Staying hidden is the key to staying alive as a sniper. I keep reinforcing that idea through all the articles I do. If you’re alive, you’re still able to cause the enemy team problems. If you get spotted and get hit, it’s a long walk back to respawn and then all that effort put into sneaking up on the enemy and into a good position needs repeated, which will take time. Except usually, it won’t, because you’ll be desperate to get back to where you were and will cut corners and make mistakes to try and get back quicker. You want to be able to go out, and stay out. The first part of this is obviously working out concealment and cover. The two words are often linked, but do mean very different things;
Concealment – Is how you hide yourself. Your camouflage, and how it interacts with the environment around it. Although not technically necessary, if you have a very good camouflage suit (which can be anything from traditional ghillies to leaf suits, to simple camouflage clothing), it boosts your chances significantly.
Cover – Is the environment itself, which you’ll use to hide your position from the enemy and also give you some protection from incoming fire. Primarily as a sniper though, we’re looking to avoid firefights so it’s more the camouflage aspect. Cover can range from buildings to bushes, rocks, ridges and ditches.
In terms of creating concealment, check out the Ghillie Guide for building an effective camouflage for your environment.
Sniper concealment is becoming big business now, with lots of companies releasing innovative new suits and components all the time. A lot will depend on your budget. Some of the newest suits can cost upwards of £100, although by far the most effective ones are the homemade suits, because these are the ones that the sniper has built himself to suit his own environment. No solution will be perfect fresh from a factory, because every airsoft site has a different composition of plants and terrain. To be effective is different to being expensive. Any good sniper will study carefully where he plays, will find a base suit style that fits, and then build onto that using materials that best suit it. These 3D elements add depth and disguise any flat fabrics that would otherwise give the player away, and are easily added by glue gun, zip tie, or if one has the patience, needle and thread.
Always remember though, when you make a camouflage suit, not to overdo it with the decoration. You still need to be able to;
- Move easily and without getting caught on everything
- See clearly to be able to identify threats
- See clearly down your scope without obstruction (be careful adding material to the top of the barrel
- Hear nearby footsteps – I cut holes into my hoods or balaclavas to help with hearing.
Less can be more, and I’ve been up against opponents who have so much camouflage, it gives their position way because all the excess material moves more. Be wary of lighter weight materials and longer lengths which are unsupported. Design your camouflage with wind in mind.
It’s useful when you arrive on site to attach real local vegetation to your kit too to help camouflage. You can use elastic bands or loops attached to your kit to add cuttings of plants to enhance your suit, but be careful what you choose to add. As above, longer unsupported cuttings will sway more and enhance and movement you do make, and green plants will start to wilt and die as the day goes on. Dead grass is a great choice, as well as small leafy branches and stems. Try to avoid placing on your arms and top of the head though, as these parts of the body be doing more work and moving more. Tall plants waving around will get you noticed. Shoulder straps, rigs and webbing are a better choice as they won’t move as much but will camouflage your shoulders and large areas like the chest and back. Again, don’t obstruct your senses.
The biggest giveaway by far of both you and your opponent will be movement. It is possible to play as a sniper in basic camouflage uniform if you have the good discipline to stay still. Movement catches the eye, it’s a natural reaction for all living things. If you think you’ve been spotted, where the usual reaction is to try and shoot your way out of the situation, try just stopping and staying still. The enemy as often as not will only think they’ve seen something. More on movement though in the next section.
The thing most people think of as cover at an airsoft site is the hard, man made cover such as buildings, walls, tyre stacks, wooden pallets and other constructs.
I can cqb if I need to…
If you read any real steel guides on using cover, it’s important because it stops bullets. For most airsofters, the game is generally played by moving from cover to cover, shooting from cover, and taking cover. For the sniper, it’s quite the opposite, and exactly for those reasons.
For most sites, these buildings and constructs are treated like landmarks, because it makes giving game briefs easier because you can describe these places to the players (sometimes). Players will generally be looking to move from their base, to the enemy base. 90% of the rest of the site will be barely used, with players generally following set routes between these landmarks. It’s also the first place they look for their opponents, which makes hard cover a bad place to be or be behind for snipers; if you take a shot from a barricade, the first place your opponent will look to, is that barricade, because that’s where they’re used to it coming from.
Using this picture as an example, you have to expose yourself from a definite point (the left hand edge of that wall, which will now have a gun trained on it) in order to shoot again. Regardless of your reaction speed, your opponent has the advantage already for any firefight. If it were a simple wall, or in this case the back end of a van, your opponent knows you’re likely to be behind it and will at some point appear from either the left or the right edge of this hard cover, which gives him two definite points to train a weapon onto. The concealment you do have won’t hide you against a man made object, and you have limited options to escape and reposition yourself. Basically, you’re stuck.
Its a similar principle with buildings. You’re shooting from an obvious position, but with even less chance of escape if you’re inside a box. Worse still, the horrendously named “sniper towers”, where a sniper is expected to be given a lofty position overlooking the area so they can expertly pick off anyone approaching. If I want to remain hidden in a game, the last place I want to be is stuck up in the air in a box that everyone thinks is designed for snipers.
In both of these scenarios, yes we assume that your position is known because you’ve taken a shot and somebody has seen it. Even if you don’t take a shot, this type of cover is still a bad position because the opposing team is watching them for movement anyway. We want to be able to bring our concealment into play anyway, so should always be looking for natural cover. It may not protect you from incoming fire, or hide you completely, but players will rarely be looking at natural cover as their eyes switch from building to barricade (the usual spots). It’s also much harder for anyone who does see you to relay that position.
“Sniper! By the bottom of that tree! About 50 yards ahead! No, left of the green Bush, that has bits of brown in it. Down a bit. A little bit further back. Can you see? No not there”
Listening to players trying to locate a hidden sniper in very difficult to describe terrain, in terms that their team will understand, will probably buy you time in the confusion. This is where having good concealment really makes a difference. You then have the option to move, if its feasible to do do so safely, and try and break the contact so you can disappear into the undergrowth again, or if escape is not possible try to get a couple of extra shots of while they try and figure out where you are. A smoke grenade is a handy carry for these situations but can reveal your exact position sooner, or if they choose to spray randomly in your direction you may be able to get close to the floor and hope that the noise alerts your team if they’re nearby.
With any cover, be aware of which side it covers, and more importantly how much of it covers you.
Position is key…