May 18, 2020
By David M. Fortier
Napalm, Huey, Charlie, War Protestors, ARVN, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Beaucoup, Body Count, The Doors, Punji Stakes, B-52, Tunnel Rats, Agent Orange…Freedom Bird. For some of us these simple words paint a picture of a different time and a different War than that being fought today. An unpopular war in a far off land few Americans could find on a map without the help of the nightly news. Vietnam. It was here that America sent her sons to fight against Communist guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars in an ill-fated mission to prevent a domino from tipping. It was a war that had a profound effect on our Republic, the reverberations of which can still be felt today.
It was a war that reinforced a lesson learned in Korea. Atomic might alone was not enough to prevent chaos. There was still a need for an old fashioned rifleman to close with and destroy the enemy. Thus, there was also the need for a modern rifle to equip him with. In the case of the regular grunts that became the 5.56mm M16. USMC snipers though received a new generation of sniper rifle which was a significant departure from those that came before it. This was the Rifle, 7.62mm Sniper, M40 which went on to endear itself to the men who carried it. The rifle seen on these pages, the 66th Company’s M40-66, is a tribute to both the original M40 sniper rifle and the men who wielded it so effectively in that far off land.
Before examining the M40-66 being offered to collectors and enthusiasts lets first briefly look at the origins of the M40 sniper rifle. American military snipers are currently lavished with an incredible array of modern state of the art equipment. They field modern precision rifles and graduate from some of the best sniper schools in the world. Feared on the battlefield, their reputation was gained the old fashioned way, they earned it. US Army and USMC snipers have been held in such high regard for so long now it almost seems like it has always been this way. The unfortunate reality is rather different.
If we turn back the clock to 1941 we find the United States totally unprepared for World War II, especially when it came to sniping. The sniper schools had been shut down in 1919 when the doughboys came back from “over there” and all the hard lessons learned through blood and toil in the trenches lost. To add insult to injury there was almost no sniper equipment available. To make up for this short-coming the US Army hastily fielded the 1903A4 sniper rifle using commercial mounts and 2.2x magnification scopes in early 1943. The rifles were not accurized and the hunting scopes were not particularly robust. It was not an outstanding combination of parts, but beggars can’t be choosers.
The 1903A4 was supplemented by M1C and M1D sniper rifles in 1944. Based upon the standard M1 Garand rifle, these two models were fitted with 2.2x scopes offset to the left of the rifle’s action. In addition, the USMC also fielded small quantities of 1903A1 rifles fitted with Unertl 8x target scopes with external adjustments. The downside to this rifle being the optic it was equipped with.
Due to how it’s loaded, the Caliber .30 M1 rifle does not lend itself to scoping. The scope ends up offset very far to the left of the bore-line. This makes the weapon fairly uncomfortable to use. Plus, the low magnification scope was poorly suited for its intended mission. Although accuracy was not outstanding the rifles were simple, rugged and reliable. For a variety of reasons though sniping never played as big a role on the Western Front as it did in the East. Due to this the Soviets and the Americans ended the war with vastly different views on sniping.
After the end of World War II the US military promptly shut down all their sniper schools safe in the knowledge any future conflicts would be solved through atomic force. Due to this flawed thinking the US military ventured off to Korea once again ill prepared. Sniper schools had to be started from scratch and the same model rifles were fielded once again.
After the cease fire in Korea the US military again closed its sniper schools only to have to form them from nothing once again when troops were sent to Vietnam. Initially only the ghosts of wars past, .30-’06 M1903A4 Springfields and M1Ds, were available for combat units deploying to Vietnam. Obviously something better was needed and the USMC responded by turning internally to those who best knew precision rifles, their rifle team. Certain Marine units had Winchester .30-’06 M70 target rifles in inventory for use in competition. Some of these rifles equipped with 8x Unertl target scopes were shipped off for combat use in Vietnam. While not ideal, they were available and so were put to work teamed with 173-grain Caliber .30 M72 Match ammunition.
