From the High Ground
The Sniper Pistol -- A Tactical Alternative

19 February 1997
By Condor

With the recent release of Savage Arms, Incorporated's new Striker pistol -- of which I hope to do a review for Sniper Country within the next couple of months -- it occurs to me that there are a vast number of people who know little or nothing about long-range pistols. Yes, I said long-range pistols, handguns that can easily engage targets out to 300 yards, many of which shoot as well as -- or better than -- many of the production-grade target rifles available to shooters today.

Probably the best known example of this type of pistol is the Thompson-Center Arms Contender. It has been around for a long time, and many shooters have at least seen one. Available in a variety of chamberings, barrel contours and lengths, and stock configurations, the Contender has carved for itself an elite niche in the world of serious handgunners who regularly use this pistol for hunting game of various sizes. Variations of the Contender have taken everything on the planet from prairie dogs to elephants. Truly a versatile design, it is probably the first handgun anyone thinks of if they know anything at all about long-range single-shot pistols.

Another example is one that I own, the Lone Eagle from Magnum Research, Incorporated (MRI). Actually, the pistol I own is the SSP-86 (Single-Shot Pistol, 1986) from Ordnance Technology in Stetson, Maine. Who, you say? Well, the reason you probably don't know anything about Ordnance Technology, nor about the SSP-86, is because neither one exists anymore. MRI bought all the rights to the gun, and first made it (incorporating some changes) as the SSP-91, then later changed the name to its current designation as the Lone Eagle. Rather than tell people "I've got an SSP-86 from Ordnance Technology" and then have to go through the whole history of the gun when they invariably say "You've got a what?" -- I just say I have a Lone Eagle pistol and let it go at that. Then if they ask more questions with some genuine interest, I generally go into more detail about the weapon. My pistol is chambered in .35 Remington, a rather robust cartridge that is probably more familiar to riflemen who hunt deer with the lever-action Marlin 336C rifle. With my own handloads, using moly-coated Hornady 180-grain SSP bullets, my pistol (topped with a Bushnell Trophy 2-6x scope) will reliably shoot sub-MOA at 100 yards. As it is currently offered from MRI, the Lone Eagle is available in several chamberings that include the .308 Winchester, .444 Marlin, and .30-06 Springfield.

The new pistol from Savage, the Striker, will initially be available in three chamberings: .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, and .308 Winchester. The pistol is a repeater, with a total capacity of three rounds that includes the one in the chamber. Ron Coburn, CEO of Savage Arms with whom I met while he and I were shooting prairie dogs at the 1997 Prairie Dog 'Conference' in Valentine, NE, is a man who listens to his customers. Since taking the helm of the company, Coburn has really given Winchester and Remington a tough time by offering very accurate rifles at about two-thirds the cost of a "WinRem." Now, not only will Savage be selling rifles with short actions (and, on at least the magnum models, wider triggers to give shooters a better "feel"), Savage is filling in the gaping hole left by Remington's withdrawal of the XP-100 pistol, by bringing out a left-hand bolt, right-hand ejection port, short-action pistol in three very popular chamberings. The pistol is also dual-pillar bedded, comes in both blue and stainless steel versions, and even has a model that includes Savage's Adjustable Muzzle Brake (AMB) to help handle the recoil.

So how, you might wonder, does this pistol fit into the role of a sniper weapon?

On a military sniper operation, a long-range pistol probably offers very little utility. For the same reason that military sniping differs from police sniping (long-range, center-of-mass engagements versus short-range [usually], precision-placed headshots), sniper weapons tend to be very specific to the missions on which they are employed. Therefore, since a military sniper generally prefers to engage an enemy target from the farthest, practical distance possible, a rifle is better suited to the job. However, long-range pistols have a benefit to the police sniper in that they are more easily transported, require less storage room in a vehicle, and can be concealed on the police sniper's body in a bandolier holster under normal "street" clothing -- a definite "plus" when there is a need to deploy in a highly-populated location without drawing attention from civilians.

I should also point out that such pistols, in a military sense, could easily be issued to each man of a special-purpose squad, for potential use on missions that would make it impractical for everyone to carry a precision-fire weapon such as a rifle, while at the same time it may be desirable to have this type of weapon available to each man on the team. Only time will tell if the military sees utility in using sniper pistols in a tactical role.

Further, while I am not suggesting that police departments dump their fine assortment of high-dollar sniper rifles, I am suggesting that -- when the majority of police snipers take their shots well under 200 yards -- there may occasionally be a need for a long-range pistol and a sniper who can effectively use it. Accuracy is certainly not an issue -- a trip to any handgun silhouette competition will easily allay any such concerns in this area. In fact, the only thing I can think of that immediately comes to mind as a disadvantage to most long-range pistols is that the majority of them are single-shot weapons, and a quick follow-up shot is not possibility. However, repeaters like the Striker do offer such a possibility -- yet, not having tested one yet, I have no idea just how fast an accurate follow-up shot can be taken, in comparison with the same from a rifle in the hands of a competent rifleman. On the surface of things, I would say it's a safe bet that the rifleman could re-engage his target faster with precision fire than could someone with a handgun such as the Striker. However, if tactics are modified to employ more than one shooter with such a handgun, and fires are coordinated, the issue of follow-up shots is (somewhat) addressed.

I am aware that many police departments do not support, neither tactically nor financially, multiple sniper teams, nor is it unusual for a SWAT sniper to be deployed without a spotter. However, rather than making the matter an "either/or" situation, I cannot see why it would be difficult to include a sniper pistol in the sniper's basic issue, right along with his rifle.

Again, sniper rifles will never be replaced by sniper pistols, but the days of a rifle being the "only game in town" -- for law enforcement sniping -- are over.

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I realize the concept of sniper pistols is controversial. However, it is a fact that a competent handgunner, with the right pistol, can reliably make headshots out to 300 yards. Granted, muzzle velocity from, for example, a .308 Winchester will be less from a pistol than from a rifle, but a great deal of what is required to achieve decisive results in a sniper scenario is more a factor of the ammunition -- more specifically, the bullet -- that is used, rather than muzzle velocity. And of course, as always -- proper shot placement is everything.



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