that make interesting hand loads for range experimentation. Due to our current laws, however, make sure you are in compliance with your local and state (as well as federal) before you buy or load any surplus components.
What’s your choice for a DSM rifle and caliber?
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only; any misuse of the information contained herein is the sole responsibility of the reader.