US Army sniper team shooting from within a room in Afghanistan with M24 SWS, 19 October 2006.
Names Sniper
Activity sectors use of high-precision rifles
Royal Marines snipers with L115A1 sniper rifles
Arkansas Army National Guard soldiers practice sniper marksmanship at their firing range near Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005.
French Foreign Legion snipers using the Hecate II (front) and the FR-F2 (back) in Afghanistan
Polish snipers unit during November Uprising

A sniper is a marksman who shoots targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles.

In addition to marksmanship, military snipers are trained in camouflage, field craft, infiltration, reconnaissance and observation.[1] Snipers are especially effective when deployed within the terrain of urban warfare, or jungle warfare.



The verb "to snipe" originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India where a hunter skilled enough to kill the elusive snipe was dubbed a "sniper".[2] The term sniper was first attested in 1824 in the sense of the word "sharpshooter".[2]

During the American Civil War, the common term used in the United States was "sharpshooter". Which is a reference to and a tribute to the Sharps rifles that were commonly used by Civil War "snipers". These rifles were renowned for long range and accuracy, and they were issued only to the best shooters.

Another common term used in the United States during the American Civil War was "skirmisher". Throughout history armies have used skirmishers to break up enemy formations and to thwart the enemy from flanking the main body of their attack force.[3] They were deployed individually on the extremes of the moving army primarily to scout for the possibility of an enemy ambush. Consequently, a "skirmish" denotes a clash of small scope between these forces.[4] In general, a skirmish was a limited combat, involving troops other than those of the main body.[3] The term "sniper" was not in widespread use in the United States until after the American Civil War.

Modern warfare

An Army sniper from the Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) looks for enemy activity along the hilltops near Dur Baba, Afghanistan, November 2006.

Different countries use different military doctrines regarding snipers in military units, settings, and tactics. Generally, a sniper's primary function in warfare is to provide detailed reconnaissance from a concealed position and, if necessary, to reduce the enemy's fighting ability by striking at high value targets (especially officers, communication and other personnel) and in the process pinning down and demoralizing the enemy.[5][6]

Soviet Russian and derived military doctrines include squad-level snipers. See the "Soviet sniper" article for further details.

Military snipers from the US, UK, and other countries that adopt their military doctrine are typically deployed in two-man sniper teams consisting of a shooter and spotter.[7] A common practice is for a shooter and a spotter to take turns in order to avoid eye fatigue.[6] In most recent combat operations occurring in large densely populated towns such as Fallujah, Iraq, two teams would be deployed together to increase their security and effectiveness in an urban environment. A sniper team would be armed with their long range weapon, and a shorter ranged weapon to engage and protect the team should enemies come in close contact. German doctrine of largely independent snipers and emphasis on concealment developed during the Second World War have been most influential on modern sniper tactics, currently used throughout Western militaries (examples are specialized camouflage clothing, concealment in terrain and emphasis on coup d'œil).[8][9][10]

Typical sniper missions include reconnaissance and surveillance, target marking for air-strikes, counter-sniper, killing enemy commanders, selecting targets of opportunity, and even destruction of military equipment, which tend to require use of rifles in the larger calibers such as the .50 BMG, like the Barrett M82, McMillan Tac-50, and Denel NTW-20.[6] Snipers have increasingly been demonstrated as being useful by US and UK forces in the recent Iraq campaign in a fire support role to cover the movement of infantry, especially in urban areas.[6]


The American Revolution

The first recorded event of sniping occurred on 19th September 1777 at the battle of Saratoga, better known as the Battle of Freeman's Farm, where the Colonists hid in the trees and used early model rifles to shoot British officers.

Second Boer War

The first British sniper unit began life as Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment that earned high praise during the Second Boer War (1899–1902).[6] The unit was formed by Lord Lovat and reported to an American, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the British Army Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts. Burnham fittingly described these scouts as "half wolf and half jackrabbit.".[11] Just like their Boer scout opponents, these scouts were well practised in the arts of marksmanship, field craft, and military tactics. They were the first known military unit to wear a ghillie suit.[12] They were skilled woodsmen and practitioners of discretion: "He who shoots and runs away, lives to shoot another day." After the war, this regiment went on to formally become the British Army's first sniper unit, then better known as sharpshooters.[11]

World War I and World War II

World War I

An Australian sniper aims a periscope-equipped rifle at Gallipoli in 1915. The spotter beside him is helping to find targets with his own periscope. Photo by Ernest Brooks.

During World War I, snipers appeared as deadly sharpshooters in the trenches. At the start of the war, only Imperial Germany had troops that were issued scoped sniper rifles. Although sharpshooters existed on all sides, the Germans specially equipped some of their soldiers with scoped rifles that could pick off enemy soldiers showing their heads out of their trench.[8] At first the French and British believed such hits to be coincidental hits, until the German scoped rifles were discovered.[8] During World War I, the Germans received a reputation for the deadliness and efficiency of their snipers, partly because of the high-quality lenses the Germans could manufacture.[8]

Soon the British army began to train their own snipers in specialized sniper schools. Major Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard was given formal permission to begin sniper training in 1915, and founded the First Army School of Sniping, Observation, and Scouting at Linghem in France in 1916.[13] In 1920, he wrote his account of his war time activities in his book Sniping in France, which is still referenced by modern authors on the subject.[14][15][16] Hesketh-Prichard developed many techniques in sniping, including the use of spotting scopes and working in pairs, and using Kim's Game to train observational skills.[17] On the Eastern Front, Imperial Russia never introduced specialized sharpshooters or snipers, allowing the German snipers to pick off their targets without danger from counter-snipers.[8]

The British did use papier-mâché figures painted to resemble soldiers to draw sniper fire. Some were equipped with rubber surgical tubing so the dummy could "smoke" a cigarette and thus appear realistic. Holes punched in the dummy by enemy sniper bullets then could be used for triangulation purposes to determine the position of the enemy sniper, who could then be attacked with artillery fire.

