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5 Most Dangerous Sniper Rifles of All Time

Barrett M82
Image: Creative Commons.

A tool is only as useful as the person who uses it, and when it comes to military small arms a weapon is only as deadly as the shooter who fires it. Give the most refined marksmen rifle to an untrained individual and it won’t turn that person into a sniper.

US Military’s 5 Top Guns

151023-USAN-2994B-014 – SIERRA DEL RETIN, Spain – A Dutch Marine sniperfires a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle during live fire target practice in Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2015. The Royal Netherlands Navy is being certified to lead the amphibious forces in the 2016 NATO Response Force. Ships in Task Group 445.03 include the landing platform dock (LPD) HNLMSJOHAN DE WITT, the frigate HNLMS TROMP, the hydrographic survey vessel HNLMS SNELLIUS, and Dutch Marines. Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Commander David Benham (Released)

While it will always be the shooter, not the firearm that scores the kills, some rifles have become legendary for how their trained users were able to make such impressive shots.

With that said, here is my list of the top five most deadly sniper rifles of all time. Disagree? Let me know in the comments below as I would love to know what you might have picked.

The Soviet Mosin-Nagant

To many the Mosin-Nagant is just a run of the mill bolt action rifle, and anyone who has attended a large gun show in the past 20 years has likely seen plenty of surplus models looking for a buyer. That’s because more than 37 million were produced since the rifle’s inception in 1891. However, it proved to be rugged, reliable and even with very little cleaning and maintenance continued to work in the harshest of conditions.

None of that actually speaks well of what a sniper would want to use exactly, but during the Second World War a specially-modified version – that included reconfigured handles to allow for the use of a telescopic sight along with lighter triggers – made it an ideal sniper weapon. While Soviet snipers such as Vasily Zaytsev, Roza Shanina and Lyudmila Pavlichenko could have used the semi-automatic SVT-40, they opted for the faithful Mosin-Nagant.

The Soviet SVD Dragunov

Anyone who has played a first-person shooter video game set in the modern era knows the SVD Dragunov, a semi-automatic designated marksman rifle that is chambered in 7.62x54mmR. Technically not a “sniper rifle” as it was designed as a squad weapon; the Dragunov was the mainstay ranged infantry weapon of the Soviet Red Army since it was introduced in 1963.

Sniper Rifles

SVD Rifle. Image: Vitaly V. Kuzmin.

The gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle was designed to engage different types of targets within a range of 1,200 meters. Easy to use, maintain and repair, it has been used throughout the world not only by trained marksmen but by insurgents and militants around the globe – and with minimal training could give an advantage to those paramilitary forces. In early 2020 the Russian military received the most updated version, which could make the weapon even deadlier in the right (or more accurately wrong) hands.

Barrett M82

This semi-automatic anti-material rifle was designed and developed by the Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Company to fire the .50 BMG round used in the Browning M2 machine gun – and that makes the M82 one Big Mean Gun! Designated the M107 and fitted with a 10x magnification scope, its primary use is to take out hard targets including parked aircraft, radar units, trucks and other important/expensive assets at an extremely long range.

M82 Firing

Cpl. Kaden Prickett, machine gunner and team leader with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, fires a .50 caliber Special Applications Scoped Rifle at a target 1,200 meters away, in the Central Command area of operations, Jan. 6, 2015. Marines and sailors of Golf Company spent time on the range getting acquainted with various weapons systems and cross-training one another in their respective areas of expertise. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carson A. Gramley/Released).

However, it could also neutralize enemy snipers at standoff range better than practically any other rifle on the planet. Even those hiding between bricks and concrete wouldn’t be safe if a shooter took aim with a Barrett.


Belgian Special Forces sniper teams fire upon long-range targets from an elevated shooting range at the High Angle Sniper Course, in Hochfilzen training area, Austria, September 30th, 2020. The high angle sniper course lasts two weeks and is designed to teach and train sniper teams the necessary skills to operate in mountainous terrain. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt)

Barrett M82

Barrett M82. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Spc. Alexander Day, a scout sniper with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, fires a Barrett M82 .50-caliber sniper rifle during a basic sniper course being taught by a mobile training team Nov. 9, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The MTT is part of the Army’s Sniper School based at Fort Benning, Ga.

Steyr SSG 69

The Austrian-made Steyr Scharfschutzengewehr 69, or SSG 69, may look like a simple high-end hunting rifle but in fact it was designed specifically for military and law enforcement. The bolt action SSG 69 was among the first to utilize synthetic materials for its stock, while it also employs a detachable rotary magazine, which is also transparent, allowing the shooter to see how many rounds are loaded.

Sniper Rifles

Steyr SSG69. Image: Creative Commons.

The compact and lightweight rifle has been used throughout the world for more than 40 years, and it has seen use in numerous conflicts.  Production only ceased in 2015, when it was succeeded by the more modern SSG 08, but the SSG 69 remains one of the most deadly for its ease of use and simple design. There may be more modern and ergonomic rifles, but the prolific SSG 69 was and is a classic and that’s hard to top.

Whitworth Rifle

Here is a weapon you aren’t likely to find on other “top sniper rifle” lists – and that’s because it was used well before the term “sniper” entered our modern lexicon. Developed in the 1850s, the English-made Whitworth was a single-shot rifled musket muzzleloader, and it was renowned for its extreme long-range for its era. Reportedly one was almost used to kill President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 during the American Civil War, but the President stepped out the line of sight just a moment before the Confederate marksman was about pull the trigger.

While Lincoln wasn’t shot by a Whitworth, many others were during the American Civil War as the rifle was prized by Confederate marksmen. Fitted with a telescopic sight, it has been regarded to be the original “sniper rifle” and that made it extremely deadly.

Simply put, a good shot with a Whitworth could take out targets and barely need to take cover as it was simply unlikely the enemy could hope to successfully return fire. That should certainly make the Whitworth, which was considered to be the best rifle of its time in terms of accuracy, among the most deadly sniper weapons ever!

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.