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Apocalypse Sniper: APA Zombie Sniper Review

by Tom Beckstrand   |  October 4th, 2012 31

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During a Zombie Apocalypse, we will survive only by working together in teams. The idea of surviving for long as some type of Lone Ranger is foolish. One person can’t do it all. A single human can only be in one place at a time, and everyone has to sleep sooner or later. Also, it is physically impossible for an individual to accomplish the myriad tasks required to sustain life—whether it be gathering food, looking for shelter or providing security. We’re all going to need a friend or two when the zombies come.

A really good friend to have (or be) in the zombie apocalypse is a proficient and reasonably equipped sniper. Resources and ammunition will be scarce when the zombies come, so each round must be fired with deliberation. Gang-banger street theater and its accompanying spray-and-pray marksmanship strategy are losing propositions. The ability to move undetected, then engage zombies without drawing the attention of other zombies will be critical. These are tasks a sniper will know how to do well and can teach other members of the group. In the spirit of helping our readers prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse, I have prepared some notes on what represents the ideal zombie sniper rifle and scope.

Rifle and Caliber
One of the most critical components in being an effective zombie sniper is choosing a primary rifle. The first step in deciding on a rifle is to assess in detail how it will be used. The majority of the world’s population lives in an urban environment, so it’s logical that most of us will be fighting for our lives at or near our home alongside our neighbors. Or maybe against our neighbors. Fighting in urban areas where people and buildings crowd in on us, limiting how far we can both see and fight, requires snipers to choose their rifles and ancillary equipment accordingly.

Engagement distances play an important role in rifle and scope selection. Step out into your front yard. How far can you see? We can’t shoot zombies we can’t see, so there is no need to buy a sniper rifle capable of shooting out to 1,000 yards, a distance for which most military snipers train. I live in the suburbs on the East Coast, where 200 yards is going to be a long shot. Most neighborhoods in Anytown, USA, will be very similar in that 200 yards will be about as far as we can reasonably expect to shoot.

Since we’re only making shots out to that distance, we have a lot of latitude on what caliber we’re going to select for our sniper rifle. Anything bigger than a .22 and smaller than a .308 will work well. Smaller calibers are going to be better, because the smaller the cartridge, the more we can carry. Being able to carry a large quantity of ammunition will be invaluable during the Zombie Apocalypse.

Stealth will be what separates the zombie sniper from other armed survivors. While we will all avoid drawing any unwanted attention, the sniper must be able not only to keep quiet, but also to kill quietly and from a distance. This is no easy task.

After carefully considering how to best accomplish the zombie sniper mission, I declare that the official primary weapon for the zombie sniper is a bolt-action rifle chambered in .300 Blackout. With suppressor, of course.

The .300 Blackout cartridge has about the same overall length as a .223 and works in the same magazine. It is a small cartridge, but it’s more than capable of reaching out to 200 yards for head shots on zombies. The .300 Blackout cartridge also has the added benefit of being commercially available in either subsonic or supersonic loadings.

The difference between subsonic and supersonic bullets is that subsonic bullets travel slower than the speed of sound, or less than 1,050 fps. When fired through a rifle that has a suppressor, bullets traveling at subsonic speeds have a negligible signature and are almost impossible to detect. This makes the zombie sniper armed with this setup extremely effective.

Bullets traveling faster than 1,050 fps break the sound barrier and give off a mini sonic boom as they pass through the air. It’s still difficult to locate a sniper shooting a suppressed rifle even if the bullets are supersonic, but when we go to subsonic there is no sonic boom, and therefore nothing for the zombies to home in on. The .300 Blackout has no equal for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Some zombie enthusiasts will claim that a rifle chambered in .22 LR would be a better choice because it can also be subsonic, and it is much smaller, so we could carry more rounds. Nonsense. Our servicemen returning from overseas can recount numerous cases where bullets fired from their government-issued rifles (that are much more powerful) glanced off the human skull. A .22 LR bullet travels at a slower speed and weighs less, so the risk of the bullet glancing off the skull increases, especially as we increase the distance to the target. A .22 LR might be a good choice if you want to stick it in a zombie’s ear, but I would prefer never to get that close.

Rule No. 1: Cardio
We’re all going to be doing some running in the Zombie Apocalypse, so it’s important to select our sniper rifle accordingly. One of our primary considerations should be its weight. A heavy rifle is going to be a nightmare to carry around during an apocalypse.

I tried to choose the lightest components possible when putting together this rifle. One of the first places we look to cut weight is the barrel. This one is a 16-inch sample from Rock Creek barrels. It has a No. 4 contour and represents the ideal balance between weight and accuracy for this caliber.

I chose the .300 Blackout because it was a small cartridge that was powerful enough to shoot zombies effectively out to 200 yards and comes in factory supersonic and subsonic loadings that won’t drive you to bankruptcy should you choose to stockpile (and you should). Another advantage of the .300 Blackout is that its relatively mild recoil and light (for .30 caliber) bullets don’t require a super-thick barrel to maintain high accuracy standards. Where we would normally require a 5.5 contour or thicker for a .308, we can shave a .300 Blackout barrel back to a No. 4 and still be content with the accuracy we achieve. The weight savings we realize by going from a No. 5.5 to a No. 4 contour will prove invaluable when the zombies come.

