How you move around the site, and how you position yourself, will ultimately dictate whether you are spotted or not, and also whether you’re able to cause the enemy problems and losses.
Sometimes, either from arriving early, extended lunch breaks or technical failures ruling you out of a game, there is opportunity to walk around the site and have a better look at it than you normally would during games. Take your unloaded rifle with you to see if you can get a good position, but be careful about who may be watching. You can throw other players off by picking ineffective shooting positions and making a deliberate show by sitting there and aiming your rifle – this will be where they expect you to be later. What the other players then perceive is an expert sniper, busy lining up his shots and working the game out in advance, and you can control what they see and what they don’t. If time allows, away from prying eyes, you might find it useful to take a cutting tool and “modify” a couple of positions, by trimming branches or cutting gaps in bushes that are just enough to get a rifle through, without damaging the site. This can open up access to positions that weren’t there before and that nobody will expect you to be in. Don’t tell your teammates about these – you’d be surprised how quickly word gets around an airsoft site.
Here’s a pic of a site local to me from Google maps.
Let’s assume we have a nice simple skirmish game here. Two teams will start at spawn points A and B, and the objective is to control the area around X. You, the sniper, are assigned to the team starting at A.
First observation from the aerial shot (Google maps is a great tool) is that we have a lot of open ground straight through the middle of the map. Generally speaking, airsoft players without military training do tend to be quite lazy and casual in their approach, and will take the fastest and easiest route to the objective. In this game, its effectively a race to the middle to reach the objective first, so there’s more emphasis on getting there quickly, so we can probably assume both teams will race up the middle, with a few players moving into the immediate treeline either side to give themselves some cover.
I tend to split my movement into two phases, active and inactive;
- Inactive time – Away from the action, movement less restricted. Although still maintaining alertness, it’s opportunity to relocate large distances, at speed if need be, assess my situation and the course of the battle, reload mags and take on food/water. Do make sure you’re somewhere safe and hidden from sight though, in case you’re being observed.
- Active time – Closer to the action or in it (few hundred metres, or any area that looks or sounds risky) and basically time to get ready for an engagement. Slow movement, rifle loaded ready, constantly scanning and listening for threats or opportunities.
To start our imaginary game then, I’d be looking to push either left or right make a large loop round towards the middle of the field through the trees, so as to be out of sight and out of mind until after the first contact, so the players are busy trading fire to the front and less aware of their flanks. Being away from the action, I’d run while I’m in inactive time to make up ground and get to where I need to be. The enemy team focus at the start of the game will be to their front as they advance, because they expect the other team to be heading straight to the objective too (and obvious man made cover in the area).
Although it suits our rifles to be able to shoot across open ground, it would be easier to see the shot and where it came from, so staying in the trees helps the stealth aspect better. It gives us much more natural cover, more shadows to hide in and more opportunity to bound between cover to keep out of sight. If you’re in the treeline, try not to be at the front of it near open ground, try and drop a few metres back into the vegetation so you’re not as easily visible. Coming into active time, nearer the enemy, it’s time to start moving more carefully from cover to cover, slowly and in small distances. These are some of the key things to be thinking about while you’re doing it;
- Noise discipline – more on this below
- Stay low. Movement at head height is more noticeable.
- Look first with your eyes, not your gun and not your head. If you need to move your head, turn it slowly.
- Be aware of your silhouette. Don’t walk across the top of hills and ridges, stay lower down where your concealment cant better hide your shape.
- Move as smoothly as you can, and watch your footing. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast, as US special forces put it.
- Try and keep cover between you and the enemy at all times
- Avoid moving through sunlit areas which may highlight you, or open spaces. Stick to the shadows. If you have to move across open areas, check you’re not being watched and make it quick.
- Be careful not to move vegetation. Think of that scene in Jurassic Park where you see the T-Rex coming because all the trees are shaking when it walks through.
