There’s quite a debate raging about the ethics of sniper headshots at the moment so I thought I’d share up my own thoughts on the subject.
Obligatory photo of glorious DPM camouflage and my personal VSR rifle.
I’d like to cover this from both sides; firstly the shooter (specifically the sniper because for some reason cqb headshots aren’t under the spotlight, and secondly from the target. Because I’ve been shot in the head more than anywhere else. Players are enraged at the supposed risk to the face and in particular the eyes (the one part of the body covered with something rigorously tested to stand up to impact). Some dislike being shot in the head simply because “it hurts” (and yet there’s never any suggestion of regulating shots to the hand. Those knuckle impacts? I’d happily get shot in the head ten times to avoid a knuckle hit). Is it gamesmanship? A dislike of snipers? Or just kicking up a fuss because the keyboard has been gathering dust?
So first up, the Sniper perspective.
I’ll admit this first. I’m not a deliberate headshot sniper and I’ll explain why. At long ranges, if I have you in my sights and pull off a headshot, it’s probably not wholly intentional. I’m likely aiming a metre above you, a few inches to one side and considering the following :
1) Lob because of the distance.
2) Any slight breeze
3) Your expected movement in the 2-3 seconds it’ll take for the BB to hit
4) Any potential obstructions
5) The fact I only have one BB so I can’t send a line of fire in your direction and adjust until it hits. This is a first time shot.
Basically, I’m just hopeful that I hit you somewhere. I’m not going to make it look like I deliberately aimed for your nose on YouTube afterwards when I put a highlight reel together. I’m sending a shot roughly in your direction. Not a lot of snipers would admit this but there you go. We can’t hit a coin at 100m, it doesn’t work like that, no matter what the advert says.
Shorter ranges, maybe between 20-60m, yes there is a bit of choice on the shot and I think this is where the bulk of the arguments come in.
“OW! HEADSHOT! REALLY?!” I’ve heard after landing a shot square in a player’s face. Yes really. Would you mind just holding up a diagram in advance then indicating where exactly you’d like me to put the shot??
What do you aim for then? The target, and the majority of Facebook, will always argue “centre mass” like the professionals do, particularly if they are sporting a lot of webbing in that area. Sometimes I do feel this is an excuse to “not feel the hit”, and continue play, and this is the number one reason airsoft snipers will not aim centre mass. It’s almost cheating on the target’s part and why I might boldly suggest some gamesmanship is involved. Perhaps cheating is a strong word, but sometimes it comes across as “hit me where there’s only a 50% chance I might feel it”. There are better places to put the crosshairs however.
Given the flight time of heavy bb’s, you’ll often see targets duck, swerve, flail arms about and pull off their best matrix impressions to dodge the shot. As a sniper, unless we get the unseen shot off, everything about airsoft seems to go against us. And yet, the one thing I have noticed with all the ducking and swerving is that very few actually have the common sense to move their feet and remove the entire body from where the shots are hitting. It’s as if they feel they’ve found the ultimate shooting position and don’t want to vacate it. So, my own personal preference IF IT IS POSSIBLE TO PLACE THE SHOT is to aim for the legs. The shot will be felt, there’ll be no backlash for causing blindness, and it should have the biggest chance of a hit if the target doesn’t think to run. Additionally, if they do duck, the legs aren’t going to go anywhere. I don’t aim there out of a will to cause harm, but merely to increase chances of scoring a kill. Also, I know one sniper has made a claim that headshots give him a psychological advantage over the other team, which may be so, but I’ve found unseen shots to the players’ also backsides have a similar effect (and I apologise to all players in the village at Dirty Dog last summer who remember that).
– Being unseen is perhaps the biggest advantage, not where the shot is placed. Always remember that.
The next point made by a lot of snipers, in defence of headshots, is that they’ll take it if its the only part of the target visible, and a lot of players are in agreement that that’s fair enough. These shots that are taken not because the shooter wants to, but because they had no choice. Very admirable. So, without alternative, is a headshot dangerous or not then? It’s OK in some circumstances but not others? Was it ever about being dangerous then? How do we know what the shooter’s line of sight was at that point? Did they have the ability to hit a point of the targets choosing? Was it malicious or merely the only opportunity available? It’s hard to argue against the shooter without being able to answer any of the questions, for those on the receiving end. Where the shooter shoots then isn’t something the target can control.
Let’s switch sides. The Target.
Here’s some rare photos of me in a non sniper role. Yes, it happens.
That last one is from the legendary Airsoft International AI500 – Operation Titan. I love travelling to new sites and participating in big games. Unfortunately, quite often these sites are more suited to an M4 than a sniper rifle. The action tends to be a lot more close quarters, and at sites where I’m not familiar with the layout, the chances of me getting shot (especially being short on cqb skills) are much higher. What you will notice with all these pictures, taken down the years, is that I protect my head. I wear a helmet (more to do with being tall and headbutting doorframes), a face mask, and eye protection that is up to the task. In the UK, we have to wear eye protection at all times. It’s a no-brained really. I’d go as far as to say that my head is by far the most protected part of my body. It needs to be, because its the first thing visible to people when I look around corners, through windows and doors, and above cover. If anything, I’d prefer to be shot there.
Most AEG’s are aimed roughly in the chest area and at a distance can spread enough to shower your face with far more than just the one BB a sniper would fire. Coupled with grenades, multi barrel shotguns and players who sometimes react too quickly to think about where the gun is pointing, and cqb really poses a much greater risk of injury. At very close ranges, the BB has lost little in the way of velocity and can hit harder than that 60m sniper round which is starting to run out of energy.
And yet the community embraces close quarters airsoft. They have no issue with headshots, point blank shooting or putting multiple rounds into people. They expect it. Is the problem with sniper headshots perhaps that they’re not expected?
Whatever way you airsoft though, surely the minimum expectation is that you will get shot. All over. Equip yourself to deal with that eventuality. Take your hits and learn from them. And if you still don’t want to be shot in the head, take up fishing. Or scrabble.