M24 Sniper Rifle – Details Matter
Author: Michael Haugen
A considerable amount has been written about the M24 Sniper Weapons System (SWS) over the years (some of from me), but much of the information has focused on specific aspects such as its history, exceptional feats accomplished, etc. The thought occurred to me that many of the nuances of the rifle and system over its life are not well known and there seems to be a genuine interest in these things.
This article will attempt to address a variety of things unique to the M24 SWS that people seem to ask about or in some cases pontificate on incorrectly. The source of my information comes from two sources; my decade plus experience as a sniper and sniper instructor and my twelve plus years working for Remington (Military Products Division/Remington Defense). I will say up front that there are some aspects of this system (specifically its early development) that are slightly ambiguous and fraught with numerous variations of the events, therefore I will skirt many of these for the time being and rather focus on hard information that might be of interest.
OVERVIEW OF THE SYSTEM
As has been written about extensively, is the fact that the M24 SWS was developed as a result of a concerted effort by the US Army to acquire a new sniper rifle. The Army went to lengths to identify exactly what it wanted its snipers to get and thus spent some time talking to the end users and developing a requirements document from which a solicitation could be developed.
The resulting solicitation specified a robust “system” that would support all conceivable types of operations in all environments. The Army desired a bolt action system that was user maintainable that delivered consistent repeatable accuracy. They wanted this system to provide the sniper with everything he needed (there were no female snipers in the Army in the late 80s) to ensure the weapon remained operational despite possible breakages and issues. Subsequently, the M24 SWS was offered by Remington and as most know comprised a 700 based action in a composite stock with an aluminum bedding block, state-of-the-art optics, target iron sights, all provided in a robust case capable of being air dropped.
The heart of the system of course is the rifle itself and a lot of information has been printed about it. At the risk of being redundant I will provide the basic specs here;
- Remington Model 700 long action
- 24” cold hammer forged 1:11.25 416R stainless steel barrel with 5R rifling
- M24 fire control (trigger)
- Front and rear iron sight bases
- Picatinny 1913 top rail/s
- HS Precision composite / Aramid fiber stock that features an aluminum bedding block, wide forearm with dual sling studs and an adjustable length of pull
- Leupold Mark IV M3A Ultra fixed 10X optics with a Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC)
- Micrometer rear target sight, globe front target sight with replaceable inserts
- Deployment kit containing tools to remove the optics and barreled action, a variety of replacement screws, replacement dials for the optics, and sectional cleaning kit with chamber brush
- M1907 leather sling
- Operator manual
- Optics hard case
- System hard case
While the above information is widely known or is easily discovered online, there are a number of things with the M24 that many people don’t know or have been incorrectly purported over years.
The M24 is not built on the normal Remington 700 production line; rather it is built in what is called the “M24 shop” by a dedicated group of professionals. This should not be confused with the custom shop, nor should this be taken to mean that those who build the M24 are “custom” gun makers. The M24 shop exists because the contract demanded that the rifles be constructed and stored in a secure facility not accessible by the average employee. Each rifle is built by one employee from beginning to end, then the rifle is proofed, magnufluxed, proofed a second time, and then fired for accuracy also known as targeted (with ammunition provided by the Army).
The employees that work in the M24 shop are exceptionally proud to work there and are hand selected to be given the opportunity to do so. These employees understand the significance of building rifles that will be used by professionals to defend themselves and their fellow soldiers. While the M24 SWS contract created the M24 shop and subsequently this has become the source for all Remington sniper rifles.
The M24 action is a long action (versus a short action) which is odd to use for .308/7.62, and there has been a significant amount written about this subject. The truth is that during the requirements definition phase, there was a stated desire for a 300 WM sniper or precision system as the Army saw this acquisition as an opportunity to get something much improved over what they had.
Some have stated that it was the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) that stipulated the need for a 300WM; however I do know that Special Forces were also interested in this capability. Regardless of who or why specifically, the decision was made to use a long action so that should the conversion to 300WM become a reality, the Army would not have to purchase completely new rifles. Despite all of the concern and desire to change, ultimately 7.62×51 NATO was selected as the chambering for soon to be M24 SWS.
