Shot Placement

Spec Ops Shooting

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Because society quite rightly imposes a taboo on the taking of human life, our paper targets usually are abstract and lacking in enough detail to understand where or why we're placing a shot. I've never seen a silhouette target that identifies the location of the brain, spine, heart, kidneys, liver, and major arteries; though, in fact, these are our true targets, not a simple silhouette or vague center mass.

The concept of shot placement has become well developed for pistol engagements, so we're refining already researched issues and upgrading them so we can rationally estimate when an intended shot will incapacitate instantly, rapidly, or not at all.

A sniper needs to team the exact position of these intended impact points so he can place his shot properly, especially in the case of hostage-rescue operations. Equally, you must know where to place a shot against a subject who's partially concealed or protected by body armor—and be able to judge knowledgeably whether to take a shot or wait in hopes of better target exposure.

These issues are especially important for police and counterterrorist snipers, although a military sniper usually can achieve his purpose merely by wounding a target.

Sniper Shot Placement

How Instant Is "Instant" Incapacitation?

Almost any rifle shot that penetrates the cranial cavity will kill, but it's a quesuon of how quickly. Note that I said cranial cavity, not a head shot; that's because about two-thirds of the head consists of tissues and bone that, despite severe injury, will not necessarily lead to even rapid incapacitation, much less the anticipated instant incapacitation. But bullets that actually breach the cavity usually lead to catastrophic results.

Brain tissue is relatively malleable and liquid, an ideal medium for transmitting cavitation shock. Because the cranium is a sealed vessel, it's the only part of the human body that may violently explode just like those plastic milk jugs. This is a grisly but true observation.

Fine-tuning such head shots, however, reveals aiming points for the quickest possible effect, faster than so-called rapid incapacitation, which I'm distinguishing by terming it "instant incapacitation." But how instant is "instant"?

It's faster than the suspect's brain can decide to fire and the resulting neural impulse reach the index finger. Think of your bullet as interdicting this "message" by cutting the nervous system pathway. We can even compute how quickly this happens.

It takes a .308 bullet only 0.12 seconds to travel 100 yards to a suspect, then an additional

Sniper Shot Placement Hostage Rescue


0.0000516 seconds (approximately one-half millionth of a second) to snap the suspect's 1.5-inch spinal pathway. Contrast that to the 10 to 15 seconds a suspect could retain consciousness after even a perfect heart shot.

An effective CNS shot requires a hit in the spine above the shoulder blades, through the brain stem, or into the cranial cavity.

The illustration on page 163 shows three head views that highlight the cranial cavity impact area. Imagine that this is a 3 x 5 card— which, indeed, it approximates—that, in front, overlaps the suspect's eyes. When it comes to the side of a suspect's head, note that it's wider—as is the brain inside—and flatter, reducing the likelihood of bullet deflection. Here the bottom edge of the imaginary 3x5 card is centered on his ear. The back of a suspect's head lacks reference points so it's a center-mass shot, but you can still imagine a 3 x 5 card over its center. It's well worth your while to study your own head in a mirror to see how these imaginary impact points overlap a head.

While the cranial cavity is the single best impact point for instant incapacitation, also keep in mind that it's the one part of a suspect's anatomy that is most likely to move—even when he's otherwise still. Notice how quickly people turn their heads and how this would affect an aimed shot. A startled person will spin his head 45 degrees in less than a second. It's not as easy a shot as it may first appear.

Realistically, what's the maximum range to attempt a cranial cavity shot? Ask yourself, how far away can you reliably hit a 3 x 5 card? Forget about the "5" because we have to consider the smaller likelihood that your round could impact high or low—that means 3 inches. Your rifle and ammo, as you've demonstrated numerous times during practice fire, is capable of 1 MOA or less. That would imply 300 yards, accepting an occasional miss.

But adding the complications of no spotting round, firing from an improvised field position, a bit of suspect movement, a minor error in range estimation, and a hostage or bystander present and I would urge only the most superb marksman to attempt that cranial shot at more than 100 yards. If you find yourself farther away, do your best to stalk closer. If that's not an option, accept the possibility that your hit will not result in instant incapacitation and have a backup shooter ready to follow your shot, or even simultaneously engage with a second sniper.

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  • martin
    What part of the body are snipers trained to hit?
    2 years ago
  • maximilian
    Where to shoot in the head to hit the brain stem?
    1 year ago

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