What the USMC really needed though was a modern sniper rifle. Traditionally a US military “sniper rifle” was little more than an infantry rifle equipped with an optic. While Winchester had offered a heavy barrel target version of their famous Model 70 rifle to the US military during World War II, it was not fielded. Both the US military and US industry were engaged in a global conflict for the fate of our nation. It didn’t need an additional rifle and spare parts added to an already complex supply chain.
By the 1960s though, things were beginning to change. The Marine Corps liked the idea of a purpose built heavy barrel bolt action precision rifle for sniping. The rifle teams had experience with and liked the Winchester Model 70 with its beefy controlled round feed action and non-rotating Mauser 1898 inspired claw extractor. Unfortunately, Winchester had changed the design of the Model 70 to push-feed in `1964 to cut costs. The cheapened Model 70 was met with disdain by just about everyone including the Marine Corps. More importantly, Remington was very interested in actively working with the Marine Corps to try to meet their needs. As Remington was willing to produce basically a custom gun on short notice, the Marines turned their attention to the Remington 700.
With troops in harm’s way the Marine Corps needed a new sniper rifle immediately. So, rather than develop a militarized version of the Remington 700 rifle, a proper military grade scope mount, suitable military grade day optic and accessories they did what they had always done in the past. They simply looked at commercial models developed for the American hunter and sportsman, made some minor changes and pressed them into service for sniping. 700 rifles were ordered from Remington and the M40 was officially adopted in 1966 and soon in combat in Vietnam.
The heart of the new rifle was a commercial 700 (some early guns were built on M40X actions) action drilled for a receiver sight and slotted for stripper clips. Mounted to the front of this was a 24-inch chromemoly barrel with a 1 turn in 10 inches right hand rifling twist. Caliber was the US standard 7.62x51mm NATO. Barrel profile was a medium weight Varmint style which was free-floated to enhance accuracy. The barreled actions were factory-bedded into plain uncheckered wood stocks. The stock was fitted with an aluminum buttplate and 1 ¼ inch sling swivels. The receivers were marked “Remington Model 700” and a “U.S.” military property marking was placed above the serial number. The result was a good looking 9.5 pound precision rifle.
For optics the Marine Corps selected a commercial Redfield hunting scope with magnification running from 3x to 9x. It featured a rear focal plane reticle combined with Redfield’s Accu-Range system. This allowed 18 inch targets to be ranged out to 600 yards. The scope featured capped adjusters and was typically zeroed at 500 yards with the sniper holding under/over for different distances. The Redfield Accu-Range scopes received a distinctive green anodized finish. The scope was mounted to the rifle using a commercial Redfield Junior mount similar to that used on the World War II vintage M1903A4 sniper rifle. The rifle was teamed with 173-grain XM118 and M118 Match ammunition, although standard M80 ball could be fired from it. A plastic carrying case was provided to store the rifle with cleaning supplies.
So that is a brief look at how the 7.62mm M40 sniper rifle came into being. The 66 Company’s M40-66 is a handsome blend of walnut and steel but it is not an exact reproduction of the Vietnam era USMC M40 sniper rifle. It’s not intended to be either. So if you are looking for an ‘exact’ clone correct in every small detail, look elsewhere. I want to be blunt on that.
So, if the M40-66 is not an exact clone, what then is it? Here is how The 66 Company describes it: “Patterned after the 1966 original M40 Sniper Rifle as commissioned by the United States Marine Corp, the M40-66, offers the classic look of the original, but hand built with 100% match grade components. Hand fitted and beautifully oil finished walnut stock is carefully bedded giving both old school elegance and practical function. Each rifle is test fired and guaranteed to shoot inside 1/2MOA with factory match ammunition.” So, it’s a rifle which mimics the look of the M40 while featuring modern high quality parts and building techniques.