Rifles used during World War I

Some common sniper rifles used during the First World War include: the German Mauser Gewehr 98; the British Pattern 1914 Enfield[18] and Lee-Enfield SMLE Mk III, and the American M1903 Springfield, and the Russian M1891 Mosin–Nagant.

World War II

European Theatre
Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko in a stamp in 1944.

During the interbellum, most nations dropped their specialized sniper units, notably the Germans. Effectiveness and dangers of snipers once again came to the fore during the Spanish Civil War. The only nation that had specially trained sniper units during the 1930s was the Soviet Union. Soviet snipers were trained in their skills as marksmen, in using the terrain to hide themselves from the enemy and the ability to work alongside regular forces. This made the Soviet sniper training focus more on "normal" combat situations than those of other nations.

Snipers reappeared as important factors on the battlefield from the first campaign of World War II. During Germany's 1940 campaigns, it appeared that lone, well hidden French and British snipers could halt the German advance for a significant amount of time. For example during the pursuit to Dunkirk, British snipers were able to significantly delay German infantry's advance. This prompted the British to once again increase training of specialized sniper units. Apart from marksmanship British snipers were trained to blend in with the environment, often by using special camouflage clothing for concealment. However, because the British Army offered sniper training exclusively to officers and non-commissioned officers, the number of trained snipers in the combat units considerably reduced overall effectiveness.[9]

During the Winter War, Finnish snipers took a heavy toll of the invading Soviet army. Simo Häyhä is credited with 505 confirmed kills,[19][20] most with the Finnish version of the iron-sighted bolt action Mosin-Nagant.

German sniper in Stalingrad, USSR

One of the best known battles involving snipers, and the battle that made the Germans reinstate their specialized sniper training, was the Battle of Stalingrad. Their defensive position inside a city filled with rubble meant that Soviet snipers were able to inflict significant casualties on the Wehrmacht troops. Because of the nature of fighting in city rubble, snipers were very hard to spot and seriously dented the morale of the German attackers. The best known of these snipers was probably Vassili Zaitsev, immortalized in the novel War of the Rats and the subsequent film Enemy At The Gates.

German sniper Belgium/France (1944)
Walther G43 semi-automatic sniper rifle with a ZF 4 telescopic sight

German Scharfschützen were prepared before the war, equipped with Karabiner 98 and later Gewehr 43 rifles, but there were often not enough of these weapons available, and as such some were armed with captured scoped Mosin-Nagant 1891/30, SVT or Czech Mauser rifles. The Wehrmacht re-established its sniper training in 1942, drastically increasing the number of snipers per unit with the creation of an additional 31 sniper training companies by 1944. German snipers were as the only snipers in the world at the time issued with purpose manufactured sniping ammunition, known as the 'effect-firing' sS round.[21] The 'effect-firing' sS round featured an extra carefully measured propellant charge and seated a heavy 12.8 gram (198 gr) full metal jacketed boat tail projectile of match grade build quality, lacking usual features such as a seating ring to further improve the already high ballistic coefficient of .584 (G1).[22] For aiming optics German snipers used the Zeiss Zielvier 4x (ZF39) telescopic sight which had bullet drop compensation in 50 m increments for ranges from 100 m up to 800 m or in some variations from 100 m up to 1000 m or 1200 m. There were ZF42, Zielfernrohr 43 (ZF 4), Zeiss Zielsechs 6x and other telescopic sights by various manufacturers like the Ajack 4x, Hensoldt Dialytan 4x and Kahles Heliavier 4x with similar features employed on German sniper rifles. Several different mountings produced by various manufacturers were used for mounting aiming optics to the rifles. In February 1945 the Zielgerät 1229 active infrared aiming device was issued for night sniping with the StG 44 assault rifle.

During the Second World War the title of distinguished sniper was awarded to 261 Red Army snipers with over 50 confirmed kills.[citation needed] 428,335 individuals received Red Army sniper training, including Soviet and non-Soviet partisans, with 9,534 receiving sniping 'higher qualification'. The two six-month training courses in 1942 for women alone trained nearly 55,000 snipers.[23][verification needed] On average there was at least one sniper in an infantry platoon and one in every reconnaissance platoon, including in tank and even artillery units.[verification needed] Some used the PTRD anti-tank rifle with an adapted scope as an early example of an anti-materiel rifle.

Canadian Sniper during World War II. Canadian snipers were among the most skilled of the Allied armies and Canada was the first country to train their snipers as scouts.

In the United States armed forces, sniper training was only very elementary and focused on being able to hit targets over long distances. Snipers were required to be able to hit a body over 400 meters away, and a head over 200 meters away. There was almost no concern with the ability to blend into the environment. Sniper training varied from place to place, resulting in a wide range of qualities of snipers. The main reason the US did not extend their training beyond long-range shooting was the limited deployment of US soldiers until the Normandy Invasion. During the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, most fighting occurred in arid and mountainous regions where the potential for concealment was limited, in contrast to Western and Central Europe.

US Army's lack of familiarity with sniping tactics resulted in disastrous effects in Normandy and the campaign in Western Europe where they encountered well trained German snipers.[8] In Normandy, German snipers remained hidden in the dense vegetation and were able to encircle American units, firing at them from all sides. The American and British forces were surprised by how near the German snipers could safely come and attack them, as well as by their ability to hit targets at up to 1,000m. A notable mistake made by the green American soldiers was to lie down and wait when targeted by German snipers, thus allowing the snipers to pick them off one after another.[8] German snipers often infiltrated Allied lines and sometimes when the front-lines moved, they fought from their sniping positions, refusing to surrender until their rations and munitions were exhausted. After World War II, many elements of German sniper training and doctrine were copied by other countries.[8]

Pacific Theater

In the Pacific War, the Empire of Japan trained snipers. In the jungles of Asia and the Pacific Islands, snipers posed a serious threat to the U.S, British, Canadian and Australian troops. Japanese snipers were specially trained to use the environment to conceal themselves. Japanese snipers used foliage on their uniforms and dug well-concealed hide-outs that were often connected with small trenches. There was no need for long range accuracy because most combat in the jungle took place within a few hundred meters. Japanese snipers were known for their patience and ability to remain hidden for long periods. They almost never left their carefully camouflaged hiding spots. This meant that whenever a sniper was in the area, the location of the sniper could be determined after the sniper had fired a few shots. The Allies used their own snipers in the Pacific, notably the U.S. Marines, who used M1903 Springfield rifles.

