Tag Archives: writing snipers

Q&A: Anti-Material Rifles

Hello, I don’t see a lot of resources for sniper gun injuries, especially that of .50 cal rounds. I have a character that had the bone at her lower leg (near the ankle) shot by a .50. How bad would the damage be when compared to the same bullet actually hitting the ankle bone or the leg muscle?

So, there’s a weirdness with the .50 round: It’s not supposed to be used for precision shooting. It is used that way. There are many precision rifles chambered to various 12.7mm cartridges, including the .50 BMG. But, they’re not really intended for use on people.

(To be clear, every time I’m talking about a .50 from here on out, I’m referring to the 12.7x99mm rifle cartridge. Incidentally, if you were to simply search for .50 wounds, you would probably get a mix of rifle and pistol wounds, since there are many distinct 12.7mm rounds in circulation.)

The .50 BMG was originally designed during the First World War, with the intention of use as an anti-aircraft round. These entered service in the ‘20s and saw extensive use during WWII as an anti-vehicle round. This is it’s intended role, even today.

In the early 80s, someone got it in their head to build a precision rifle around these things. The result were firearms like the Barrett M82. This 30lb monster is, probably, the rifle you’re thinking of.

Thing is, these rifles fire a round that was intended for taking out vehicles, not people. As a result, they’re designed to deliver a terrifying amount of force to the target. The point is you put one of these into a truck’s engine block to kill it. Which doesn’t work 100% of the time, but a few extra hits will usually get the point across. You put one of these into a person, they’re done.

I don’t have hard data on what these things will do to a person. There is an inaccurate myth that near misses can kill from the atmospheric shockwave alone, which isn’t true. There’s also stories about these things taking limbs off on a hit. Based on what I’ve seen with these rounds and ballistic gel tests, that seems credible. Put one into someone and you could easily end up looking at an eight inch exit wound.

Connecting with the ankle probably means the foot is gone. I don’t mean damaged irrevocably, “we’ll need to amputate.” I mean, anything below the point of impact is missing.

Traditionally, precision rifles used against living targets is chambered somewhere around .30. The classic examples are .308 and .30-06, though there are others, and I’ve heard good things about 6.5mm rounds. Even then, a shot to the ankle means your character probably isn’t walking again without reconstructive surgery. A shot to the bone will break it. A shot into the meat can cause some serious tissue disruption, but assuming it doesn’t nick something important, and the impact didn’t fracture their leg, they should be able to survive.

The use of a .50 rifle as a sniper’s rifle is for extremely long range shooting. These are the guns you break out when you need to hit something over a mile away. If you have a character that needs to put assassinate someone riding in an armored Limo, a .50 will do that. If your character needs to put a bullet in someone from the dark side of the moon, then the .50 is the right choice. Because, if it connects, there’s very little risk of the target getting back up.

-Starke

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Iron Sights Sniper

Is it conceivably possible for a character with enhanced eyesight to shoot a rifle with iron sights as accurately as with a scope? Or are there inherent limitations getting in the way?

Not, “inherent limitations,” but you would be giving up some functionality that isn’t common on modern iron sights.

Long range marksmanship isn’t about putting the cross hairs over someone’s head and pulling the trigger. There are a lot of factors which can affect the trajectory of a bullet.

Bullet drop is the simplest example of this. As a bullet travels through the air, it is also affected by gravity, and falls towards the earth. The further you fire, the father the bullet will fall until it connects with something. Some iron sights include rangefinders, which will elevate the rear sights to account for drop.

Because the bullet is a lightweight, physical object, it is still affected by things like wind. Again, this isn’t much of an issue at short range, but at longer ranges, wind can play a significant role in where the bullet finally comes to rest. When calculating wind in long range shooting, it’s not enough to know what direction the wind is traveling where you’re positioned, but also what the wind is like at the target. In situations like this a scope can be helpful for determining what the wind is doing over there. As with drop, some iron sights are designed to be adjusted for windage. It’s not incredibly common, but these do exist.

We’ve talked, before, about how most rifle rounds are hypersonic, and that the signature crack of a rifle is, actually, a small sonic shockwave caused by the bullet breaking the sound barrier. At extreme ranges, over 2,500 yards (if I remember correctly, this value is affected by atmospheric density, which is calculated based on altitude and humidity), friction will bring the round back down through transonic speeds (around 600-700mph), at this point the shockwave will usually overtake the bullet destabilizing it and severely affecting accuracy.

When you’re talking about a sniper, the least important part of their equipment is, ironically, their rifle and scope. Those are both useful, and high quality equipment will offer the best results, but the difficult part of their job are things that have nothing to do with the hardware itself.

Beyond that, the scopes are just optics, they help a marksman hit their target, but they’re not necessary. However, the benefits they offer do go beyond simply providing a firing point.

So, the short answer is, no, your character wouldn’t need a scope, but they would still be better off with one than without. The one exception I could think of is if the have some cybernetic augmentation which provides firing solution data to the user, which is more accurate than simple optics.

-Starke

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Q&A: Laser Sights

You said real snipers wouldn’t use a laser pointer with a rifle. Because it’s useless on great distance and you don’t want to announce yourself to your target. So what are laser pointers on guns good for? Because obviously they exist, but what for? Thanks for your blog, it’s very interesting and helpful!

Lasers are intended for short range target acquisition. That is to say, knowing exactly where you’re pointing the gun. They can be a useful aid for inexperienced shooters, though anything that speeds up your ability to put a bullet into someone is an advantage in a firefight. This is the same basic idea that makes reflex sights useful. It gives you a clean aim-point, and if that shaves a fraction of a second of your reaction time, it may save your life.

Of the two, reflex sights do the job slightly better, with less visual noise and without announcing that you’re about to shoot someone. Okay, the, “slightly better,” part is personal preference. If you really want, you can take the belt and suspenders approach and slap both of them on your gun, but you’re only going to be using one of them at any given moment.

Part of the reason I’ve said lasers are for amateurs is because, in most cases, if you’re sighting your weapon properly, you usually won’t see the laser. The front post will obstruct it for your dominant eye. (Your off eye will see it, but it’s just going to confirm what you already know.) If you’re sighting down the gun incorrectly, or not looking through the sights at all, then the laser will help your aim.

For an inexperienced shooter, in a crisis, a laser will help them put the round where they want it. For someone who knows what they’re doing, a laser is a much more situational tool, and not something they’ll need most of the time.

The major benefit for an experienced shooting is snapshots. This is where you rapidly bring the weapon up and fire without taking the time to aim properly. In this case, the shooter will probably be sighting incorrectly for speed, and the laser can give them a clear idea of what they’ll hit without actually needing the sights to verifying. To be fair, this is another thing you can use a reflex sight for. You can also snapshoot without either.

Finally, lasers can make switching between targets faster. Again, it lets you know where you’re aiming slightly faster than iron sights. Strictly speaking, lasers are also more forgiving as a sighting element than most optics. Even if you’re holding the gun incorrectly, the laser will tell you where you’ve pointed it.

The takeaway is that, lasers can be useful for shooting people in the same room, especially if you don’t really know your way around a gun. Not so much when you’re trying to put a round in someone half a block away.

-Starke

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