Don't Limit Yourself
Many considerations go into the training for, planning, and taking of a shot for the tactical marksman. Perhaps the most important of these considerations is range. The ranges at which we expect to engage our targets will determine the ranges at which we practice. The ranges at which we engage our targets will be determined by our equipment and skills, conditions between us and the target, the target's characteristics, tactical considerations, and policy. Our control over each of these variables ranges from considerable (skills) to almost none (target characteristics). It is in everyone's best interest for the tactical shooter to maximize his control and understanding over each of these variables and not limit himself by lack of training.
One factor that may cause us to limit our training and thus limit our ability to engage targets is dogma. I am always leery of flat statements that include the words "never" or "always." (Perhaps I should have said I'm usually leery of such statements. In my opinion the Rule of the Golden Mean should read, "Moderation in most things.") Flexibility is an asset to a tactical marksman and dogmatic statements can limit thinking when it comes to solving problems in the field. Most sniper dogma has a real basis in fact and the shooter should examine it closely before going against it. By the same token the marksman should look at possible exceptions to the "rules" before he accepts them at face value and limits his training and options.
The following are some common statements about sniper doctrine that you will run across along with the tactical basis for the statements and the potential exceptions.
"Police marksmen should never engage targets at more than 100 (or 200) yards." The primary mission of the police sniper is to instantly incapacitate hostage takers. This requires the rifleman to make a central nervous system (CNS) hit. Most departments use the brain stem and upper spinal column as a target. The brain stem and spine provide a target approximately one inch across. If the neural motor strips of the brain are also included, the target size only increases to two inches. Given a rifle and shooter capable of shooting into one MOA in the field, the mechanical limits of accuracy limit our range to 100 yards. Does that mean a quarter minute set-up increases our range to 400 yards? No. The bullet's time of flight becomes significant past 200 yards and makes long shots chancy and impractical. Does that mean a police rifleman should never engage past 100 yards? No. The police marksman may be called upon to engage targets under a number of circumstances that don't require a CNS hit.
A felon armed with a rifle represents a danger at distances that make pistols or shotguns almost useless. If no hostages are involved, a thoracic hit will suffice. The increase in target size increases the practical range if the marksman has some experience firing at extended ranges. Simply being able to deliver accurate suppression fire over extended ranges can reduce the ability of such an individual to inflict harm. A head-shot on a felon wearing body armor won't necessarily require a CNS hit. Likewise a .308 will penetrate most body armor at ranges beyond 100 yards. A police marksman may also be required to disable vehicles at ranges greater than 100 yards. In some rural areas a police sniper may be asked to put down animals such as feral dogs at extended ranges.
Training and equipment for law enforcement should emphasize the short ranges at which the vast majority of incidents will occur but police shooters should, at the very least, sight in and keep data for their rifles at longer ranges. A shooter who can fire ten inch groups at a thousand yards will find that one inch groups at 100 yards present no challenge.
"Nobody can make shots at 1000 yards." For the military sniper a thousand-yard shot will be rare indeed. Range and windage estimates are absolutely critical at 1000 yards. The 7.62 X 51 mm cartridge that is commonly used by military snipers is often only marginally stable past 800 yards. Military personnel that are aware of sniper activity in their area will take steps to make sure they present ill defined, fleeting targets. Tactical considerations will seldom require shots be taken at the outer edge of the envelope. A sniper can almost always get closer than a thousand yards. Still, if conditions allowed, wouldn't it be a shame to have to pass up a shot simply because you were told it couldn't be made — and you believed what you were told?
Estimating ranges accurately by eye is next to useless at 1000 yards, but ranging methods do exist that yield sufficient precision beyond a half mile. Accurate topographical maps and scaled aerial photos can be used. Laser range finders are precise enough when conditions permit. Stereoscopic artillery rangefinders work well. If the target is near a large item for which the size is known, the mil-dot reticle works nicely. During a battle or from secure positions, sighter or follow-up shots can sometimes be taken without compromising the sniper's position. The sniper must resist the urge to write off his first shot in the hopes that he can correct for a follow-up shot. In addition, the greatest psychological impact on the enemy will be obtained with accurately placed single shots– especially behind enemy lines or at ranges where the other fellow got to thinking he was safe. Occasionally a sniper will be firing over familiar terrain and the range will be known precisely. It is also possible during retrograde or delaying actions literally to walk the distance and determine an accurate range by pace count. In urban settings or when firing along telephone poles, fence lines, or railroad tracks there may be evenly spaced man-made objects that can be counted or measured with a mil-dot and used to yield accurate range estimates.
No wind or slight, steady wind will make windage estimates manageable. Operating behind enemy lines will place the sniper in areas where the enemy is careless, presenting targets that are neither well concealed nor moving erratically. Besides, the enemy may also have been told that 1000 yard shots are impossible and believe himself out of range at that distance. Obtaining special equipment (rifles, ammunition, optics, rangefinders, etc.) designed for extended ranges may be possible if you can plan in advance for a long shot. Anti-materiel missions will often provide the sniper with relatively large targets that can be successfully engaged at longer than typical ranges.
The vast majority of shots taken by military marksmen will be at much less than 1000 yards. The majority of the training should also be for medium range shots. Under ideal conditions the long shots will always be something of a gamble. The sniper should look at all his options before rolling the dice with a long shot. There is no point in making them a complete impossibility by not training for them at all. Military snipers can and have made shots at and beyond 1000 yards.
"Nobody makes shots at more than 500 yards." Counter-snipers are faced with targets that are aware that they may soon come under fire. Such targets will typically expose themselves as little as possible. Instead of taking advantage of his rifles ballistic superiority, the counter-sniper makes use of his optical advantage. Even if you expect all your shots to occur at ranges less than 500 yards, it's good to be prepared for the unexpected. If you can train out to 500 yards, taking a few practice shots out past 500 shouldn't be too difficult. If you can hit your targets at a thousand yards, half that will be just that much easier.
"Never shoot at ranges less than 300 yards and never shoot more than three shots before displacing." A single shot taken at less than 300 yards will usually disclose the sniper's position. Multiple shots taken from the same position allow the enemy the opportunity to zero in on the sniper's position. If position disclosure is not a concern then neither of these edicts apply. Firing from a physically secure position (as in perimeter defense) or when the sniper's fire is masked by fire from a larger unit (as when supporting an assault) are both examples of situations that allow for short range or multiple shots.
If the marksman's optics are high magnification (see the Chandlers' article For Sniper Scopes, Less is Usually Better in the March 98 issue of Tactical Shooter), short range shooting becomes difficult. There is a technique that allows coarse aiming at close ranges without resorting to hip-shooting. The Armson Occluded Eye Gunsite (OEG) doesn't transmit an image of the target to the shooter. Instead, by keeping both eyes open, the shooter combines the image of the target with the red dot inside the OEG into a single image. The eye looking at the OEG follows the direction of the eye looking at the target and the weapon is indexed in the correct direction. This same principle can be applied to high magnification scopes. Look at the reticle rather than through the scope. Keep both eyes open and overlay the image of the reticle from one eye with the nonmagnified image of the target from the other eye. With practice a fair amount of accuracy can be obtained by most people. Eye dominance can cause some people to have problems with the technique. This method is also useful for finding targets in a narrow field of view or keeping moving targets in the field of view.
Train for the real world. Design your training around the types of shots you expect to take. Put your emphasis on the ranges you will most probably encounter. You will have limits. Know what your limits are through field shooting so if you are faced with an unusual situation you can intelligently judge your options. Any limits you place on your practice will turn into limits in real world situations. Don't intentionally limit yourself by taking someone else at his word when he tells you, "It can't be done."