With the release of Clint Eastwood’s movie, American Sniper, this weekend, I thought it might be fitting to look at the favorite rifles of the American hero, Chris Kyle. In his autobiography, Kyle said people ask a lot about the weapons he used as a sniper, so he talked some in the book about the specific rifles he used. Kyle described the wide range of weapons and rifle systems he used in different situations, but I wanted to focus on the few he said were his favorite sniper rifles.
So, I went back and re-read his book, and scoured the internet for the best photos I could find of his actual rifles. I even contacted manufacturers like Accuracy International, GA Precision, Leupold, and Nightforce to get more specs on Chris Kyle’s rifle setups. I expected this all to be well documented, but it took a lot of detective work to put together clues from different places. Some of it is hard facts from the man himself, other specs are what he most likely used based on what was issued at the time of his active duty, and some specs are based on my own research and identifying products based on photos of his rifles.
His .300 Win Mag
In his autobiography, Chris Kyle starts by describing the AR-style, semi-auto, black guns that he used, like the US Navy Mk-12 5.56 Rifle, and the SR-25 7.62 Rifle (aka Mk-11). Although those rifles served a purpose, Kyle wasn’t a huge fan of either. In fact, he talked about how the SR-25 had a bad reputation of jamming up in the field. He finished the section on the SR-25 by saying “There were other issues with the weapon, however, and personally it was never one of my favorites.” That was immediately followed by his words, “The .300 is in another class entirely.”
Kyle was a huge fan of the .300 Win Mag, and for good reason. It has vastly superior stopping power over the common 5.56 NATO (aka 223 Rem), and vastly improved ballistics over the common 7.62x51mm (aka 308 Win).
In his book, Kyle said, “I used the .300 Win Mag for most of my kills. It’s an excellent all-around cartridge, whose performance allows for superb accuracy as well as stopping power. The .300 is a little heavier gun by design. It shoots like a laser. Anything from 1,000 yards and out, you’re just plain nailing it. And on closer targets, you don’t have to worry about too much correction for your come-ups. You can dial in your 500 yard dope and still hit a target from 100-700 yards without worrying too much about making minute adjustments.”
While the Mk-12 and Mk-11 were both semi-automatic rifles, Kyle’s .300 Win Mag was a manual bolt-action. Kyle said “Other services fire the round from different (or slightly different) guns; arguably, the most famous is the Army’s M-24 Sniper Weapon System, which is based on the Remington 700 rifle. (Yes, that is the same rifle civilians can purchase for hunting.) In our case, we started out with McMillan stocks, customized the barrels, and used 700 action. These were nice rifles.”
Although Kyle doesn’t specify that this was a SOCOM Mk-13 in his book, industry experts tell me that is likely what he was using. Here are the most likely components for the rifle Kyle is shown using in the photos above:
- Remington 700 Long Action
- Lilja Precision 26.5” 1:10 Barrel
- McMillan A-2 Tactical Stock with saddle-type adjustable cheek-piece
- McCann Industries Integrated Rail System (MIRS) Rifle Mount
- Remington Factory Trigger
- M16 Extractor Bolt Modification
- Nightforce 20 MOA Picatinny Rail
- Nightforce High Rings (allows proper alignment with nightvision optics)
- Nightforce NXS 8-32×56 Scope
- Knights Armament Mk-11 Suppressor (aka SR-25 Suppressor)
- Harris 6-9” Swivel Bipod
Kyle mentioned in the book that he ran his .300 Win Mag suppressed. The .300 Win Mag Mk-13 was designed to use the same suppressor as his Mk-11 (aka SR-25 7.62 NATO), which was the Knights Armament Mk-11 Suppressor.
“Scopes are an important part of the weapon system. Overseas, I used a 32-power scope. As a SEAL, I used Nightforce scopes. They have very clear glass, and they’re extremely durable under terrible conditions. They always held their zero for me,” said Kyle. If you take that info to consideration, the scope in the photos must be a Nightforce NXS 8-32×56. However, a Nightforce rep told me that at the time of Kyle’s service, the Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×56 was a popular choice on magnum rifles. He added that at the time, they were configured with 0.25 MOA click adjustments, and either the Nightforce Mil-dot or MLR reticles. Towards the end of Kyle’s career, scopes with Nightforce’s ZeroStop feature were getting phased into use.
You can see in the photos the McMillan stock he was using on his .300 Win Mag had their lightweight saddle-style adjustable cheek-piece, instead of the integral cheek-piece like the one on his .338 Lapua. That makes it easy to tell those rifles apart in photos, in addition to the suppressor (he never had a suppressor for his .338).
