Archive for the ‘Sniper Operational Tactics’ Category

Engaging Moving Targets

January 18, 2013


Shooting long range targets at unknown distances in varying weather conditions is extremely difficult on its own. But when you throw in targets that are moving, things become even more difficult! But as snipers, when you look at the types of targets a team might encounter in the field, very few of them are motionless targets, nearly all of them are moving, whether it is just breathing movement while sitting in a chair, or a target that is in an all-out sprint. Moving targets at unknown long range distances are the most difficult to engage successfully, but with some knowledge, and a whole lot of practice, one can become fairly proficient at it. Of course, one of the major problems that an individual sniper, or a team, runs into, is finding the facility and means to practice with moving targets. Ranges with moving targets for long rifle work are very rare and difficult to find. If you are lucky enough to live or work near such a facility, be sure to utilize it as much as is feasible. Many times it may take utilizing a second team from either your existing unit or a nearby unit to trade off and help do moving targets practice at a range with a Butts system.

When thinking about moving targets, think of an NFL quarterback and how he leads his receivers. Notice that he does not throw to where the receiver currently is, but rather he throws the football to where the receiver is going to be when the ball travels down field. Shooting long range moving targets is the same concept. At closer ranges the bullet is moving fast enough that with a normal moving target no leads are really required. But as the distances grow and the bullet takes longer to get to the target, then aiming in front of the target is mandatory to get a hit. So with this concept of leading the target explained, let us get down to some of the fundamentals.

Different Methods

There are three main methods for engaging a moving target. These are outlined below:

  • Tracking: This method tends to be a favorite among the USMC and Navy SEAL snipers. Tracking involves actually moving the rifle at the same pace as the target and following along, or tracking the target. Once the crosshairs are aligned where the shooter believes the proper lead should be, the shooter fires the shot while continuing to track the target and maintaining proper follow-through.
  • Trapping: This method is a favorite among British snipers. Trapping is also known as “ambushing” a target, the reason is because the shooter places the crosshairs well in front of the moving target and simply waits until the the target gets to the desired lead and the shooter lets off the round, in essence, ambushing the target as it approaches the kill zone.
  • Tracking & Trap: This method is my personal favorite and is a mixture of the above two methods. The shooter tracks the target and while tracking moves the crosshairs ahead of the target a small distance and then waits for the target to move to the desired lead and fires the round off. Some shooters will not completely stop tracking the rifle but will rather just slow down and let the target catch up into the “trap”.

No one method is better than the others and it is typically a matter of trying each and using whichever feels the most natural to the shooter. The combo Tracking & Trap method is what I have adopted, but I have seen many very good shooters using all of the different methods. Controlled breathing and controlled and rapid trigger squeeze are important for successful moving target engagements, no matter which of the methods are being used.

Lead Values

When engaging moving targets we have already discussed how the shooter will lead, or aim in front of, the target. Of course, the leads that we will be calculating are for targets that are moving directly perpendicular to the shooter and we refer to these lead values as being a Full Lead target. When a sniper is engaging a target, he or she can normally tell that the target is moving perpendicular to them when they can only see the side of the body and only a single arm is visible. But there are times when the target is not moving directly perpendicular to the shooter, but rather at an oblique angle. When there is only 2/3 of the target’s body visible to the shooter it is considered moving at an angle and only half of the normal lead value should be applied to the firing solution.

When the target is moving directly toward or directly away from the sniper and both arms are visible on the target, this is a no lead target and no adjustment to the point of aim should be applied. This is the same if the target is moving toward or away from the sniper.

There is one last lead value adjustment that needs to be mentioned and considered. IF you are using the “Tracking” method of engaging moving targets, typically you as the shooter will need to apply a longer lead when engaging a target that is moving toward your shooting side. So if you are a right handed shooter and the target is moving left to right, then the lead will typically need to be longer. There is no set amount but rather it needs to be determined through experience on the range and then annotated in your log book.

