The Mindset

What does a sniper think about before taking that shot?

The Look

The fly is made of buttons, because Velcro and zippers can get dirt and debris stuck in them and become unusable.

On top of the pants in the front is Cordura 500, a versatile nylon fabric known for its durability and resistance to abrasions, tears, rot and mildew. It’s sewn into the front all around the edges, double-stitched on the “high-traffic points” and reinforced on the crotch.

Silicone that acts as a strong adhesive sealant is then run over top of the stitching to protect the threads, helping with durability. Then it’s painted to takes the shine out of the silicone. I installed zippers on the sides of my pants up to about the thigh so they were “easy on, easy off.”

On the cuff of the pants, I installed a strap that goes under my boot like a stirrup so the pants don’t ride up when I’m crawling backward.

I removed the side cargo pockets and put them on the back of the thigh so my spotter – not me – can access maps, face paint or equipment – anything one of them might need on a mission.

Right below the butt we sew in netting, which is also covered in silicone and then paint. You want to make it nice and strong so you can pull on it all the way around. I run the netting all the way down to the bottom, although that’s not required.

Hair ties are then installed throughout to hold natural vegetation from whatever environment you’re in. We run this 70-30 rule – 70% natural vegetation, and 30% jute, which is the burlap artificial vegetation you see hanging off the pants. Some people also install padding on the knee area.

The front is also covered in Cordura 500. The stitches are also covered in Shoe Goo and paint. All buttons instead of a zipper or Velcro, again, because of the dirt that can gum those things up.

Pockets from the shoulders have been turned upside-down and installed on the forearm so that when you’re laying down you can easily access them from an opening that’s at your wrist, not elbow.

Loops are installed on the sleeves so you can hook your thumb in. That way, when you’re crawling, your sleeve doesn’t pull up. Netting is installed all over the Cordura, sewn, siliconed and painted. The netting comes up over the shoulder. Hair ties also are installed for vegetation. I also installed two Velcroed map pouches around the rib cage.

The back, like the pants, is also covered in netting, burlap jute and hair ties. But there’s no actual [battle dress uniform] in the back – just the netting. It can be either rubber or cloth netting, but it’s meant to be breathable. They can get hot and heavy. More pockets are installed on the inside.

It’s a typical “boonie” hat, as they call it – the wide-brimmed bucket hats that are camo.

Netting is sewn at each point on the top side, glued and spray-painted. Jute and hair ties go on the top, too, like the rest. They want the netting and jute to be long, but not past the middle of the back. If it’s too long, it can catch on stuff when you’re walking and/or crawling. You want it long, though, so it can be lain across your rifle and block the shadow on your face.

I also put a hair tie toward the end of the netting so I can hook it on the end of my rifle scope to hold it in place.

Sometimes, soldiers will cut the top of the hat out to allow more ventilation, but depending on the environment and the hair (or baldness) of the soldier, that head can sometimes be seen.

The Rifle

Scroll to assemble the rifle.

M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle

The M2010 enhanced sniper rifle is a bolt-action, magazine-fed weapon system that uses .300 Winchester magnum ammunition and is built around a rechambered M24 sniper weapon system receiver. It can be tailored to accommodate a range of shooter preferences, and its folding stock provides flexibility for transport.

Barrel

The M2010 uses a 24-inch, hammer-forged, carbon steel barrel. Inside the barrel, it has a “twist,” which are spiral grooves that give the bullet a spinning motion to improve accuracy.

Bipod

Bipods are highly adjustable and enhance stability. The bipod is an additional means to stabilize the weapon in various shooting positions. Despite primarily being used in the prone position, bipods can be used for additional support in alternate shooting positions and provides additional support to stabilize the sniper’s aim.

Scope

The M2010 is fielded with a Leupold Mark 4 6.5-20x50 mm extended range/tactical riflescope with a scalable ranging and targeting reticle. The scope enhances precision targeting in daylight and limited visibility. It provides a waterproof, fog-proof, full-clear-sight picture that fills the eyepiece. Blackened lens edges reduce light diffusion.

Suppressor (not a silencer)

Suppressors are a nonlethal firearm accessory that lowers the sound of a rifle shot and eliminates the muzzle flash. Suppressors lower the sound to about 130 decibels at most, which is about the same sound level as a chainsaw.

Can You Spot The Sniper?

