(Pictured: Alt-Market.com founder Brandon Smith)
God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best – Voltaire
For a long time sniper tactics have been consider by many, even in the military, to be akin to a kind of state designated “murder” rather than a legitimate combat strategy. Only in recent years has sniping achieved a certain level of recognition. Centuries of warfare have passed in which snipers were happily recruited for their skills, and then quickly swept under the rug and forgotten once conflict was over. Daniel Morgan and his crack-shot riflemen were instrumental in America’s revolutionary victory over the British. U.S. sharpshooters rained hell down on German troops from over 900 yards during WWI. Snipers have dominated the battlefield in every modern conflagration. Yet, regimented sniping schools were not standardized in the U.S. Army until 1987. All previous schools were abandoned within a few years of their establishment.
Why did it take so long for the sniper to be recognized as essential to victory? Perhaps because snipers are TOO effective, to the point that they become frightening to the establishment.
During the Finnish “Winter War” against the Soviet Union in which they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned, guerrilla tactics, which they called “Motti tactics”, were used to excellent effect. The Finnish devastated the Soviets using hit and run attacks, homemade and improvised weapons, and snipers. The most famous of these snipers was Simo Hayha.
Simo was a common farmer with a diminutive stature of only 5 feet 3 inches tall. His shooting prowess was honed as a hunter in the wilderness of Finland. Simo is credited with over 505 (official) kills, including several teams of Soviet counter-snipers sent specifically to eliminate him. These kills were made during less than 100 days of combat, meaning Hayha engaged and destroyed 5 targets per day by himself. Known as the “White Death”, Simo would finally be removed from the battlefield by a lucky shot from an explosive tipped rifle round to the face while holding off a Soviet advance; he would wake up later in a Finnish hospital at the very end of the war and die of old age in the year 2002.
Simo Hayha proved once and for all the effectiveness of a single shooter in the face of a more powerful opponent. This kind of attrition warfare stopped the more technologically advanced Russians in their tracks, and ended their pursuit of total invasion. The poorly armed Finish prevailed despite all odds.
Sniper training turns a simple rifleman into a weapon of long range mass destruction, which is probably the reason why most governments around the globe have been reluctant until recently to educate more than a handful of soldiers on sniping methods. Hypothetically, a team of snipers could be dangerous enough to topple the political leadership (or oligarchy) of any given nation with nothing more than a few finely tuned rifles and a couple boxes of high caliber rounds.
Governments, fearful of being outdone by such low-tech adversaries, have gone to great lengths in an attempt to negate the sniper as a threat. Night vision, thermal vision, sound detection equipment, gas attacks, white phosphorous attacks, even large scale artillery barrages and laser guided missiles have not been able to stop snipers from remaining as a primary combat tool. Snipers always find a way around existing defenses, no matter how high tech. This is why sniper techniques are one of the ultimate strategies for self defense of the common citizenry usually disarmed of military grade weaponry.
I often hear skepticism when discussing the concept of long range combat techniques for survivalists. People ask why survivalists should even bother with sniper methods? How would they identify legitimate targets that present a tangible threat from such a distance? And, don’t most firefights occur within a range of 50 yards or less?
These questions come generally from inexperience with the methodology and the training. Sniper tactics are as much about reconnaissance as they are about precision shooting. Scoping and identifying targets before they pull the trigger is 90 percent of their job, and they tend to do it well. Unless they happen to work for the ATF or the FBI, usually, snipers are required to evaluate targets before engagement rather than firing on anything unlucky enough to stumble into their crosshairs. This process is just as applicable to the survival sniper as it is to an Army or Marine sniper.
In terms of common combat ranges, it is true that most military engagements occur in close quarters, but this is due more to the manner in which standard militaries conduct operations. Armies with superior numbers and technology PREFER to use shock and awe and CQC in order to quickly overwhelm and subdue the enemy. The modern method of warfare (or local police swat raids for that matter) is merely a refined form of blitzkrieg. The guerrilla fighter, on the other hand, has to remain adaptable, and in many cases, controlling the timing and distance of the fight is his only advantage. Sniper tactics are better suited to the underdog, not mechanized military operations. It behooves the survivalist to have long distance capabilities because there is little chance he will ever be anything but the underdog.
I am a relative newcomer to the world of long distance shooting and sniping with only a couple years of training, and I know how difficult the discipline appears to people who have just become curious about it. The modern “mystic” surrounding the sniper is deserved in certain respects, however, once the fundamentals are learned, it is surprising how easy your shots actually become, even at 1000 yards-plus, if you have the correct mindset.
