The Concept of Fade Distance

Spec Ops Shooting

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A human with normal 20-20 vision can distinguish a 1-inch object at 100 yards if it's in stark contrast to its surroundings. This translates to 1 A40A, meaning 2 inches at 200 yards, 6 inches at 600 yards, etc. This determines an object's "fade distance." When an object is smaller than 1 MOA, human eyes won't be able to resolve it enough to distinguish it from its environment.

Therefore, the sniper's challenge is to keep every aspect of himself and his gear so well broken up that nothing's distinctly visible. Since your ballistic advantage dictates that you avoid engagements of less than 400 yards, this means your camouflage must break up or conceal any portion of you or your gear larger than 4 inches.

Ah, but if it were only so easy! What about unplanned encounters at less than 400 yards? And of far greater relevance, what happens when your enemy uses optics, which means

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he'll be glassing your area with magnification and he can see much smaller than 1 MOA. In fact, a 20x spotting scope brings you 20 times closer than do naked eyes, so he can be 500 yards away—where a naked eye cannot resolve smaller than 5 inches—but with his scope he can resolve to 1/10 of an inch. From personal experience, I've found such computations only theoretical since the combination of mirage, scope vibration, and lens quality degrade resolution enough that realistically one can only make out 1/2 inch or so at 500 yards. Still, the optical threat is serious.

And this is why snipers use Ghillie suits, because your concealment must be so good that even with optics an enemy cannot resolve your image sufficiendy to see you. The fuzziness of a Ghillie suit's frazzled burlap strips makes your figure too indistinct to be resolved except at very close distances.

When you're not wearing a hot G-suit, appreciate that even though American digital camo patterns have tiny, irregular splotches measuring less than 1 MOA, your rucksack and various pouches and webbing add sizable contrast that is larger than 1 MOA. Therefore, it's worthwhile to break up your outline with add-on paint, drape a few pieces of burlap here and there, stay in the shadows, and keep natural foliage between you and the enemy. Such practices can make even marginally useful camouflage effective.

In the context of fade distance, the importance of matching surrounding colors cannot be overstated. To the degree that your camouflage shades mimic local coloration, you degrade the eye's ability to distinguish it at "book" distances. A black 1-inch square against a white backdrop is visible at 100 yards, but a leaf-green, 1-inch square amid many similarly colored leaves is hell to find. Ensure you make yourself hell to find.

And svhat about when you don't even have camouflage clothing? Recall that traditional German field gray, American olive drab, and British khaki uniforms were solid colors but still allowed wearers a degree of concealment, a point especially important to law officers who sometimes must deploy without the opportunity to don molded camouflage gear. Provided the color is dull and generally fits the surroundings, such plain uniforms typically fade into indistinction at about 300 yards due to how the eye perceives colors and shapes.

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