Rifles used during World War II

Some common sniper rifles used during the Second World War include: the Soviet M1891/30 Mosin Nagant and, to a lesser extent, the SVT-40; the German Mauser Karabiner 98k and Gewehr 43; the British Lee-Enfield No. 4 and Pattern 1914 Enfield; the Japanese Arisaka 97; the American M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand; to a lesser extent, the Italians trained few snipers and supplied them with a scoped Carcano Model 1891.


Longest recorded sniper kills

The longest range recorded for a sniper kill currently stands at 2,475 m (2,707 yd) and was achieved by CoH Craig Harrison, a sniper from the Household Cavalry of the British Army. It was accomplished in an engagement in November 2009 in which two stationary Taliban machine gunners were killed south of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in Afghanistan with two consecutive shots by CoH Harrison using an Accuracy International L115A3 Long Range Rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum.[24][25][26][27]

The QTU Lapua external ballistics software,[28] using continuous doppler drag coefficient (Cd) data provided by Lapua,[29] predicts that such shots traveling 2,475 m (2,707 yd) would likely have struck their targets after nearly 6.0 seconds of flight time, having lost 93% of their kinetic energy, retaining 255 m/s (840 ft/s) of their original 936 m/s (3,070 ft/s) velocity, and having dropped 121.39 m (4,779 in) or 2.8° from the original bore line. Due to the extreme distances and travel time involved, even a light cross-breeze of 2.7 m/s (6.0 mph) would have diverted such shots 9.2 m (360 in) off target, which would have required compensation. The calculation assumes a flat-fire scenario, utilizing British military custom high pressure .338 Lapua Magnum cartridges, loaded with 16.2 g (250 gr) Lapua LockBase B408 bullets, fired at 936 m/s (3,071 ft/s) muzzle velocity[30] under the following on-site (average) atmospheric conditions: barometric pressure: 1,019 hPa (30.1 inHg) at sea-level equivalent or 899 hPa (26.5 inHg) on-site, humidity: 25.9%, and temperature: 15 °C (59 °F) in the region for November 2009,[31] resulting in an air density ρ = 1.0854 kg/m3 at the 1,043 m (3,422 ft) elevation of Musa Qala.

CoH Craig Harrison mentions in reports that the environmental conditions were perfect for long range shooting, no wind, mild weather, clear visibility. Mr. Tom Irwin, a director of Accuracy International, the British manufacturer of the L115A3 rifle, said: "It is still fairly accurate beyond 1,500 m (1,640 yd), but at that distance luck plays as much of a part as anything."

In another notable incident on April 3, 2003, Corporals Matt and Sam Hughes, a two-man sniper team of the Royal Marines, armed with L96 sniper rifles each killed people at a range of about 860 metres (941 yd) with shots that, due to strong wind, had to be fired "exactly 17 meters (56 ft) to the left of the target for the bullet to bend in the wind."[32] By contrast, much of the U.S./Coalition urban sniping in support of operations in Iraq is at much shorter ranges.[citation needed]


Honolulu Police Department Specialized Services Division Counter-Sniper Team does aerial platform training.

Law enforcement snipers, commonly called police snipers, and military snipers differ in many ways, including their areas of operation and tactics. A police sharpshooter is part of a police operation and usually takes part in relatively short missions. Police forces typically deploy such sharpshooters in hostage scenarios. This differs from a military sniper, who operates as part of a larger army, engaged in warfare. Sometimes as part of a SWAT team, police snipers are deployed alongside negotiators and an assault team trained for close quarters combat. As policemen, they are trained to shoot only as a last resort, when there is a direct threat to life; the police sharpshooter has a well-known rule: "Be prepared to take a life to save a life."[33] Police snipers typically operate at much shorter ranges than military snipers, generally under 100 metres (109 yd) and sometimes even less than 50 metres (55 yd). Both types of snipers do make difficult shots under pressure, and often perform one-shot kills.

A US Secret Service sniper on the roof of the White House

Police units that are unequipped for tactical operations may rely on a specialized SWAT team, which may have a dedicated sniper.[33] Some police sniper operations begin with military assistance.[34] Police snipers placed in vantage points, such as high buildings, can provide security for events.[35] In one high-profile incident, Mike Plumb, a SWAT sniper in Columbus, Ohio, prevented a suicide by shooting a revolver out of the individual's hand, leaving him unharmed.[36]

The need for specialized training for police sharpshooters was made apparent in 1972 during the Munich massacre when the German police could not deploy specialized personnel or equipment during the standoff at the airport in the closing phase of the crisis, and consequently all of the Israeli hostages were killed. The German police only had regular police who were selected if they did hunting as a hobby.[citation needed] While the German army did have snipers in 1972, the use of snipers of the German army in the scenario was impossible due to the German constitution's explicit prohibition of the use of the military in domestic matters. This situation was later addressed with the founding of the specialized police counter-terrorist unit GSG 9.


A US Marine extracts a fired cartridge casing and chambers a new round into his M40A3.

Military sniper training aims to teach a high degree of proficiency in camouflage and concealment, stalking, observation and map reading as well as precision marksmanship under various operational conditions. Trainees typically shoot thousands of rounds over a number of weeks, while learning these core skills.

