Most of my Army career was spent doing some sort of reconnaissance or “recce” work. I learned very quickly that either you master the art of stealth or you go back to less-challenging jobs because you are a liability in combat. Most of my time was spent in Special Operations, where we had the ability to choose weapons and accoutrements most appropriate for the situation. Having lots of gear is great for mission flexibility, but terrible for moving quietly. Since our particular brand of sniping often required us to do reconnaissance, sniping and assault work (CQB) during the same mission, we had to set up our rifles smartly.
Snipers carry a tremendous amount of gear in addition to their rifles, optics and ammunition. They have individual- and weapons-mounted night vision and/or thermal gear, multiple radios, hand-held weather monitors and GPS devices, ballistic computers, bipods, IR lasers, gun lights, sound suppressors, spotting scopes, fragmentation and smoke grenades, anti-personnel mines, other specialized items and possibly a sidearm. Oh, and a bunch of extra ammo, food, water, batteries, antennas, nets and individual gear to hide, fight and survive for extended periods in less-than-friendly environments. Sounds pretty sucky right? Fortunately, that same spine-crushing rucksack that serves as your house also allows you to remove anything from a rifle that isn’t needed at the moment. This is a luxury we do not usually have on the home front when simply grabbing a rifle to deal with a potential threat. Whether slipping through the woods on a still-hunt or creeping through your house to deal with an intruder, you can still set up your own long guns to tip the stealth scales in your favor.
The first step is to decide what is absolutely critical to have attached to your rifle for emergency use. After ammo, sights top the list. Whether you prefer iron sights, a powered optic, laser-aiming device or a magnified scope, you should strive to be proficient in its use in all lighting conditions, at realistic distances and under high stress. If you opt for battery-powered devices, back them up with folding backup sights (BUS) and spare batteries in the pistol grip. Primary short-range sighting systems are not normally much trouble in terms of gun stealth. But if your go-to rifle is adorned with a large, magnified optic, you may want to consider going with as trim a scope mount as possible. A set of simple but sturdy scope rings will reduce the chances your scope will get you seen or heard at the wrong moment.
The next most important consideration is having a source of illumination. If there is any remote chance your rifle may head into the dark with you, get a gun light and either keep it mounted or close at hand and ready to attach quickly. Mounting locations can dramatically affect your rifle’s bulk. I was recently reminded why I mount my gun lights either at the 6-o’clock position or on the side of the rifle toward my body. I broke with tradition because the only way I could manipulate the switch on a new combination gun light/IR laser was by placing it on the opposite side of the rifle, away from my body. I did not patrol with a gun light attached to my rifle in the Army. But my work often required moving through vegetation on approach to a target, where a light would soon be needed. Mounting it on the side toward my body helped me slip through the underbrush without it catching on everything. Unfortunately, I forgot there is another reason I mounted my lights this way. As I made a test run through my house to be sure the new light would work for my needs, I moved to clear a blind corner. The light—which was unseen to me with rifle shouldered—caught the corner. It left a semi-circular indentation in the sheetrock (which has yet to be discovered by my wife). Lesson relearned: Keep the light on the weak-hand side of the rifle and figure out how to make it work there. Or use a different light.
Another way to trim things down is to use multi-purpose accessories. If you need a white light and an IR light or laser (or both), consider an all-in-one unit. While the device’s size will be larger than a standard gun light, you reduce the number of accessories and also possibly simplify the switches for each. Mounting your light or laser at either the 12- or 6-o’clock positions will thin your rifle down and make compensating for the distance between the laser and line of bore simpler when aiming it at far targets.
KeyMod and M-LOK rails have made low-profile accessory mounting a cinch. Many lights, sling and bipod mounts attach directly to the fore-end using purpose-built adapters, eliminating most of the standoff caused by stacked rails and adapters. I used to love vertical grips for CQB, but they caused me so much trouble in the woods and while working in other tight confines that I stopped using them. If you must have one, try a stubby model like the BCM Mod 3 Vertical Grip.
Do not ignore noise makers like metal sling loops and sloppy collapsible buttstocks. A few wraps of “100-mph” tape can be your best friend when you aim to stay quiet. If you place multiple magazines in the same ammo pouches on a vest, a couple wraps of tape around the mag bottoms eliminate noise when they bump each other during movement. We often overlook glare when setting up our kit, but even a tiny reflection can be seen well in advance of any sound being heard. Remember that bad guys use flashlights, too, and when moving outside during the day, the sun can be your worst enemy as you try to remain unseen. Darken any gun parts or gear that have been worn shiny, consider using an anti-reflective device (ARD) on magnified optics and leave your neon-colored pajamas in the bedroom before heading to the source of potential trouble, unless that leaves you pant-less.
I realize that the sound of breaking window glass in one’s house will likely be met with a readily accessible handgun. But, should something more substantial require a rifle or carbine to be carried, take the time to make it as slick as possible to move quickly, efficiently and quietly in what may become a life-or-death situation.