Lead Calculations

We have talked about the important aspects of shooting at moving targets and the last thing left to do is discuss just exactly how far ahead of the target we need to aim. Since most tactical scopes use a reticle that has some means of measuring melliradians (MILs) we will talk about our aiming points and calculate are lead values using MILs as reference points. With that in mind, a proper two MIL lead when engaging a target would look like the image below:

So how do we calculate our leads? It is a fairly simple formula to get the actual distance to aim in front of the target, but then we have to convert that actual lead into MILs to use with our scope reticle. Of course, if you are using a MOA style reticle then your calculation will be different, but have no fear, we’ll show you that method as well.

First, let us talk about calculating the amount of distance we need to aim ahead of where we want to hit.

Time of Flight (Sec) * Target Speed (Fps) = Lead (in Feet)

Based off of the required information above, it is obvious that you need to know the speed at which the target is moving, here are some averages for human targets:

  • Slow Patrol = 1 fps
  • Fast Patrol = 2 fps
  • Slow Walk = 4 fps
  • Fast Walk = 6 fps

The second part of the formula is the time of flight of the bullet, but obviously that will change based off of the distance that you are shooting from and the cartridge and ammunition you are utilizing. This information can be obtained from any ballistics chart or ballistics software. For our example here, we’ll assume we are shooting a Sierra Matchking 175gr bullet at 2600 fps (at the muzzle) and we’ll say the target is at 600 yards and doing a fast patrol (2 fps target speed).

The time of flight for this round to travel 600 yards would be .87 seconds, and the target is moving at 2 fps, telling us that the target will move 1.74 feet. We come up with this value by multiplying the target speed, which is 2 feet per second, by the amount of time it takes the bullet to reach the target, which is .87 seconds. So multiple 2 * .87 and you get 1.74 which equals the feet that the target will move from the time the bullet leaves the barrel until it gets to the target 600 yards away. Now that we know the distance we need to aim in front of the target, we want to convert that number to the number of MILs that we can use on our scope reticle to aim ahead of the target. The easiest way to do this is to plug the lead value into the mil relation formula which looks like this:

Lead (Yards)
———————————– X 1000 = Mil Lead
Distance to Target (Yards)

We just need to convert our lead from 1.74 feet to yards, which is done by dividing 1.74 by 3 (the number of feet in a yard) which equals .58 yards. So let’s plug everything in and get our answer:

—– X 1000 = .97 MIL Lead

Obviously, we would just round that .97 up and call it a 1 MIL lead. So all you need to do is use the 1 MIL mark on your scope as your aiming point and engage your target. If you are using an MOA reticle you can either just convert the MIL lead value into MOA or you can use the following formula instead of the MIL formula displayed above.

Lead (Yards)
——————————- X 3438.4 = MOA Lead
Distance to Target (Yards)

Using the same values in our original example, it would look like this:

——— X 3438.4 = 3.32 MOA Lead

So hold 3.3 MOA ahead of your aiming point and you should be good to go.

This is obviously not a formula that you will want to be calculating every time when engaging a target, so instead, you will want to create a full chart for your specific load and then go out and verify the data by doing the actual testing on moving targets at a range. Once you are happy with your calculations you can then add the chart to your log book or commit it to memory. Of course, just getting experience with engaging moving targets goes a long way toward improving your comfort level with this difficult task. The more practice, the better.


To conclude this topic, I wanted to provide a couple of additional tips that should help with engaging moving targets.

  • Concentrate on the crosshairs, not the target. Focusing on the crosshairs will help you to properly release your shot when the correct lead has been achieved. If the shooter is focusing on the target, the shot is typically late.
  • Squeeze the trigger, do not jerk or flinch when trying to execute the shot – Many shooters have the tendency to jerk or yank the trigger when they see their target get to their desired lead. This affects the accuracy of the shooter and it is typically a good practice to concentrate on a good trigger squeeze.
  • Do not ambush and then start tracking, it is better to let the round loose – If you are ambushing the target but for whatever reason do not let the round off, it is better to pull ahead and ambush again instead of trying to start tracking.
  • Don’t forget wind – Easier said than done! Because a shooter is busy calculating how far to aim left and right for leads, it is a natural tendency for a shooter to forget about compensating for wind. There are a million things to consider when engaging a target, but practice sure helps.

