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How to Shoot Like a Sniper

Snipers are regarded as a mysterious, almost super-human entity of militaries around the world. The ability to hit a target from thousands of yards away is a quality sought out by many people, military and non-military alike. “How do they do it?” you may ask. In this segment, we’ll discuss the basics that allow you to move without being seen, long-range dynamics, shooting fundamentals, and embracing your inner sniper.

First things first, real snipers have years of training and experience at their disposal. Many United States Army snipers start out as Infantrymen, and then go to a recon platoon. From there, they get selected and sent to a sniper school. One of the many mottos used by Army snipers is “Suffer Patiently, Patiently Suffer.”. Breaking down this motto, it simply means being a sniper takes a lot of patience (and frustration).

Being a sniper, or even shooting like one isn’t about just pulling the trigger. A lot of sniper training revolves around stealth, and being able to operate alone (or small teams). To shoot your target, you need to be able to get to your shooting position unseen, and leave unseen. The biggest mistake a person can make when stealth is critical, is impatience. You need to dedicate time, and lots of it, to properly engage your target (and get out) while remaining hidden.

Snipers use a lot of different weapons to engage their target. While caliber does make a big difference when it comes to range, weight can also be a factor when you’re walking long distances. Five pounds can feel like a hundred when you must sprint up a hill to evade your enemy, so being “tacticool” is not your friend when adding unnecessary attachments to your weapon.

Let’s go over the top three rifles you can buy…

to reach out and “touch” your target at a safe distance.

The Remington 700 .308

This bolt-action rifle is highly revered in the sniper and sport community due to its incredible range, and light-weight design. Weighing in at 6lbs, 12oz empty, it is one of the lightest rifles in its class. The Remington 700 .308 can reach out to almost 1km (1,000 meters). With each round averaging 45-75 cents per round, you won’t break the bank if you want to stock up. Each magazine holds 4-6 rounds (depending on the magazine), so we suggest that you have at least 5 extra magazines in your BOB in case you’re gone for long. Average cost: $400-$800 (depending on specs).

Suppressors are also an option for the .308, but not necessary. During one of the events at sniper training, candidates must position themselves within 200 yards of an observation post and shoot a blank round without being detected. They don’t have suppressors in training, and can still pass, so you don’t need a suppressor in real life. If you want to shoot like a sniper, you need to be able to remain unseen like a sniper.

The Savage 110BA Stealth .300 Win Mag (Winchester Magnum)

Chris Kyle was arguably the most well-known snipers in the world. With the pentagon confirming over 160 kills, he knew what he was talking about when it comes to rifles. The .300 win mag was his favorite cartridge to shoot with, and for a good reason. The .300 win mag can reach out to 1,200m-1,500m accurately, as long as you adjust your scope for windage and elevation (we’ll go over that later). Average price per round: $1.50-$2.00.

The bolt-action Savage 110BA Stealth .300 Win Mag is very pleasing to the eye as well, most snipers refer to this weapon as “eye candy”. It features a one-piece picatinny rail (grooves that help add different attachments), muzzle-brake, and a GL-SHOCK buttstock. The muzzle-brake assists in dispersing gasses that come out of the barrel when you fire your rifle. By dispersing the gasses, it reduces the rise of the barrel so you can reacquire your target more quickly. The GL-SHOCK buttstock reduces the recoil felt by you, should you fire multiple rounds, your arm won’t feel like you just got kicked by a horse. Average cost: $1,400-$1,650.

The Remington Model 700 XCR Long Range Tactical Bolt Action Rifle .338 Lapua

The XCR (Extreme Conditions Rifle) is made for incredibly rough wilderness conditions. This makes the rifle a prepper’s golden ticket to bugging out for days on end in the wilderness. It features “TriNyte” coating to all major components, giving it an incredible defense to outdoor conditions. The .330 Lapua is a great caliber for long-range engagements, reaching out to between 1,750m-2,350m depending on the grain and weather conditions. Average price per round: $3.50-$4.00.

The Model 700 XCR also features an Ops Inc. Muzzle Brake, which assists in lowering the rise of the barrel after firing. With a 5-round detachable magazine, the XCR is a great fit for anyone who expects to bug out long-term. If the name “Extreme Conditions Rifle” doesn’t reel you in, maybe the reviews will. All rifles have positive and negative reviews, but this one takes the cake for positive reviews. If you have the money, we highly recommend investing in an XCR. Average cost: $1,540.

