You are on page 1of 11

How to Estimate the Wind Speed for a Sniper

Windage is the influence of wind when shooting and is an important


consideration when trying to hit a target from a long distance. Wind values start
at zero and get higher as wind strength increases. Zero represents either no wind
significant enough to change the path of a bullet or a wind that is blowing in the
same or opposite direction of the shot, since neither will affect its course. Wind
blowing left or right across the path of the bullet requires sighting adjustments.

1. Observe visual indicators to gauge wind speed. Many snipers utilize windage
flags when on a target range to estimate wind speed. If you observe the flag
waving slightly, then dropping, your wind speed is a fluctuating variable of 3 mph.
A flag blowing significantly, or at a full horizontal direction, is indicative of a wind
speed of more than 10 miles per hour.

2. Fire a group of three shots at the center of the target. Observe the strike points of
the rounds on the target in relation to the center of the bull's-eye.

1. Step 3

Adjust the windage knob on your scope to compensate for windage. If you
have calculated by flag position and round placement on the target, you
should have a good estimate of wind value. For example: A windage flag
slightly blowing to the right indicates a left wind at 1 or 2 mph. If your round
strike point has landed slightly to the right of the target, adjust the windage for
a left wind by turning your windage knob to the left one click. Fire a second
group of rounds to assess your adjustment calculations.

Accuracy
A sniper, using a MK.14 EBR uses two stakes to help steady his aim while providing
overwatch in Iraq.

The key to sniping is accuracy, which applies to both the weapon and the shooter. The
weapon should be able to consistently place shots within high tolerances.[6] The sniper in
turn must utilize the weapon to accurately place shots under varying conditions.[6]

A sniper must have the ability to accurately estimate the various factors that influence a
bullet's trajectory and point of impact such as: range to the target, wind direction, wind
velocity, altitude and elevation of the sniper and the target and ambient temperature.
Mistakes in estimation compound over distance and can decrease lethality or cause a shot
to miss completely.[6]

Snipers zero their weapons at a target range or in the field. This is the process of
adjusting the scope so that the bullet's points-of-impact is at the point-of-aim (centre of
scope or scope's cross-hairs) for a specific distance.[6] A rifle and scope should retain its
zero as long as possible under all conditions to reduce the need to re-zero during
missions.[6]

A sandbag can serve as a useful platform for shooting a sniper rifle, although any soft
surface such as a rucksack will steady a rifle and contribute to consistency.[6] In
particular, bipods help when firing from a prone position, and enable the firing position to
be sustained for an extended period of time. Many police and military sniper rifles come
equipped with an adjustable bipod.[6] Makeshift bipods can also be constructed from
items such as tree branches or ski poles.[6]

Accuracy and Range also depends on the cartridge used:

Cartridge Maximum effective range[19]


5.56x45mm 300–500 m
7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester) 800–1,000 m
7.62x54mm R 800–1,000 m
7 mm Remington Magnum 900–1,100 m
.300 Winchester Magnum 900–1,200 m
.338 Lapua Magnum 1,300–1,600 m
.50 BMG (12.7x99mm NATO)
12.7x108mm (Russian) 1,500–2,000 m
14.5x114mm 1,900–2,300 m
.408 Chey Tac > 2,400 m

[edit] U.S. military

Servicemen volunteer for sniper training and are accepted on the basis of their aptitude as
perceived by their commanders. Military snipers may be trained as forward air controllers
(FACs) to direct air strikes or forward observers (FOs) to direct artillery or mortar fire.
[edit] Targeting
The range to the target is measured or estimated as precisely as conditions permit and
correct range estimation becomes absolutely critical at long ranges, because a bullet
travels with a curved trajectory and the sniper must compensate for this by aiming higher
at longer distances.[6] If the exact distance is not known the sniper may compensate
incorrectly and the bullet path may be too high or low. As an example, for a typical
military sniping cartridge such as 7.62 × 51 mm NATO (.308 Winchester) M118 Special
Ball round this difference (or “drop”) from 700 to 800 metres (770–870 yd) is
200 millimetres (7.9 in). This means that if the sniper incorrectly estimated the distance
as 700 meters when the target was in fact 800 meters away, the bullet will be 200
millimeters lower than expected by the time it reaches the target.[6]

Laser rangefinders may be used, but are not preferred on the battlefield because a laser
can be seen by both the sender and the receiver. One useful method is comparing the
height of the target (or nearby objects) to their size on the mil dot scope, or taking a
known distance and using some sort of measure (utility poles, fence posts) to determine
the additional distance. The average human head is 150 millimeters (5.9 in) in width,
average human shoulders are 500 millimeters (20 in) apart and the average distance from
a person's pelvis to the top of their head is 1,000 millimeters (39 in).