I also scrutinized several stocks and made my choice because of its weight savings and positional shooting potential, the two predominant criteria. The stock is a McMillan A1-3 model and uses McMillan’s Edge technology. The Edge product line uses graphite and resin instead of fiberglass, making for the lightest stock possible. While some of the exotic camouflage options are lost with the Edge line of stocks, I decided that the weight savings were more important than visual appeal. Weight was a big concern right from the start, so the choice to use a McMillan Edge was easy.

I chose the A1-3 model because it is slender and easily accommodates offhand, kneeling, sitting and nonstandard positional shooting. Many stocks for sniper rifles are geared exclusively for the prone position. These should be avoided when preparing for the apocalypse. We expect the Zombie Apocalypse to be a run-and-gun endeavor where we’ll need to stay on our feet and mobile at all times.

Rifle Specifics
The bolt-action rifle featured here represents perfection for the urban zombie sniper. American Precision Arms, an exceptional builder of custom rifles, built it. Jered Joplin is the owner of APA and is both a dedicated rifle builder and an avid competitive shooter. When I first spoke with Jered about building a sniper rifle for the Zombie Apocalypse, we agreed that accuracy and weight would be our primary concerns.

Keeping the rifle quiet was another reason we chose to build a bolt-action rifle instead of an AR. Even with subsonic loadings and a suppressor, an AR still generates a considerable amount of noise when it’s fired because the bolt and bolt carrier slam back and forth each time we pull the trigger. The zombie sniper is a specialized member of a team who needs to bring the unique capability of killing zombies at long distances in almost total silence. While bolt-action rifles would be unwise for every member of the team, it’s crucial that one member of the team have a rifle similar to this one.

Jered threaded the muzzle of this rifle to accept an AAC suppressor, a crucial piece of gear for the zombie sniper. Subsonic .300 Blackout loads are quiet all by themselves, but when we combine subsonic loads with an effective suppressor we get the quietest combination possible. This is the standard that the zombie sniper needs to maintain.

The barrel threads into a Surgeon round action that provides a solid foundation for this rifle. Surgeon actions are some of the most robust actions made and were my first choice for the Zombie Apocalypse. The Surgeon round action has the same footprint as a Remington 700 short action, so there are plenty of aftermarket accessories available that allow us to build our zombie sniper rifles to fit a wide variety of tastes.

The trigger I used in this rifle is the Xtreme Shooting Products Model XTSP single-stage trigger. I chose this trigger because it offers excellent adjustability options while remaining robust. It is crisp and much more user-friendly than any factory and most aftermarket triggers designed to fit the Remington 700 clone actions.

Two final features that are crucial for the zombie sniper are the APA bottom metal that we put on this rifle and detachable box magazines. The APA bottom metal will stand up to any beating we could ever dish out, and the magazine release represents the most intuitive and unobtrusive design available on the market. The APA bottom metal accepts Accuracy International polymer 10-round magazines.

The AI polymer magazines solve a lot of the feeding problems that bolt-action rifles with internal box magazines chambered in .300 Blackout have, because the AI magazines stack all 10 of the rounds right on top of each other, which places the cartridge directly behind the chamber. When the bolt is cycled, it strips the cartridge out of the magazine and runs it straight into the chamber. Internal box magazines stagger the cartridges as they are loaded, so each time the bolt is cycled the cartridges enter the chamber from either the left or right side of the action. Bolt-action rifles chambered in .300 Blackout are all based on either .221 Fireball or .223 Remington actions and internal box magazines and don’t accommodate the much larger .30-caliber bullets and their accompanying larger ogives well. Unless we’re using the AI magazines that place the larger .30-caliber bullets directly behind the chamber, the shooter should expect some feeding problems with a bolt-action .300 Blackout.

Selecting the Scope
The scope sitting atop the rifle is Leupold’s 1.5-5x20mm M/RT with the new .300 Blackout reticle. This is easily the top pick for the urban zombie sniper. The magnification range is exactly what we need to shoot from zero to 200+ yards in as small and as light a package as possible. The reticle consists of a dot surrounded by a large circle, which, when illuminated and set at 1.5X, works well for CQB distances.

Descending from the dot and circle is a vertical stadia line that serves as a ballistic reticle for both supersonic and subsonic loads. The left side of the reticle as we look through the scope subtends the subsonic flight of the bullet at 100-yard marks out to 400 yards. The supersonic flight of the bullet subtends along the right side of the vertical stadia line and goes out to 900 yards.

While we don’t anticipate shooting much farther than 200 yards, the Leupold scope conveniently accommodates both subsonic and supersonic loads out to much greater distances and does so in a compact and lightweight package. The variable illumination should also prove invaluable because it allows us to engage zombies from dusk until dawn.

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American Precision Arms built what the author considers the ultimate zombie sniper rifle. It is an ideal combination of light weight, speed, accuracy and silence, all geared to work around the .300 BLK cartridge.

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