For other uses, see Sniper (disambiguation).

The traditional definition of a sniper is an infantry soldier especially skilled in field craft and marksmanship who kills selected enemies from concealment with a rifle at large distances. Typically and ideally, a proficient sniper approaches an unaware enemy presence, uses a single bullet per target, and withdraws without being seen. The word originates from the snipe, a game bird difficult for hunters to sneak up on.

In the last few decades the term 'sniper' has been used rather loosely, especially by the media in association with police precision riflemen, those responsible for assassination, any shooting from all but the shortest range in war and any criminal equipped with a rifle in a civil context. This has rather expanded the general understanding of the meaning of the term. It has also given the term 'sniper' distinctly pejorative connotations. This explains the increasing use of alternative terms, especially for police snipers such as counter-sniper, precision marksman, tactical marksman, sharpshooter and precision shooter.

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Irish sniper on ground with ghillie suit

Snipers in warfare

Different countries have different military doctrines regarding snipers in Military units, settings, and tactics. Generally, a sniper's goal in warfare is to reduce the enemy's ability to fight by carefully striking at very few, high value targets.

Soviet, Russian, and derived military doctrines include squad-level "snipers," which may be called "sharpshooters" or "designated riflemen" in other doctrines (see below). They do so because this ability was lost to ordinary troops when assault rifles (which are optimized for close-in, rapid-fire combat) were adopted. See the "Soviet sniper" article for details.

Military snipers from the U.S., U.K. and derived doctrines are typically deployed in two-man teams consisting of a shooter and spotter. The role of the sniper typically goes to the more experienced soldier, but the opposite is also a valid tactic, as a more experienced spotter will calculate range and wind with more accuracy.

Typical sniper missions include reconnaissance or scouting and surveillance, anti-sniper, killing enemy commanders, selecting targets of opportunity, and even anti-matriel tasks (destruction of military equipment), which tend to require use of rifles in the larger calibres such as .50 BMG and .338 Lapua. Snipers have of late been increasingly demonstrated as useful by U.S. and U.K. forces in the recent Iraq campaign in a fire support role to cover the movement of infantry, especially in urban areas.

The current record for longest range sniper kill is 2,430 metres (7,972 ft), reportedly accomplished by a Canadian sniper in 2002, during the invasion of Afghanistan, using a .50 BMG McMillan bolt-action rifle. This meant that the round had a flight time of four seconds, and a drop of 44.5 m (146 ft). The previous record was held by Carlos Hathcock, achieved during the Vietnam War, at a distance of 2,250 m.

Such a shot cannot be taken in haste. By contrast, much of the U.S./Coalition urban sniping in support of operations in Iraq is at much shorter ranges, although, in one notable incident on April 3 2003, a two man team of Royal Marines armed with L96 sniper rifles each killed targets at a range of about 860 m with shots which dropped 17 m (56 ft) in the air.

In the Bosnian War, and for much of the Siege of Beirut, the term "sniper" was used to refer to what were generally ill-trained soldiers who terrorized civilians. During the Siege of Sarajevo, the main street of the city became known as "Sniper Alley."

Police snipers

Police forces typically deploy snipers in hostage scenarios. They are trained to shoot only as a last resort, when there is a direct threat to life from a felon. Police snipers typically operate at much shorter ranges than military snipers, generally under 100 metres and sometimes even less than 50 metres. Police snipers do not generally attempt to shoot to incapacitate; when they shoot, they shoot to kill, though there have been some notable exceptions with varying success.

In peacetime, police snipers like those of the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group (e.g. the Hostage Rescue Team) typically serve longer in the role, receive more training, and get more operational experience than military snipers.

Sniper consistency

The key to sniping is consistency, and this applies to both the weapon and the shooter. While consistency does not ensure accuracy (which requires training), a sniper cannot have accuracy without consistency.

Although there is always a degree of randomness due to the physics of bullets and explosions, a precision sniping rifle must limit this as much as possible. When fired from a fixed position, it must place all its hits extremely close together, even at long range. Similarly, a sniper must have the ability to estimate range, wind, elevation, and any other major factors that can alter their shot. Mistakes in estimation compound over distance and can make a shot less lethal or even cause it to miss completely.

