Snipers – how they operate and how to avoid their gun sights
About professional snipers
Professional snipers, particularly military-trained snipers, are well versed in marksmanship, field craft, reconnaissance, observation, surveillance, target acquisition and of course, camouflage. Avoiding a sniper attack can be nearly impossible but by understanding how they work, and following a few simple avoidance tactics, it’s possible you may be able to outwit them – and survive.
A sniper’s mission may involve more than just eliminating a target. Snipers are typically empowered with additional responsibilities. For instance, in addition to eliminating selected targets, snipers often are used to collect and report information. And of course, a sniper’s services may be used to instill fear in their targets in order to confuse them, force them into making rush decisions, or funnel their movement in a desired direction. As such, these additional responsibilities may affect the sniper’s preparations, positioning, and movement. It will be up to you to determine the sniper’s true intent and formulate a plan to ensure your survival.
A sniper’s method of operation
Getting to the target location
A sniper’s method of operation involves several distinct steps, the first of which is getting to the location of their target while remaining undetected. Snipers will always have the target area mapped mentally in their head before moving into the area. They will use environmental cues such as the position and flow of principal rivers and streams to map the area. In addition, they will be familiar with hills, valleys, and roads in the area and will typically take note of man-made objects such as railroad tracks and utility lines. When travelling to the target location, they will avoid trails, roads, populated areas, and any other area which could reveal their presence.
Build a comfortable position
Once the sniper has reached their desired area of operation, they will build a stable, comfortable position from which to target their enemy. In selecting their position, the sniper will avoid known enemy locations and will seek a stable platform from which to shoot from while at the same time ensuring the selected “roost” is comfortable enough to occupy for an extended period of time. Contrary to popular perception, the sniper’s position may not always be elevated since camouflage techniques can be used to hide the sniper who chooses, or is required, to shoot from ground level.
Camouflage and notable target indicators
Although the sniper will typically attempt to seek terrain that offers the best natural cover, regardless of the location selected, they will camouflage the roost in an attempt to mask all “target indicators”. There are five basic target indicators that the sniper will use to identify a target – sound, movement, improper camouflage, disturbance of wildlife, and odors. These same identifiers will be masked or minimized by the sniper himself in order to avoid detection.
Firstly, the sniper will attempt to minimize sound which could be caused by movement or the mechanics of their equipment. They will ensure the area they occupy is free of any materials which could make an unexpected sound and they most certainly will never speak (spoken words are a sound that the human ear is very attuned to). And of course, their equipment will be deathly silent.
Since the human eye is more attuned to quick, sudden, jerky movement, the sniper will ensure that any movement he is required to make is slow and controlled and if visual contact becomes a possibility, a sniper will freeze in place and remain still until the enemy has passed. Spotting a sniper’s movement is typically only possible during transitory phases (see below).
The sniper will ensure their camouflage is effective. They will avoid accidental reflections and poor contrast with the background of their surroundings. They will ensure the outline of their body is hidden – that it blends in with its surroundings. Check this page for a few mind-blowing examples of effectively camouflaged snipers.
Disturbance of wildlife
Snipers will take care to avoid disturbance of the surrounding wildlife. They will take note of natural animal movement and will avoid making any sound or movement that could startle nearby animals. As much as possible, they will become an integrated part of their environment.
Avoid emitting odors
Lastly, snipers will avoid emitting any odors that could reveal their presence. This includes potential smells from cooking, smoking, soap, lotions, insect repellent, etc.
It’s worth reiterating that the above mentioned target indicators work both ways. As the name implies, snipers use these indicators to detect targets while ensuring that they avoid triggering these indicators themselves.
Taking the shot
Once the sniper has prepared their roost, they will identify the target and ready the shot. When readying the shot, it is important that they assess elevation and wind conditions. Then before taking the shot, they will prepare themselves by careful control of their breathing. Snipers are taught to take a deep breathe, exhale, and hold the lungs empty while lining up and taking the shot. Some snipers are even taught to shoot between heartbeats to minimize gun barrel movement.
Finally, once the sniper has taken the shot, they will prepare for either a follow-up shot (if needed) or a quick, controlled exit from the area.
Beating the sniper at his own game
Spotting a well-hidden sniper is a nearly impossible task but steps can be taken to avoid snipers and even flush them out.
Flushing out a sniper
The more shots fired by a sniper, the greater the chance that their location will be disclosed and located by their target(s). Once a shot is taken, often a sniper will move out of the area quickly, especially if indirect firing erupts (e.g. return fire aimed in the general direction of the sniper). Once they are out of the area, they will slow down and attempt to conceal their movement. As such, snipers can often be flushed out by attempting to draw fire from them using tricks” such as offering a fake helmet slightly in view or by positioning a “dummy” target in an easy line of fire (during WWII, Russian soldiers were notorious for being unable to ignore baited enemy tricks).