Don’t get too wrapped up in the gun, it’s not the hammer, it’s the man swinging it. One thing to remember about any rifle you may invest in, cleanliness is key. Even though the rifle may not do all the work, it certainly makes a difference if it’s reliable or not. What makes reaching out to 1km/0.62 miles (or more) easier, is the optic that you use.

Scopes

Scopes (or, “glass” as referred to by snipers) are what can make (or break) a long-distance shot. Not all scopes are created equal, that’s why it’s important to do your research when considering what you will mount on top of your rifle. While you can always go out to Walmart and buy a cheap scope, don’t be surprised when it loses its zero after a few days of rigorous shooting. Next, we’ll go into the top two scope brands we recommend for your sniper rifle.

Leupold

Leupold scopes have been around since 1947, and have been the pioneers of fog-proof scopes ever since. As a trusted name in optics, Leupold also has a lifetime warranty for all of their scopes. A huge benefit of this warranty, is they offer it for Leupold scope owners even if they were not the original owners. From a budget standpoint, this puts a preppers mind at ease if they bought a scope from a private party, and it malfunctions. All you have to do is send it in, and they’ll replace it for free.

Leupold also offers Custom Dial Systems that allow you to create your windage and elevation dials before ordering them, so you can tailor your scope to match your rifle. With MoA (minute of angle) adjustments, their dials help you achieve pinpoint accuracy, all while remaining fog-proof. Their prices vary, but remain under $1,000 for simple rifle scopes while retaining reliability.

Nikon

Nikon is a brand most known for their cameras, but that doesn’t put them out of the game for optics. Nikon scopes are well revered for their clarity, with users boasting up to 98% light transmission (clarity in a nutshell). With a brand that is known for cameras, you know that lenses are their specialty. While most Nikon scopes are inexpensive (under $500), you can find some that are in the $1,000 range and up.

Most Nikon scopes have a BDC (bullet drop compensation) reticle, meaning they have circles (or lines) below the crosshairs that you can use to estimate where the bullet will impact at certain distances. To pinpoint where the bullet will drop at a distance, you need to research the type of round that you will be firing. Nikon is a very revered scope brand, and is loved in the hunting industry due to their inexpensive (and crystal clear) optics.

Before we get into bullet dynamics, we need to go in-depth on how to get to the position that you’re going to shoot from, unseen. You could know every mathematical equation there is to know about shooting, but if you can’t even get to where you’re going to shoot without being seen, you’ve already lost the battle. The best way to from point A to point B undetected, is a method called “low crawling”. This method is also referred to as “skull dragging”, because in order to properly perform this technique, your head is literally dragging on the ground.

Getting to Your Position

This is where a good sense of direction, and patience come into play. When low crawling, you’re not looking in front of you. Because of this, you’ll need a great sense of direction so you don’t go too far off the pre-determined path to your fighting position. A good way to practice this is swimming. The traditional “front crawl (freestyle)” swimming stroke utilizes your body’s natural sense of direction, so you can concentrate on swimming faster, and not concentrate on where you’re going.

To perform a proper low crawl, lay completely flat on your stomach with your head turned on its side. You want to be as low to the ground as possible, so your feet are also flat. Move your non-dominant leg upwards as if to bring your knee to your arm, and move your dominant arm forwards with your elbow bent and your forearm directly above your head. Do this painfully slowly though, the naked eye detects movement, and you don’t want to be seen. If you move slow enough while concealed, the untrained eye won’t know the difference between you, and the vegetation around you.

Once you’ve accomplished this position, pull yourself forward with the arm that’s above your head, and push yourself with the leg that you brought upwards. Your rear end should never leave a horizontal plane, and your head should drag across the ground on its side the entire time. Do not alternate legs, you need your rifle in one hand (barrel facing forward), so you would end up using one side of your body. Using only one side of your body will ultimately make you move forward with a slight curve, potentially leading you off your pre-determined path.

A good rule of thumb for low crawl speed – 100m should take you 20-30 minutes if done at the proper slow pace. You don’t have to low crawl the entire time, only when you are within 300-400m of your position. Otherwise, if you’re spotted running to your shooting position, the enemy can tell the direction in which you’re running and coordinate a counter-attack. It takes a lot of core, and lower body endurance to properly low crawl long distances. Make sure you incorporate these types of exercises into your workout routine.

Once You’re in Your Position

You’ve went through all the steps to camouflage yourself, painfully low crawled hundreds of meters, and are finally at your concealed position. This is the most crucial part of concealed shooting, so don’t waste all your hard work by hastily setting up. You need to remain in a focused, steady state-of-mind while you set up your shooting position. Bipods work extremely well while remaining prone (laying down), however they’re not necessary. You can also take a knee in your position if the foliage is too thick to see while prone. Make sure you pack a shooting stick, and camouflage it the same way you did your rifle, in case taking a knee is necessary.