Snipers are trained to squeeze the trigger straight back with the ball of their finger, to avoid jerking the gun sideways.[6] The most accurate position is prone, with a sandbag supporting the stock, and the stock's cheek-piece against the cheek.[6] In the field, a bipod can be used instead. Sometimes a sling is wrapped around the weak arm (or both) to reduce stock movement.[6] Some doctrines train a sniper to breathe deeply before shooting, then hold their lungs empty while they line up and take their shot.[6] Some go further, teaching their snipers to shoot between heartbeats to minimize barrel motion.[6]


A sniper, using a MK.14 EBR uses two stakes as shooting sticks to help steady his aim while providing overwatch in Iraq.
US Navy SEALs rifles, from the foreground:
- Mk 15 (.50 BMG),
- Mk 13 (.300 Win Mag) and
- FN SCAR-H (7.62x51mm NATO)

The key to sniping is accuracy, which applies to both the weapon and the shooter. The weapon should be able to consistently place shots within high tolerances.[6] The sniper in turn must utilize the weapon to accurately place shots under varying conditions.[6]

A sniper must have the ability to accurately estimate the various factors that influence a bullet's trajectory and point of impact such as: range to the target, wind direction, wind velocity, altitude and elevation of the sniper and the target and ambient temperature. Mistakes in estimation compound over distance and can decrease lethality or cause a shot to miss completely.[6]

Snipers zero their weapons at a target range or in the field. This is the process of adjusting the scope so that the bullet's points-of-impact is at the point-of-aim (centre of scope or scope's cross-hairs) for a specific distance.[6] A rifle and scope should retain its zero as long as possible under all conditions to reduce the need to re-zero during missions.[6]

A sandbag can serve as a useful platform for shooting a sniper rifle, although any soft surface such as a rucksack will steady a rifle and contribute to consistency.[6] In particular, bipods help when firing from a prone position, and enable the firing position to be sustained for an extended period of time. Many police and military sniper rifles come equipped with an adjustable bipod.[6] Makeshift bipods known as shooting sticks can be constructed from items such as tree branches or ski poles.[6]

Accuracy and range depends on the cartridge used:

Cartridge Maximum effective range[37]
5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Remington) 300–500 m
7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester) 800-1,000 m
7.62x54mmR 800-1,000 m
7 mm Remington Magnum 900-1,100 m
.300 Winchester Magnum 900-1,200 m
.338 Lapua Magnum 1,300-1,600 m
.50 BMG (12.7x99mm NATO) 1,500-2,000 m
12.7x108mm (Russian) 1,500-2,000 m
14.5x114mm (Russian) 1,900-2,300 m

U.S. military

Servicemen volunteer for sniper training and are accepted on the basis of their aptitude as perceived by their commanders. Military snipers may be trained as forward air controllers (FACs) to direct air strikes or forward observers (FOs) to direct artillery or mortar fire.[38]

Russian Army

Starting in 2011, the Russian armed forces will establish newly developed sniper courses taking place in military district training centres. Instead of Soviet practice of mainly squad sharpshooters, which were often designated during initial training (and of whom only few become snipers per se), "new" Army snipers are to be trained intensively for 3 months (for conscripts) or longer (for contract soldiers); the program includes theory and practice of countersniper engagements, artillery spotting and coordination of air support. The first instructors are the graduates of the Solnechnogorsk sniper training centre.

The method of sniper deployment, according to Ministry of Defence, is likely to be one three-platoon company at the brigade level, with one of the platoons acting independently and the other two supporting the batallions as needed.[39]


The range to the target is measured or estimated as precisely as conditions permit and correct range estimation becomes absolutely critical at long ranges, because a bullet travels with a curved trajectory and the sniper must compensate for this by aiming higher at longer distances.[6] If the exact distance is not known the sniper may compensate incorrectly and the bullet path may be too high or low. As an example, for a typical military sniping cartridge such as 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Winchester) M118 Special Ball round this difference (or “drop”) from 700 to 800 metres (770–870 yd) is 200 millimetres (7.9 in). This means that if the sniper incorrectly estimated the distance as 700 meters when the target was in fact 800 meters away, the bullet will be 200 millimeters lower than expected by the time it reaches the target.[6]

Laser rangefinders may be used, but are not preferred on the battlefield because a laser can be seen by both the sender and the receiver[citation needed]. One useful method is comparing the height of the target (or nearby objects) to their size on the mil dot scope, or taking a known distance and using some sort of measure (utility poles, fence posts) to determine the additional distance. The average human head is 150 millimeters (5.9 in) in width, average human shoulders are 500 millimeters (20 in) apart and the average distance from a person's pelvis to the top of their head is 1,000 millimeters (39 in).

U.S. Air Force Airman positions herself in the brush during an exercise scenario at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

To determine the range to a target without a laser rangefinder, the sniper may use the mil dot reticle on a scope to accurately find the range. Mil dots are used like a slide rule to measure the height of a target, and if the height is known, the range can be as well. The height of the target (in yards) ×1000, divided by the height of the target (in mils), gives the range in yards. This is only in general, however, as both scope magnification (7×, 40×) and mil dot spacing change. The USMC standard is that 1 mil (that is, 1 milliradian) equals 3.438 MOA (minute of arc, or, equivalently, minute of angle), while the US Army standard is 3.6 MOA, chosen so as to give a diameter of 1 yard at a distance of 1000 yards (or equivalently, a diameter of 1 meter at a range of 1 kilometer.) Many commercial manufacturers use 3.5, splitting the difference, since it is easier to work with.[6]

Explanation: 1 MIL = 1 milli-radian. That is, 1 MIL = 1x10^-3 radian. But, 10^-3 rad x (360 deg/ (2 x Pi) radians) = 0.0573 degrees. Now, 1 MOA = 1/60 degree = 0.01667 degrees. Hence, there are 0.0573/0.01667 = 3.43775 MOA per MIL, where MIL is defined as a milli-radian. On the other hand, defining a mil-dot by the US Army way, to equate it to 1-yard (1 m) at 1,000 yards (1,000 m), means the Army's mil-dot is approximately 3.6 MOA.

It is important to note that angular mil (mil) is only an approximation of a milliradian and different organizations use different approximations.

