There’s a certain allure and glamour attached to the very word sniper. It sounds cool and being a sniper comes with a certain amount of kudos. However the reality is it can lead to a very different kind of game, involving a lot of patience, potentially little action but if it works a good pay off, though very different to the thrill involved in blazing away on full auto.
Someone with good sniper skills and the patience to do the job can be of use without even firing a shot. In military doctrine a two-man sniper team is designed to tie up units of up to company strength. This is not just done through stealth and accurate fire. In terms of air soft and depending on the game you are playing and the comms you have available to your team, a sniper (or a two man sniper team) can be just as effective, if not more so, acting as a forward observer for indirect fire and support weapons or as a scout simply relaying enemy positions back for the rest of the squad/team to deal with. This, understandably, could be seen as boring by some players, so it all depends on what you are interested in and what you want to get out of the game. If you are a good shot and prefer the more accurate and longer weapons then why not act as your squad/team’s marksman?
Below is not a definitive guide to airsoft sniping (we don’t get into camouflage techniques, windage etc.) instead it’s some quick and easy dos and don’ts that hopefully will be of use.
- Always find support for your weapon when firing.Sandbags are best; backpacks will do in a pinch or use a bipod. If you have to fire from a standing position then wrapping the sling around your arm will help steady your weapon. (You may not think this makes much of a difference with airsoft weapons but it does. If you don’t believe me then try a with and without exercise and see the difference in accuracy.)
- Make sure nothing is touching the barrel when you fire.
- Find a firing position that will allow yourself the greatest field of fire and good concealment (this will often be a trade off).
- When sniping from a building. Set up further back in the room. Do not let the barrel stick out of the window.
- Use trees, plants, pennants and anything else to gauge the wind and fire into it.
- Rest your eyes as much as possible. It may sound stupid but strained eyes seriously inhibit your observation skills. If working as part of a team then alternate spotting. You can also provide eye relief by looking at the colour green.
- Practice breathing discipline. Inhale deeply, then exhale and hold, then fire. If you have not taken your shot within 8-10 seconds then return to normal breathing as any longer and your eyes begin to lose focus and your muscles begin to move involuntarily.
- Practice range estimation. Familiarise yourself with distances and then apply the familiar to any new terrain.
- Squeeze the trigger do not jerk it. You should really know this anyway but you might be surprised at how many airsoft players still jerk the trigger.
- Remember it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to darkness. If playing at night give them time. If firing into light then try and use off centre vision as much as possible. Look between five to ten degrees away from the source of light.
- Be quiet. Again sounds obvious but if you are working as part of a team make sure you are both happy to spend a lot of time in each others company, very possibly in uncomfortable positions (no entendre intended) and not feel the need to discuss the football results, there’s plenty of time for that between games.
- Do familiarise yourself with the terrain. If working with an observer then make sure you are both using the same terms to describe the same thing, number windows and doors on the building. This means that if your observer says “Window three, red building.” You know exactly where to aim. (Actually this is good discipline for teams as a whole.)
- Do practice your observation skills:
- If time is an issue or when you first arrive at your chosen position then use a hasty search method. Take quick glances at specific points, those you feel are most likely to be concealing a threat. This works because the eye is sensitive to movement in your periphery.
- With more time and once you are settled then take your time and perform a detailed search. Choose a point about 150ft away on your flank and scan a full one hundred and eighty degrees scrutinising everything you see. Use this as an opportunity to familiarise yourself with the terrain in case there are discrepancies the next time you look.
- If you do see something then use your scope and positively identify it before you fire.
- Remember that an object with a regular outline such as a house or a vehicle appears closer than an object with an irregular outline.
- A target that is in contrast to its background tends to look closer than it actually is.
- A target that is partially concealed will appear more distant than it actually is. Basically the more clearly you can see a target the closer it will appear.
- When the sun is behind you a target will appear closer than they actually are. When the sun is behind the target they are more difficult to make out and will seem to be further away than they actually are.
- There is a natural inclination to overestimate the range to distant targets whilst your eye is following the contour of the land.
- People tend to underestimate distances when looking at smooth terrain such as sand, water or snow.
- If you look uphill your target looks closer, downhill makes them look further way.
- Again this will sound obvious but it happens a lot. Familiarise yourself with what your team looks like and the gear they carry. Especially if you are working with a new team. Nobody enjoys friendly fire except the opposing team. Remember the following:
- If working as an observer/sniper team it may be worth investing in a decent pair of binoculars.
- Do target rank. Often the rank will be informal and rarely if ever worn but watch to see who people are deferring to, who is doing the shouting (and are they being listened to?), also if they are using comms then deny them that, area effect and support weapons are also good targets.
- When firing at moving targets you will need to place the crosshairs ahead of the target, this is called a lead. There are a number of things to bear in mind when doing this:
- The most obvious is speed; the faster the target is going then the grater the lead should be.
- Angle that the target is moving away from you. Basically a target moving perpendicular to your shot’s flight path moves a greater lateral distance. Or to put it another way a target moving away from you at ninety degrees will cover less ground than one moving away from you at forty-five degrees.
- Range. The further the target is away then the greater the lead should be.
- Wind. If the wind is blowing towards the target then you will need a greater lead, if the wind is blowing towards the target then you will need less of a lead.
- If your target is uncooperative using cover and concealment and only presenting a target from time to time then you will have to take a snap shot.
- Do not take the first shot that presents itself. Wait for the target to establish a pattern. Despite trying to move or act in an irregular manner to provide less of a target it is human nature to behave in a regular manner and establish patterns. Fire when you have gauged their pattern.
- If you have the skill, the opportunity and the resources (and of course the game allows for it) and you are going to be in a position for possibly a long time then booby trap approaches to your positions. Anti personnel devices such as ball grenades are the best but even a smoke or a thermobaric might give you time to do a runner if you’re discovered (and of course we’re more than happy to sell you the gear to do this). Even an easily seen fake trip wire can slow the opposition down.
- If working as part of a two-man team it is a good idea that the observer be armed with a fully automatic weapon. USMC Scout Sniper doctrine has the observer armed with an M16/M203 combination. It is also a good idea for a sniper to have a secondary weapon. A pistol is best, as it will not get in the way when stalking or concealed.
- Do not play a sniper unless you are prepared to be very still and quiet for a very long time and often in uncomfortable, cold and wet positions.
- Do not be a sniper if you want to be in the thick of things all the time.
- Do not sh*t yourself. (Yes I know that Jaime Foxx says that sh*tting yourself is a requisite skill of a USMC Scout Sniper in Jarhead but that’s the Marines and this is a game!)
- Do not become excited the moment you see potential targets. Slow and steady. If you miss your chance then you can always get them later. Also a bit of patience may reveal more or more valuable targets.
- Do not rush unless you have to. The single biggest give away for concealment is not poor camouflage or excellent observations skills it is movement.
- Do not take every shot. Use psychological warfare, draw them out, shoot the first guy in every group so people become more reluctant to move, shoot the second guy in every group so people become more reluctant to follow the first guy. Ignore one area despite it being in your field of fire to encourage them to move into it and then once you have some good targets fire. This will also make them wary of areas that are not in your field of fire. This is particularly useful if your job is area denial.
So it’s not just a simple as having a shiny long rifle and a scope it’s quite difficult, uncomfortable and hard work often less fun than storming a building and blazing away. That said it can be very rewarding and if you decide to go that way then hopefully the above will be of some use to you.