The sun has just come up and is shining on the door of your retreat. The morning is bright and clear, as you and your family walk outside to start the day’s chores. Suddenly a gunshot rings out. Someone screams. A sniper is firing at your camp. Your first thought is: “What will I do?”
To answer this question, Prepper’s Will interviewed David Andrew Brown. David is a retired Green Beret with over 20 years of active service. As an Instructor, he used to train snipers and counter snipers for the Army and major police departments. Among others, David is an expert in weapons, anti-terrorism, and personal security techniques, tactics, and procedures.
PW: David, why is counter sniping an important skill for a survivalist to know?
David: First, being confronted with a sniper is a very likely possibility. Look at what is happening in the Middle Eastern war zones. During a breakdown of our society, sniping is likely to occur in any part of the world where the general public has access to firearms, and counter sniping is a means to protect yourself.
Second, a survivalist can use counter sniping techniques to extend his buffer of protection by shooting at long ranges. Moreover, he saves his supplies by being accurate.
Third, counter sniping and marksman-ship take training and practice. The survivalist won’t have the time or resources to learn about it after the disaster.
PW: Is there a difference between sniping and counter sniping?
David: Often, the only difference is who shot first. Yet, counter sniping should be well thought out. To protect yourself from snipers, you must plan and prepare a defense.
PW: Why do the Army and the police train counter snipers?
David: Good question. Snipers and counter snipers are used offensively, defensively, and to destroy morale. An opponent’s morale can be horribly destroyed when under sniper fire. If you have a sniper sitting in a tree 500 meters away shooting and you can’t locate him, he’ll drive you out of your wits with fear and frustration.
Offensively, snipers are used to taking out key people and cause confusion. Defensively, a counter-sniper can hold up the enemy’s advance or remove another sniper.
PW: How would survivalists use counter sniping techniques?
David: When most of us talk about survivalists in retreat, we are talking about individuals or small groups of people. Realistically, a small group of survivalists won’t be able to withstand any kind of assault.
The only thing they could hope to do is to get a few quick shots off and run like the wind. As long as the survivalists stay free, they are okay. As soon as they end up in a pitched battle with anyone, they will probably lose more than they can afford.
PW: What are the fundamentals of counter sniping?
David: You could write a book in three volumes on this question. However, I will give you a number of things to think about. Counter sniping is based on marksmanship. A person must be highly qualified to hit what he is aiming at. The first round hit probability of a shot must be very high. Seldom is there a chance for a second shot.
Most counter sniping units in Vietnam were 3-man teams of Marines. There was a gunner, a spotter. and a man for security. The reason for using 3 men was that the gunner would become so engrossed in the target that the spotter would have to give the gunner his correction factors.
What most people do not realize is that most sniper shots are fired at less than I5O yards. To become really effective, you need to know your gun, ammo, and practice long-range marksmanship. After that, a person needs to know the other things that help one to exist: escape and evasion, camouflage, and living off the land.
PW: You mentioned correction factors. What correction factors must be considered?
David: Correction factors are conditions that must be adjusted for in order to ensure the proper strike of the bullet. A number of these factors involve weather and must be understood clearly. For example, humidity and cold temperatures affect accuracy because the bullet must push through a heavier medium than warm dry air. Check out the effects of air temperature on bullet flight in this article.
Fog is the worst because it is 100 percent humidity and forces the bullet to drop very quickly. High altitude has the opposite effect. Hunters often find that a bullet they zeroed in at 300 feet of altitude over-shoots the target in the Colorado Mountains.
Shooting uphill, downhill, into the sun and wind, all have an effect. It takes special training to understand all of the environmental effects. Very few shooters have ever experienced these conditions.
Wind from the side – Horizontal bullet stringing.
Wind from the front – Bullet drops.
High temperature – Flattens bullet trajectory. Increases bullet velocity.
Low temperature – Reduces bullet velocity. Bullet drops.
Humidity, fog, and rain – Reduces bullet velocity. Bullet drops.
High altitude, if zeroed at low altitude – Increases velocity. Bullet rises.
Low altitude, if zeroed at high altitude – Decreases velocity. Bullet drops.
Mirage – Changing sight picture.
Shooting up or downhill – Increases velocity. Bullet rises.
PW: If this is true, how can a shooter compensate for weather conditions?
David: Even with scopes that compensates for elevation, windage must still be estimated. Once you identify the factors to compensate for, it still comes down to the windage and elevation in your area. But, you can’t begin to compensate until you know what to compensate for.
PW: What tricks are there for determining the distance to the target?
David: There are some simple tricks that can be used to estimate distance. Often beginning shooters estimate the total distance to a target in one lump, such as “half a mile.” This is not very well thought out. But, shooters can be amazingly accurate in estimating distance by breaking it down into smaller chunks and adding them up.