In order to make this work, Remington selected a 30-06 based long action, magazine and follower. This allows 7.62 rounds to be loaded and fired through the long action; an added bonus is that the internal magazine will hold 5 rounds (the requirement is 4 minimum). The M24 floor plate is unique to this rifle in that it is steel and that the magazine release is in the front/bottom of the trigger well whereas in the commercial guns, the magazine release is in the front top.
The actual M24 action is really a standard Remington 700 long action with the only real differences are the optics mounting holes, makings and coatings. The optics mount screw holes on the M24 are 8-40 versus the commercial standard of 6-48. The difference between the M24 and 700 commercial action markings is obviously the M24 has “M24” added and rolled into the action whereas the 700 has just “700). For the detailed orientated reader it might be noteworthy to know that very early guns had a “U.S.” mark placed directly above the serial number, however this practice was abandoned very early since the specification did not call for it and it was an extra step that slowed production. If I had to guess, I would say that guns with this marking would have been a “B” series (meaning the SN began with B) or perhaps some early C series.
The coating on the M24 is either a “RemCoat” (early guns) or powder coat whereas the commercial guns are generally blue (some models have alternate coatings). Therefore and for the record, the M24 action is not specially made for that weapon, they are secured early in the 700 action production process prior to coating and marking and made in batches to support the M24 program; the M24 action is dimensionally and materially identical to a commercial 700 long action.
One component of the M24 specification was the requirement for a user adjustable trigger (“the rifle shall have a trigger pull capable of being adjusted by the user”). The trigger weight was to be not less than 2 lbs 8oz and “more” than 4lbs (it could exceed 4 lbs). As a result of these specifications, Remington modified their existing trigger by adding a screw and a spring in the trigger shoe than can be adjusted by the operator. This trigger is called the “M24 Fire Control” and is normally only used on the M24 series of rifles (M24, M24A2, M24A3).
While the M24 Fire Control is technically unique, truthfully it is as stated a standard Remington commercial 700 trigger (fire control) with a screw and a spring in the trigger shoe to allow it to be adjusted by the user. It is worth noting that “adjustment” is a relative term when it comes to this trigger. What I mean is that the trigger is manufactured (set up) to be somewhere between 3.5 and 5 lbs (they try to get around 3.8 – 4lbs), however the adjustment screw can never make it any lighter, only heavier. In other words, the screw can be completely removed without making the trigger/weapon unsafe and in fact many sniper students do exactly that. The intent of the requirement was to give the sniper an adjustable trigger (as I know the shooters involved with development specified), however soldiers being soldiers, if there is a screw that can be manipulated, it will be and Remington did not want a weapon system that could be made unsafe.
It’s worth noting that each M24 Fire Control is set and then tested with 5 pulls; the trigger must produce a pull force less than 5lbs throughout the test to be used. Once the trigger is set, the sear engagement screw is peened; a punch is used to dent the screw pathway so that that it cannot back out. Also, all three adjustment screws are coated with a shellac material that dries hard. Usually this shellac is red, but I have seen clear as well.
As noted in the specs above, the M24 barrel is 24” long and what some would consider a heavy or perhaps medium heavy barrel. It begins at 1.203” at the receiver and has a slight taper to .910” at the muzzle. It has a recessed crown to protect the lands and grooves. The barrel is cold hammer forged and made from 416R stainless steel and features a 1:11.25 twist using 5R rifling profile. The barrels feature Remington proof stamps near the receiver and “7.62 NATO” on the side of the barrel.
These barrels have proven to provide outstanding accuracy and far exceed the 2.6 MOA requirement (2.6 inches @ 200 yards), in fact I have personally never witnessed a M24 that did not shoot sub-MOA throughout its life. Speaking of the barrel’s life, the Army specified that the barrel must remain accurate to 5000 rounds, however I have personally seen many of them exceed 10,000 (while remaining accurate) and in one case had a documented 14,000 round barrel shooting 1 MOA.
At the time that of the M24 effort, Remington was owned by DuPont which had just recently brought to market a revolutionary new ballistic material Kevlar, subsequently as the M24 was being developed the executives were looking for any opportunity to get this new material into the military and the M24 contract provided just that opportunity.