A sniper generally prefers to zero their weapon at a target range, although it can also be done in the field. This is where the sniper calibrates their rifle with their scope at a particular range (typically their most common encounter distance) such that shots will reliably strike their target. A rifle must maintain its zero in the field, or else it must be rezeroed before the next encounter. Once zeroed, the rifle can be adjusted for other distances or for wind using estimates, calculations, and scope features.

The military need for consistency is highest when a sniper is taking the first shot against an enemy unaware of the sniper's presence. At this point, high-priority targets such as enemy snipers, officers, and critical equipment are most prominent and can be accurately targetted. Once the first shot has been fired, the enemy will take cover or attempt to locate the sniper, and attacking strategic targets is difficult or impossible.

The need for police sniper consistency is even higher than for military snipers. Firing a shot but failing to immediately incapacitate an armed threat is almost certain to result in the death of hostages, and cause the aggressors to cease negotiations and retreat to cover. In this situation, lives can literally hang on the result of a single shot, and it is this pressure that police snipers must overcome every time they fire.

Sniper training

While good equipment is helpful, it is the training that makes a sniper. Military sniper training tries to teach a high degree of proficiency in camouflage and concealment, stalking and observation as well as precision marksmanship under wide operational conditions.

Snipers are generally volunteers accepted for sniper training on the basis of their aptitude as perceived by their commanders. Sniper trainees typically shoot a couple thousand rounds over a number of weeks. The training teaches core skills of camouflage, concealment, moving tactically over terrain, observation and rifle-shooting under varying conditions. Military snipers may be trained as FACs (Forward Air Controllers) to direct military air strikes, FOOs (Forward Observation Officers) in artillery target indication, and as mortar fire controllers (MFCs).

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

The range to the target is measured or estimated as precisely as conditions permit. Laser rangefinders may be used, but alternatives include comparing the height of the target (or nearby objects) to their size on the scope, or taking a known distance and using some sort of measure (utility poles, fence posts) to determine the additional distance.

At longer ranges, bullet drop plays a significant role in targetting. The effect can be estimated from a chart which may be memorised or taped to the rifle, although some scopes come with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) systems that only require the range be dialled in. These are tuned to both a specific class of rifle and specific ammunition.

Shooting uphill or downhill can require more adjustment due to the effects of gravity. Wind also plays a role, the effect increasing with windspeed 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 either by "holding off" by eye, or by "dialling in" to the scope. The latter adjusts the scope so that the crosshairs point at the target, despite the effects of the factors above. With precision mechanics, dialling in is generally more accurate, as the eye can more easily line up and hold the target.

For moving targets, the point of aim is in front of the target, with the distance depending on the speed of movement. Anticipating the behavior of the target helps place the shot.

Sniper equipment

Sniper rifles

Main article: Sniper rifle

Good equipment is helpful, but does not substitute for careful selection of personnel and thorough training. A military sniper from a selective, highly trained formation, equipped with a mere hunting rifle, would be far more effective than a hunter with an expensive, precision sniper rifle.

Historic military sniper rifles were almost the standard service rifle of the country in question. They included the German Mauser K98, U.S. Springfield M1 Garand, Soviet Mosin-Nagant, Japanese Arisaka and British Lee Enfield No 4.

These were selected because they were the more accurate models of those in service. They might add a scope or bipod. The standard open iron sights were usually left as a back-up in case the optical sight should fog or break.

Modern sniper rifles are specially-built for the purpose. The critical goal is reliable placement of the first shot within one minute of arc. Most include special features for this purpose. These can include:

  • Rifles are built to tight tolerances. In particular, the headspace is as small as possible.
  • The barrel is precise. The production method is less important. Good barrels' rifling can be cut with a lathe or swaged with a button. Some barrels have metallurgical treatments to reduce their internal strains, and thus the amount they bend or twist with temperature.
  • A "free-floating barrel" is often used. The barrel is attached to the rifle at a single point, screwed into the action, not touching the forearm, "front furniture" or sling. This makes the first shot more repeatable since it helps isolate the barrel from outside mechanical and thermal effects.
  • The action is affixed carefully to the stock. Often a plastic "bedding" compound is used. It increases the rifles' repeatability by reducing tolerances between the stock and action. Some engineers claim it raises the mechanical resonant frequency of the rifle, reducing the wavelength of resonances, and thus the total error from them.
  • Most sniper rifles have heavy barrels to increase the resonant frequency (again) and slow the rate of heating, which reduces thermal distortion of the barrel as more rounds are shot. This is why the M24 Bolt-Action Sniper Rifle is actually heavier than the older M21 Semiautomatic Sniper Rifle.
  • The end of the barrel may be counter-sunk a few millimeters to protect the critical exit-end of the rifling.
  • The trigger sears may be polished so the trigger releases crisply. This reduces the shooter's tendency to jerk the trigger, and move the point of aim. A good trigger lets off or 'breaks' cleanly without any 'creep.' It is said to feel like snapping a glass rod.
  • A low-mass (often titanium) hammer and pin reduce the time between the trigger pull and the primer ignition. This reduces the distance that a human being's irreducible quiver can move the point of aim.
  • Military sniper rifles tend to have longer barrels of around 300 mm to allow the cartridge propellant to fully burn and get the fastest bullet velocity for a given charge. Some police sniper rifles have shorter barrels to make them easier to handle. The shorter ranges at which police operate permit lower bullet velocities.

Perhaps the three best-known sniper rifles in current service are the US Army's M24, the U.S. Marine Corps' M40 and the British Accuracy International L96 and AW. The M24 and M40 are precision rifles built based upon the civilian Remington 700 bolt action rifle, the best selling bolt-action in North America and dating back to 1962. The British L96/AW was designed by Malcolm Cooper, a British civilian Olympic shooter.

Sniper rifles' sights are almost always telescopic. The reticle of the scope often contains markings other than the cross-hairs found in hunting rifle scopes. Some markings are to assist in range estimation by corresponding to standard objects at different ranges; other marks, such as mil-dots, assist both in "aiming off" for windage and in "holding off" to adjust for distance and elevation.

Sniper rifles' scopes rarely magnify more than 11x; the AW in British service has a fixed magnification of 10.5x. Modern sniper rifles often forgo open sights, relying entirely on the scope. Examples include the U.S. M21, M24, and M40. The British AW is still equipped with auxiliary open sights. Some scopes have fixed magnification as low as 3x. Police sniper rifles often have an adjustable zoom scope, as much police work is done at close range and a high magnification scope restricts the field of view.

Some sniper equipment includes an image intensifying adapter to convert the normal scope for night work.

Semi-automatic sniper rifles are currently less common than bolt-action rifles, with the notable exception of the Russian Dragunov in 7.62x54 (the old Soviet rimmed battle rifle cartridge originally chambered in the Mosin-Nagant). The Dragunov is relatively common in the sphere of influence of the former Eastern bloc. The Dragunov in 7.62x54 is not as precise as the M21, M40 or AW series. A precision semi-automatic rifle is expensive and most sniping doctrines make the semi-automatic function superfluous. Precision semi-automatic sniper rifles exist for specialised applications, such as the Heckler and Koch PSG1 and Knight Armaments SR25M.

A sandbag helps one to achieve the best accuracy, although these are typically only available in target shooting, police stand-offs, and base defense. In the field, a bipod is more common, although any soft surface such as a rucksack will work. Any of these will steady a rifle and help ensure consistency. In particular, they help one fire from a prone position, the most accurate position for firing a rifle. They also help one hold any firing position for an extended period of time. Many police and military sniper rifles come equipped with an adjustable bipod.

Since 1985, some services have adopted sniper rifles that fire rounds larger or more powerful than a standard battle rifle's. Such rifles are used for anti-materiel missions and for extreme long range. US doctrines call "anti-materiel" roles hard target interdiction. They are big, heavy, cumbersome, very loud and expensive. In many sniping missions these would be a disadvantage, but these big rifles do have their tactical niche.

Such rifles include the Barrett M82A1 chambered in the .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) cartridge. This cartridge generates about six times the energy of a 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge. Splitting the difference between the huge .50 BMG and the 7.62 x 51 mm in the power stakes are the .338 Lapua and .408 Chey-Tac. A new Sniper rifle undergoing testing is the Barrett XM109 rifle, firing a high-explosive 25 mm round.


Most snipers are issued match-grade military ammunition. Ammunition with a boat-tail (narrowing at the base end) are often selected for long-range sniping.