For example, figure it like this: from myself to the tree is the length of a football field, 100 yards. From the tree to the rock is about the same 100 yards, and from the rock to the fence looks like about 25 yards. The total distance to set the sights for is 225 yards. Most people tend to underestimate distance at longer ranges unless they use some trick or ranging device.
PW: What weapon should a survivalist use for counter sniping?
David: There are dozens of high powered rifles that are far more accurate than you’ll ever be. Without a lifelong dedication or professional (or military) training, your own abilities will limit your accuracy well before a good gun will. I would personally recommend the Remington model 700 VTR or the popular 700 NRA American Hunter. These are affordable rifles that are ideal for both beginner and experienced shooters.
PW: Can counter sniping be done with a bolt-action rifle?
David: Yes, it can be done better with a bolt action because it is inherently more accurate than a semi-auto. Gas operated rifles do not have the accuracy because of their many moving parts changing positions and wearing out.
There are a million and one things that affect accuracy and reliability, from bolt headspace to spring wear. Also, don’t forget, a gas-operated rifle forcibly transfers a round from the magazine to the chamber. Often this deforms the bullet or knocks it off-center. There are some changes in the air though.
PW: David, you are an expert counter-sniper. What rifles do you use?
David: I use three rifles, which I assembled personally. One is a semi-auto AR-15 (.223 Remington (5.56mm NATO)] with a 24-inch barrel having the 1-in-7-inch twist. The barrel is especially designed to free-float in the handguard. The rifle shoots a 70-grain bullet at over 3.100 fps and produces groups of I inch or less at 100 yards—guaranteed. The rifle is outfitted with two 20 round magazines and a sling, with a BARSKA 3-9x 42mm IR 2nd Generation Contour Scope.
The second rifle I use is an M-14 in .308 Winchester (7.62) with a match barrel. It is a medium-weight semi-auto with a pistol-grip stock and has a 20-round magazine. The rifle is fitted with an Art M1000-PRO scope and has a case and sling.
The third rifle, which I thoroughly enjoy shooting. is a .338 Winchester Magnum bolt action. It has a Remington action and Shilen barrel bedded in a fiberglass stock. I also make the gun with a Winchester action. It equipped with a SWAT-AR 6-36×52 Tactical scope, sling, and case and sells for $2,500. I shoot deer dead-on at 1,400 meters with this one.
Check out this article on the five firearms that every prepper should own.
PW: A lot of preppers cannot afford custom counter-sniper rifles or already have a rifle collection. In this case, what rifles are best to use?
David: There are many rifles available, and there are some things shooters should consider. A counter sniper’s rifle and accessories should be simple, reliable, easy to carry, and accurate. For example, the Ruger No.1 rifle with its rolling block and a single shot is exceptionally accurate, reliable, and simple in design.
Single-shot pistols such as the Freedom Arms Model 2008 are also exceptionally reliable. Both firearms can be used for counter sniping and for game. With ammo bands on the stock or around the shooter’s wrist, they can be reloaded quickly. Remember, first-shot hit probability is most important, and single-shot rifles are well known for this.
A survivalist, like a counter-sniper, should pack his shooting supplies with him. Simplicity is the key. Basic reloading supplies should be carried. A hand-held reloader is simple. It’s slow, but it doesn’t require a bench or electricity. Powder, primers, bullets, and cases should be carried. A simple spotting scope or binoculars should be included. Don’t forget cleaning supplies.
Ammo selection is a crucial problem for the survivalist. Some supplies such as primers and powder will have to be stored. In a military crisis, spent brass will be easy to find. However, the survivalist will have to have 10 to 15 thousand bullets or depend on lead. Lead will be easy to find in society’s waste or in ore.
The survivalist will have to be able to cast his own bullets and put gas checks on the bullet bottoms when he loads his own cartridges, or use less powerful loads. Lead bullets shoot acceptably in .223 and quite effectively in .308 calibers. You can see, there is a lot to consider, but always keep it as simple as possible.
PW: A counter-sniper must have many skills. What skill training did you use to provide to counter snipers?
David: The goal of counter sniping training is to teach a person to make first-round hits on small targets having a diameter of 4 inches or less at 300 yards or more. The trainee must be able to do this under stressful conditions in a variety of impromptu positions.
I used to provide a 3-day course to anyone interested. The first day is spent learning the fundamentals from breath control to shot-group error analysis. Before the day ends, instruction involves weapon systems, firing positions, and weather effects.
The second day includes day- and night-firing exercises, while the third day includes team integrated firing, practical exercises, and skills tests for graduation. My marksman-ship training included a short-range (500 meters) and long-range (1,000 meters) shooting.
PW: You mentioned that most preppers and survivalists would be banded together in small groups. When survivalists set up a camp or a retreat, how can they protect themselves from snipers?