Unknown distance long range shooting is already extremely complex and difficult and when the targets are moving it takes it to a new level. But by applying these techniques and then practicing whenever possible, a sniper team can become proficient at doing it. It is especially important since most targets are in motion. Hopefully what we have discussed can be of help.

Sniper Path Selection – Stalking

October 8, 2012


We have already spent some time going over the individual movement techniques when it comes to a sniper. Those are your tools, but knowing how to move is not going to get a sniper team to its Final Firing Position (FFP) by themselves. The sniper has to utilize those tools in the best manner possible in order to get to the FFP undetected. What we will cover in this block of instruction is how a sniper plans his or her route in order to give them the best chance of success during an insertion.


The planning phase is perhaps the single most important part of not only stalking and path selection, but with any sniper operation. The idiom of “Failing to plan is planning to fail” holds a lot of truth and applies here as well. Now that I mention it, it is equally as important with just about any operation whether military and sniper related, or not. Murphy’s Laws of combat dictate that the best laid plan goes up in smoke the instant the first round is fired. That may be true, but when deliberately planning a movement into a FFP, a well thought up plan, with contingencies, will help the sniper team pull it off without a hitch.

Typically the best way to approach a plan is by knowing, as close as possible, where the FFP is going to be setup. This is where prior knowledge of an area of operation is valuable and being able to tap into other intelligence sources that have actually had boots on the objective can really come in handy. This is also a reason why good sniper hides tend to be utilized more than once as they become a known commodity and the team is experienced as to what to expect moving into and out of that particular FFP. Good intelligence is not always available for the desired FFP or Area of Operation (AO), so the use of maps, aerial and ground photos, and other means of intelligence gathering can be used. Obviously, when choosing the general area that a team would like to setup their FFP, several things should be considered, including sight lines and fields of fire on the objective, security and self preservation accommodations, and concealed routes immediately adjacent to the desired area.

Once a good area for an FFP is identified, the team should start working backwards from the FFP to the launch point of the insertion/stalk. Starting from the FFP and moving back will more quickly point out flaws and vulnerabilities in the desired FFP. The closer the team is to the AO and FFP, the more critical concealed routes of insertion and exfiltration become. The sniper needs to identify potential areas of exposure and see if those areas can be avoided. Obviously cover is more desirable than just concealment, but at times there may not be a better option than just concealment. If at all possible, a team should never move through an area that is unconcealed, even if moving at night. Again, a team can tap into any resources they have at their disposal, especially anyone who has put boots on the ground near the planned insertion route. Another important tidbit of information is if it is possible; never repeat the same insertion or exfiltration route. The odds of discovery go up considerably each time the same route is used.

As a sniper plans from the FFP back to the demarcation point of the stalk, he needs to be sure to annotate what equipment may be needed at which phase in the insertion, and be sure to plan listening and rest points. This is standard stuff from a Patrol Basics 101 class, but the stuff has been put in the infantry bibles for a reason, they work and save lives. As a sniper team compiles a list of needed equipment for the stalk, they need to be sure to organize and pack it in a way that allows the ‘next’ item to be available as the stalk progresses. This is all a part of complete planning.

The use of computers, GPS, sattelite imagery and all the other modern technology can also be very useful, especially in urban environments. Of course, providing a detailed computer plotted insertion route to the Sniper Employment Officer (SEO) or CO would also be beneficial.


Obviously a well laid out plan helps tremendously with the actual execution of the stalk itself, but nothing can substitute actually executing the plan and performing the stalk. While stalking, there are a few key things to remember while in the movement phase and these points apply no matter what terrain a sniper team is operating in.

