After covering terrible firearms from multiple handgun categories, it’s time for a new list of worst rifles. This time, we will look at sniper rifles.
As a fair heads-up, this article is going to include a goodly amount of nuance, qualified remarks, and, dare I say, relativism.
Several of the guns I have chosen here aren’t necessarily bad guns per se — they are just bad choices for sniping, or less than ideal anyway. (See, I’m qualifying my remarks already.)
Okay, no need for qualified remarks or nuance on this one. Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons is viciously blunt: “Spanish M43: The Worst Sniper Rifle Ever Made.”
Ian’s rationale: “The late pattern of M43 sniper is truly awful. It uses a cheap Japanese-made 10x ‘Marine’ scope (this being in the days when Japanese optics were very poor, unlike today). The mounts are a conglomeration of spacer blocks crudely welded to the receiver, bits of aluminum Weaver rail, and cheap thumb-screw scope rings. Honestly the worst actual military sniper rifle I have ever seen. And yet, they were formally adopted and used in Spanish military service for many years.”
The rifle used the 8mm Mauser cartridge.
Yes, I know, the AK-47 is an assault rifle intended for general infantry usage, not as a sniper rifle. And in its infantry role, it’s an excellent choice due to its simplicity as well as its legendary reliability and durability. However, a lot of non-firearms-savvy folks get their misperceptions about guns from movies, and in the case of the Avtomat Kalashnikova, there is a certain movie that wrongly depicts it as a sniper rifle.
It hurts to me to say this, because the movie in question is my all-time favorite: Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket. Yes, the movie is based upon actual events of the Vietnam War, namely the Tet Offensive in general and the urban fighting in Huế City in particular. Yes, the movie’s screenplay is based on a novel written by a real-world Vietnam veteran — Gustav Hasford, who served as a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent just like the film’s protagonist. And yes, the film had another real-life Vietnam veteran, the late great R. Lee Ermey, as a technical adviser and cast member.
Spoiler alert: That closing scene with a female Viet Cong sniper wreaking havoc by performing mind-numbing long-distance marksmanship feats with an AK-47 is pure folly. Even the AK’s biggest fans will admit that tack-driving accuracy is not the strong suit of the gun or of its 7.62x39mm cartridge. You’d be lucky to get a 4-inch 5-shot group at 100 yards, and the distances at which the movie sniper does her dirty work easily exceeds 100 yards. If the character had a Dragunov, sure, the scene might be more believable. The AK, not so much.
Point being, the AK-47, excellent weapon though it is, would be a lousy choice for a sniper rifle.
Italian 6.5mm Mannlicher Carcano
Okay, nuance time again. This rifle gained a lot of infamy as a result of its association with Lee Harvey Oswald and the JFK assassination. But I will say that it’s not nearly the worthless gun that so many conspiracy theorists make it out to be.
The Carcano was actually a pretty decent infantry rifle (just like the AK). Part of the weapon’s bad reputation, besides the Oswald factor, is the fact that it was used by Mussolini’s Italy in WWII, and Mussolini’s Italy was the first Axis power to capitulate. (However, it is a misconception that Italian soldiers were inherently cowardly.) Nonetheless, the gun did have some issues that would make it a less-than-ideal choice for sniping. Robert Prudhomme of The Education Forum elaborates:
“[E]conomics, poor wartime planning and, likely the most predominant of all factors, politics, all played a part in contributing to the bad reputation received by the 6.5 Carcano…These carbines were produced by shortening M1891 long rifle barrels and, of course, the part of the barrel with the tightest riflings (the muzzle) was cut off; leaving the carbine barrel with a maximum rifling of possibly 1:13 which was totally inadequate. …Further attributes to the inaccuracy of 6.5 Carcanos (all models) can be traced to the primers used in the standard Italian issue ‘SMI; (Societa Metallurgica Italiana) 6.5 mm Carcano cartridges…As dealers in surplus Italian arms are quick to point out, surplus Italian 6.5 mm ammunition is highly suspect, for these reasons, and most are quick to advise against firing surplus Italian ammunition.”
Sporterized Japanese 7.7mm Arisaka
Both this weapon and the next one on the list are actually categorized by David E. Petzal of Field & Stream Magazine as two of the “The 5 Worst Hunting Rifles Ever Made,” but since quite a few hunting rifles have done double-duty an sniper rifles, I’m going to include them here. The Type 99 Arisaka was yet another gun that worked fine as an infantry rifle. However, as Petzal explains, “[T]hen there are the “last-ditch” Arisakas. These are all Type 99s that were manufactured in the last days of World War II. They were little more than handles for bayonets, and shortcuts were taken in their production that make them unsafe to fire. Be advised, as they say in the military.”
Winchester Model 100
This .308 caliber rifle is at the very top of Petzal’s list. Why? An awful trigger, a lack of accuracy, and frail firing pins that would wear down over time and cause slam-fires with the bolt not fully locked. David bluntly concludes his assessment with, “The Model 100 was produced until 1973, when it was allowed to die an unmourned death.”
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.