When you’re in your concealed position, don’t position yourself so you’re sticking out of the foliage. Instead, retreat into the foliage so (even with binoculars) your enemy only sees the natural vegetation. Your barrel should only stick out a maximum of six inches from the foliage you’re concealing yourself in. Ideally, your barrel will be completely submerged in the vegetation along with yourself. Not all vegetation is clear enough to accomplish this, however, so this is where you’ll find out just how well you camouflaged your rifle.

Make sure you take controlled, shallow breaths when you’re fully set into your position. Use the time you have when you’re still prone to catch your breath from low crawling. Once you’re on a knee, a deep breath will become obvious to anyone looking for a threat (vegetation doesn’t take deep breaths). Congratulations, you’re finally set into your position, and fully concealed. Now you’re finally ready to do what you came here to do, squeeze the trigger.

The Fundamentals of Marksmanship

There are 4 basic fundamentals of marksmanship that every sniper follows. You can’t expect to build a house without a solid foundation, and it’s the same for shooting. To learn the more advanced shooting techniques, you need to make sure you perfect the basics. If you don’t, no matter how much money you spend on a rifle, or how many equations you put to practice, you will never be as effective as you would be if you perfected the following basic fundamentals.

Steady Position

The first fundamental of marksmanship is getting into a steady position. To be able to effectively engage a target at long range, even the slightest unwanted movement can make the difference between hitting your target, or missing it.  To get into a steady position while considering a long-range shot, first you need either a bipod (if you’re going to rest your rifle on a surface), or a shooting stick (if you’ll be kneeling or standing).

Make sure you get a bipod that’s durable, I recommend “Harris” bipods because they’ve worked really well for me in my long-range engagements. To get into the prone, lie flat on the ground, with your body in a straight line behind your weapon. The only exception to this rule, is if you’re shooting from behind cover from the prone. In this case, you may position most of your body behind cover, and the rest of it outside of cover just enough to fire your rifle accurately.

A common mistake many “wannabe” snipers make, are the way their feet are positioned. Your feet must be flat on the ground, do not stick your toes in the dirt with your heels in the air. This gives your body a more solid, stable shooting position. It may be uncomfortable at first, but after a few days of practice, it becomes much easier. If you’re wearing a ghillie suit, you’ll also want to take into consideration the vegetation around you.

Your shooting-arm elbow should be tucked in close to your body, the chicken-wing method is hard to hold for a long time, making it unstable. Your support-arm elbow should be a little further out from the weapon compared to your shooting arm, but it’s mostly shooter’s preference on what you can hold for a long time. With a bipod in place, you may use your support hand and place it on the top of the buttstock of your rifle. This allows the shooter to have a more comfortable cheek-to-stock weld.

Your head should rest comfortably on your buttstock (or hand). The cheek-to-stock weld is a term used by shooters to describe how your cheek should rest on the buttstock. To get a good weld, you should rest your head on the buttstock so that the skin on your face below your cheek pushes up above your cheek bone while it’s resting on the stock. This allows your head to remain more steady on the buttstock after a round is fired, so you can reacquire your target faster without having to find it again.

Your shooting hand should grip the rifle with the same grip you would use to shake someone’s hand. Any harder, and you’ll cause the rifle to tremor unnecessarily. Any lighter, and you risk your shot being off-target because of the movement of the rifle after you fire it. Tip – pay attention the next time you shake someone’s hand, and remember the grip strength that you use.

Sight Picture / Sight Alignment

Without a proper sight picture, you’ll miss your target by what seems like a mile. It’s very important to focus a lot of attention on all the fundamentals, but this one takes a lot of practice. This fundamental becomes a lot easier when you have an optic. Since most of you will, we’ll only briefly go over this fundamental for iron sights.

For iron sights, line up your front and rear sight to get you on target. You should not focus on the rear sight after they are aligned. Instead, for a brief moment, focus your eyesight on the front sight to double check that it’s still on target. After you’ve confirmed this, your primary focus should be the target itself.

With an optic, focus your sight on the crosshairs to get you near your target. Then, once the crosshairs are on target, focus your eyesight to the target only. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see the crosshairs even when you don’t focus on them. A great method of shooting, is to practice firing with both eyes open. This will help the eye looking through the scope not get fatigued as quickly. Once your dominant eye becomes fatigued, you risk missing your target.