Before you can practice such accuracy, though, there are many steps you need to take, and they should be taken in this order…
Choose A Caliber
If you want to become a precision shooter it is absolutely vital that you carefully research the caliber of round you will eventually use. The caliber will determine the kind of rifle platform you purchase, not to mention the scope and reloading equipment (if you decide to load your own rounds). Most of us do not have the kind of cash necessary to apply the trial and error method. You have to choose right the first time, otherwise, thousands of dollars may go down the drain.
Your typical AK-47, AR-15, or run-of-the-mill hunting rifle is not going to be effective in a sniper scenario. Such weapons are generally not designed for engaging targets at more than 500 yards, and the average hunting rifle is not designed to take the kind of abuse faced during combat conditions. The .223 round is sometimes used for sniping in urban settings (usually between 100 to 300 yards) where limited penetration is needed in order to avoid collateral damage, but is not practical for long range.
The most common caliber used for long distance sniper platforms is the .308. The .308 has an effective range of around 800-1000 yards (sometimes more depending on the type of the bullet). I would consider it the bare minimum caliber required to achieve sniper accuracy and penetration at longer distances. Similar calibers, like the .30-06 or the 7.62 by 54, have equal capabilities, however, combat ready rifles which easily mount tactical scopes are difficult to find for them.
The 300 win mag and the 7mm are the next step up entering into the “magnum” rifle caliber category, with excellent range and accuracy. The 300 win mag can be fired effectively at over a mile (1760 yards), and is my personal favorite.
The next stage in long range is far more expensive. The .338 Lapua and the .50 BMG are range capable at 2700 yards or more, are so heavy that they penetrate most armor, and can be employed to take down vehicles as well as human beings. Expect to pay around $3 to $4 per round for .338 and $5-plus per round when training with .50 cal. Reloading can diminish the expenses slightly.
Choose A Rifle
Once you’ve researched and decided upon a caliber you can afford, the next step is purchasing a rifle platform that fits the stringent requirements of long distance shooting. Here are some guidelines for getting started:
Rifle Accuracy Of 1 MOA (Minute Of Angle) Or Less – The rifle must be able to fire shot groups of less than 1 inch apart at 100 yards. A 1 MOA rifle will fire a shot group of around 10 inches at 1000 yards, and any deviation of a couple inches on a human target could mean a miss. There are some out-of-the-box rifles that easily fire within 1 MOA. Some platforms will need to be re-barreled.
Semi-Auto Or Bolt Action – A few semi-auto rifles do have the accuracy you would need for long distance. The Springfield M1A, the FNAR, certain retooled versions of the AR-10, etc, can all become excellent sniper platforms. Semi-automatics have the advantage of sending more rounds downrange faster, and allow you to acquire new targets without worrying about cycling the bolt. They are, though, designed with looser tolerances than the common bolt action, which means ranges surpassing 800 yards are more difficult. Bolt action rifles tend to have very low capacity mags, and are slower to cycle, but many models do have tighter chambers and heavier barrels which result in more consistently accurate shots at 1000 yards or more. Your choice of rifle depends on the kinds of situations you expect to run into.
Rifle Make And Model – How common are replacement parts and mags for your rifle? How common is the the caliber? Will you be able to procure ammo and parts easily? Will you be able to share supplies with other shooters in your survival community, or is nothing interchangeable? These are some important factors to consider before laying down cash on a rifle system.
Smooth Bolt And Trigger – Your bolt should cycle smoothly without resistance. Your semi-auto should not suffer from any jamming. Your trigger should be light and intuitive.
Floated Barrel – A floated barrel is a barrel that does not come into contact with any part of the rifle stock. A narrow space between the stock and the barrel prevents interference by the stock with the “harmonics” of the barrel. Shots become more consistent, and damage to the stock does not effect accuracy.
Heavy Barrel Or Factory Barrel – Military snipers are often supplied with heavy barrel rifles because the weight of the barrel allows for more consistent shots, less overheating, and better harmonics. However, a heavy barrel is NOT necessary to achieve sniper accuracy. Many factory made barrels can get the job done just as well and for less money.
This particular rifle is a Tikka 695 manufactured by Sako in Finland. The 695 features a floated barrel and removable magazine, which is rare for a bolt action, and allows for fast reloading if you have spares. The scope is a fixed 10 power SWFA SS, and the muzzle break is temporary. The trigger and bolt are incredibly smooth for an off-the-shelf rifle and Sako ensures that every rifle they produce shoots at 1MOA or less before it leaves the factory, making the Tikka one of the best low cost firearms for the beginning sniper. This rifle has been tested out to 1000 yards and is consistently accurate. The entire package costs less than $1000.