- Be aware of who is around you, from both teams. Remember both sets of players will expose you.
- Rarely will you need to use a sniper low crawl for traversing notable distances, which is effectively pulling yourself across an area on your face. It’s incredibly time consuming, but has its place for making small adjustments when a higher profile might give you away.
This is why we run as light and as simple as possible, and why snipers actually do a lot more physical work than other players. It’s also why we need to make sure our vision is unobstructed and our hearing is as clear as possible. Always be assessing not only the enemy team, as most players do, but also assessing your environment and how best to move through it to avoid detection. How snipers get a reputation for just sitting lazily in a fixed position taking shots is beyond me.
Now that we’ve worked ourselves into a position where we’re within striking distance of the enemy team, without being spotted, it’s time to find a firing position. In a lot of sniper books, they’ll refer to a “final firing position (ffp)”. This I think implies quite a static position, where you would take a few shots and then retreat. I prefer to think along the lines of “first firing position (ffp)” because after the first shot or two, I want to move to the next position rather than retreat. Which is usually…
The Prone Position
Prone is life. Everything I have on my kit is set up for lying down. Because I’ll need it most when I’m in that firing position on the target, and obviously you want to present yourself as the smallest target possible in return. Now, this isn’t to say I spend all my time just lying down,
I have load bearing set up around the chest area if possible, because it’s easy to reach with minimal movement. Movement will get you killed. I run a VSR not just for the performance, but mainly for the fact that it has no protruding magazines or pistol grip, which allows me to get flatter to the floor or flatter onto other object, such as branches or rocks. It’s a long barreled rifle, which most people dismiss because they get confused with CQB arenas that benefit from short weapons, for building and vehicle work. The advantage of the longer barrel for a sniper is that I can hide behind cover, such as a small bush, and have enough barrel to reach through to the other side (the front) so that I’m not shooting through branches and leaves. If a bb hits a leaf, it’ll be thrown off course no matter how heavy a weight you use. This also prevents you having to push yourself forward into vegetation as much to get a clear shot; this will cause excessive movement of the vegetation you’re in. Might as well be waving to your target. I have more on the rifle choice in a #vsrforever article here. I mentioned in the kitting up section that I don’t use a bipod; if there isn’t anything to rest the rifle on, either use your fist or forearm. There used to be a trick where you’d carry a bean bag to rest on, but it’s another thing to carry/put down/pick up, which might distract you for a crucial second.
It means you can utilise much smaller cover from the front too, such as a clump of grass or small bush, or even just a depression in the ground. This means you’re not using the cover that is most obvious to the target – always be looking for unexpected positions. This is where carrying a cutting tool of some description will allow you to cut holes in vegetation if you need to to still shoot through. Whatever you cut off can be used on yourself or your kit, although for temporary shooting position it doesn’t need to be fixed, and it will match your immediate area perfectly. If you do need to shoot from the side of cover rather than through it. try to go to the opposite side to your shooting hand if you can, because your shooting hand will be the one moving most due to reloading and shooting, so it’s useful to mask this action when you can.
High ground is often associated with snipers, and it does give an elevated position for shooting, but be careful to avoid the tops of hills, buildings, rocks, walls, tyres, vehicles or anywhere your silhouette is on top of something. It highlights you really badly. As a general airsoft tip, never shoot from over the top of something – always shoot to the side.
Avoid “sniper towers” and going up trees – never put yourself in a position you can’t get back out of. Always have an escape route. Being in a tower doesn’t suddenly give your rifle any more power, you will still get a straight shot to a certain distance and then it will drop off. In fact, you’re reducing your effective range.
Aside from the fact that the tower should be closed for health and safety reasons, if your distance to target is 4, and you elevate yourself at a height of 3, the distance to target becomes 5. So you’re increasing the straight line distance, and relying on it falling further in order to hit the target. Numbers aren’t exact, it’s just for illustrative purposes.
