November 11, 2021
I was at a local gunshop a few days ago talking with a couple of shooters who are quite knowledgeable. One of them asked me why I am such a fan of the .338 LM (Lapua Magnum) sniping cartridge. I tried to give him a simple answer that sounded something like this: It has range, power, accuracy, and, for its effectiveness, rifles that are portable. I didn’t mention that one of the reasons the .338 LM is such an effective sniping round is that, unlike other widely used sniping cartridges, it was developed specifically for sniping.
Prior to .338 LM sniping rifles entering service with military units in the early 1990s, long-range sniping had been primarily the bailiwick of .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) anti-material rifles. I’m not positive about the first military unit to adopt a .338 LM sniping rifle; the first I remember was the British Army, which adopted the Accuracy International AWM (Arctic Warfare Magnum) in 1996 as the L115A1. The Dutch Army adopted the AWM in .338 LM around the same time. I also recall being told that the Swedish Army had adopted the rifle a short time before the British and the Dutch. In any case, .338 LM sniping rifles have now been in service for more than 20 years.
Designated as an anti-personnel rifle, the .338 LM has proven deadly at very long-ranges. It was designed to penetrate typical body armor at 1000 meters. From November 2009, until May 2017, the record for the longest sniper kill was 2,475 meters by a British sniper in Afghanistan using an L115A1. It has since been surpassed by a Canadian sniper using a McMillan TAC-50 for a 3,540-meter kill. Though not intended as an anti-material rifle, the .338 LM may also be used to destroy enemy communications equipment, weapons control systems, and other sensitive targets. One other tactical advantage of the .338 LM that must not be forgotten is its ability to punch through barriers to eliminate a target. Military snipers have delivered kill shots through walls and other barriers. With increased awareness of the danger of snipers, some US police tactical units are considering the advantages of using a .338 LM against dangerous active shooters. Reportedly, the .338 LM has actually been used to eliminate such threats. Just a final comment: I have done tests taking targets through concrete blocks and bricks using the .338 LM on “Tactical Ted” type targets and have delivered chest cavity shots without deflection.
Enhancing the appeal of the .338 LM rifle is its portability. It may be transported much more readily than a .50 BMG sniping rifle, allowing special operators to deploy it in almost any AO (Area of Operations). Still, the typical .338 LM sniping rifle is relatively heavy and has a long barrel. This brings me to DRD Tactical’s Kivvari, a takedown .338 LM sniping rifle, which adds a greater degree of portability and gives the tactical marksman more flexibility gaining his shooting position.
The Kivaari consists of three primary components: receiver and stock, barrel, and forearm/rail. Other accessories will include a QD bipod, scope, and 10-round magazine. DRD offers the choice of a hard case with rollers or a backpack. Although I originally used the hard case, I have been using the backpack lately and am convinced that it’s the best choice for military users and others who will have to climb or hike to their shooting position. A waterproof cover should prepare the pack for combat swimmers or small boat operators. At only 15” x 30” the pack is easily carried, especially since it offers straps for shoulder use or handles for vertical or horizontal carry. This allows it to be removed from the shoulders for entering or exiting a vehicle, helicopter, etc.
The process for assembling the Kivaari or other DRD takedown rifles is actually rather simple. Once the components are out of the case or backpack, the rifle’s bolt needs to be locked back. Another preparatory step is removing the thread protector from the barrel. Then, the barrel is inserted into the receiver, with care that the gas tube is aligned to slip into the receiver. Once everything is aligned, a collar on the barrel is tightened. NOTE: unlike the .223 or .308 DRD rifles, the Kivarri requires the use of a wrench to snug the collar tight. Once the barrel is tightened, the forearm is slid over the barrel and seated against the receiver, then locked into place with a cross pin and a lever.
As I have quite a bit of experience with DRD rifles I’ve gotten facile at assembling or disassembling them. With the Kivaari, the most time-consuming operation is removal of the thread protector. Using the wrench to check barrel snugness adds extra seconds as well. I timed myself at the range a couple of days ago and got the Kivaari together in 2:40. That may go done to 2:30 with a bit more practice. Note, though, that fast assembly time is not normally going to be an issue with the Kivaari. It is a long-range sniping rifle not a CQC rifle. It breaks down for transportability, then gets assembled once the shooting position is reached. If engagement is necessary immediately upon arrival at the shooting position, it was probably a bad choice of shooting position, and the observer will bring his DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle), M4, etc. into action.
In some sniper scenarios, especially in counter-sniper situations, fast follow-up shots are a critical factor in saving lives. As an example, I usually cite the Beslan School attack in Russia, where Spetsnaz snipers used self-loading SVDs to give cover fire to escaping hostages. As a self-loader, the Kivaari offers fast follow-up shots.
I took some time choosing the accessories for my Kivaari. Since I was using the hard case, which has cutouts for the various components, including the receiver/stock with scope mounted, I had to choose a scope that would fit the cutout. But, I also needed a scope with enough magnification to reach out to 1,000 meters or more. I also was constrained to some extent by the size of the scope’s objective. Most of the variable long-range scopes I normally use on .338 LM rifles have 50mm objectives and, hence, would not fit in the case and/or would not allow the top rail on the forearm to mate with the top rail on rail on the receiver.
I did find a solution, though, with a scope from IOR-Valdada. Their 16x42 30mm Tactical scope is light, compact, and has a 42mm objective, all features that suit it well for the Kivaari. At 12.95 inches overall, it fits well into the hard case or the backpack. It incorporates IOR Valdada’s MP-8 reticle, which I have used on other IOR scopes and found quite usable. Additionally, this scope has proven very durable despite firing thousands of rounds on .50 BMG rifles so it should easily handle .338 LM recoil. IOR-Valdada scopes use Schott-Germany glass and have exceptional clarity. This scope uses 0.1 Mrad clicks at 100 yards—that’s about 1/3 inch per click. In previous use, I have found that clicks on IRO scopes are accurate. I have another IOR-Valdada scope I’ve been using for 20-years; at least 4,000 rounds later, it as clear as the day I took it out of the box and its adjustments are still precise. I’ll discuss the 16x42mm later.