U.S. Air Force Airman positions herself in the brush during an exercise scenario at
Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

To determine the range to a target without a laser rangefinder, the sniper may use the mil
dot reticle on a scope to accurately find the range. Mil dots are used like a slide rule to
measure the height of a target, and if the height is known, the range can be as well. The
height of the target (in yards) ×1000, divided by the height of the target (in mils), gives
the range in yards. This is only in general, however, as both scope magnification (7×,
40×) and mil dot spacing change. The USMC standard is that 1 mil (that is, 1 milliradian)
equals 3.438 MOA (minute of arc, or, equivalently, minute of angle), while the US Army
standard is 3.6 MOA, chosen so as to give a diameter of 1 yard (36 inches) at 1,000 yards
(1,000 m). Many commercial manufacturers use 3.5, splitting the difference, since it is
easier to work with.[6]

Explanation: 1 MIL = 1 milli-radian. That is, 1 MIL = 1x10^-3 radian. But, 10^-3 rad x (360
deg/ (2 x Pi) radians) = 0.0573 degrees. Now, 1 MOA = 1/60 degree = 0.01667 degrees. Hence,
there are 0.0573/0.01667 = 3.43775 MOA per MIL, where MIL is defined as a milli-radian. On
the other hand, defining a mil-dot by the US Army way, to equate it to 1-yard (1 m) at
1,000 yards (1,000 m), means the Army's mil-dot is approximately 3.6 MOA.

It is important to note that angular mil (mil) is only an approximation of a milliradian and
different organizations use different approximations. Please see three definitions of the
angular mil.

At longer ranges, bullet drop plays a significant role in targeting.[6] The effect can be
estimated from a chart which may be memorized or taped to the rifle, although some
scopes come with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) systems that only require the range
be dialed in. These are tuned to both a specific class of rifle and specific ammunition. It
must be noted that every bullet type and load will have different ballistics. .308 Federal
175 grain (11.3 g) BTHP match shoots at 2,600 ft/s (790 m/s). Zeroed at 100 yards
(100 m), a 16.2 MOA adjustment would have to be made to hit a target at 600 yards
(500 m). If the same bullet was shot with 168 grain (10.9 g), a 17.1 MOA adjustment
would be necessary.[6]

Shooting uphill or downhill is confusing for many because gravity does not act
perpendicular to the direction the bullet is traveling. Thus, gravity must be divided into its
component vectors. Only the fraction of gravity equal to the cosine of the angle of fire
with respect to the horizon affects the rate of fall of the bullet, with the remained adding
or subtracting negligible velocity to the bullet along its trajectory. To find the correct
zero, the sniper multiplies the actual distance to the range by this fraction and aims as if
the target were that distance away. For example, a sniper who observes a target 500
meters away at a 45-degree angle downhill would multiply the range by the cosine of 45
degrees, which is 0.707. The resulting distance will be 353 meters. This number is also
equal to the horizontal distance to the target. All other values, such as windage, time-to-
target, impact velocity, and energy will be calculated based on the actual range of 500
meters.

Windage which also plays a significant role, the effect increasing with wind speed 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. Recently, a small device known as a
cosine indicator has been developed.[6] This device is clamped to the tubular body of the
telescopic sight, and gives an indicative readout in numerical form as the rifle is aimed up
or down at the target.[6] This is translated into a figure used to compute the horizontal
range to the target.