The factory Remington trigger was tuned to 2 pounds. Kyle said “I used a 2 pound trigger on my rifles. That’s a fairly light pull. I want the trigger to surprise me every time; I don’t want to jerk the gun as I fire. I was no resistance: Get set, get ready, put my finger and gently start squeezing, and it goes off.”
But, Kyle tells us he received an upgraded .300 Win Mag during one of his tours (likely the Mk-13 Mod 5): “In my third platoon – the one that went to Ramadi – we got all new .300s. These used Accuracy International stocks, with a brand-new barrel and action. The AI version had a shorter barrel and a folding stock. They were bad-ass.”
In 2013, sculptor Greg Marra wanted to pay tribute to Chris Kyle by making a life-size sculpture of the hero as a gift to his family. It was important to Marra that the statue was holding an exact replica of Kyle’s rifle, down to the smallest detail. Kyle’s wife allowed Marra to use his rifle for the project, and he contracted a company named NVision to scan a high-resolution 3D model of the rifle.
The rifle pictured below is Kyle’s sniper rifle they scanned for the sculpture. It’s the rifle he used the most, and is likely what he would have called “his sniper rifle,” if he had to pick just one.
Watch the news report about scanning the rifle for the sculpture:
His .338 Lapua Mag
In his book, Kyle mentioned they didn’t have .338 Lapua rifles in training, but started getting them later during the war. Unlike his other weapons, it wasn’t type classified rifle or caliber, meaning there wasn’t a detailed specification for the rifle. Kyle said “there are a number of different manufacturers, including McMillan and Accuracy International.”
Kyle recounts “I used a .338 on my last deployment. I would have used it more if I’d had it.” He goes on to say, “The bullet shoots farther and flatter than a .50 caliber, weighs less, costs less, and will do just about as much damage. They are awesome weapons.” He was obviously a big fan of the .338 Lapua, and the only drawback he mentioned was “my model’s lack of a suppressor. When you’re shooting inside a building, the concussion is strong enough that it’s a pain – literally. My ears would hurt after a few shots.”
This was the rifle that he made his longest confirmed kill with, which was a 2,100 yard shot. That is 1.2 miles (or 1.92 km for you metric guys)! Kyle includes the photo below in his book, and adds this caption: “A close-up of my Lapua .338, the gun I made my longest kill with. You can see my ‘dope’ card – the placard on the side contains my come-ups (adjustments) needed for long-range targets. My 2,100 yard shot exceeded the card’s range, and I had to eyeball it.” Wow.
His .338 was the rifle featured on the cover of his autobiography, American Sniper. The rifle image was likely extracted from the photo below of Chris Kyle with the rifle.
This photo of his .338 Lapua rifle was also included in his autobiography, on the inside cover.
The scope on that rifle resembled a Leupold design, so I contacted Leupold Tactical to see if they could identify the model. They said it looked to be a Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10x40mm LR/T Illuminated model. Based on Kyle’s time of service, they said the scope likely featured their TMR reticle, but they couldn’t be sure. So at 10x magnification, that makes the 2,100 yard shot even more impressive!
I’ve heard people say it was a McMillan TAC-338 rifle, although Kyle didn’t specify in his book. But as I was researching this, I noticed McMillan has a rifle package for the TAC-338 that looks virtually identical to the photos of Kyle’s rifle from his autobiography. From the scope, to the rings, to the stock, to the MIRS rail, to the muzzle brake, to the bipod, to the bottom metal and magazine, and even the leather sling! I’m going to go out on a limb and say he had the McMillan TAC-338 Rifle Package.
Here are the specs that are on the McMillan TAC-338 Rifle Package, and likely what was on the Kyle’s .338 Lapua rifle as well:
- McMillan G30 Long Action
- McMillan A5 Stock with integral adjustable cheek-piece, spacer system for adjustable length of pull, flush cups, and one stud
- Schneider 26.5” Medium-Heavy Contour Barrel with 1:10” twist
- McMillan tactical muzzle brake
- Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10×40 LR/T scope with M1 turret and illuminated mil-dot reticle
- 20 MOA scope base made by McMillan
- McCann Industries Integrated Rail System (MIRS) Rifle Mount
- Turner Saddlery Synthetic Leather Sling
- Harris 6-9” Swivel Bipod
In the movie, American Sniper, they tried to stay true to the rifles and techniques Kyle actually used. Bradley Cooper went to multiple training sessions with Scott Reitz of International Training Seminars to learn basic techniques on breathing and marksmanship before they started filming the movie. You can see Cooper is holding a McMillan TAC-338 Rifle Package in the photo at the range with his trainer. So obviously, the movie producers thought that was the rifle Kyle used as well.