At longer ranges, bullet drop plays a significant role in targeting.[6] The effect can be estimated from a chart which may be memorized or taped to the rifle, although some scopes come with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) systems that only require the range be dialed in. These are tuned to both a specific class of rifle and specific ammunition. Every bullet type and load will have different ballistics. .308 Federal 175 grain (11.3 g) BTHP match shoots at 2,600 ft/s (790 m/s). Zeroed at 100 yards (100 m), a 16.2 MOA adjustment would have to be made to hit a target at 600 yards (500 m). If the same bullet was shot with 168 grain (10.9 g), a 17.1 MOA adjustment would be necessary.[6]

Shooting uphill or downhill is confusing for many because gravity does not act perpendicular to the direction the bullet is traveling. Thus, gravity must be divided into its component vectors. Only the fraction of gravity equal to the cosine of the angle of fire with respect to the horizon affects the rate of fall of the bullet, with the remained adding or subtracting negligible velocity to the bullet along its trajectory. To find the correct zero, the sniper multiplies the actual distance to the range by this fraction and aims as if the target were that distance away. For example, a sniper who observes a target 500 meters away at a 45-degree angle downhill would multiply the range by the cosine of 45 degrees, which is 0.707. The resulting distance will be 353 meters. This number is equal to the horizontal distance to the target. All other values, such as windage, time-to-target, impact velocity, and energy will be calculated based on the actual range of 500 meters. Recently, a small device known as a cosine indicator has been developed.[6] This device is clamped to the tubular body of the telescopic sight, and gives an indicative readout in numerical form as the rifle is aimed up or down at the target.[6] This is translated into a figure used to compute the horizontal range to the target.

Windage which plays a significant role, the effect increasing with wind speed or the distance of the shot. The slant of visible convections near the ground can be used to estimate crosswinds, and correct the point of aim. All adjustments for range, wind, and elevation can be performed by aiming off the target, called "holding over" or Kentucky windage.[6] Alternatively, the scope can be adjusted so that the point of aim is changed to compensate for these factors, sometimes referred to as "dialing in". The shooter must remember to return the scope to zeroed position. Adjusting the scope allows for more accurate shots, because the cross-hairs can be aligned with the target more accurately, but the sniper must know exactly what differences the changes will have on the point-of-impact at each target range.[6]

For moving targets, the point-of-aim is ahead of the target in the direction of movement. Known as "leading" the target, the amount of "lead" depends on the speed and angle of the target's movement as well as the distance to the target. For this technique, holding over is the preferred method.[6] Anticipating the behavior of the target is necessary to accurately place the shot.[6]

Hide sites and hiding techniques

A sniper wearing a ghillie suit to remain hidden in grassland terrain

The term "hide site" refers to a covered and concealed position from which a sniper and his team can conduct surveillance and/or fire at targets. A good hide conceals and camouflages the sniper effectively, provides cover from enemy fire and allows a wide view of the surrounding area.

The main purpose of ghillie suits and hide sites is to break up the outline of a person with a rifle.

Many snipers use ghillie suits to hide and stay hidden. Ghillie suits vary according to the terrain into which the sniper wishes to blend. For example, in dry, grassy wasteland the sniper will typically wear a ghillie suit covered in dead grass.


Shot placement

Shot placement varies considerably with the type of sniper being discussed. Military snipers, who generally do not engage targets at less than 300 m (330 yd), usually attempt body shots, aiming at the chest. These shots depend on tissue damage, organ trauma, and blood loss to make the kill.

Police snipers who generally engage at much shorter distances may attempt more precise shot at particular parts of body or particular devices: in one event in 2007 in Marseille, a GIPN sniper took a shot from 80 m (87 yd) at the pistol of a policeman threatening to commit suicide, destroying the weapon and preventing him from killing himself.[40] Less lethal shots (at arms or legs) may be taken at criminals to sap their will to fight or reduce their mobility.

In a high-risk or instant-death hostage situation, police snipers may take head shots to ensure an instant kill. The snipers aim for the "apricot", or the medulla oblongata, located inside the head, a part of the brain that controls involuntary movement that lies at the base of the skull. Some ballistics and neurological researchers have argued that severing the spinal cord at an area near the second cervical vertebra is actually achieved,[citation needed] usually having the same effect of preventing voluntary motor activity, but the debate on the matter remains largely academic at present.

With moving targets it is necessary to lead the target to compensate for movement during the flight of the projectile.


A US Marine sniper wearing a ghillie suit.

Snipers can target personnel or materiel, but most often they target the most important enemy personnel such as officers or specialists (e.g. communications operators) so as to cause maximum disruption to enemy operations. Other personnel they might target include those who pose an immediate threat to the sniper, like dog handlers, who are often employed in a search for snipers.

A sniper identifies officers by their appearance and behavior such as symbols of rank, talking to radio operators, sitting as a passenger in a car, having military servants, binoculars/map cases or talking and moving position more frequently. If possible, snipers shoot in descending order by rank, or if rank is unavailable, they shoot to disrupt communications.

Since most kills in modern warfare are by crew-served weapons, reconnaissance is one of the most effective uses of snipers. They use their aerobic conditioning, infiltration skills and excellent long-distance observation equipment and tactics to approach and observe the enemy. In this role, their rules of engagement let them engage only high value targets of opportunity.

Some rifles, such as the Denel NTW-20 and Vidhwansak are designed for a purely anti-materiel (AM) role, e.g. shooting turbine disks of parked aircraft, missile guidance packages, expensive optics, and the bearings, tubes or wave guides of radar sets. A sniper equipped with the correct rifle can target radar dishes, water containers, the engines of vehicles, and any number of other targets. Other rifles, such as the .50 caliber rifles produced by Barrett and McMillan are not designed exclusively as AM rifles, but are often employed in such a way, providing the range and power needed for AM applications in a lightweight package compared to most traditional AM rifles. Other calibers, such as the .408 Cheyenne Tactical and the .338 Lapua Magnum are designed to be capable of limited AM application, but are ideally suited as long range anti-personnel rounds.


Often in situations with multiple targets, snipers use relocation. After firing a few shots from a certain position, snipers move unseen to another location before the enemy can determine where he or she is and mount a counter-attack. Snipers will frequently use this tactic to their advantage, creating an atmosphere of chaos and confusion. In other, more rare situations, relocation is used to eliminate the factor of wind.