When it comes to avoiding detection, movement is your worst enemy. Although it would be great if we could just sit still all day, there will be times when you need to move and burn some calories. Even in a good position, you need to be constantly checking for enemies or looking for new targets; it’s no time to fall asleep. As much as possible, try to move the littlest things first and the biggest things as a last resort.
Absolutely amazing at drawing stuff…
Start from the top of the pyramid. Hopefully your eyes aren’t obstructed by excessive amounts of camouflage. At full stretch, the human eyes can see an arc of 200 degrees from left to right, so that’s roughly everything to the front without causing any movement at all, although depending on your eye protection that might be a little narrower owing to the frames. Your eyes are also the quickest thing to move, much faster than trying to look with the rifle, so if the enemy is ahead you shouldn’t need to move at all. If we need to scan a little further, it’ll require moving the head. The slower the better – don’t make any sudden movements. The next biggest element to move is the rifle and will likely only be once we see a target. The last thing of course we want to move is the entire body, because it involves moving everything and everything that’s on us (camouflage, weapons, load bearing etc) and obviously creates the biggest movement. This doesn’t just refer to relocating to somewhere else on the site, simply repositioning yourself in the same location involves moving the full body. When you get into a firing position, if you hav to pick between a stealthy but uncomfortable position versus a less stealthy but more comfortable one, being uncomfortable will lead to you having to move around a lot more to alleviate it. Always get comfortable if you can. The Hathcock shooting position (named after the legendary American sniper) is a great example of setting the rifle up comfortably for being in a position for an extended period of time;
Noise discipline is as important as the movement. Although there are times when the sounds of battle will mask your movements, there are other times when there’s seemingly nobody around. However, you never know who might be hiding where, especially enemy snipers, and often you will hear people coming before you see them – this works both ways.
Above, I’ve talked about active and inactive times, and when inactive you can afford to move around a bit faster and take time to sort yourself and your kit out, and the noise discipline might seem at odds with that but you should always practice being quiet. On turn, although you have inactive moments to do what you need to do, it’s still done quietly. In sniper vs sniper games, such as Sniperworks, the first indication you get of an enemy nearby is noise. Could be a twig snapping, kit noise, or talking, but in a wooded area where sight lines can be limited, sound still travels, certainly within shooting range. Doing sniper only events is great practice for noise discipline because without all the usual skirmish noise, you quickly understand how important all of your senses are and how much noise you make yourself in an empty forest.
Going back to the kit section, this is why I cut ear holes in my headwear and if I have a radio, it’s an earpiece in one ear only and just loud enough to hear, if I have to have one. If I have a sniper buddy with me, it’s hand signals and instinct as much as possible, with very little conversation. Anything that rattles is taped down with the Scapa tape.
Watching your footing obviously plays a big part. Avoiding twigs, crisp packets and dry ground is a good start. If the ground is wet, try to place your foot onto grass rather than mud or puddles. There is a technique for walking quietly, often found on martial arts and outdoors channels on YouTube, under various names. It involves keeping your knees bent as much as possible, being lower to the ground helps with balance and the foot doesn’t fall as far. Going one step fully at a time, step forward and land on either the outside of the foot, or the toe, so the initial impact is with a smaller area and not as heavy as a heel strike, then roll the rest of your stepping foot flat down. Then move your next foot. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of. Practice it by creeping around your house and surprising people…
As well as looking down, while keeping your head up for enemies, make sure you look up while you’re keeping your head down. Brushing against low hanging branches, or trying to fit through gaps in vegetation that you’re too big for, creates a LOT of noise and as a bonus, a lot of movement too for people to pick up on. Be aware of your size and shape when picking routes through the site.
It may seem slow and tedious being stealthy, but it’s a major part of the sniper game and the alternative will be a long walk back to the safe zone, to slowly move all the way back again. With a bit of practice, you’ll find it very easy to silently glide around the site undetected and get into a good location to engage the enemy. Finger on the trigger time…