So let’s delve into the rifle itself. Examining two samples I noted they are built on a Remington 700 receiver. Each action is machined to improve alignment and blueprinted. They are then fitted with a match grade Krieger barrel. Each stainless steel barrel is hand-lapped and features a 1 turn in 10 inch rifling twist. The 66 Company claims a maximum bore variation of .00001. The rifle features a M852 Match chamber which is finish reamed by hand to 0 headspace. With the rifle in hand you will note that the 66 Company utilizes a heavier profile barrel than the original. While it measures 24 inches in length the diameter is .870 inch at the muzzle. So the M40-66 is slightly heavier than the original. Some will like this, I would have preferred an original contour barrel.
The rifle is fitted with a milled and polished follower rather than the stamped unit used on the original. Magazine capacity is five rounds. Bottom metal is a heavy weight stainless steel hinged assembly which is another improvement over the original. This provides added strength while maintaining traditional looking lines. A Shilen match grade single-stage trigger is fitted. This is tuned to provide a crisp 2.75 pound release with no creep or over-travel. Plus a precision ground stainless steel heavy weight magnum recoil lug is installed. This is another nice upgrade from the standard Remington piece.
What makes this rifle so eye-catching though is its American walnut stock. There is something about the lines of this stock that give it a classic look. The stock sports a hand rubbed oil finish with a glare-free dull luster. To aid accuracy 66 Company pillar beds the stock and the barrel channel is sealed and bedded. They also seal the stock’s interior against the elements. While the stock does look very good, there are a couple of deviations from the original. The most obvious of these being the addition of a recoil pad in place of the original’s aluminum buttplate. The other is the use of sling studs in place of the original sling swivels. Personally I loathe the look of the sling studs on this rifle and would greatly prefer original style sling swivels. However, they do allow easy mounting of a bipod. So keep that in mind.
If you so wish the 66 Company will install a conventional optics mount with a MIL-STD 1913 rail. This will allow easy mounting of modern optics. However, if you prefer an original look they will fit the rifle with an original style mount. The USMC M40 sniper rifles were fitted with Redfield Junior scope bases with one inch split rings. I noted the M40-66 receiver is not slotted for a clip but the reproduction mount they use does have a shoulder to bear against the receiver. The front ring twists into the mount and the rear ring is locked into place by two large screws which provide gross windage adjustments when aligning the optic. Like the rifle, this is a classic old school mounting system from a different age.
The M40-66 is a handsome piece which is pleasing to the eye and feels good in the hand. Its lines are from a different era, before check plastic stocks and M-LOK. The bolt operates smoothly and the trigger is light and clean. While the M40-66 is a fine looking piece, it’s not meant for hanging on the wall. I guess that’s some of the fun of this model. It looks like an original M40, but in reality it’s a custom built precision rifle meant to be shot.
So shoot it I did. I trundled it out to my range with a few different .308 Win match loads. These consisted of Black Hills Ammunition’s 175-grain OTM Match, Federal’s 175-grain OTM Gold Medal Match and Hornady’s 168-grain AMAX. Setting my gear up I broke out my LabRadar chronograph, notebook, posted some targets and got the rifle set up on a rest with a rear bag. It was topped with a 3-9x40mm scope with a BDC turret with settings from 200 to 600 yards. Settling in behind the rifle I went to work firing five-shot groups from the bench at 100 yards.
Getting to work I noted four rounds load easily into the magazine, the fifth was very tight. The bolt operates smoothly and cartridges chamber with little effort. The trigger is light, crisp and an aid to accuracy. Recoil is soft and the rifle is very comfortable to fire thanks to the recoil pad. I found the M40-66 to be both very pleasant and easy to shoot. To me the rifle is comfortable and familiar feeling. Examining my targets revealed the M40-66 is capable of excellent accuracy. Hornady’s 168-grain AMAX shot the best averaging an impressive .4 inch. Black Hills’ 175-grain OTM Match load also shot very well and averaged .6 inch. Federal’s 175-grain Gold Medal Match load averaged .8 inch. So the M40-66 is indeed a shooter and would likely shoot even better with more scope.