Sound masking

As sniper rifles are often extremely powerful and consequently loud, it is common for snipers to use a technique known as sound masking. When employed by a highly skilled marksman, this tactic can be used as a substitute for a noise suppressor. Very loud sounds in the environment, such as artillery shells air bursting or claps of thunder, can often mask the sound of the shot. This technique is frequently used in clandestine operations, infiltration tactics, and guerrilla warfare.

Psychological warfare

A Special Reaction Team with an M24 Sniper Weapon System in 2004.

Due to the unexpected aspect of sniper fire, high lethality of aimed shots and frustration at the inability to locate and attack snipers, sniper tactics have a significant effect on morale. Extensive use of sniper tactics can be used as a psychological strategy in order to induce constant stress in opposing forces.

One may note that by many aspects (constant threat, high "per event" lethality, inability to strike back), the psychological impact imposed by snipers is quite similar to those of landmines, booby-traps, and IEDs.

Historically, captured snipers are often summarily executed. This happened during World War I,[41] and during World War II.[42] As a result, if a sniper is in imminent danger of capture, he may discard any items which might indicate his status as a sniper. The risk of captured snipers being summarily executed is explicitly referred to in Chapter 6 of US Army doctrine document FM 3-060.11 entitled 'SNIPER AND COUNTERSNIPER TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES':

Historically, units that suffered heavy and continual casualties from urban sniper fire and were frustrated by their inability to strike back effectively often have become enraged. Such units may overreact and violate the laws of land warfare concerning the treatment of captured snipers. This tendency is magnified if the unit has been under the intense stress of urban combat for an extended time. It is vital that commanders and leaders at all levels understand the law of land warfare and understand the psychological pressures of urban warfare. It requires strong leadership and great moral strength to prevent soldiers from releasing their anger and frustration on captured snipers or civilians suspected of sniping at them.[43]

The negative reputation of snipers can be traced back to the American Revolution, when American "Marksmen" would intentionally target British officers, an act considered uncivilized by the British Army at the time (this reputation would be cemented during the Battle of Saratoga, when Benedict Arnold allegedly ordered his marksmen to target British General Simon Fraser, an act that would win the battle and French support).[7] The British side used specially selected sharpshooters as well, often German mercenaries.[7]

To demoralize enemy troops, snipers can follow predictable patterns. During the 26th of July Movement in the Cuban Revolution, the revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro always killed the foremost man in a group of President Batista's soldiers.[verification needed] Realizing this, none of Batista's men would walk first, as it was suicidal. This effectively decreased the army's willingness to search for rebel bases in the mountains. An alternative approach to this psychological process is to kill the second man in the row, leading to the psychological effect of nobody wanting to follow the "leader".

The phrase "one shot, one kill" has gained notoriety in popular culture as a glorification of the "sniper mystique". The phrase embodies the sniper's tactics and philosophy of stealth and efficiency. The term may mean that only a single round should be fired, as every shot fired assists the enemy in locating the sniper. As well, every shot should be accurately placed, in order to kill or severely wound the victim. Whether the phrase actually reflects reality is subject to debate, but it has been widely used in literature and movies.

Counter-sniper tactics

The occurrence of sniper warfare has led to the evolution of many counter-sniper tactics in modern military strategies. These aim to reduce the damage caused by a sniper to an army, which can often be harmful to both combat capabilities and morale.

The risk of damage to a chain of command can be reduced by removing or concealing features which would otherwise indicate an officer's rank. Modern armies tend to avoid saluting officers in the field, and eliminate rank insignia on battle dress uniforms (BDU). Officers can seek maximum cover before revealing themselves as good candidates for elimination through actions such as reading maps or using radios.

Friendly snipers can be used to hunt the enemy sniper. Besides direct observation, defending forces can use other techniques. These include calculating the trajectory of a bullet by triangulation. Traditionally, triangulation of a sniper's position was done manually, though radar-based technology has recently become available. Once located, the defenders can attempt to approach the sniper from cover and overwhelm him. The United States military is funding a project known as RedOwl (Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost With Lasers), which uses laser and acoustic sensors to determine the exact direction from which a sniper round has been fired.[44]

The more rounds fired by a sniper, the greater the number of chances a target has to locate him. Thus, attempts to draw fire are often made, sometimes by offering a helmet slightly out of concealment, a tactic successfully employed in the Winter War by the Finns known as "Kylmä-Kalle" (Cold Charlie).[45] They used a shop mannequin or other doll dressed as a tempting target, such as an officer. The doll was then presented as if it were a real man sloppily covering himself. Usually, Soviet snipers were unable to resist the temptation of an apparently easy kill. Once the angle where the bullet came from was determined, a large calibre gun, such as a Lahti L-39 "Norsupyssy" ("Elephant rifle") anti-tank rifle was fired at the sniper to kill him.

Other tactics include directing artillery or mortar fire onto suspected sniper positions, the use of smoke screens, placing tripwire-operated munitions, mines, or other booby-traps near suspected sniper positions. Even dummy trip-wires can be placed to hamper sniper movement. If anti-personnel mines are unavailable, it is possible to improvise booby-traps by connecting trip-wires to hand grenades, smoke grenades or flares. Though these may not kill the sniper, they will reveal the location of the sniper(s). Booby-trap devices can be placed near likely sniper hides, or along the probable routes to and from the positions. Knowledge of sniper field-craft will assist in this task.

One very old counter-sniper tactic is to tie rags onto bushes or similar items in suspected sniper hides. These rags flutter in the breeze creating random movements in the corner of the sniper's eye, which he/she will often find distracting. The greatest virtue of this tactic is its simplicty and ease of implementation; however, it is unlikely to prevent a skilled sniper from selecting targets, and may in fact provide a sniper with additional information about the wind near the target.

The use of canine units was very successful, especially during the Vietnam War. A trained dog can easily determine direction from the sound of the bullet, and will lie down with its head pointed at the origin of the gunshot.