Though target shooters often assemble their own ammunition from components to more precisely control the load and tune it to the specific rifle and task, this is practically unknown in military and police circles.

The recommended practice is to acquire rounds from a single lot (batch) of manufactured ammunition, zero the rifle to that lot, and then use only that ammunition until it runs out. This ensures that every bullet is as similar as possible to the previous one, and assists consistency (as well as confidence).

Speed and distance of a sniper bullet

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Shock waves caused by bullet in liquid

Sniper rifles are among the most powerful personal firearms. If pointed at the right angle, a sniper rifle can fire over a mile high, and over two miles horizontally, but the bullet's actual velocity and the rate at which it slows down can be quite important.

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Bullet tearing a playing card in half

Using some of the modern propulsion techniques, a sniper today can fire a bullet at a speed of over 884 metres per second (0.549 mile per second), this is 3180 kilometres per hour (1980 miles per hour), about two and a half times the speed of sound. A bullet traveling at that speed crosses the length of 7 full size football fields in one second.

A thought experiment by Galileo (originally applied to horses, rather than firearms) has interesting consequences for ballistics: if a bullet is fired horizontally and another bullet is simply dropped, providing they were released at the same time and from the same height, they will both fall and hit the floor at exactly the same time. The situation is in reality a bit more complex for high-velocity objects due to interaction with air, but this experiment illustrates the basic problem: A bullet's range depends on how far it can travel before gravity pulls it to the ground.


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A camouflaged sniper lying prone

Good camouflage, combined with movement discipline, is what makes snipers so hard to see and detect.

The basic camouflage item of a working sniper is a combination of cover and shelter, usually a poncho or shelter-half, preferably with attachable insulation and internal waterproofing.

The glint of the scope's optics is the only part of a sniper that cannot be camouflaged, but shine can be reduced by using a piece of fabric or a metal mesh over the scope. Snipers should avoid anything that glints or clanks, including glasses and white faces.

Snipers against well-equipped forces must camouflage themselves in Infrared (or IR). They use material with a thin layer of evaporated aluminum to reflect the IR, such as plastic foil blankets. Originally these were thermal blankets, covered with local foliage or material. The foliage or material is taken from at least 275 m (300 yards) away so the sniping position's natural cover is undisturbed.

Tick suit

The best-equipped snipers use a Tick suit. This consists of IR-proof material that hangs in folds over the sniper, breaking up the outline on a scope. The outer layers of a tick suit resemble a ghillie suit, camouflaging the sniper in visible light.

Ghillie suit

Snipers with extreme requirements for infiltration and camouflage use a ghillie suit. The ghillie suit was originally developed by Scottish deer hunters as a portable hunting blind.

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A US Marine sniper wearing a ghillie suit

Ghillie suits can be constructed in many different ways. Some services make them of rough burlap flaps attached to a net poncho. US Army Ghillie suits are often built using a pilot's flightsuit, battle dress uniform (BDU), or some other one-piece coverall as the base. Unscented dental floss is used to sew each knot of fishnet to the fabric, in the areas to be camouflaged. A drop of Shoe Goo is applied to each knot for strength. The desired jute is applied to the netting by tying groups of 3-4 strands of a color to the netting with simple knots, skipping sections to be filled in with other colors.

A ghillie suit is usually prepared by assembling it, beating it, dragging it behind a car, and then rolling it in cow manure or burying it in mud and then letting it ferment. This makes it very much like wearable humus. As with the foil blankets mentioned above, a ghillie suit that closely matches the actual terrain of the zone of operation will stand out less, so elements of that general environment (local foliage or other matter) may also be included in the netting.

Sniper tactics

At distances over 275 m (300 yards), snipers usually attempt body shots, aiming at the chest and depending on tissue damage, organ trauma and blood loss to make the kill. At lesser distances, snipers may attempt head shots to ensure the kill.

In instant-death hostage situations, police snipers shoot for the cerebellum, a part of the brain that controls voluntary movement, that lies at the base of the skull. Some wound ballistics and neurological researchers have argued that severing the spinal cord at about the second cervical vertebra is what is actually achieved, usually having the same effect of preventing voluntary motor activity, but the debate on the matter remains largely academic at the present date.