I wanted a QD bipod and decided the best solution was to combine a Harris HBRS 6-9 inch bipod with a RotoPod (MIM Mfg) QD adaptor, which allows fast attachment or removal. Conceivably in mountain warfare or other scenarios, bipods that extend past 9 inches might be useful, but I have always found that the 6-9-inch is extremely versatile and works well on bench, wall, windowsill, vehicle hood, or ground, as well as when one leg is extended more than the other on uneven ground.
Skip at DRD Tactical had mentioned to me when discussing the Kivaari that some .338 LM ammunition did not function as well in the self-loading Kivaari as others because of case softness or primer hardness. During his testing of the rifle he had found that Nammo Lapua ammunition functioned reliably and was also very accurate. I have also found Black Hills .338 LM ammunition very accurate so wanted to try it also as well as the Nammo rounds. I had a couple of boxes of Hornady .338 LM I had been hoarding so took it to the range as well.
At the range I was using, the 500-meter berm was in the process of being reinforced so I limited my shooting tests to 100 and 300 yards. DRD terms the Kivaari a one MOA rifle, which for a self-loading sniper rifle is quite good. For comparison, I have fired other bolt-action .338 LM rifles that are one-half MOA rifles, though often actually capable of shooting one-third MOA if the shooter is that skillful.
Based on the shooting I’ve done with the Kivaari, it is entirely capable of consistently providing one MOA or less. I have actually shot some groups under one MOA, though I have not gotten lower than ¾ MOA. All of my best groups have been with Nammo (Lapua) ammo. When I was doing my shooting tests for this article, I seemed to be shooting about one-half MOA greater than I normally have with the Kivaari. I note this to point out that the rifle and ammo can shoot better than I did that day!
I was shooting 3-shot groups, which were in the 1.5-2.0-inch range at 100 yards, but actually tightened up to 2.5 to 4.75-inch range at 300 yards. My best group was with the 250-grain Nammo (Lapua) Scenar load at 300 yards: 2.5 inches. See the accompanying chart for my results.
I also did what I considered a valid counternsiper test by firing an entire 10-round magazine prone off of the bipod at a silhouette target placed at 300-yards. To really shoot a Beslan scenario, I should have set up multiple targets, but in this case I only set up one. I did fire as quickly as the trigger reset and the crosshair was on. I didn’t measure the group, but all ten shots were in the “chest cavity” of the target. As a final test/experiment/drill I fired at plates at 100 yards off of an improvised rest as another test of handling; the Kivaari performed superbly.
I should also note that the combination of the semi-auto action and the Magpul PRS stock, which I adjusted for comfort and cheek weld, allowed me to shoot 50-60 rounds of .338 LM with no discomfort from recoil. I have tested .338 LM bolt guns that if I were firing more than 20-30 rounds I wore my ballistic vest to cushion recoil—not needed with the Kivaari.
An aid to accuracy is the Wilson Combat two-stage trigger. Ergonomics are really good. The safety switch is operable with the thumb of the shooting hand, and the cocking handle is easily operated with the support hand. Both the stock and the pistol grip are comfortable when shooting. I only noticed one slight ergonomic difficulty: the ambidextrous safety lever did scrape my shooting hand sometimes in recoil, but it did not break the skin.
The Kivaari is still relatively heavy at 13.6 lbs unloaded and is still 47 inches overall when assembled. However, it is possible to readily carry it assembled ready to engage if necessary. This would be value if it were necessary to quickly shift shooting position. I carried the Kivaari back and forth to the 100-yard target with a fully loaded magazine to change targets. The trip was not especially onerous, but I didn’t carry it back and forth at 300-yards! I also tried hiking the 100 yards with the Kivaari stowed in the backpack. That is a very convenient way to carry the rifle.
The Kivaari is a high quality and well-engineered rifle. The barrel is 2-3 inches shorter than most other .338 LM rifles, which cuts range a little. Its semi-auto action affects accuracy slightly, but it is still a one MOA rifle. The Kivaari makes an excellent overwatch rifle that can easily be carried into a hide. When performing the countersniper mission or when taking out a target behind cover, the .338 LM allows engagement through barriers, likely without the target even realizing he’s vulnerable. Rather than an extreme long-range rifle, I would consider the Kivaari at its best as a 1,000-yard-or-less rifle. I guess that makes it ‘just” a long-range rifle. It is well-suited for use as a long-distance counterterrorist/countersniper rifle. Its ability to penetrate barriers and deliver quick follow-up shots adds another dimension to its effectiveness. “Kivaari” means rifle in Finnish, and it is quite a rifle. The more I shoot it, the more I’m impressed.
DRD Kivaari Specifications
- Action: Semi-Auto, Direct Gas
- Caliber: .338 Lapua Magnum
- Overall Length: 47 inches fully assembled
- Barrel Length: 24 inches
- Weight: 13.6 lbs, unloaded with bipod
- Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds (two magazines supplied)
- Sights: Picatinny Rail for mounting of optics
- Price: $5,000
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About the Author:
Leroy Thompson was born in St. Louis, Missouri and has continued to use it as his base of operations, though he has lived overseas at times. He has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and graduate degrees in English from St. Louis University and University College London. He has trained military and law enforcement personnel in various countries and has written 53 books and more than 3,000 magazine articles on military, law enforcement, and firearms topics.
This is a shortened version of the article which appeared in the printed edition of Firearms News.