The HS Precision M24 stock was marketed as a “Kevlar Stock” giving the users the idea that it was ballistic, but in reality it is a fiberglass stock with 2 relatively small pieces of Kevlar laid into the rear of the stock centered on both sides. These pieces of ballistic material serve no functional purpose; they are purely there for marketing. Despite this small piece of “marketing”, the stock does have a full length bedding block that features a rectangular aluminum bar running down the forearm (which the sling studs are threaded into) and another round aluminum tube running down into the butt stock for rigidity.
Overall the stock has proven to be remarkably durable and robust; consider that these rifles are used and abused by all manner of soldiers in very diverse environments and hold up very well. I once saw a 2 ½ ton truck (Deuce and half) run over a pelican rifle case containing two M24s resulting in at least one bolt handle penetrating the case. The real issue here was that this was in a course and this was test day, so no time for substitutions. The rifles were removed, zeros were confirmed and the students passed.
The 2 biggest issues or complaints with regards to the M24 stock are the sling studs in the forearms pulling out and the length of pull adjustment wheel locking up. The first issue is caused usually but the stud coming loose and then someone using a sling supported position applying significant force, or in some cases I have seen the application of a Harris bipod apply enough pulling force to strip out a loose stud. The second issue is typically a result of poor maintenance and not cleaning the threaded rod or allowing it to rust. I did however have one instance of an adjusting wheel cross threading on the threaded rod; unsure of how or why it happened but it was toast.
OPTICS AND BASE/S
The M24 SWS is fitted with the Leupold Mark IV M3A Ultra 10X day optic. The M3 was developed in the mid 1980’s as Leupold’s incursion into the military contract world. The M3 was unique at the time in that it featured a 30mm main tube, 42mm objective, and a mil-dot reticle; however most notable was the Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) that allows the shooter to hit targets out to known ranges by indexing the elevation turret to that range. In order to accomplish this, the BDC elevation dial had to be engraved to match the ballistics of the ammunition being used. Leupold made a variety of BDC turrets over the years, but the M24 was issued with a turret that stated “7.62 MM NATO M118”. There were other turrets available from Leupold such as “038 WIN 168 GR”, “300 Win Mag” and I believe there was even a .223 version available.
The original M24 was issued with a one piece steel Picatinny base, however in the 1990s this was changed to a 2 piece base. All of the bases were sourced from Leupold and the decision to move to a 2-piece over the 1-piece remains unclear except that many of the originals were “bowed” and would result in the rear rail screws working loose causing a loss of zero and a reduction in shooter confidence in the system.
The M24 iron sights were specified for a variety of reasons; operationally they were required in case the optics went down or (remember the cold war) if the enemy has optics detection equipment (yes it does exist). The other reason was so that the rifle could be used competitively by the AMU and others to shoot a variety of matches such as conventional high power and perhaps 1000 yard competition.
The actual requirement was as such;
- The configuration of the iron sights shall consist of a front sight and a rear peep sight. The rear peep sight shall have a movable scale for zeroing purposes
- The iron sights may have inserts for the front sight and rear peep sight. If the iron sights have inserts, they shall be replaceable by the operator without tools other than those contained in the deployment kit
- The width of the front sight shall be such that it is the narrowest one offered by the contractor
- The iron sights shall be adjustable for both elevation and azimuth in increments no greater than .5 moa increments. The adjustments shall be detended, audible and tactile clicks and be capable of being performed at ambient, hot (145o F ± 5oF), cold (-50oF ± 5oF) by a person dressed in cold weather environmental clothing (less the outer arctic mitten), and by a person dressed in NBC clothing
Redfield iron sights were originally selected for use with the M24; Palma rear sights and International front sights with replaceable inserts. Unfortunately in the early 1990s, Redfield stopped making these sights and subsequently a new set had to be sourced. Eventually the RPA Trakker sights were selected and applied to the new M24 builds. The RPA sights required a different rear and front base which had other effects (more on that later).
THE DEPLOYMENT KIT
Despite the fact that the M24 was designed to be maintained by the individual shooters, in reality the Army did a sub-standard job of training its snipers in anything past minimal maintenance, thus most snipers really did not how to work on the guns as they should have. Alternatively, the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC) did an exemplary job of training its snipers in not only maintaining their M24s but fixing them should something happen. During my time as a sniper and onto when I worked for Remington, I worked with a wide variety of conventional units and it never ceased to surprise me when conventional Army snipers would show me broken items on their guns but had an untapped deployment kit. When I would ask why they didn’t use the parts in the D-kit, most would say that they were forbidden to use anything in it as it was all subject to inventory. Typical big Army response; they have the parts in-hand but will not use them.