Choose A Scope
The standard for long range shooting is a mil-dot scope, either fixed power or variable, with 1/4 MOA adjustment knobs. It must also be rated to handle the recoil of the caliber you are shooting. Illuminated reticles, night vision options, in-scope reference and ranging dots, and numerous other bells and whistles should depend upon your defense needs. I prefer an uncluttered scope with a simple mildot reticle like the one below…
Those seeking to learn long range shooting can be easily overwhelmed by the scope selection on the market today. One could spend up to $2000 – $3000; more than he would spend on a prospective rifle. If you have that kind of green, then by all means, pick up a high end Leupold, Vortex, Nightforce, or Schmidt and Bender. If you don’t (and I’m assuming most of you, like me, don’t), there are still a few excellent scopes out there for minimal cash.
Companies like Burris, Millett, and SWFA all have sniper grade scopes designed to handle heavy abuse for around $300 to $400. The optics used by these companies are excellent, and only slightly less proficient at light collection than scopes several times more costly. The primary issue is that the scope holds its zero, and is not easily broken.
Choose Your Ammo And Reloading Press
Reloading is a vast and sometimes daunting skill set that takes a lot of time and patience to master. The process is indeed tedious, and the fun only really happens when you get to take your precision reloads out to the range and witness the extreme accuracy they afford. A year ago, I would have said that reloading was an excellent way to save money on ammunition, but in light of the recent ammo purchasing bonanza just before the latest attack on the 2ndAmendment by the White House, finding the exact materials you need today can be expensive or in some cases impossible.
There are plenty of factory-made match grade rounds on the market right now that will do pretty much whatever you need them to do. I would only recommend venturing into the world of reloading if you have a good source of components (powder, primers, brass, and bullets), and if you plan to hone your expertise past 1000 yards. For such distances you need extra heavy bullets which can maintain momentum and trajectory, and it is difficult to find factory rounds with heavier projectiles. Also, if you are shooting a magnum-grade caliber, there can be some noticeable savings in reloading.
These reloaded .300 Win Mag rounds utilize a 210 grain boat tail hollow point bullet. It took a lot of trial and error to find the best combination of powder, primer, and projectile for my particular rifle, but the sub-MOA groups created by these rounds make the effort worth it.
If you decide to reload, very simple equipment is available that will fill your requirements for relatively low cost. Lee’s single stage press or classic press kit, for instance, works perfectly for the long range shooter, and can be purchased for around $100. You’ll then need press “dies” designed specifically for the caliber you have chosen to shoot, along with shell holders, powder measure, scale, etc. etc. There is nowhere near enough space to cover reloading thoroughly here. The important thing is that you research every aspect of the round you plan to build, create your test-fire groups, pick what gives you the best accuracy and speed, then stock up on as much powder and other components as possible while you still can.
Remember, if you change any components in the rounds you use, the flight path of the bullet will change, the point of impact will change, and how you adjust your scope will change, so try to stick with the same components for every round you make.
Learn How To Make The Shot
One of the biggest obstacles for many seeking to learn sniper tactics is simply finding a shooting range that offers long distance targets. Most private and state run ranges across the country are no more than 300 – 500 yards. This is not adequate. Once you have found a range of 700 yards or more, you must then learn these vital fundamentals…
Calculate Distance To Target – Perhaps THE most important of all skills required for sniping is the ability to effectively calculate distance. This is the area in which most people give up on long distance shooting, when it is, in reality, very simple, and you don’t need an expensive laser rangefinder to do it.
Using the mil-dots in your scope and the equation below, you can easily estimate rage:
Known size of target (in yards) x 1000 divided by size of target in Mil Dots =Range in yards
The average adult human being is between 5-6 feet tall (or around 2 yards), as long as you remember this the rest is self explanatory. An even faster method for estimating rage is to use an item called a Mildot Master, which is a sliding analog calculator made of plastic. If you know the general size of your target in inches or feet, all you have to do is measure the number of mildots the target covers in your scope, then slide the calculator until the two measurements meet; the Mildot Master gives you a close to exact distance of the the target.
Once you know the distance to target, you can adjust your scope to compensate for bullet drop.
Know Your Bullet Drop And Dope Chart – Bullets do not fly in a straight line. Rather, they fly in an arc, like an artillery shell or a football. The amount of drop in your bullet at any given distance will determine how much you need to adjust the crosshairs of your scope upwards in order to compensate. To calculate bullet drop you must first know how fast your particular bullet travels as it leaves the barrel of your particular rifle. To do this, you need to either purchase or borrow a piece of gear called a “chronograph”.