His Favorite Post-Service Rifle
When you’re in service, you don’t get a lot of choices for which rifle you use. They’re issued to you, and you use them. Kyle was obviously proficient with any rifle you put in his hands. But, the question that is interesting to me is “What did a rifle expert like Chris Kyle choose to shoot after he retired from active service and could pick anything he wanted?” He gives us the answer in his book:
“Since I’m talking about guns, I’ll mention that my current favorites are the weapons systems made by GA Precision, a very small company started in 1999 by George Gardner. He and his staff pay close attention to every detail, and his weapons are just awesome. I didn’t get a chance to try one until I got out of the service, but now they’re what I use.”
I contacted George Gardner, and asked for more specifics of the rifle that he built for Kyle. George said Kyle was referring to his GA Precision Gladius chambered in 308, and he sent me this photo of Kyle holding his GAP rifle.
Gardner said Kyle’s rifle was a standard Gladius, although “standard” is a poor adjective for such a rifle. It is a tackdriver, and GAP guarantees the rifle to shoot 1/2 MOA groups or better with match-grade factory ammo.
You can see in the photos, Kyle continued to use Nightforce scopes as well. However, I was able to zoom into one of the the photos of Kyle with his rifle and see that the lowest power was 5x … not 5.5 or 8. That means it’s likely a Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 scope topping his GAP Gladius.
You can see in the photo a box a Black Hills Match ammo. Kyle says in his book, that while he was in service “Our rounds were match-grade ammo bought from Black Hills, which makes probably the best sniper ammo around.” That’s quite a statement coming from Chris Kyle. He obviously believed that, because it looks like he continued to use Black Hills ammo even as a civilian.
The .50 Cal
This may come as a surprise, but Kyle was not a fan of .50 cals … at least not most of them. He said, “The fifty is huge, extremely heavy, and I just don’t like it. I never used on in Iraq. There’s a certain amount of hype and even romance for these weapons, which shoot a 12.7x99mm round. There are a few different specific rifles and variations in service with the US military and other armies around the world. You’ve probably heard of the Barrett M-82 or the M-107, developed by Barrett Firearms Manufacturing. They have enormous ranges and in the right application are certainly good weapons. I just didn’t like them all that much.”
He goes on to say, “Everyone says that the .50 is a perfect anti-vehicle gun. But the truth is that if you shoot the .50 through a vehicle’s engine block, you’re not actually going to stop the vehicle. Not right away. The fluids will leak out and eventually it will stop moving. But it’s not instant by any means. A .338 or even a .300 will do the same thing. No, the best way to stop a vehicle is to shoot the driver. And that you can do with a number of weapons.”
But, Kyle did explicitly make one exception to his comments about the .50 cal rifles, saying “The one .50 I do like is the Accuracy International model, which has a more compact, collapsible stock and a little more accuracy; it wasn’t available to us at the time.” Here is the Accuracy International .50 caliber model Kyle was referring to, the AI AX50:
About Chris Kyle
For those of you that may have been under a rock for the past decade, Chris Kyle was a US Navy Seal and the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Kyle, a Texas native, served four combat tour in Iraq and elsewhere between the start of the war and 2008. He retired as chief petty officer, and along the way, collected an armload of hardware, including two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor. “That’s just candy,” Kyle said. “That’s not why we were there.”
Kyle authored a #1 New York Times Bestselling book American Sniper. He donated part of his cut of the book’s profit to the families of fallen servicemen and veteran charities. Kyle started Craft International after he retired from the service, a training company for elite military and law enforcement professionals. Kyle understood the difficulties a veteran goes through adapting back to civilian life, and he tried to help fellow veterans make that shift. Kyle was at a range with a 25 year old veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), when the young man turned a weapon on Kyle.
Kyle’s years of service, and admirable character attracted thousands of people who lined the highways during his funeral procession to pay honor to the fallen hero and his family. More than rifles, and even his military campaigns, Chris Kyle is a man worth celebrating. Sure, he had flaws like you and me. But Kyle was a man who was selflessly giving of himself not only to his country, but to other veterans who faced the same struggles he had himself … to the point of death. May the memory and the life of the man behind the rifle live on in each of us.