Keep in mind though, this isn’t a bench gun. Neither is it a great big heavy axle shaft limited to the prone position. One of the great strengths of this model is its weight and sporter style stock. It can easily be fired offhand or from various field positions. Moving from the bench I decided to stretch the M40-66’s legs a bit. Before I did though, I dug out my old ALICE pack. I then pressed this into service as a rest. The Marine Corps did not issue a bipod for use with the M40, snipers instead shot off their pack or any other available support. I used my ALICE for shooting both prone and sitting. I also shot some “looped up” using a GI web sling for support.
Shooting silhouettes with the M40-66 at distance is frankly a lot of fun. USMC snipers often zeroed their rifles at 500 yards and then simply held high/low for other distances. For example if aiming at a standing man: at 100 yards hold on his belt buckle, 200/300 yards aim at his crotch, 500 yards hold center and at 600 yards aim just over the top of his helmet.
Black Hills’ 175-grain OTM load has similar exterior ballistics to the old 173-grain FMJ-BT M118 match load, so I tried my hand at using this 500 yard zero technique. One of the virtues of a 500 yard zero is its speed. There is no need to touch turrets or count clicks on any target at 600 yards or in. You simply estimate the range, make your best wind call, hold appropriately and send it. This technique is very fast at these distances if you know your rifle, your reticle and your load. Things get trickier as you move to man-sized targets which are not standing erect, smaller size targets or to distances beyond 600 yards.
The M40-66 really shines when used the way it was intended at these distances. I had a great deal of fun firing at various steel targets at 280, 450, 500, 550 and 580 yards. Many look down their nose at the .308 Win today, but it can bring the mail at these distances if you can read wind. Accuracy at 580 yards was excellent with five shots coming in at 4 inches. The bolt operated smoothly, cartridges fed and ejected without issue and recoil was mild. Better still the rifle just felt good. There’s something about a classic hand oiled wood stock. All in all I greatly enjoyed my time on the range with the M40-66.
Now what about the original 7.62mm M40 sniper rifle? While it performed well accuracy wise in combat in Vietnam it did have its fleas. The biggest issues were the wood stock and the optic. The wood stocks were affected by changes in climatic conditions leading to accuracy being affected. The Redfield Junior scope mount also gave problems and various solutions were tried to prevent the front ring from twisting. Plus the Redfield scope proved insufficiently rugged for hard use and abuse and lacked certain features. They also had issues in the unforgiving conditions of Vietnam. Barrels rusted badly in Vietnam too if not properly maintained. Rust was a very real problem. Feedback on the M40’s performance would later lead to the development of the improved post-war M40A1.
It should be remembered though how great of a step forward the M40 truly was at the time. It signaled a change in thinking and the dawn of a new age for Marine sniping. Yes it was cobbled together using mostly commercial off the shelf parts and pieces. The heart of the system was a sporting rifle action. The scope and mount were commercial pieces for deer hunting. Even so the M40 proved effective and it eventually evolved into an even better and more effective sniper system. Without a doubt it was a huge improvement over the M1C/D.
While the M40-66 is not an exact clone of the original M40, it is a handsome custom rifle and a lot of fun. It’s a rifle with the flavor of the original, but which is guaranteed to shoot into ½ inch at 100 yards with match ammunition. Is it cheap? No, it carries a very hefty price of $3795. But it is a limited production piece built one at a time. If you’d prefer, you can also order it as a package with an original style mount and a custom shop scope as seen pictured here. If the classic lines and wood stock of the original M40 sniper rifle appeal to you, you may wish to consider an M40-66 rifle.
The 66 Company
Black Hills Ammunition
The 66 Company M40-66 SpecsAction Type
: Manual bolt-action with rotating boltCaliber
: .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO MatchCapacity
: 5 round internal box magazineBarrel
: 24 in. stainless steel match with 1-10 inch twistOverall Length
: 44 inches Weight
: 12 pounds with 3-9x40mm scopeStock
: Walnut with hand rubbed oil finishTrigger
: Shilen 2.7-lb pull; single-stageSights
: None, optional Redfield Junior reproduction mountPrice
: MSRP $3,795Manufacturer
: The 66 Company, m40-66.com