Controlled Breathing

Breathing has a very important factor in shooting, even in close or medium range engagements. Everyone’s body is different, but the breathing fundamental remains the same for everyone. If you find that this technique doesn’t work for you, odds are you were taught wrong, and old habits die hard. Like I’ve mentioned in my “Camouflaging for Preppers” article, quitting smoking will really help you as a prepper. In this instance, it will help you control your breathing better, as you won’t be out of breath as quickly.

Every shot you fire from your rifle should be as accurate as a surgeon’s scalpel. In order to accomplish this, you’ll need to slow your heart rate. When you’re about to kill somebody, your heart naturally races. To calm this natural reaction, don’t think of them as a person, but as a target. To slow your heart rate, you’ll need to slow your breathing. If you’re hiding in vegetation, you’ll want to take slow, shallow breaths so you can conceal your position.

Once you feel your heart rate drop, you’ll be able to feel the beat in your neck, or in your ears. This is the golden ticket to a well-placed shot, because every beat of your heart causes your rifle to move ever so slightly. When you’re about to shoot, time your shot so that when you squeeze the trigger, the gun fires in between your heart beats on an exhaled breath. If you do this, you’ve maximized the efficiency of controlled breathing for your long-range shot.

boy pulling rifle trigger

Trigger Squeeze

You don’t “pull” the trigger, you “squeeze” it. Think about it, pulling something could mean jerking it, squeezing it is more slow and controlled. This is exactly how you want your trigger squeeze to be, slow and controlled. It should be so slow, in fact, that the rifle should surprise you when it fires. There’ll be some of you that think “you shouldn’t leave killing something to surprise”, once you put your finger on that trigger with a target in the crosshairs, you’ve already committed to killing it.

If you’re not familiar with shooting, the best part of your finger to squeeze the trigger with, is the meaty-portion of the tip of your index finger. I don’t believe in squeezing the trigger with the crease in your finger, because you rotate your grip slightly as you squeeze. Any kind of unnecessary movement when you shoot can mean the difference between hitting your target, or missing it.

There’s a saying in the sniper community that you’ve probably heard on the popular movie “American Sniper”. That saying is “Aim small, miss small.”, and it’s very true. If you aim for the chest pocket on a shirt, you might miss the pocket but still hit your target. If you aim for the shirt and miss, you’ve missed your target. Snipers don’t usually go for the popular “head shots”. First, it’s unnecessary, it’s a small target and if you miss, you’ll give your target a chance to run. Second, chest cavity shots can be just as effective, but with a much larger target.

Leading Your Target vs. Trapping Your Target

There are two effective methods to successfully hit a moving target. The first, and most effective method, is called “trapping”. The second method is called “leading”, this method is much more difficult than trapping, but effective if you follow the correct formula. Sometimes trapping can’t be used because of different factors, so it’s imperative that you practice both methods. Before we get too into detail about the methods, there’s some sniper jargon we need to familiarize you with.

Speed of the Target – As the speed of your target’s movement increases, so must your lead. The faster your target moves, the more distance they will travel by the time the bullet reaches them.

Angle of Movement – Not all moving targets are going to run completely in a straight line left to right. A target moving at a 45-degree angle away from you is going to cover less distance than a target that moves strictly from left to right at a 90-degree angle by the time your round reaches them.

Range to Target – When your target is at a greater distance, your lead must increase. This is due to the time it takes the bullet to travel from your rifle to your target.

Wind Adjustment – If the wind is blowing East, and your target is heading East, your lead adjustment must increase. If the wind is blowing West, and your target is heading East, your lead adjustment can decrease. I could explain why, but it seems self-explanatory.

Milliradian (or Mil) –  A unit of measurement used with most adjustable sights. Most sights adjust .1 mil per click. Each mil equates to an adjustment different at different distances. Since most optics adjust at .1 mil per click, make sure you adjust accordingly. 1 mil =

  • 1m at 1000m
  • 10cm at 100m

sniper behind car

Trapping

This is the most effective, and simple way to shoot a moving target. Utilizing this method allows the shooter to remain still, with his weapon stationary. This increases the probability of hitting your target because you don’t have to steady a moving weapon. Trapping means you have the scope at a pre-determined “mark”, and you fire your shot when your target reaches your mark. If you can, use this method when engaging a moving target.

The downside of this method, is if your target is at such a great distance that you don’t feel comfortable using the trapping method. Sometimes, it’s better to use math to determine a more accurate shot. The good, however, outweighs the bad for the trapping method. It allows you to keep your rifle in the same steady position while you wait for your target to reach your mark, thus making it the most stable method to shoot a moving target.