All adjustments for range, wind, and elevation can be performed by aiming off the target,
called "holding over" or Kentucky windage.[6] Alternately, the scope can be adjusted so
that the point of aim is changed to compensate for these factors, sometimes referred to as
"dialing in". The shooter must remember to return the scope to zeroed position. Adjusting
the scope allows for more accurate shots, because the cross-hairs can be aligned with the
target more accurately, but the sniper must know exactly what differences the changes
will have on the point-of-impact at each target range.[6]

For moving targets, the point-of-aim is ahead of the target in the direction of movement.
Known as "leading" the target, the amount of "lead" depends on the speed and angle of
the target's movement as well as the distance to the target. For this technique, holding
over is the preferred method.[6] Anticipating the behavior of the target is necessary to
accurately place the shot.[6]

[edit] Hide sites and hiding techniques

A sniper wearing a ghillie suit to remain hidden in grassland terrain

The term "hide site" refers to a covered and concealed position in which a sniper and his
team will conduct surveillance and/or fire from. A hide is to give the shooter good
visibility of the surrounding area, good cover from enemy fire, and to conceal and
camouflage the sniper.

The main purpose of ghillie suits and hide sites are to break up the outline of a person
with a rifle.

Concealed Fox holes are also commonly used in woodland areas to conceal a sniper but
still enable him to see from a safe position.

[edit] Tactics
US Army sniper team shooting from within a room in Afghanistan with M24 SWS, 19
October 2006.

[edit] Shot placement

Shot placement varies considerably with the type of sniper being discussed. Military
snipers, who generally do not engage targets at less than 300 m (330 yd), usually attempt
body shots, aiming at the chest. These shots depend on tissue damage, organ trauma, and
blood loss to make the kill.

Police snipers who generally engage at much shorter distances may attempt more precise
shot at particular parts of body or particular devices: in one event in 2007 in Marseille, a
GIPN sniper took a shot from 80 m (87 yd) at the pistol of a policeman threatening to
commit suicide, destroying the weapon and preventing him from killing himself.[30] Less
lethal shots (at arms or legs) may also be taken at criminals to sap their will to fight or
reduce their mobility.

In a high-risk or instant-death hostage situation, police snipers may take head shots to
ensure an instant kill. The snipers aim for the "apricot", or the medulla oblongata, located
inside the head, a part of the brain that controls involuntary movement that lies at the
base of the skull. Some ballistics and neurological researchers have argued that severing
the spinal cord at an area near the second cervical vertebra is actually achieved,[citation needed]
usually having the same effect of preventing voluntary motor activity, but the debate on
the matter remains largely academic at present.

[edit] Targets
A US Marine sniper wearing a ghillie suit.

Snipers can target personnel or materiel, but most often they target the most important
enemy personnel such as officers or specialists (e.g. communications operators) so as to
cause maximum disruption to enemy operations. Other personnel they might target
include those who pose an immediate threat to the sniper, like dog handlers, who are
often employed in a search for snipers. A sniper identifies officers by their appearance
and behavior such as symbols of rank, talking to radio operators, sitting as a passenger in
a car, having military servants, binoculars/map cases or talking and moving position more
frequently. If possible, snipers shoot in descending order by rank, or if rank is
unavailable, they shoot to disrupt communications.

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.

Some rifles, such as the Denel NTW-20 are designed for a purely anti-materiel (AM)
role, e.g. shooting turbine disks of parked aircraft, missile guidance packages, expensive
optics, and the bearings, tubes or wave guides of radar sets. A sniper equipped with the
correct rifle can target radar dishes, water containers, the engines of vehicles, and any
number of other targets. Other rifles, such as the .50 caliber rifles produced by Barrett
and McMillan are not designed exclusively as AM rifles, but are often employed in such
a way, providing the range and power needed for AM applications in a lightweight
package compared to most traditional AM rifles. Other calibers, such as the .408
Cheyenne Tactical and the .338 Lapua Magnum are designed to be capable of limited
AM application, but are ideally suited as long range anti-personnel rounds.

[edit] Relocating

Often in situations with multiple targets, snipers use relocation. After firing a few shots
from a certain position, snipers move unseen to another location before the enemy can
determine where he or she is and mount a counter-attack. Snipers will frequently use this
tactic to their advantage, creating an atmosphere of chaos and confusion.