Avoiding sniper fire
Avoid natural target areas
Naturally, snipers prefer a well-illuminated target. To help avoid sniper fire, you should keep hidden in dark areas and shadows and avoid brightly-lit areas. When moving around in any environment, the best way to avoid a sniper is to move like one (quietly and controlled).
Recognize sniper eye fatigue
After prolonged time in the field, snipers will almost always suffer from eye fatigue. You can use this to your advantage. Slow, steady, planned movement may not be seen by a tired sniper. In addition, recognize that snipers and spotters often work in teams and switch roles every 20 minutes or so. You can watch for any sniper movement made during the time these roles are transitioned.
Conceal your movement
If you are required to move while under sniper threat, any necessary movement should be concealed. For instance, smoke screens can effectively conceal your movement and can easily be created by igniting commonly available objects such as an automobile gas tank, oil drum, or garbage container. Of course, smoke screens can also be created using specially designed grenades – if you are lucky enough to have one readily available. If no smoke screen can be made, throwing debris such as dirt or grass into the air can break the sniper’s line of sight and impact their concentration.
Throwing off the sniper’s accuracy
Sniper accuracy is key to an effective kill. Verified sniper kills have been made at ranges greater than 2,000 yards (although most sniper shots are typically taken at a few hundred yards or less). Military snipers will aim for the target’s body while police snipers, who typically shoot at much shorter ranges, will often aim for the head (the base of the skull, the “apricot”, where motor control is processed, is a typical target). Anything you can do to reduce the sniper’s accuracy increases your chance of walking out of the situation alive.
Wind, distance, and elevation affect the sniper’s accuracy and make the shot more difficult. You can take advantage of this knowledge by making any required movements at moments when the conditions become less than ideal for the sniper (e.g. during wind gusts).
Snipers may use laser-based tools to measure the distance to the target. Be wary of laser reflections off of clothing or other reflective materials. If the sniper does not have laser equipment available, they will typically use nearby objects of known size to assist in assessing the distance to the target. Utility poles, fence posts, etc. are often used as a baseline for the measurement. Avoiding paths that require movement near such objects is one method to reduce their ability to gauge the distance to their target.
For a moving target, the sniper will aim ahead of the target, known as “leading” the target, in an attempt to hit them in stride. A target moving at a slow, but inconsistent speed, can throw off the sniper’s shot. Frequent changes in direction of movement may also throw off a sniper.
Another ploy is to tie rags onto bushes or trees near a suspected sniper nest. The fluttering of the rags in the wind creates random movements which can distract the sniper and affect their ability to concentrate and aim.
Snipers are trained to target personnel that are critical to the enemy’s operation. In military scenarios, officers or specialists are typical targets. Leaders should attempt to blend in with others in the group and conceal features which would indicate their rank within the group (this is one reason why military officers are not saluted in battle conditions).
Snipers will often bait their target, dropping objects for the target to find and pick up. Most often, the sniper will take the shot as the target retrieves the item or as the target is walking away after retrieving the item (it is at this point that the target typically loses their focus on the surrounding environment and provides a higher-percentage target profile for the sniper). Take note of anything you discover that seems out of the ordinary for the terrain you are operating in. If you must pick up the object, first ensure it is not rigged, move it slightly (with a stick if possible), retrieve the object slowly, and move away in an erratic route after retrieving the object.
Sniper activity after the event
After a shot has been taken, a sniper will often relocate to another position before the target can determine where the shot came from. Snipers may also relocate when weather conditions, such as wind direction, change. Watch for these relocations at the moment you feel would be opportune for the sniper.
Note that snipers sometimes mask the sound of their rifle either by utilizing a suppression device or via another, additional loud noise. Artillery shells firing in sequence are often used to mask the sounds of a sniper’s gun during clandestine operations. A series of loud bursts can indicate the attack has begun.
Known as “close with and destroy”, snipers can be rushed. Granted, this is not a good position to be in because losses will likely be taken but it can be particularly useful if you are pinned down by a sniper. Similarly, if the sniper is far away, a “rush to take cover” can be initiated instead.
A sniper can also be pinned down themselves. Known as a “pincer movement”, a pair of people can be sent around and behind the sniper in order to eliminate his escape route and to possibly force him to become mobile and move towards the target.
After the sniper is caught
If capture is imminent, a sniper is trained to discard items which might indicate to his capturers that he is indeed a sniper (typically out of anger, captured snipers are often executed). If the suspected sniper is caught, recognize that he may have attempted to hide items in the nearby area or along the path that he was moving along.
It may be a depressing fact but avoiding the wrath of a sniper can be next to impossible. Still, by understanding how a sniper operates, and following these simple avoidance tactics, it’s possible you may avoid their crosshairs or minimize the damage they can do to your group.