 

Leading

Leading your target (while not as easy as trapping) is a very effective way to engage your target on the move. Leading means you set your crosshairs at a certain distance ahead of your moving target, and once you feel that your calculations are correct, you fire off your round. There’s not a whole lot to describe about leading your target, since most of leading is math (which we’ll get into). If you can, use the trapping method, as you’ll have a more stable firing position.

How to Calculate Your Lead

In order to properly engage your moving target, you need to understand the math that’s involved in calculating your lead. You don’t want to leave hitting your target to chance, and that’s why I’ll be providing you with the specific equations to calculate your lead. Remember, this is an overview, any detailed specifics should be researched extensively and practice over a period of months.

Calculations

  • Time of flight (seconds) x target speed (in feet per seconds) = Lead (in feet)
    • Then take the lead x .3048 = Meters
    • Then take meters x 1000 / divided by range = mil. Lead

Time of Flight

  • 100m = .1 sec / 200m = .2 sec / 300m = .4 sec / 500m = .7 sec / 600m = .9 sec / 700m = 1 sec / 800m = 1.3 sec / 900m = 1.5 sec / 1000m = 1.8 sec

Target Speed

  • Slow patrol = 1fps (feet per second) / fast patrol = 2fps / slow walk = 4fps / fast walk = 6fps / run = 11fps

If your rifle doesn’t use mils for adjustment, it most likely uses MOA (minute of angle). If that’s the case, you can check out the website here to calculate your lead. Like I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot of math involved at accurately engaging your target at long distances. Don’t worry, with practice, these calculations become second nature. Tip – make a card with calculations on it, so you can bring it with you for a quick reference. Bringing a simple calculator can also save you the hassle of simple math.

Ballistics

Bullets do not fly in a straight line between your rifle, and your target. Once they leave the barrel, they fly in more of an arch shape. Because of this, you need to adjust your sights accordingly. Understanding ballistics is important, because the more you understand about your rifle (and type of round), the more effective you’ll be. Your rifle must be an extension of your body, not just a tool you use to shoot things.

Since there are way too many combinations of calibers and grain types, you can reference the website here to determine your specific bullet ballistics. This website determines ballistics for most types of rounds used in today’s rifles. Ballistics also come into play when we get into the Coriolis Effect.

Coriolis Effect

To break it down, the Coriolis Effect is how the Earth’s rotation affects a bullet’s trajectory at distances over 1000m. Before you pull out your calculators, I won’t be going into specific calculations regarding the Coriolis Effect because there are way too many factors for each caliber that have an effect on your calculation. Odds are, you won’t be engaging targets over 700m anyways. In other words, you’ll hear many amateurs talking about the Coriolis Effect, but none of them have perfected the calculations needed to shoot over 1,500m. If you feel yourself debating whether you should shoot over 1,000m or not, don’t.

Range Estimation

Range estimation is very important in long distance shooting, because not everyone has a range finder. There are ways to estimate range using the binocular / mil ratio method, but as a prepper, bugging out might mean you can’t bring equipment like that. Instead, we’ll go over the two basic methods to range estimation.

The first method is the easiest, the “football field” method. For up to 500m, estimate how many football fields that you could fit between yourself, and your target. Once you’ve estimated that, multiply it by 100. That will give you your estimated distance in meters. For distances greater than 500m, find a halfway point between you and your target, and estimate how many football fields there would be between you, and your halfway point. Multiply that number by 100, and you’ll have your estimation in meters.

The second method is the “flash to bang” method. This method works the best at night, because you need to see the muzzle flash of the weapon firing in the distance. Once you see the muzzle flash, immediately begin counting “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two” until you hear the “bang”. Then, take the number you counted, and multiply it by 330. Sound travels at 330 meters per second (mps), so once you multiply it, you’ll have a pretty accurate range estimation. If your count brings you past 10, start over at 1. That will bring you over 1000m.

Wrap-Up

There are multiple factors that come into play when it comes to shooting like a sniper. The ones I covered in this article are the factors that come into play most often. In my experience, I have learned that most long-range shots aren’t anything over 700m, so don’t go out and practice hitting a quarter off a fence post at 1000m right away. Practice the basics, and perfect them. Doing this will increase your accuracy greatly at longer distances, and over time you’ll realize that even the smallest mistakes can make you miss your target.

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About Reaper

Reaper

I’m an active-duty infantryman with the U.S. Army, and I’ve served a combined-service of over 5 years. Throughout my career, I’ve learned various survival techniques, as well as self-defense techniques. I specialize in weapons, long-range reconnaissance, distance shooting, and long-term isolation survival. I’m a very conservative, very “to the point” kind of person.

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