The D-kit on the other hand normally went everywhere the rifle went. As I stated previously, in some cases nothing was ever used from the D-kit but it was typically present with the weapon or safely stored someplace (like the arms room). Units such as Special Operations would order spares for their D-kits randomly (whenever funds could be found) but to be honest, not a lot was used from the D-kits all that often.
In all, the M24 SWS comes with 2 hard cases; the large system case and the optics case. These cases were specified for a number of reasons; first is the most obvious, to protect the weapon system while in storage, next is to protect the weapon system while in transit or deployment and lastly was to protect the while being deployed (kicked out of helicopters, planes, floated, etc).
The large system case is made by Hardigg and will hold the entire weapon system and I believe this is its only application. The sight case resembles a tool box and holds the optics and iron sights. While the large case seemed like a good idea back in the day, the truth is that it was too big to haul around by most especially since it would only hold one weapon and it doesn’t have wheels meaning it was a 2-man carry. In reality, most the big cases were shelved and the units purchased normal hard rifle cases to transport the weapons as needed.
Like the big case, the sight case was rarely used if ever because the optics were typically mounted on the weapons and left there. Additionally, the sight box comes with 2 straps to ensure it remains closed should it be dropped from a considerable height; these straps are a pain to deal with and usually more of a liability than an asset. In the vast majority of cases, the optics were mounted on the rifle and the iron sights were stuck into the deployment kit, then the sight box was put back into the large case and put onto a shelf. The sight box was originally grey in color but somewhere along the way was changed to black.
The M24 was issued with a number of accessories to include bipod, sling, manual, soft case and flash hider. Some of these items were provided to Remington during the production of the weapons (rather than being sourced by Remington) whereas others were sourced by the Army and issued to the units directly.
The Army sources and issues the bipods directly to the units as they are needed. The bipod is a Harris LM model and does not have a tilt or pan feature. It attaches to the rifle using the rearward sling stud on the forearm of the stock. It can be attached to the front stud, however using the rear stud leaves the front for attaching the sling and provides a better hinge point for the weapon. It might interest some that in the beginning, someone within the Special Forces command decided that Special Forces didn’t need bipods and subsequently told the big Army that they didn’t want or need any. The direct result of this misguided action was that units had to purchase their own using their own budget (not well received by commanders.
The M24 was issued with a M1907 sling; this was provided to Remington when the Army orderd the rifles. The sling is a tan leather affair which was originally used on the 1903 but came into favor with many match shooters because it could be used as an alternative support by configuring it to present a “cuff” that would be positioned on the non-firing upper arm. Among snipers, the M1907 sling was usually well received as it worked well and was very durable. That said, there were a lot of snipers who tried the latest nylon sling system to one degree or another of success. The slings issued with the M24 are stamped “MRT” which stands for “Mildew Resistant Treatment” and the date of treatment. It is worth noting that there is a “national match” variant of this sling around which is thicker, but the M24 was not issued with this sling, just the standard M1907 leather sling.
As some know, when the US military acquires a weapon system, they typically make their own manual to ensure it is compliant with US Military standards and procedures and the M24 manual is no exception. The Army developed and provided the manuals for military issued M24’s, however Remington does have and provide a copy with a different cover for M24’s sold to anyone other than the US Government.
The soft case was obtained by big Army and provided to Remington to package with the rifles. This soft case was/is a very simple cheap nylon padded case really not worthy of the rifle but it did work. Many of the soft cases disappeared rapidly as enterprising soldiers saw an opportunity to get an accessory for their favorite hunting rifle or more truthfully the soft cases were destroyed during use as they were not overly robust.