First and foremost, a sniper needs to take his or her time. This applies to all facets of the stalk. A team needs to take their time when selecting a proper FFP, preparing a good plan, moving, and examining the FFP before moving into it. We have already covered the process of planning the stalk, but in regards to the actual movement phase, moving slow and deliberate is critical. A sniper is invisible, that is one of the key components to a snipers survival, and one of the easiest ways a sniper gives their position away is through movement. So when a sniper has to move, such as when stalking, it is done deliberately and never rushed. There is a common saying, ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast’, there is truth to that, and not only is slow smooth, it is also safe. As mentioned in the article on individual sniper movement techniques, a sniper should assume the movement technique that is one Step BELOW what the sniper believes is required. For instance, if the sniper believes he can get away with doing a hands and knee crawl, then utilize the High Crawl instead. This gives the sniper a cushion to help cover mistakes or unforeseen issues.

Another key point to remember is that the human eye cannot see through non-transparent objects. So, while executing the planned route, the sniper should utilize the surrounding terrain and obstacles to hide their movement. I know this sounds obvious, but it is surprising how often young snipers make a beeline straight toward their select FFP, utilizing newly learned movement techniques to painstakingly traverse barren terrain instead of alternating their route to simply stay down in a slight depression that moves around such areas. Or even to simply keep trees between them and the potential enemy location. This is where good planning can really help out but common sense and situational awareness go a long way as well.

As one might imagine, since movement can give a sniper away, it typically is advisable to move when human eyesight is hindered, such as during the dark hours of the night. It is very common for a sniper team to insert during the night and if possible to remain in an FFP throughout the day and then exfiltrate the following night. Of course, extended stays in a hide are also required at times and can be very effective. Be aware that moving at night or in darkness only adds an additional level of security, it does NOT mean that a sniper team can reduce or skip over any of the other precautions they do during a stalk. All of the same rules should apply. Use the terrain to mask movement, utilize the proper movement technique, properly plan the stalk path, etc. Doing all of these things will help with a successful execution of the planned stalk, both day and night. The use of night vision devices is becoming more wide spread throughout the world, so a team can never assume the enemy is operating without the use of NVDs.

Using deliberate slow movement combined with longer paths to utilize the available cover will increase the amount of time it takes to execute the stalk, as such; plenty of time needs to be allocated for the proper execution. The feeling of operating under a difficult time restriction can cause anxiety, therefore causing a team to rush their movements. These rushed actions lead to sloppy execution and ultimately can lead to detection of the team during their movement. Allowing plenty of time for the stalk allows the team to maintain diligence during movement which will help a team stay sharp during a long stalk. Good physical conditioning and mental toughness help with this as well and extended stalking should be a regular part of a team’s training program.

Tips & Tricks

There are a few little tips and tricks that can help with the path selection for a stalk.

Do not be afraid to use any available technology. Google earth is a free application that has a large database of satellite imagery and while the resolution is not good enough for detailed route planning, it can be used to provide a good overall perspective as well as provide locations of some buildings and general ideas about terrain and elevation relief. Typically more up to date imagery is available for military use, but Law Enforcement may not always have access to such images and terrain detail, and here, Google Earth and other similar competing technologies may really come in handy.

When a sniper team is selecting a path for a stalk, the team needs to be careful not to select a path that is obviously the best path to use. It will be obvious to not only the team but the enemy as well. Obvious paths tend to be a great location to setup trip wires or ambushes. If a path looks too good to be true, just be sure to double check it.

I have mentioned it in several other articles before, but shadows are a sniper’s friend. A sniper needs to be sure to incorporate and use shadows in both their movement to the FFP and also at the FFP itself. Deep shadows help tremendously in concealment as the human eye has a hard time seeing into shadows when the pupil is shrunk down from bright light surrounding the shadows. But a sniper team needs to be aware that shadows both move and also become less concealing when the surrounding light begins to diminish. Much like movement at night, shadows should be used as another tool to aid in concealment; they are not to be used to replace any of the other tactically correct techniques.


Like most things in life, proper planning goes a long way toward proper execution and the planning phase is equally as important as the execution phase of a stalk. The very survivability of a sniper team rests squarely on the team’s ability to remain invisible. Through proper route planning and movement technique, a properly prepared and trained sniper team will be able to successfully remain invisible and capable of accomplishing its designated mission. Ongoing training is paramount to maintaining a team’s stalking capability which in turn keeps the effectiveness of the unit at a maximum. Do not let these perishable skills whither on the vine and die, train with a purpose.