Chronographs are very easy to use. Just fire your test bullets over top of the device and it will relay the speed in feet per second. All reloaders should have a chronograph on hand. Once you know the speed of the bullet, you can go online to any number of shooter websites, enter the data on the bullet, and the website will print out a “Dope Chart” for you. This chart will tell you exactly how many clicks to adjust your scope at any given range.
Laminate your dope chart and keep it on or near your rifle at all times.
Adjust For Wind And Temperature – Adjusting for wind and temperature is an intuitive process. Some snipers use mini weather stations that give exact wind and temperature readings in the field. The most reliable of these devices cost in the range of $300 to $500. Any adjustments due to wind and temp will usually be small, only a couple of MOA left or right, up or down. Temperature can have a noticeable effect on the speed of a bullet, thus changing point of impact. Higher temperature means a faster burn rate on powder, creating more speed. Cold weather means reduced speed. Be sure to test your rounds at differing temperatures and wind speeds and keep notes on how this effects your zero.
Pulling The Trigger – You have fine tuned your rifle, you have perfected range estimation, you know everything there is to know about the bullet you are shooting, you have memorized your dope chart, and now, you are ready to pull the trigger. When you place your crosshairs on a target, you should be 99.999% certain that the bullet will hit, but there is still the matter of “human error” to deal with.
This is where the greatness or “artistry” of the trained sniper is measured. To be blunt, not just anyone can make a 1000-plus yard shot. In fact, many people don’t have the patience or the mindset to achieve such a goal. The average shooter has a tendency to defeat himself before he ever fires a round. No one can teach you to focus your mind, that is an attribute that must be learned on your own. That said, once you are able to focus, pulling the trigger becomes a mere matter of proper body alignment.
When shooting from the prone position, the butt of the rifle should be firmly planted in your shoulder, your non-shooting hand should be under the stock providing steady balance, and your body should be completely relaxed. Your muscles do NOT provide the support for the rifle, your skeleton is the support. The only muscle that should be moving at all is your trigger finger.
Before pulling the trigger, you must measure the tempo of your breathing. There is a moment in every breath in which your body is the most still; it is different for every person, and this is when you fire. Pull the trigger straight back using the tip of your finger. Continue holding for a moment, and then release. Try not to blink during the shot. In fact, challenge yourself to keep your eyes open preceding the recoil. This will condition your body to resist the impulse to flinch before or during the shot.
Adjusting The Shot
After the shot is released, you can often see the spiraling trail of the bullet in your scope as it cuts through the air. A friend can aid you as your spotter as well. Your first shot, also known as the “cold bore shot”, is the most important. In a combat situation, the cold bore shot is usually the only shot a sniper takes before exfiltration. Sometimes, adjustment for a second shot on target is possible, but you will only have a matter of seconds to make it happen. At long distances, the bullet impact occurs long before the crack of the gun reaches the ears of the target, giving you a moment to reacquire and shoot again before he realizes what is happening.
Watch for bullet splash in the terrain surrounding the target, including rising dust and flying shrapnel. Shift your reticle accordingly.
Stealth And Concealment
Once you have mastered accuracy, it is time to focus on concealment. This requires an understanding of color, shadow, shape, and micro-terrain. The use of micro-terrain allows a sniper to move across areas most people would consider “wide open”. Grasses, bushes, rock formations, and small impressions in the earth give the sniper just enough concealment to make him invisible. The Ghillie Suit is the most common form of camouflage for the professional sniper, but I prefer lighter materials that can be quickly thrown over top of the BDU’s you are already wearing. Speed and maneuverability are sacrificed while wearing the extremely thick and heavy ghillie. Thermal reflective materials are also important when covering heat signature. Natural barriers can be used to obscure movement. A sniper must have considerable patience. A single sniper stalk could take hours, or even days. One’s movement must be so slow and methodical that it never registers as abnormal in the eyes of security or video surveillance.
The author and his spotter for the day, Maggie, somewhere in the wilds of Montana.
Sniper methods are invaluable to the survivalist for numerous reasons. They create a standoff distance that is highly intimidating to aggressors. They give the survivalist the ability to remain unseen if he wishes. They give him the ability to engage and destroy opponents with more advanced arms and greater numbers. They train the average person to think asymmetrically; to prevail using less resources and with less risk. They make him a truly viable threat, with nothing more on hand than a rifle and a few precision rounds of ammunition. A single sniper can change the balance of a conflict and snatch momentum away from the most powerful of enemies. The more liberty minded people who have this skill, the better.
Special thanks to the Kalispell long distance shooting group (you guys know who you are) for helping me fine tune my 1000 yard shot.