The flash hider is an interesting piece; it was sourced by Picatinny Arsenal for issue to the individual units, unfortunately it did not come with any documentation (if it did that documentation never got to the users) and many shooters did not even know what it was or how to use it. The flash hider is a very simple device made of relatively thin metal and affixes to the barrel of the M24 by a locking ring that goes over the front sight base. When the iron sights were changed, no one thought to tell Picatinny because the front sight for the RPA sights are taller and will not allow the flash hider to be used. In 2006 I was having a conversation with the sniper program manager at Picatinny and mentioned this issue, subsequently they changed the drawing for the flash hider, however I do not know if any were ever made. To that point, I rarely ever saw the flash hider used by anyone, although it was effective in dispersing the visible muzzle flash. The biggest complaint was that the 3 prongs would catch on any vegetation in the area and couldn’t be used if the rifle was to be drug/stalked.
Over the life of the M24, there were a number of alternate accessories made for the weapon, some were actively used and others were not. Two deficiencies materialized with regards to the M24 that hindered its effectiveness as a combat weapon; operations during times of limited visibility and operating with other battlefield operating systems.
As the Army entered into the 1990s, night vision devices were rapidly being developed and obtained by the military. While the very first devices (1960s and 70s) were designed and built to be weapons mounted, later more advanced systems were goggles and helmet mounted devices, however to support weapons engagements IR laser systems came online to allow soldiers to hit targets they could now see. Unfortunately goggles do not work with sniper rifles very well so a number of attempts of adapting various night vision systems to the M24 were undertaken. The first that I am aware of was a mount to allow the AN/PVS-4 Starlight Scope to be mounted on the rifle which did work, however the PVS-4 was a very poor night vision system (especially compared to more modern systems)
For some of the classified units, mounts for the SIMRAD KN200 and KN250 were used successfully. The only issue with the SIMRAD system was the change in zero once you attached it. Every sniper had to know what the change was in order to hit what he was aiming at while using the device. That said, the change in zero was consistent and could be mitigated effectively. The other “down side” of this device was the mount which had to be sourced from KAC at an exorbitant price.
There was a night optic procured for use specifically on the M24 (and perhaps other weapons), this was the AN/PVS-10 Day/Night sight. This optic was supposed to replace the day optic entirely and provide the ability to shoot day or night. The optic featured a mil dot reticle (like the M3A), so in this regard it functioned visually as the standard day optic. Unfortunately, this device really did not work very well at all; it didn’t work as well as the M3A in daytime and was not an effective night vision system. On top of these issues, the PVS-10 was HUGE which was not conducive to stalking and trying to remain undetected.
There was also an effort to mount an AN/PVS-14 monocular behind a day optic with a tubular adapter. One end of the adapter slid over the ocular end of the day optic, then the PVS-14 was inserted into the shooter end of the adapter and it had tensioning screws to hold the whole thing together. While this did work somewhat, it had a very limited range and took a lot of adjusting to get the reticle of the day optic clear or relatively clear. The biggest issue was that it placed the shooter’s head very far back on the butt stock of the rifle; some people developed slip over padding that would extend the stock whereas others adjusted the stock all the way out and then held their head in the rifle position to see. These devices were few and far between and really only used by Special Operation, specifically some of the classified units.
Another unique accessory was a mount for laser aiming devices such as the PEQ-2 and later the PEQ-4C to the rifle. This mount attaches to the left side of the rifle where the rear iron sight would be mounted. I am not sure how many of these were ever made and if they were sourced by Picatinny or not, however I did see one while on active duty. While the mount “sort of” worked, it placed the PEQ in a very inconvenient place and making it somewhat hard to use.