Irregular and asymmetric warfare

A Georgian sniper in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict (2004)

The use of sniping (in the sense of shooting at relatively long range from a concealed position) to murder came to public attention in a number of sensational U.S. cases, including the Austin sniper incident of 1966, the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the Beltway sniper attacks of late 2002. However, these incidents usually do not involve the range or skill of military snipers; in all three cases the perpetrators had U.S. military training, but in other specialties. News reports will often (inaccurately) use the term sniper to describe anyone shooting with a rifle at another person.[citation needed]

Sniping has been used in asymmetric warfare situations, for example in the Northern Ireland Troubles, where in 1972, the bloodiest year of the conflict, the majority of the soldiers killed were shot by concealed IRA riflemen.[46] There were some instances in the early 1990s of British soldiers and RUC personnel being shot with .50 caliber Barrett rifles by sniper teams collectively known as the South Armagh sniper.[47] In Northern Ireland, in addition to the uses listed above, a sniper was quite often a form of bait called a "come-on", whereby the sniper's position would be made obvious to a British patrol so as to draw them into an ambush in their attempt to close with the sniper.[citation needed]

The sniper is particularly suited to combat environments where one side is at a disadvantage.[citation needed] A careful sniping strategy can use a few individuals and resources to thwart the movement or other progress of a much better equipped or larger force. Because of this perceived difference in force size, the sniping attacks may be viewed as the act of a few persons to terrorize (earning the moniker 'terrorists') a much larger, regular force — regardless of the size of the force the snipers are attached to. These perceptions stem from the precept that sniping, while effective in specific instances, is much more effective as a broadly deployed psychological attack (see elsewhere in article).

Snipers are less likely to be treated mercifully if captured by the enemy.[42] The rationale for this is that ordinary soldiers shoot at each other at 'equal opportunity' whilst snipers take their time in tracking and killing individual targets in a methodical fashion with a relatively low risk of retaliation.

War in Iraq

In 2003, the U.S.-led multinational coalition composed of primarily U.S. and U.K. troops occupied Iraq and attempted to establish a new government in the country. However, shortly after the initial invasion, violence against coalition forces and among various sectarian groups led to asymmetric warfare with the Iraqi insurgency and civil war between many Sunni and Shia Iraqis.

Through November 2005, when the Pentagon had last reported a sniper fatality, the Army had attributed 28 of 2,100 U.S. deaths to enemy snipers.[48] More recently, since 2006, insurgent snipers such as "Juba" have caused problems for American troops. Claims have been made that Juba have shot up to 37 American soldiers in Iraq as of October 2006.[49]

In 2006, training materials obtained by U.S. intelligence showed that snipers fighting in Iraq were urged to single out and attack engineers, medics, and chaplains on the theory that those casualties would demoralize entire enemy units.[50] Among the training materials, there included an insurgent sniper training manual that was posted on the Internet. Among its tips for shooting U.S. troops, there read: "Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare."[48]


Some sniper teams in Afghanistan have killed large numbers of Taliban in quite short periods of time. For example, whilst in Helmand Province, two British snipers (part of the Welsh Guards Battle group) shot dead a total of 75 Taliban in only 40 days during the summer of 2009. In one session of duty, lasting just two hours, they shot and killed eight Taliban. On another occasion, the same team scored a "Quigley" (i.e., killing two Taliban with a single bullet) at a range of 196 metres.[51]

Taliban snipers have themselves caused problems for coalition forces. For example, over a four-month period in early 2011, two Taliban snipers have shot dead two British soldiers and wounded six others at an outpost in Qadrat, Helmand province.[52]

Notable individuals

Sergeant H.A. Marshall of The Calgary Highlanders. Canadian snipers in the Second World War were trained scouts. Specialized equipment includes Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk I(T) rifle and scope combination and a camouflaged Denison smock. PAC Photo, by Ken Bell (September 1944).

Even before firearms were available, soldiers such as archers were specially trained as elite marksmen.

Pre–20th century

  • Ninja or Shinobi (16th century Japan) – supposedly trained to cover retreating armies, targeting officers from concealed positions with poisoned blow guns.[citation needed] One of Japan's most notable warlords, Takeda Shingen, was possibly fatally wounded by a sniper.[53]
  • Lord Brooke, who represented the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, was the first recorded British sniper victim, killed by a Royalist soldier hiding in a bell tower in Lichfield.
  • Timothy Murphy (American Revolutionary War) – killed British General Simon Fraser during the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, hampering the British advance and causing them to lose the battle.[7]
  • Patrick Ferguson (American Revolutionary War) - developer of the world's first breech-loaded military rifle (which advanced sniping and sharpshooting tactics), fought with his Corps of Riflemen (recruited from the 6th and 14th Foot) at the Battle of Brandywine, where he may have passed up a chance to shoot George Washington.[54]
  • Napoleonic Wars – Use of Marine sharpshooters in the mast tops was common usage in navies of the period, and Admiral Nelson's death at Trafalgar is attributed to the actions of French Sharpshooters. The British Army developed the concept of directed fire (as opposed to massive unaimed volleys) and formed Rifle regiments, notably the 95th and the 60th who wore green jackets instead of the usual redcoats.[citation needed] Fighting as Skirmishers, usually in pairs and trusted to choose their own targets, they wrought havoc amongst the French during the peninsular war against Napoleon's Forces.
  • British Rifleman Thomas Plunkett (Peninsular war) – shot French General Colbert and one of his aides at a range of between 200 metres (219 yd) and 600 metres (656 yd) using a Baker rifle.[55]
  • Colonel Hiram Berdan (American Civil War) – commanded 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters, who were trained and equipped Union marksmen with the .52 caliber Sharps Rifle. It has been claimed that Berdan's units killed more enemies than any other in the Union Army.[7]
  • Jack Hinson (American Civil War) recorded 36 "kills" on his custom made .50 caliber Kentucky long rifle with iron sights.
  • Sgt. Ben Powell (American Civil War) – sniped Major General John Sedgwick during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House with a British Whitworth target rifle at the then-incredible distance of 730 metres (798 yd).[citation needed] This caused administrative delays in the Union's attack and lead to Confederate victory. Sedgwick ignored advice to take cover, his last words according to urban legend being, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist-" upon which he was shot. In reality, he was shot a few minutes later.[7]
  • Major Frederick Russell Burnham - assassinated Mlimo, the Ndebele religious leader, in his cave in Matobo Hills, Rhodesia, effectively ending the Second Matabele War (1896).[56] Burnham started as a cowboy and Indian tracker in the American Old West, but he left the United States to scout in Africa and went on to command the British Army Scouts in the Second Boer War. For his ability to track, even at night, the Africans dubbed him, He-who-sees-in-the-dark,[57] but in the press he became more widely known as England's American Scout.[58]