David: First of all, realize that counter sniping is the reverse of sniping. Survivalists should learn all the sniping tricks, and identify which tricks will be used against them. You have to start thinking like a sniper.
Sniping was really big during the Civil War. Snipers made 2.000-yard shots using Henrys and Sharps rifles and battled for days. A lot of officers on both sides fell before they realized how to protect themselves from sniping. Because of the great ranges of the shots, snipers had to be used to shoot snipers. Even today, police S.W.A.T. teams use snipers to remove entrenched gunmen. First you have to learn to snipe.
PW: What can be done to prepare a defense for a retreat?
David: Examine your retreat and its surroundings. Snipers use high ground or high structures whenever possible. They won’t shoot from a position they can’t escape from. Identify likely sniper positions and escape routes.
Hills are the first place to look for sniper positions. Once a sniper is above you in a protected position, he will be extremely difficult to dislodge. Clear any likely sniper positions by removing brush or structures.
Escape routes should be cleared, and if they cannot be cleared, set traps. Escape routes are often approach routes, and you can stop the sniper before he takes a position. Also, well-secured terrain that does not offer concealment for attackers will discourage those who may be thinking of attacking you.
PW: What should be done when a sniper attacks?
David: Try to use a counter-sniper shooting from a concealed defensive position to remove the sniper. The counter-sniper should be your group’s best long-range shooter. The sniper has to show himself eventually, no matter how little he shows. That is when the counter-sniper must hit his mark.
Once a sniper is in a protected position, it becomes a dodge and weave proposition in which you work your people in close to the sniper. Sooner or later, the sniper will expose himself in his attempt to defend himself. When the sniper fires at someone, whoever is approaching from the opposite side moves in as rapidly as possible to the next protected position.
S.W.A.T. teams work on this principle. However, they train extensively to minimize their own exposure while moving. If you’ve set your traps in the escape route, leave the route open, and your counter sniping may flush the sniper into the trap. Snipers do not usually carry a large quantity of ammo because they want to stay light in case they have to run.
Another counter sniping method is to run the sniper out of ammo in order to jump him. Of course, it is risky because you have to give him something to shoot at. Remember, a good sniper can create havoc with a few rounds.
PW: How should a counter-sniper protect himself when under sniper fire?
David: The counter-sniper should shoot from the shadows and keep low to the ground. Never shoot from a window, but if you have no other choice, shoot from as far back inside the house as possible.
Using loopholes is one of the most effective ways to shoot from a house. Loopholes are small openings cut into the walls at strategic positions. Protect the shooter by piling dirt below and around the loophole. Don’t stick your rifle barrel through the loop-hole; it will give your position away. Shoot from a distance behind the opening.
False loopholes can be painted outside the house to confuse attackers. When counter sniping outdoors, camouflage isn’t as important as keeping low and in the shadows. People can do this by wearing subdued natural colors.
Avoid wearing recognizable clothing. Baseball caps have a definite shape, for example, so don’t wear one. Wear a soft floppy bush hat. Instant camouflage can be obtained by tying tree branches and grasses to your body and rifle. David wrote about camouflaging field equipment in this article.
Make some mud and streak your face and hands with it. Many shooters conceal themselves, but forget to conceal their rifles. When under sniper fire, this is usually the last mistake.
PW: David, what should survivalists do if they are on foot or in a vehicle and come under sniper fire?
David: If they are on foot, hit the ground. Conceal yourself anywhere, don’t move, and minimize noise. The best-concealed person should carefully try to spot the sniper’s location. Pick an escape route and move away from the sniper. If you can get 500 to 600 meters away from the sniper, the average shooter won’t be able to hit you. If the sniper is trained, you’d better get 1,400 to 1,500 meters away—and keep moving.
You can get an idea of how well trained the sniper is by the accuracy and distance of his first shot. As in all survival situations, don’t panic and keep yourself low and concealed as much as possible.
If the survivalists in your group are in a vehicle, they should crouch down and drive quickly away from the sniper. If a shot hits the front of the car, don’t drive forward in that direction. The same goes for the other sides of the car.
For more information on how to survive an ambush, you can check this source.
PW: What should preppers do if faced with a military threat?
David: Preppers and survivalists may want to use sniping when they are faced with a heavily armed force. Sniping can be used to slow up an enemy’s advance while the group members escape. The morale of the threat force will drop just from the harassment.
Most military forces would not want to lose time or resources just to get a little band of survivalists. A military force would probably choose to bypass the survivalists, unless the survivalists were harassing the force, or were blocking an important route.
David made it clear that counter sniping is simply another survival skill that requires study and preparation. Understanding the threat of sniping is the first step in protecting oneself from it. The counter-sniper uses concealment and cover, and understands the weather effects on bullet strike.
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