To perform civil pacification, sniper-suppression, and intelligence a sniper or pair of snipers will locate themselves in a high, concealed redoubt. They will use binoculars or a telescope to identify targets, and a radio to provide intelligence.

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.

A sniper identifies targets by their appearance and behavior. Snipers shoot people who are in high-rank uniforms, who talk to radiomen, who sit as passengers in a car, who have military servants, or who talk and move their position more frequently. If possible, snipers shoot in descending order by rank, or if rank is unavailable, they shoot to disrupt communications.

Snipers use deception, in the form of camouflage, unusual angles of approach, and frequent, often slow movement to prevent accurate counter-attacks. Some snipers are able to shoot an observant target from less than 90 m (100 yards), while the target is searching for them, without being seen.

To perform suppressive fire to cover a retreat, a sniper positions himself, hidden, with a view to a large open space. When a pair of enemy squads attempts a crossing, the sniper disables one person, preferably a leader. Most often this is a hip shot, possibly followed by a jaw shot to prevent effective instruction. When the squad attempts a rescue, the sniper uses rapid fire, aiming for the trunks of enemy soldiers to kill as many as possible. A prudent sniper leaves the area at this point, anticipating the flanking attack that normally follows. A brave or desperate sniper may ambush one of the flanks, and if possible, will move outside the flank to do so.

To demoralize enemy troops, snipers can follow predictable patterns. During the Cuban revolutionary war, the 26th of July Movement always killed the foremost man in a group of Batista's soldiers. Realizing this, none of them would walk first, as it was suicidal. This effectively decreased the army's willingness to search for rebel bases in the mountains.

With heavy .50 calibre rifles, snipers can shoot turbine disks of parked jet fighters, missile guidance packages, expensive optics, or the bearings, tubes or wave guides of radar sets. Such methods often employ anti-materiel rifles. Snipers on hill-tops can often shoot down scout helicopters lurking below a ridge-line. Similarly, snipers may shoot locks or hinges instead of using a door-opening charge.

Anti-sniper tactics

To reduce a sniper's ability to damage the chain of command, doctrine and equipment need to prevent observable "leadership" behaviors and signs. Insignia should be low-observable camouflage colors on camouflage, battle-dress identical for all ranks, military servants and rank-based luxuries (like saluting) avoided in forward areas, and commands and instruction should be given in stealthy ways.

Valuable assets should be parked in sand-bagged redoubts until they are launched, preventing "anti-materiel" attacks. This is a prudent tactic in any circumstance, as it prevents damage from fragments.

Once a sniper attack has occurred, the most difficult task is determining the sniper's location. Because snipers use camouflage, carefully choose their firing positions, and often attack from long distances, it's often possible to strike and withdraw without ever being pinpointed.

A friendly sniper is generally the most effective counter-sniper tool. With similar training, knowledge of the surroundings, and equipment, the friendly sniper can offer advice to the squad, enhanced searching capability, and a means to combat the enemy sniper directly. When told what to watch for, the squad can also act as additional eyes and ears for the friendly sniper. Aside from watching over the squad, the friendly sniper also has the option to detach and engage the enemy sniper. Without any outside help from the squad, the most highly trained sniper is likely to win; either way, the ensuing sniper duel effectively distracts the enemy sniper from his mission.

Direct observation is the most accurate means of locating a sniper, but is a rare luxury when facing well-trained snipers. Several other less direct methods are available:

  • Reverse azimuth: If a sniper bullet enters a stationary object, inserting a straight rod into the hole can reveal both direction and the arc of the bullet. The latter can be used to estimate range or elevation. This technique is risky without cover, as it often involves entering the sniper's current field of fire.
  • Triangulation: Using the "reverse azimuth" or other directional technique at two or more locations can more accurately identify the position of a sniper at the time of firing.
  • Sound delay ("crack-bang"): The enemy's supersonic bullets produce a sonic boom, creating a "crack" sound as they pass by. If the enemy's bullet speed is known, his range can be estimated by measuring the delay between the bullet's passing and the sound of the rifle shot, then comparing it to a table of values. This is only effective at distances of up to 450 metres; beyond this, the delay continues to increase, but at a rate too small for humans to accurately distinguish.
  • Decoys: As shots are fired, the chance of locating or directly observing the enemy sniper increase. Decoys help to increase the number of shots without taking human losses, and may include attractive targets such as valuable (but unusable) equipment. Provocative signage may even work if an enemy sniper is unwise, aggressive, or does not know of the friendly presence in the area.

