We talk a lot about shooting and long range marksmanship around here, and for good reason. It is the most popular aspect of sniping and one that just about everyone can get into. But I hate to ignore the fieldcraft side of sniping and so we try to devote some time to fieldcraft as well in an effort to enhance what is widely considered the most important side of the sniping skillset.
The second most popular part of sniping behind long range marksmanship is stalking and staying invisible. A large part of the ability to remain unseen is camouflage as well as proper movement techniques. When it comes to camouflage, one of the more difficult aspects of hiding yourself as a sniper, is hiding that big (normally black) death stick known as your rifle. How many times have you seen a picture of an extremely well camouflaged sniper, but then his rifle is left black and it sticks out like a sore thumb? (see below) The only thing that looks like a black rifle in the wilderness…is a black rifle in the wilderness.
Snipers let this happen for several reasons beyond just being lazy. Sure, a can of spray paint can resolve the issue in about 5 minutes, and that is a great alternative for a duty rifle. But for my own personal rifles, I hate painting them…it makes me feel bad. It is kind of like spray painting a child so that they look better. Beyond making you feel bad about your rifle, there are other reasons why it is not the best option as well. It is quick and easy, but what do you do when you change area of operations? Are you going to spray paint your rifle for every area you operate in? Sometimes that may be feasible. Lots of times it is not.
So we wanted to explore and test several different methods of camouflaging a rifle and show all you readers some alternative ways to do it. But we needed to focus on a few important criteria for effective weapon camouflage. Here was our basic list. The techniques need to be:
- Easy and quick to apply
- Fairly quick to remove to assist when changing environments
- Relatively affordable
- Effective Camouflage – this will typically favor depth alteration vs. just coloring a rifle
- Minimal, preferably none, impact on the point of aim and accuracy of the rifle
This looked like a good effective list for our tests, so where to start? The obvious first selection would be painting the rifle, but we are not actually going to do that. It is too permanent, and while it is easy to apply, it is NOT easy to remove when changing environments. While this is still a good choice for many snipers, hunters, and shooters, it was ruled out of this test and series of articles.
So with painting ruled out, we decided on our first candidate for rifle camouflage.
Using Tape to Camouflage a Rifle
An easy way to apply some color to a rifle is to simply stick tape to it. It is simple and cheep which satisfied our first two criteria, but how effective is it? That was one of the things we wanted to find out. In order to measure effectiveness, we were going to see how it held up to our five criteria for rifle camouflage.
When it comes to tape, there are many different options in regards to the type of tape. Several issues would need to be considered. Obviously, cost is one, but in the grand scheme of things, tape is very affordable. Another issue is durability. This means not only the durability of the tape itself, but how well is is going to adhere to the rifle, especially over time and field use. So we wanted to test several different types of tape.
We did all of our tape shopping at Walmart and none of it was over $6 a roll. Here is what we came up with.
Believe it or not, our local Walmart had several colors of “Duct” brand tape (yeah, real Duct Tape). We elected to try out a camouflage pattern and we also picked up a white colored version since there was still snow on the ground here. We did not end up using the white. Along with the Duct tape, we grabbed some white medical “wrap” tape and some self adhesive medical bandage that primarily only sticks onto itself.
So with our assortment of different tape styles, we decided to do a quick camo job with each of them. When camouflaging a rifle using tape, you do not need to get intricately detailed on your application. Sure, you can use a knife and cut it out very tight and cover every nook and cranny of your rifle system, but it is not necessary. Especially when its temporary and you may be changing it out after just a mission (or hunt) or two. So, the basic rule of thumb here is to just breakup the big slabs of solid colors in order to distort the outline.
Our test rifle for our tape camo test was our Snowy Mountain Rifle Paladin chambered in. 308 with a 24″ barrel. The stock is not solid black on this rifle, it has tiny green speckles on it, but it was certainly black enough for our testing. Here is a picture of it before taping.
First up was our camo patterned Duct tape. We wanted to do a field expedient style test, so we did not use scissors to cut the tape, instead we just used our fingers to rip the tape as we applied it. It took us no more than 10 minutes to come up with a very basic tape job.
Notice we did not cover every square inch of the rifle, just a basic covering. We applied it around the barrel but avoided wrapping it around the stock and barrel together which would have altered the free floating nature of the barrel. Does that make a difference? Well, funny you should ask…see our shooting tests at the end of this article, we tested it to find out. As you can see from the pictures, the tape doesn’t do a bad job of breaking up the rifle. We also put some on the scope, which is itself another big black blob sitting out there. We avoided the bipod, and we insured we did not do anything that would mess with the function of the rifle. We put just one small strip on the magazine as well.
The tape itself is Duct tape durable, but the adhesive is not terribly strong and it will likely not last too long on the rifle. But in some regards this is okay. I do not think you would want to go with something like Gorilla tape because that adhesive is so strong it might cause problems and leave residue after you get it removed. In fact, no tape job should be left on a rifle long term because the residue from the adhesive will build up and become a pain to remove. Goo Gone can help if you get to that point.
