How to : Counter Sniper

Sparked by a question, put to a sniper, on a recent podcast. “How do we take you out?” (risky question to answer). If I was in that seat, I don’t think I’d be giving any secrets away. Certainly nothing useful. However, it is a situation that crops up quite often at skirmish – getting rid of an enemy sniper that is causing your team problems. Invariably, teams assume that the best defence against an enemy sniper, is one of your own snipers – and it is, because that DMR user is going to be a lot more trigger happy in comparison and a lot less careful. But how do you go about removing the threat?

Playing as a counter sniper is one of the more challenging tasks you can be assigned. If the enemy sniper is causing your team problems, then they’re clearly a good sniper. So you need to be even better to beat them. The flip side is that you’ll have to give up on your dreams of annihalting enemy grunts to go and be the hero. Removing a good enemy sniper is a huge psychological and tactical boost to your team – they can deal with most threats themselves but a good sniper is a nightmare for any opposition. It doesn’t depend on how expensive your rifle upgrades are, or how good your ghillie looks on Instagram. It comes down to being able to outthink your opponent, and good preparation.

And good preparation begins right at the start of the day, in the safe zone. It’s always worth arriving early to investigate the opposition; mainly snipers, the rest should be easy to spot in the field. Take (mental) notes of anyone who has a sniper rifle. Those left uncamouflaged will be an easy spot in the field. Ask them about their rifles too – how long have they had it? Is it working correctly? Any issues with upgrades? All this information, while it may come across as friendly conversation, will give you an idea of who you’re up against, how experienced they are, whether they may be prone to weapon failures etc. Check out their camouflage if they have it out or on (but try and resist wearing yours so that people don’t get a great idea of what to look for). Look for things like sneaky leaves or other recognisable features. Handmade suits take time and patience, and are a good indicator that the player knows their environment (unless they look really unsuitable for the terrain) and that patience can translate to a slower, more careful approach in their gameplay. “Off-the-shelf” type suits, unmodified, such as the Novritsch or KMCS suits, and any video cameras, might suggest the player is inexperienced and has come to film kills for their YouTube channel, meaning a more aggressive or rushed approach as they focus more on good footage. Now, you might think I’m wrong in making sweeping generalisations here and that people shouldn’t be stereotyped by their loadout choices, but they do say a lot about a player and obviously you’ll keep any opinions all to yourself anyway, so who cares?.

If it’s your local site, you’ll probably know the regulars and how they play anyway. Look for any new players to the site though, and try and learn something about them before game briefing. During briefing, once teams are chosen, make a mental note of snipers on both sides; you might still have to identify friend from foe later.

If you’re asked up as a counter sniper from the start of the game, obviously it then makes sense to try and see where the enemy snipers go to set up. If you know the site well, you can probably guess where the obvious firing positions are, and you may even know the players well enough to know who favours which route or which tactic. Already, before you’ve even set foot outside the safezone, you have amassed a lot of useful information for use later. This level of detail is what seperates the good snipers from the basic ones. I’m not going to say bad snipers, because some can make up that shortcoming with pure ability out in the field and can still pose a threat.

Radio communication (see Comms article here) is going to be vital in pinpointing the threat. As an individual, you can’t hope to monitor the entire field for enemy snipers no matter how good you are, unless you play at a really small site. Additionally, being a little selfish, I wouldn’t be risking myself as bait to lure one out unless I knew where they were likely to come from. The reason being that as a sniper, I’m going to find it much harder to move around undetected and being shot out first is going to a) give the enemy team a boost and b) result in walking back to respawn to make a second trip back to my position without being seen, and I’ll likely then have to consider a new route and hiding position in case the first is compromised. Which could take ages.

With Radio

With any luck, you’ll get word that there’s an enemy sniper operating in “area X”. Players generally tend to know when they’ve been hit by stealthy, single, heavy shots. Easy,as long as they’re quick to get that information to you. Move towards that area but don’t try to get too close – you need to be far enough back to stay out of sight for the time being.

Without Radio

Get a radio (comms link again for a cheap and highly effective solution). Otherwise you’re reliant on hearing nearby players talking about potential threats, or trying to locate the enemy sniper yourself. If you know the site well enough, you’ll no doubt know where snipers operate (including yourself – if it’s an area you use, it’ll be an area other snipers will have figured out too.

If you do have to go looking, scan the area fully before even attempting to move. Look for any of the stuff you identified in the safe zone (bad suits, bright or odd camouflage elements, black rifle barrels etc. It’s suprising how many snipers don’t camouflage the barrel, when it’s the usually first thing seen). This is why you did the prep work earlier. When it’s clear, then move forward but only in short bursts (that doesn’t mean run btw), and get back into cover before scanning again. Ahead of your eyes, your ears are normally the first to pick something up. It’s worth cutting holes in your balaclava or whatever headpiece you’re wearing to allow sound to come through. Eyes see what 45 degrees either side of what you’re looking at, ears give you a 360 degrees heads up on everything around you. Remember that, that’s why I’ve put it in italics.

I don’t use italics lightly.

With or without radio, the key to beating another sniper is patience. It’s a mental battle. And good concealment skills; not just your camouflage, but your ability to choose good positions and make use of available cover. Lets set up a confrontation. Yep, it’s time for me to open up Microsoft Paint again.

Right, if the text is a little small, buy a radio and then a bigger screen. If not, we’re looking here at an enemy sniper where the red X is, and you at the blue X. In an ideal confrontation, you’d be putting yourself somewhere between your team, and the enemy sniper who is hunting them. Assess the area. As above, don’t move unless it’s safe to do so. Like Carlos Hathock vs The Cobra, this is effectively a game of who blinks first. Or makes the first mistake. Don’t know the Carlos story? Google it, it’s a good read. The sniper we’re guessing is somewhere in the area of the red X, and is probably watching over their field of view. It might be an open area, it might be light woodland with good views. Either way, you do not want to be in it. Assume that field of view is at least 100m from the enemy sniper, which is their max reach with a rifle, and stay safe. Because you may not know the exact location, add another 100m. Keep yourself alive.