Move your mouse around and see if you can spot the sniper in this short video.

Watch closely!

Common Misconceptions

They’re not ‘dumb grunts.’

“My degree is in computer networks and cybersecurity, with a focus on digital forensics. But I’m a sniper,” said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Turner, an instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School. “We have guys here who have advanced degrees … who have been to all types of technical schools with different backgrounds.”

Enough said, right?

Yes, the job requires excellence in shooting, but snipers also need stellar land navigation skills, discipline, maturity and intelligence. “You’re operating generally disconnected from a unit, with backup either far behind or far forward of you, so you need to be prepared to do what it takes,” Turner said.

They don’t work by themselves.

Snipers usually work with a spotter in teams of two – they’re rarely in the field alone. The role of the spotter is often left out of movies, but it’s actually the more important of the two. The spotter is the team leader.

“[The spotter] has already done the job as a shooter,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, the sniper course team leader. “He already has a mastery of the shot process.”

Spotters have to identify all of the gear they need to take out on a mission, link up with the command team and go over mission prep. Once they’re in the field, he’s in control.

“He’s the one who’s identifying the actual target,” Rance said. “He’s … relaying that information to the shooter, giving him those proper firing commands, and basically assessing that the sniper team is firing on target so, if they were to miss, he’s making that quick second-shot correction, relaying that info to the shooter, and hopefully eliminating that threat as they see fit.”

They’re not ready to shoot as soon as they get into place.

Snipers don’t just hit the deck and start firing right away. They have what they call their direct fire engagement process. “We have a seven-week course for a reason. You are detecting, identify, deciding, engaging and assessing,” Turner said.

“What I’m teaching these guys to do is … use their perspective,” said senior sniper instructor Staff Sgt. Rueben Keenan. “What do you see? What’s the percentage of what you see? Give me size, color, shape – I need all of that kind of information, down to almost a molecular level. The attention to detail is astronomical.”

There’s a lot of waiting, which requires discipline and attentiveness.

“They’re some of the most patient people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Sgt. Maj. Brett Johnson, an Army Ranger who was saved by a sniper during a mission in Iraq in 2006.

But that patience can get tested.

“It’s like a roller coaster,” Turner said. “It goes from excitement to misery to wondering why you did this to, ‘Oh, this is exciting again,’ all the way down to, ‘I love my job.’”

Hitting the target requires more than just good aim.

There are several technical aspects, with a big focus on math. For instance, they need to analyze the wind and distance. It’s a multifaceted job that includes a lot of reconnaissance, which is about 90% of what they do. They’re often operating without the help of their unit for long periods of time and with limited supplies, so they have to manage their resources correctly.

“There are a lot of things that go into this job that a lot of people don’t think about. I have guys that come here and have no idea of their surroundings, but by the time they leave here, they’re hearing gnats,” Keenan said. “Things they’ve never seen in their entire lives have been brought to life. It’s a whole new level of attention.”

They’re not all aiming for a headshot.

Think about it. Heads are small, and they move around a LOT. They aren’t a reliable target. Instead, snipers usually aim for something they’ll have a better chance of hitting.

“If you did miss your target, his first reaction is probably to seek cover,” Rance explained. “So, as a sniper, the reality is you generally have that one chance to put that target down before he skirts away.”

Sniper instructors teach their students to aim for two triangular-shaped areas on the body – from the chest to neck, and the hip bones to the pelvis.

Technology is not phasing out their role.

There have been many technological advancements on the battlefield, yes, but the notion that those advancements are phasing out the sniper are “absolutely false,” according to Turner.

“We’ve got drones, we’ve got robots, we’ve got all kinds of stuff, like satellites that are in use, but we still need that real-time battlefield information that keeps soldiers safe,” Turner said.

Their skills DO translate to the civilian world.

Civilian and government organizations and agencies recruit snipers when they leave the military.

“Your knowledge, skill set and subject-matter expertise is going to be highly sought-after. They’re going to look at you as somebody with a skill that they need and they want to know about – and it’s a cool-guy skill, too,” Turner said, smiling. “I mean ultimately – come on now – it’s a cool-guy skill.”

Contributors: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Gallagher, EJ Hersom, Katie Lange, Marv Lynchard, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Malone, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jen Martinez, Army Staff Sgt. Edwin Pierce, Sebastian Sciotti.