The next style tape we wanted to try was medical self adhering bandage. We use this tape often during our shooting classes to build up temporary cheekpads on student rifles. It is easy to use and leaves no residue. The main problem is the color and the fact you have to wrap it on top of itself to get it to stick.
As you can see, the color is not like a good burlap tan color, it is kind of a fleshy color that does not work as effectively as tan. Also notice the way we had to wrap it onto itself which limits the flexibility of applying the tape. It is also even a bit less durable than the Duct tape and will probably work itself lose sooner. But it’s super quick and easy and no residue issues. Though you do need a knife or scissors to cut it. If there were some other color options, it could be a good alternative.
Our last style of tape to try is a winter only solution. This medical tape is used for wrapping ankles, wrists, and other such joints. It comes in white, is cheap, very matte, easy to work with and there is a low stick adhesive on it. It does not need to be wrapped onto itself, but it will hold better if it does. The below camo job was quick and easy.
Now, notice that in these pictures the tape is wrapped around the barrel and the stock together, that is because we took these pictures after our firing tests. Remember that one of our criteria for effective rifle camouflage is that it cannot alter the point of impact or accuracy of the rifle. In sniper school, they taught us to NEVER do anything that will tie the barrel and the stock together because it will alter the harmonics of the rifle and be a detriment to accuracy. So that has always been one of the rules to live by. But just how much will it? There was only one way to find out…test it.
At the Range
So, with the rifle stripped of any tape, we headed to the range with our rolls of test tape and some federal Gold Medal Match 168gr ammo. This SMR rifle is typically a .5 MOA, or better, rifle, so we knew it would be a good test to see if wrapping the barrel alone will impact accuracy and point of impact. We then also wanted to test if wrapping the barrel to the stock would have any impact as well.
Without anything on the barrel we fired a baseline group at our 1″ target. As can be seen in the picture further down in the article, the group was a very tight .188″ (.180 MOA) and was left of direct center by no more than .2″. So the rifle was grouping great. (The group is the one on the far left in the picture) First up was to wrap the barrel only with the stick to itself fleshy colored tape.
With the barrel wrapped as such, we fired our next group at the target right next to the first. The group did not shift at all as can be seen, and it did not open up enough to be considered the fault of the tape. Next up was to just wrap the barrel with the white medical tape.
We fired another group and once again, no shift in impact and accuracy was still top notch at .320″. Finally, we wrapped the barrel and the stock together, and we did it TIGHT. We tried our best to make it so it actually would cause problems which is why we did it tight. Typically the thought has been that if you wrap something around the barrel and stock together, do it loose so it will not mess with the harmonics as much. So we did it tight!
We put the sunshade back on and the bipod to keep the test exactly the same as the other groups, and then we fired multiple groups with the rifle like this. Guess what? Nothing. The point of impact did not move more than maybe .1″ from what we could tell and the accuracy remained fantastic. Look at the group on the far left and the one on the far right. In fact, the best group of the day was the last one fired in this condition. (Far right on the targets below). It looks as if the groups may have shifted a tiny bit “up” with just tape on the barrel, and then maybe a tiny bit down when it was taped stock to barrel. Its quite minimal.
As far as we can determine, the tape is just not rigid enough to mess with the harmonics of the thick heavy barrels on sniper rifles. That does NOT mean other methods of wrapping a barrel will not, but for a tape job, we say, go ahead. Here is a picture of the groups.
Just to give you an idea of performance, the average size for all the groups fired with all the different tape jobs was .360″ (.344 MOA). That is fantastic grouping for any conditions. The average for groups fired with the barrel taped to the stock was even better, .347″ (.331 MOA) and that last group measured .163″ (.156 MOA)
With the firing tests done, we completed the white tape job on the rest of the rifle and the scope so we could get pictures. As a part of these pictures and tests, we wanted to do a comparison of a black rifle non camo’d with a camo shooter, and then camo the rifle and show a comparison. You will notice the shadows had moved in the background because we took the first photo before the shooting, and the second after. Notice the stark contrast between the two and how the rifle sticks out in the first. A 5 minute tape job makes a huge difference.
You know what? Tape is a perfectly acceptable means of doing a basic camo job. It is not going to last long, and it may not provide the best camo as the rifle outline is still there. But it is better than leaving it black, and it is easily removed unlike spray paint. In fact, when you combine some basic camouflage with basic fieldcraft, you get an effective capability. Look at the image below. Here is your friendly neighborhood sniper using the shadows behind the hill and then nestling down low into a small depression, and with even the basic tape job, he all but disappears. The camera was about 30 feet from the sniper…now imagine trying to see him from 500 yards.
For part 2 of rifle camouflage, we get a little more creative. Stay tuned!