[edit] Sound masking

As sniper rifles are often extremely powerful and consequently loud, it is common for
snipers to use a technique known as sound masking. This tactic, in the hands of a highly
skilled marksman, can be used as a substitute for a noise suppressor. Very loud sounds in
the environment, such as artillery shells air bursting or claps of thunder, can often mask
the sound of the shot. This technique is frequently used in clandestine operations and
infiltration tactics.
[edit] Psychological warfare

Due to the unexpected aspect of sniper fire, high lethality of aimed shots and frustration
at the inability to locate and attack snipers, sniper tactics have a significant effect on
morale. Extensive use of sniper tactics can be used as a psychological strategy in order to
induce constant stress in opposing forces.

One may note that by many aspects (constant threat, high "per event" lethality, inability
to strike back), the psychological impact imposed by snipers is quite similar to those of
landmines, booby-traps, and IEDs.

Historically, captured snipers are often summarily executed. This happened during World
War I[31] and also during World War II.[32] As a result, if a sniper is in imminent danger of
capture, he may discard any items which might indicate his status as a sniper. The risk of
captured snipers being summarily executed is explicitly referred to in Chapter 6 of US
Army doctrine document FM 3-060.11 entitled 'SNIPER AND COUNTERSNIPER
TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES':

Historically, units that suffered heavy and continual casualties from urban sniper fire and were
frustrated by their inability to strike back effectively often have become enraged. Such units may
overreact and violate the laws of land warfare concerning the treatment of captured snipers. This
tendency is magnified if the unit has been under the intense stress of urban combat for an
extended time. It is vital that commanders and leaders at all levels understand the law of land
warfare and also understand the psychological pressures of urban warfare. It requires strong
leadership and great moral strength to prevent soldiers from releasing their anger and frustration
on captured snipers or civilians suspected of sniping at them.
—[33]

The negative reputation of snipers can be traced back to the American Revolution, when
American "Marksmen" would intentionally target British officers, an act considered
uncivilized by the British Army at the time (this reputation would be cemented during the
Battle of Saratoga, when Benedict Arnold allegedly ordered his marksmen to target
British General Simon Fraser, an act that would win the battle and French support).[7]
However, the British side used specially selected sharpshooters as well, often German
mercenaries.[7]

To demoralize enemy troops, snipers can follow predictable patterns. During the 26th of
July Movement in the Cuban Revolution, the revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro always
killed the foremost man in a group of President Batista's soldiers.[verification needed] Realizing
this, none of Batista's men would walk first, as it was suicidal. This effectively decreased
the army's willingness to search for rebel bases in the mountains. An alternative approach
to this psychological process is to kill the second man in the row, leading to the
psychological effect that nobody would want to follow the "leader".

The phrase "one shot, one kill" has gained notoriety in popular culture as a glorification
of the "sniper mystique." The phrase embodies the sniper's tactics and philosophy of
stealth and efficiency. The term may mean that single round should be fired, avoiding
unnecessary firing (since every shot fired by a sniper can assist the enemy in locating the
sniper). As well, every shot should be accurately placed, in order to kill or severely
wound the victim. Whether the phrase actually reflects reality is of course subject to
debate, but it has been widely used in literature and movies.

[edit] Counter-sniper tactics


Main article: Counter-sniper tactics

The occurrence of sniper warfare has led to the evolution of many counter-sniper tactics
in modern military strategies. These aim to reduce the damage caused by a sniper to an
army, which can often be harmful to both fighting capabilities and morale.

The risk of damage to a chain of command can be reduced by removing/concealing


features which would otherwise indicate an officer's rank. Armies nowadays tend to
avoid saluting officers in the field and eliminate rank insignia on BDUs. Officers can
seek maximum cover before revealing themselves as good candidates for sniping through
actions like reading maps and using radios.

