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As rare as Marine snipers are, the rifles they use and the expert gunsmiths who hand-build them are just as unique—and then some. The Marine Corps has four scout sniper schools spread out across the United States, but there’s only one place where the sniper bolt-action weapon, the M40A5, is built, and that’s the Precision Weapons Section on Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico. Quantico is also the only place where the sniper gun builders, known in the Corps as 2112s (the specialty code assigned to Marines who graduate from the 181-day Precision Weapons Repair Course) are trained. While not all 2112 graduates work on the M40s, we talked to the ones who did to find out how they make the scout sniper’s 7.62mm Remington 700–based M40A5 sniper rifle.

Master Gunnery Sergeant James Hoffart, the Precision Weapons School’s senior enlisted Marine, said that, inside the doors of the Precision Weapons Section, the first question the custom gun builders get from fellow Marines is always the same: “Why can’t infantry weapons shoot like national match rifles?” Indeed. Every Marine is a rifleman, and every rifleman deserves a fine weapon, but Hoffart’s logic quickly levels the playing field for infantry. “You lose reliability as you gain accuracy,” deadpanned Hoffart. And therein lies the challenge of building a weapon that, with a single bullet, can determine the outcome of lives, battles, wars and freedoms. That weapon must be exceptionally accurate and absolutely reliable for the shots that scout snipers may have waited their entire lives to execute.

It’s a challenge the Marines at the Precision Weapons Section accept every day, and their magic doesn’t come from wands or wishes but from a sharp discipline so ingrained in the Marine ethos that sniper rifle bullets probably hit their targets more out of pride than ballistics. The Marine Corps, which is, by the way, the only service that builds its sniper weapons in-house, starts with Remington actions—it’s always been that way. “The bolt action rifle is a cold-barrel accuracy weapon,” said Hoffart…

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