Once a sniper's position is known or suspected, other options follow:

  • Recon by fire: If a few possible sniper positions are visible, the squad can offer limited fire into each while the sniper's spotter watches for signs of success. In situations with heavy cover, the friendly sniper can fire a tracer round into the location to direct heavier fire from the squad.
  • Mad Minute: If there are too many possible positions for a "recon by fire", each likely enemy position is assigned to one or more friendly soldiers, and upon receiving the signal, all simultaneously fire a specific number of rounds. Aside from a long history of effective use, the Mad Minute also has strong secondary value as a morale booster.
  • Artillery: If the sniper's general position can be determined by other means, the area can be bombarded by mortars or artillery. Rockets and even guided missiles are also usable, typically if the sniper has become a major problem and other neutralising attempts have failed.
  • Smoke screen: In urban settings or other enviromnents with limited movement and fields of view, smoke can be an effective means to screen friendly movement. This can be used either to pass through and escape, or to close in on and eliminate the enemy sniper. Ordinary soldiers can still do damage through smoke by firing randomly or on intuition, but a sniper loses his precision advantage and is far less likely to hit anything.
  • Rush: If the squad is pinned down by sniper fire and still taking casualties, the order may be given to rush the sniper's position. If the sniper is too far away for a direct rush, a "rush to cover" can also be used. The squad will take casualties, but with many moving targets and a slow-firing rifle, the losses are usually small compared to holding position and being slowly picked off.
  • Pincer movement: If the sniper's position is known but direct retaliation is not possible, a pair of squads can move through concealment (preferably cover) and drive the sniper toward the group containing the targets. This decreases the chances that the sniper will find a stealthy, speedy escape route.

Attitude to snipers

Generally snipers are isolated even from soldiers of their own army by the dislike of the ordinary infantry for this type of combat. During World War II, captured snipers were often shot out-of-hand by their captors.

A commonly held view is that snipers must have a psychopathic or sociopathic personality in order to function efficiently. This view is not shared by military experts as dysfunctional personalities are likely to be unreliable in high-stress combat situations. Most people will also agree that training a mentally ill person into a very highly trained covert killer is a bad idea both in peacetime and wartime (the sniper will be out on missions only a small percentage of their time in the theater of operations).

Snipers do, however, require a different type of psyche to the average soldier – they must be comfortable being alone for long periods, be very self-reliant, and be comfortable with doing 'cold-blooded' kills – attributes that not every soldier will share.

Snipers outside warfare

The use of sniping as means of murder has been immortalised by a number of sensational U.S murders, including the Austin sniper incident of 1966, the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the Washington sniper serial murders of late 2002. However, these incidents usually do not involve the range or skill of military snipers.

Sniping has also been used by terrorists, for example in the Northern Ireland troubles, where in the early seventies a number of soldiers were shot by concealed riflemen, some at considerable range. There were also a few instances in the early '90s of British soldiers being shot with .50 calibre Barrett rifles.

Sniper versus Sharpshooter or Marksman

Some doctrines distinguish a "sniper" from a "sharpshooter" or "designated marksman". While snipers are intensively trained to master field craft and camouflage, these skills are not required for sharpshooters. Snipers often perform valuable reconnaissance and have a psychological impact on the enemy. A sharpshooter's role is mainly to extend the reach of the squad to which he is attached.

These differences in role and training affect doctrines and equipment.

Snipers rely almost exclusively on stealthy bolt-action rifles while a sharpshooter can effectively utilize a faster-firing, but more conspicuous semi-automatic rifle. In some military doctrines, a two-man sniper team consists of a designated marksman who uses a bolt-action rifle, and a sniper support (usually the spotter) who uses a semiautomatic sniper rifle, or at times an assault rifle or carbine.

A sniper's intensive training, forward placement and surveillance duties make the role more strategic than a squad-level sharpshooter. Thus, sharpshooters are often attached at the squad level while snipers are often attached at higher levels such as battalion.

