Q&A: Picking an Assassin’s Sniper Rifle

What would be the more suitable sniper rifle for my assassin protag? A semi-auto 7.62×54mmR SVD Dragunov or a bolt-action 7.62×51mm NATO Accuracy International?

So, I’m going to start with a pair of nitpicks, which are kind of important to know.

First, Accuracy International, technically, doesn’t make any rifles chambered in 7.62mm NATO. They primarily make .338, and .308 rifles. There’s also some .300 Winchester Magnum, .223, and .50 BMG variants.

Now, .308 is mechanically compatible with 7.62mm NATO, and you can load 7.62 into a .308 rifle, however, you cannot safely go the other way. The difference is that .308 is a hotter load, and it can overpressure a 7.62 NATO chamber.

From what I understand, the British Military used 7.62 NATO in their L118A2s, and it’s certainly possible that the Swedish military did the same with their Arctic Warfare rifles. AI designed their rifle to handle a .308 Winchester cartridge, but logistics just threw 7.62 at it and called it good.

Second, Accuracy International is the manufacturer, not the model. I’m assuming you’re talking about the Arctic Warfare, which was chambered in .308, though my first thought from AI is the L115A3, which is chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum.

I’ll admit, a lot of AI’s weapons do run together a bit. Their rifles are very iterative on their previous designs. That said, they do run together a bit.

Moving away from nitpicks, the SVD and the L115A3 are not even remotely analogous weapons. The longest range confirmed kill with an L115A3 is over 2.4km. This is, literally, a rifle you can use to remove someone over a mile away. In comparison, the SVD’s record is, “only,” 1.35km.

The SVD is a semi-automatic rifle. While the Russians use it as their primary sniper platform, it’s more analogous to NATO DMRs, such as the Mk 14 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle), the long barrel variant of the FN Mk 17, or the M110.

This doesn’t mean the SVD is a bad rifle, just it’s designed for an entirely different application, and comparing an AI rifle to a Dragunov is deeply unfair (to one rifle or the other depending on the criteria.) The L115A3 is designed for putting down a target at extreme range. The SVD is designed to deal with multiple targets at long range.

If those were your only two options, picking the right rifle would really depend on what the job required. If you need to take someone out at over half a mile, the L115A3 is the better choice. If you’re going to rapid follow up shots, especially at shorter ranges, the SVD becomes the more attractive choice.

Except, there are larger considerations. If your assassin is a freelance contractor, they’re going to be responsible for obtaining their weapons and ammunition. That means, they’re not going to want to reuse hardware unless they absolutely have to. It’s difficult for law enforcement to connect a string of unrelated killings, but if all of those killings are using the same weapon, any evidence left at one can be cross-referenced against the other investigations.

Given they’d be replacing their hardware, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to drop the money on a high end AI rifle when it’s not needed. (An AI rifle will set you back somewhere north of $4k.) Similarly, getting their hands on an SVD and Warsaw Pact ammo would be much harder in Western Europe or North America (where it’s a collector’s item), but might be the way to go if they’re operating in Eastern Europe, or Asia. It depends on what weapons are readily available wherever they go.

If your assassin doesn’t need the range of an L115, they could probably get away with just using a Remington 700, it’s much cheaper and far more disposable. If they’re in a NATO country, and can get their hands on DMR used by the local law enforcement, that will be a more anonymous weapon. If they really need extreme range, then the .338 and .50 rifles start to make sense.

The critical thing here is that an assassin’s tools should be as anonymous as possible. They can’t (or at least, really shouldn’t), keep their weapons between jobs, because eventually the police will realize the ballistics match, consolidate the investigations, and make things very sticky for the assassin. At that point, being able to replace a consistent model of weapon is a viable option, and having a (relatively) cheap, and reliable weapon wins out over having, “the best.” This is where the SVD really shines. If your character is in a part of the world with a lot of surplus Soviet hardware on the black market, getting fresh SVDs should be pretty easy. If you’re in the States, getting commercially available hunting rifles means rifles like the Remington 700 is probably the way to go.

These considerations also apply for nearly any other weapon an assassin uses. If they’re carrying a handgun as a backup, they’ll need to dispose of and replace it after any incident where they use it. Shotguns are a little more forgiving, because you can’t get a ballistic match on buckshot, however the spent shells can be matched to a general model of shotgun. (In this case, simply having something common, like a Remington 870, or a Mossberg 500, makes that match basically meaningless.) Also, because of the loading processes, there’s a real risk of fingerprints on the spent casings.

Also, as a personal bias, I’m not wild about trying to carry out an assassination with a shotgun. There’s certainly precedent, particularly with Mafia hits, but it’s not a weapon that strikes me as a good choice, even remembering that shotguns can be suppressed, and knowing that they’re lethal beyond handgun ranges.

So, which is the better option for your character? It depends where they’re operating, the resources they have access to, and what they’re trying to do. It is important to remember, when you’re writing a career criminal, their weapons and other gear are disposable. They cannot afford to keep anything that could tie them to their crimes. If something they use is compromised, they need to dispose of it as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, if your assassin is above the law (because they’re backed by the government, a conspiracy, or whatever) you can go wild. Give them a Walther WA 2000 if you want. Sure it’s a $75,000 rifle, and there are less than two hundred in existence, but it’s got style, and your character is above petty concerns like money, or cops knocking on their door.

-Starke

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