Friendly snipers can be used to hunt the enemy sniper. Besides direct observation,
defending forces can use other techniques. These include calculating the trajectory of a
bullet by triangulation. Traditionally, triangulation of a sniper's position was done
manually, though radar-based technology has recently become available. Once located,
the defenders can try to approach the sniper from cover and overwhelm him. The United
States military is funding a project known as RedOwl, which uses laser and acoustic
sensors to determine the exact direction from which a sniper round has been fired.[34]

The more shots a sniper fires, the more chances the defenders have to locate him, so they
often try to draw fire, sometimes by offering a helmet slightly out of concealment. A
tactic successfully employed in the Winter War by the Finns is known as "Kylmä-Kalle"
(Cold Charlie).[35] They used a shop mannequin or other doll dressed as a tempting target,
like an officer. The doll was then presented as if it were a real man sloppily covering
himself. Usually, Soviet snipers were unable to resist the temptation of an apparently
easy kill. Once the angle where the bullet came from was determined, a shot of a large
calibre gun such as a Lahti L-39 "Norsupyssy" ("Elephant rifle") anti-tank rifle was shot
at the sniper's direction to eliminate him.

Other tactics include directing artillery or mortar fire onto suspected sniper positions, the
use of smoke screens, and placing tripwire-operated munitions, mines, or other booby-
traps near suspected sniper positions. Even dummy trip-wires can be placed to
inconvenience sniper movement. Where anti-personnel mines are unavailable, it is
possible to improvise booby-traps by connecting trip-wires to hand grenades, smoke
grenades or flares. Even though these may not kill the sniper, they will reveal his
location. Booby-trap devices should be placed close to likely sniper hides or along the
probable routes used into and out of the sniper's work area. Knowledge of sniper field
craft will assist in this task.
One very old counter-sniper tactic is to tie rags onto bushes or similar items in a danger
area. The rags flutter in the breeze creating random movements in the corner of the
sniper's eye, which they find distracting. The main virtue of this tactic is that it is easy to
use; however, it is unlikely to prevent a skilled sniper from selecting targets, and may in
fact provide a sniper with additional information about the wind near the target.

The use of canine units was also very successful, especially during the Vietnam War. A
trained dog can easily determine the direction of the sniper from the sound of the bullet
and will lie down with his head aiming at the sniper to give his handler the direction of
the firing.

[edit] Irregular and asymmetric warfare


Main article: Asymmetric warfare

A Georgian sniper in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict (2004)

The use of sniping (in the sense of shooting at relatively long range from a concealed
position) to murder came to public attention in a number of sensational U.S. cases,
including the Austin sniper incident of 1966, the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the
Beltway sniper attacks of late 2002. However, these incidents usually do not involve the
range or skill of military snipers; in all three cases the perpetrators had U.S. military
training, but in other specialties. News reports will often (inaccurately) use the term
sniper to describe anyone shooting with a rifle at another person.[citation needed]

Sniping has also been used in asymmetric warfare situations, for example in the Northern
Ireland Troubles, where in 1972, the bloodiest year of the conflict, the majority of the
soldiers killed were shot by concealed IRA riflemen.[36] There were also some instances
in the early 1990s of British soldiers and RUC personnel being shot with .50 caliber
Barrett rifles by sniper teams collectively known as the South Armagh sniper.[37] In
Northern Ireland, in addition to the uses listed above, a sniper was quite often a form of
bait called a "come-on", whereby the sniper's position would be made obvious to a
British patrol so as to draw them into an ambush in their attempt to close with the sniper.
[citation needed]

The sniper is particularly suited to combat environments where one side is at a


disadvantage.[citation needed] A careful sniping strategy can use a few individuals and
resources to thwart the movement or other progress of a much better equipped or larger
force. Because of this perceived difference in force size, the sniping attacks may be
viewed as the act of a few persons to terrorize (earning the moniker 'terrorists') a much
larger, regular force — regardless of the size of the force the snipers are attached to.
These perceptions stem from the precept that sniping, while effective in specific
instances, is much more effective as a broadly deployed psychological attack (see
elsewhere in article).
In the war between Bosnian Muslim, Croatian forces, and Bosnian Serbs in the early
1990s, Serbian snipers in Sarajevo used sniping as a terror tool by shooting at any person,
whether military or civilian, adult or child. These snipers would be classified as war
criminals for deliberately targeting non-combatants.

Snipers are less likely to be treated mercifully if captured by the enemy.[38] The rationale
for this is that ordinary soldiers shoot at each other at 'equal opportunity' whilst snipers
take their time in tracking and killing individual targets in a methodical fashion with a
relatively low risk of retaliation.