Snipers in history

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

  • The first modern firearm snipers may have been trained in 16th century Japan as a type of ninja or shinobi. They were supposedly trained to cover retreating armies. The sniper would lay in concealed ambush until an officer of the advancing army came into his firing range. There are several confirmed records of such attempts. Most were unsuccessful; the rifles used were of large caliber, but also of poor accuracy. Despite this, one of Japan's most famous warlords, Takeda Shingen, is reported to have been fatally wounded by a sniper's bullet.
  • France's Louis XIV trained elite riflemen to shoot armored knights. Their guns weighed more than 9 kg (20 lb), and were capable of shooting 30 g (1 oz) lead balls fast enough to put a bullet through plate armor. Some authorities claim that they, alone, made heavy cavalry (knights) obsolete.
  • Timothy Murphy was a rifleman in Daniel Morgan's Virginia riflemen in 1777. He shot and killed General Simon Fraser of the British army. Murphy was said to have taken the shot at roughly 450 m (500 yd), astounding at the time. He was using the renowned Kentucky rifle. The death of General Fraser caused the British advance to falter and the rebels to win the battle.
  • In the Napoleonic Wars, the British copied colonial weapons and tactics in a limited number of rifle companies. They dressed (unsportingly) in green to avoid visibility, and were instructed to shoot enemy officers. On the naval front sharpshooters were sometimes employed during boarding actions and at close range, their positions in the fighting tops allowing them to shoot enemy officers, whose gaudy uniforms made them extremely visible. This visibility was offset by the poor accuracy of the firearms, poor training and ship sway. However during the pivotal Battle of Trafalgar, on October 21, 1805, as the British flagship HMS Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable, a sharpshooter's bullet struck Admiral Horatio Nelson in the spine. Nelson was carried below decks and died as the battle that would make him a legend was ending in favour of the British.
  • Colonel Hiram Berdan was the commanding officer of the 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters. Although snipers were held in low regard by both sides during the American Civil War, under his tutelage, skilled Union marksmen were trained and equipped with the .52 caliber Sharps Rifle. It has been claimed that Berdan's units were responsible for killing more enemies than any other unit in the Union Army. On May 9, 1864 during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Sgt. Grace of the 4th Georgia Infantry, sniped Major General John Sedgwick at the then incredible distance of 730 m (800 yd), with a British Whiteworth target rifle. The death of Sedgwick, a corps commander, caused administrative delays in the Union's attack, leading to Confederate victory. Before Sedgwick was shot, he was advised by his men to take cover. Legend has it that his last words were, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," upon which he was shot. In reality, he was shot a few minutes later.
  • Simo Hyh (December 17, 1906April 1, 2002) of Finland is regarded by many as the most effective sniper in the history of warfare. Using a relatively primitive Mosin-Nagant Model 28, Hyh sniped 542 Soviet Union soldiers in the Winter War between November 30, 1939 and March 6, 1940, when he was seriously wounded. Sulo Kolkka was also a Finnish sniper during the Winter War who sniped approximately 400 Russians, as well as killing another 200 with a submachinegun. Owing in part to the superb quality of Finnish snipers, the Russians lost men at a rate of 40:1. Finnish snipers were called cuckoos by Russians for their habit to ambush in trees. A snowfall would cover them and render virtually nondetectable. At the end of the Winter War a Soviet general is said to have bitterly remarked, "We gained 57,000 km² (22,000 square miles) of territory. Just enough to bury our dead."
  • Vasily Zaitsev was a sniper who burst into fame during the Battle of Stalingrad, credited with sniping 242 German soldiers. He became a folk hero for his bravery at Stalingrad and for killing the German master sniper instructor Major Thorvald, in an extended sniper-countersniper duel. However, there are debates as to whether Thorvald actually existed, or was the invention of Soviet propaganda writers. Zaitsev was the main subject in the movie Enemy at the Gates, a fictionalized account of sniper-warfare in the Battle of Stalingrad. Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a female Ukrainian sniper with 309 confirmed kills during World War II.
  • The longest-ever recorded and confirmed sniper kill was made by Master Cpl. Arron Perry of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan during combat in 2003. Using a .50-caliber (12.7 mm) MacMillan TAC-50 rifle, Perry shot and killed an opposing combatant soldier from a distance of 2,430 metres.

See also

External links


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