20th century

21st century

  • British Army CoH Craig Harrison of the Household Cavalry successfully engaged two Taliban machine gunners south of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in November 2009 at a range of 2,475 m (2,707 yd), using a L115A3 Long Range Rifle rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum. These are the longest recorded and confirmed sniper kills in history.[24][25][26][27]
  • Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong, formerly of the PPCLI (Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan) - achieved a recorded and confirmed sniper kill at 2,430 m (2,657 yd) in 2002 using a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 rifle.[69]
  • Canadian Master Corporal Arron Perry, formerly of the PPCLI (Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan) - briefly held the record for the longest-ever recorded and confirmed sniper kill at 2,310 m (2,526 yd) in 2002 after eclipsing US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock's previous record established in 1967. Perry used a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 rifle.[69]
  • Canadian Master Corporal Graham Ragsdale using a .308 registered 20 confirmed kills over ten days during Operation Anaconda.
  • U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Timothy L. Kellner - regarded as one of the top snipers still active in the U.S. Army with 78 confirmed kills during Operation Iraqi Freedom and 3 in Haiti.[70]
  • U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jim Gilliland - Previously held the record for the longest recorded confirmed kill with a 7.62mm rifle at 1,250 m (1,367 yd), while engaging an Iraqi insurgent sniper in Ramadi, Iraq on September 27, 2005.[71] Gilliland used an M24 7.62mm rifle.
  • U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Steve Reichert - Killed 3 Iraqi insurgents hiding behind a brick wall with a single shot from 1 mile in Lutayfiyah, Iraq on April 9, 2004. Reichert was using a Barrett M82A3 .50BMG rifle loaded with Raufoss Mk 211 multipurpose rounds. During the same engagement Reichert eliminated an Iraqi machine gunner pinning down a squad of Marines from a distance of 1,614 meters[72]
  • Sri Lankan Army Sniper, Corporal I.R. Premasiri alias ‘Nero’, of the 5th Battalion in the Gajaba Regiment has 180 confirmed L.T.T.E. terrorist kills.[73]
  • Iraqi insurgent Juba, a sniper who features in several propaganda videos. Juba has allegedly shot 37 American soldiers, although whether Juba is a real individual is unknown. He may be a constructed composite of a number of insurgent snipers.[74]
  • British Army Corporal Christopher Reynolds of the 3d. battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Black Watch, shot and killed a Taliban commander at a range of 1,853 m (2,026 yd) using a .338 Lapua Magnum (8.6 mm) L115A3 rifle.[75]
  • Australian Army Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG was awarded the Medal of Gallantry for his actions as the patrol sniper whilst serving with the elite Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan, 2006. In early 2011, he became only the second person to be awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia for Operations in mid 2010.[76]
  • U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Justin Morales - A part of U.S. Army CIST (Counter Insurgent Sniper Team) has 27 confirmed kills with a 7.62mm rifle. In 2005 - 2006 Morales in Balad, Iraq was sent in with his team to seek out insurgents placing IEDs along Main and Alternate Supply Routes. Morales used an SWS - M24.[77]

In popular culture

  • In the 1980 novel The Master Sniper by Stephen Hunter, Lieutenant-Colonel Repp, a high-skilled sniper in the German military in 1945, is charged to commit an unusual assassination by his Nazi superiors.
  • In the movie: Enemy at the gates made in 2001, tells the semi-fictional story of Vassili Zaitsev, played by Jude Law who became a hero for his sniping abilities, only to be hunted by fictional German Major Erwin König (Ed Harris) who is deployed to Stalingrad to take out Vassili and thus crush Soviet morale.

See also


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  4. ^ "Definition of 'skirmisher'". Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. 2003. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  5. ^ Plaster 2007
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Plaster 1993
  7. ^ a b c d e f Senich 1988
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Senich 1982
  9. ^ a b Shore 1988, p. 316
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  11. ^ a b Plaster 2007, p. 5
  12. ^ Pegler 2006
  13. ^ Parker 1924, pp. 211–212
  14. ^ Sniping in France by Major H. Hesketh-Prichard (1920)
  15. ^ Gilbert 1996, p. 45
  16. ^ Brookesmith 2007, p. 77
  17. ^ Prichard & Vernon 2004, pp. 10,19
  18. ^ Sniping in France by Major H. Hesketh-Prichard (1920) p. 239
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  24. ^ a b Smith 2010
  25. ^ a b Chandler 2010
  26. ^ a b Alpert 2010
  27. ^ a b Drury 2010
  28. ^ QuickTarget Unlimited Lapua Edition exterior ballistics software
  29. ^ Lapua: Downloads: Lapua Bullets CD Data[dead link]
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  • sniper — [snī′pər] n. a person, esp. a soldier, who snipes …   English World dictionary

  • Sniper — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Sur les autres projets Wikimedia : « Sniper », sur le Wiktionnaire (dictionnaire universel) Sniper est un mot anglais qui désigne : un …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sniper XL — Ein Sniper Pod unter dem Rumpf einer B 1B Lancer Das Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod, JETDS Bezeichnung: AN/AAQ 33) ist ein externer Behälter (auch „Pod“) zur Navigation und Zielerfassung für moderne Kampfflugzeuge. Es wird von dem US Konzern… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sniper XR — Ein Sniper Pod unter dem Rumpf einer B 1B Lancer Das Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod, JETDS Bezeichnung: AN/AAQ 33) ist ein externer Behälter (auch „Pod“) zur Navigation und Zielerfassung für moderne Kampfflugzeuge. Es wird von dem US Konzern… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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