The Sniper Engagement Sequence

Spec Ops Shooting

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Professional soldiers train for combat action by practicing battle drills, a set of specific steps they execute when suddenly thrust into dangerous situations, similar to football special teams mastering quarterback sacking and punt blocking. These drills are thought out carefully so each action happens in correct sequence and contributes to the overall engagement.

After wrestling with all the actions a sniper must accomplish—many of them critical but easy to forget or do out of order-—I devised a battle drill especially for snipers that combines fieldcraft and marksmanship skills, which I call the "sniper engagement sequence." The engagement sequence equally applies to police snipers, who would follow these steps in a modified way after getting a "green light."

Practice this sequence over and over until you can do it in correct order, automatically.

1. NOTICE TARGET: You are not certain it's a target; you or your spotter just notice there's something worth checking closer.

2. SEEK STABLE POSITION: If you're already in a hide, just confirm the bipod is solid or support is stable. If you're moving, select a position that offers the best cover and/or concealment and occupy a prone or sitting position, preferably with support.

3. ESTIMATE RANGE: You can do this several ways; what really matters is that you're accurate and you apply the data to your BDC or target knobs. Remember: incorrect range estimation is the primary cause of long-range misses.

4. CLARIFY THE TARGET: You and your spotter employ optics to confirm the nature of your target. You focus your scope at the target, which automatically eliminates parallax. If there are multiple enemies visible, you establish target priorities. Police snipers use this step to confirm their suspect's identity. This also is a good time to start deep breathing in preparation for firing, which can help calm you, too.

5. ESTIMATE WIND: Since you should still be watching the target through the scope, your spotter should estimate wind, then tell you the result, which you use to adjust your windage knob or to compensate by holding right/left. While the spotter's checking the wind, you determine whether the target is moving and compute the leads, which you then apply.

6. AIM AND FIRE: This will be fairly easy if you have a BDC and windage knob; if you don't, you should talk out loud as you adjust the target knobs for range, wind, and movement, verifying their correctness as you talk. And then you perfectly perform the integrated act of firing, with your eye focused on the reticle at the instant you shoot.

7. FOLLOW-THROUGH: You follow the shot with no movements no change in body or mind. Your spotter watches the target and observes where your bullet impacted. If it missed, he tells you exactly where it hit— data you use to adjust for a perfect shot.

8. RELOAD: Actually, the follow-through step is so short that you probably bolt the rifle as your spotter announces where the bullet impacted. Don't wait for information from him; just reload as quickly as possible after follow-through so you're ready for another shot.

9. ENGAGE OTHER TARGETS: Elsewhere we debate how many shots to fire in one engagement, which is a judgment call. What's important here is that you practice this drill so you're ready for whatever you decide or whatever circumstances allow you.

10. DISPLACE: Don't hang around to admire your handiwork. When the engagement's finished, displace to another hide or leave the area.

11. REPEAT THE SEQUENCE: So long as you're in the field, you'll just keep repeating this sequence over and over, every time you detect a potential target.

Squad Prone Firing Positions Army


Strong Hand

Weak Hand




Known Distance

Unknown Distance





Tactical Shooting








Prone with Sandbag



Prone with Bipod



Prone without Support



Bench rest



Sitting Supported



Sitting without Support



Kneeling Supported



Standing Supported



Standing without Support






75-100 yards 40%

<100 yards 10%

100-200 yards 35%

100-500 yards 50%

200-600 yards 25%

500-900 yards 40%

except in training. The ultimate goal is to transform the mechanical act of shooting accurately into a mechanical act of shooting accurately under pressure.

To underscore further the emphasis of one-shot kills, in a tactical shooting drill the sniper has only one round for each exercise. If he misses, he cannot engage again, which helps him recognize the finality of his every shot. For realistic variety, fire these kinds of drills in daylight and at night under artificial illumination.

When designing your own drills, induce stress by the pressure of time limits, and add physical exertion so the shooter must contend with controlling his respiration and heartbeat while firing. I like to add a degree of uncertainty


Stationary Targets Moving Targets 90% 10%


Fleeting Target Exposed Target 25% 75%


Daylight Night 65% 35%


Flat Ground Up/Down 85% 15%


Dry Weather Rain/Snow 60% 40%

Cold Warm Hot 25% 50% 25%


Mil M118 Civilian Standard Barrier Long Range Match Mil Ball or AP

Military Tracer

Military Sniper 92% - 4% 3%


Police Sniper — 90% 4% 5%


or change while the drill's under way so the shooter is forced to think through the situation and employ judgment as well as fire his rifle.

Noise and light distractions are useful, too, such as exploding firecrackers, flashing lights, smoke, a screaming woman's voice, or a squad car's siren. (At Gunsite I sometimes added a nice touch by pouring ice water on a sniper's back or playing a boom box with his most-detested music. Twangy country-western does the trick for urban-raised African-American officers, while rural white lawmen haven't much time for thumping rap music.)

Here are two good examples of tactical shooting drills:

The Fleeting Target

This is a police sniper's most frequent exercise because it best duplicates reality. The sniper is authorized and prepared to engage and knows generally where the suspect is, but he must wait until the target exposes himself., which will only be for a few seconds.

At the start of the exercise, the sniper is allowed to see his target and L')ock on," readying himself and his rifle for what could be a long wait. Then the target is lowered or rotated out of sight. At some point over the next 30 minutes, the target reappears only once. A new sniper starts with a 10-second exposure; as his skills improve, exposure time lessens to 5 seconds. This exercise helps develop patience and concentration. To boost stress, "tease" the shooter by occasionally exposing the target for just 1 second before finally giving him the full 5-second exposure.

On ranges lacking rotating targets, the same simulation can be achieved by a range officer using a stopwatch. While pacing back and forth behind the shooters, the range officer suddenly shouts "green light" and slaps a particular shooter's leg. Five seconds later, the range officer blocks that sniper's objective lens, ending his time window. This continues randomly until all the snipers have fired.

The Surgical Shot

This timed exercise elevates the complexity of hostage rescue shooting. Down range are five facial portraits juxtaposed on a target. At the start of the exercise, the sniper and spotter are 25 yards from the firing line and allowed 5 seconds to study the hostage-taker's mug shot. Then, they dash halfway to the firing line, snatch one round, low crawl the final 12 1/2 yards to the grounded rifle, load it, spot the correct suspect, engage, and dash back to the finish line with the expended cartridge. The timing starts from the instant the shooters see the mug shot. The exercise is a "no go" if a shooter falls to hit the suspect, mistakenly hits a hostage, or fails to bring back the expended cartridge. This exercise emphasizes the importance of facial ID instead of relying on the suspect's attire, while also putting the sniper under physical and psychological stress.

Photographs of similar-looking people increase the difficulty. For example, use all white males with short hair wearing sunglasses, as on our sample target on page 200. When firing from more than 150 yards, this becomes a team event that requires both a sniper and a spotter with a spotting scope to ensure correct identification.

Imagination and lessons from real-world engagements can provide an unending flow of challenging tactical drills. Accuracy, I'm sure you agree, is not the sole determinant of a sniper's performance—concentration, discipline, confidence, and patience must be honed, too.

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  • ben
    How to select the MILITARY sniper's hide?
    8 years ago

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