In the early 2000s within Army Special Forces (Green Berets and Ranger Regiment) there was a effort called the “Integrated Night Optical Device (INOD) program”. The purpose of this program was to develop a day/night optical system for use on sniper rifles. Unfortunately at that time, the technology just was not there and subsequently the program never reached a conclusion, however the funds of that program were transferred over for the adoption of a “Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS)” solution. As a result of this, a symposium was conducted over a several week period at Ft Campbell KY to identify and subsequently purchase a night vision platform for Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) sniper rifles (specifically the M24). A variety of systems were looked at, all in current production and available. The symposium included very comprehensive testing with every sample being subjected to the same event ranging from recognition detection distance (how far you could detect a person), identification distance (how far you could ID friend from foe) and live firings. When it was done, 2 systems stood out;
- A system from KAC which included a top rail with two projecting cylindrical rods on which another small rail piece was attached that “floated” (meaning the small rail could move back and forth on the rods), a Leupold 3.5-10X Mark IV M3 and a Universal Night Sight (UNS) from OSTI
- A system that included a one-piece top rail that had “wings” on each side to accommodate the use of lasers and such (later to be named the McCann Rail System or MRS), a Leupold 3.5-10X Mark IV M3 and a Universal Night Sight from OSTI
Due to a variety of reasons system #2 was selected and subsequently purchased and used. Over time it was determined that the MRS did cause some issues and would loosen, specifically the rear screws and it was determined that better Loctite needed to be used. Later (around 2005) Remington developed the “Modular Accessory Rail System (MARS)” made by Badger Ordnance that was similar to the MRS except the side rails could be removed and positioned to the shooters liking. The MARS would be purchased by a variety of M24 users and used quite extensively; in fact the US Army did a trial in 2008 with the MRS and MARS and determined that the MARS was as stable as the normal steel based and was the only other mount authorized for use on the M24.
WARRANTY AND REPAIR
Over the years I have heard all sorts of rumors about this aspect of the M24 SWS. The truth of this situation is that the US Army purchased a “maintenance” aka repair contracts from Remington to support the M24 SWS as it was one of the only weapon systems that were not repaired “in-house” but the military at its organic Directorate Of Logistics (DOL).
The Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) is responsible for all US Army weapons and they provided very specific instructions for the turn in of a M24 for repair. In essence, the operator would notify the arms room that the rifle needed to be repaired. The arms room/armorer would notify the unit supply officer who would notify the unit Property Book Officer (PBO) who would provide the instructions. At that point a DA Form 2404 would be filled out explaining what was wrong with the weapon and the weapon would be shipped to Remington in Ilion NY. When the M24 left the unit, it was removed from the books meaning it was no longer property of that unit; rather it was property of TACOM.
Ilion (the M24 shop) would notify TACOM that they had received that specific weapon, then inspect the weapon and repair it after which they would notify TACOM what was done so that TACOM could release funds to cover the repair. After that the weapon would be returned to the originating unit.
As noted in this article, the US Air Force also adopted and issued the M24 as their sniper rifle of choice. However, the USAF did not purchase a repair contract and for many years did not send rifles back to Remington officially (there were instances of specific units sending one back and it was repaired either under the TACOM contract or gratis. Around 2006 Remington negotiated a new repair contract (they were typically 5 year contracts) and I had a contact at the USAF at Warner Robbins AB (they are responsible for all USAF weapons systems) and asked if they wanted to participate. They were actually a bit confused as they had never thought of repairing the weapons. After some discussion, the USAF did buy a contract and subsequently had all of their M24’s sent in for inspection and repair. Many of these guns were in exceptional shape showing little if any signs of use whereas others were highly used.
The M24 remains one of the US’s best and most used sniper weapons system. It was issued to the entire US Army as well as the US Air Force. In total approximately 2500 systems were sold to the US military and another roughly 8000 sold to US law enforcement and foreign military allies. It was the C130 or UH1 of sniper rifles in that it was exceptionally robust, accurate and durable and served well from approximately 1988 until 2010 when it was upgraded to the M2010 (guess one could argue it is still in use). Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), technology ran past the M24 making it difficult to integrate into the modern methods of conducting battle. Due to its shortcomings (which were very few), the M24A2 was developed, however that is the basis for another article.
About the Author
Michael Haugen retired in early 2004 from the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 (promotable) after 26 years in the US Army. In late 2003, Michael was hired by Remington Arms as a Military Product Representative in the new Military Products Division (MPD). He became the manager of the Military Products Division in 2005 until he was selected to be the Director of International Military and Law Enforcement Sales. Michael left Remington in 2016 and subsequently took a position as the Senior Vice President for Christensen Arms. In January 2017 Michael became the President of SBS Training Solutions as well as President/Owner of Inextremis Consulting.
Michael has dedicated a considerable amount of time to the art and skill of sniping and long range precision. He wrote articles for virtually every edition of The Tactical Shooter in addition to contributions to various Harris publications and the Infantry magazine. While with Remington, Michael was actively engaged in the development, testing and promotion of their entire military/LE sniper rifle line. He currently resides in Washington State with his wife and remains exceptionally active in the firearms industry and precision weapons.