Let’s go back to our safezone stereotyping of snipers. An enthusiastic sniper who is on a bit of a killstreak is going to play more aggressively to get more kills. If they’re doing some damage to your team, expect them to move frequently and keep pushing up. What you want to do here is set up an ambush and wait. Yes, it’ll be slow and boring. Not many players can sit still for too long and this is the contest – who will get bored or frustrated and move first? If the enemy sniper is unaware they’re being hunted, they will probably make that mistake first.

What you need to be doing is staying still for as long as possible, constantly scanning the area for any movement or anything that stands out. Obviously you want to have a good position in cover, that offeres a decent view towards where you believe the enemy sniper is. Get comfortable, ideally prone, to be harder to spot and present a smaller target if spotted. Use your eyes to scan, and bring up the rifle scope if you want to take a closer look at something (this is where that zoom function on scopes can be useful). If you’re constantly looking down a scope, you’ll miss 80% of whats happening in your field of view as you focus on one specific area. Don’t close one eye to focus down the scope.

Try lying down but bring your left arm across in front of you, weight on your left elbow, and rest the rifle on your forearm, which will elevate it slightly so that you’re not having to lift it up to look at things, just left and right. Move the rifle slowly so that it doesn’t attract attention. I’ve seen some snipers dug in like this use a camouflaged netting stretched over their head and the rifle as a hide – this will restrict your view out and being alert and aware of what is going on around you is worth more than an extra bit of camouflage.

Remember there’s still a game going on around you, which could be tens of players nearby on both sides who may well light you up. Avoid being close to friendly players if you can – the noise and movement they make will draw enemy eyes to your immediate area. “Safety in numbers” doesn’t work for a sniper. Refer to the tactics guide for positioning and concealment; I’ll avoid making this article too long when it’s covered elsewhere.

Spotting an enemy sniper is going to be tough. Even bad camouflage does something to add concealment. So what do you need to be looking out for while you’re scanning for your opponent? Here’s a quick guide :

  • Scope glare from the sun – This isn’t Call of Duty and depending on where you play, there’s very little sunlight hitting off the front of the lens, which also isn’t mirrored. Most good snipers will cover their scope, many may add a killflash to protect the lens if they value their scope. What you can look for is the unnatural black circle of a scope if it isn’t covered, or is covered badly.
  • Black barrels – I don’t know why, but there are still lots of snipers who don’t fully camouflage their guns. Straight, black barrels or even just straight barrels sticking out are a giveaway.
  • Sneaky leaves/other bright and unnatural bits of camouflage

There are still so many camouflage elements used on ghillie suits that are too strong in colour, from dyed dark brown leaf suits, to vibrant plastic jungle plants, to badly coloured spray paints. And they do stand out; if something looks odd, investigate it.

  • Branches/plants moving too much – usually indicates someone is in there. Or there are large animals on site. Either way, get your scope fixed on that spot and have a closer look.
  • Footprints, areas of ground that look flattened – This is something people pull out of real steel sniper books, trying to make themselves sound like some kind of elite tracker. This isn’t the wild, airsoft sites are too full of activity, having had a lot of people moving through the area all day long. It isn’t a reliable indicator of recent activity (recent enough to be your target) and a few seconds spent looking down at a footprint is a few seconds you don’t have your head up scanning your surroundings for your actual target. Similarly, a patch of flattened ground isn’t a current threat to your teammates, don’t waste time on it.
  • Enemy players talking to someone you can’t see – teammates are always a danger to snipers. They can’t help but look, talk and give you away.
  • Movement – pretty obvious, but plants don’t just get up and move themselves. Additionally, watch for local wildlife (birds etc) suddenly getting out of the way. They’re a lot better at this stuff than you, so if they’ve been alerted, take notice.
  • Noise – as before, your ears will pick things up sooner than your eyes. Twigs snapping, rustling, voices, radios, potentially shots. This is why keeping your own kit quiet is vitally important, so that you can hear around you but you aren’t as audible to the enemy.

Target located?

Excellent. That’s the hard part done. Now, you need to dispatch your enemy. If they’re out of range and not moving, you’ll have to sit tight a bit longer and wait for them to make the first move. If they’re in range, or moving to within range, then it’s shot decision time. Make sure you can get a good shot in – don’t try and take a risky long range one, or one when they’re moving quickly. You need to make sure this hits, because if it doesn’t and the enemy sniper hears you, your job just got more difficult. A good, solid body shot at 50m is worth much more than a 90m headshot on a moving target.

Being a sniper isn’t about being spectacular, it’s about being efficient.

(not like anyone is going to see it anyway, if you’re doing your job properly)

It’s a reasonable assumption that a moving enemy sniper hasn’t spotted you and has no idea you’re nearby, otherwise they wouldn’t be moving. Let them get comfortably into range before taking them out. If you manage to spot them but they’re moving away from you, then you’re going to have to chase them down. That doesn’t mean sprinting towards them to smack them around the head with your rifle, you need to get into a position to engage them. Look for any cover inbetween you and the target; if there’s only low cover available, get low (and remember you’re a little higher than your eye height). Bear in mind too that if the cover is natural vegetation, that stuff will interact with you if you touch it, either by making noise or amplifying your movements. Imagine a tall bush, if you move the branch slightly at the base of the bush, it creates a much bigger movement at the top of the bush, and movement catches the eye. Move when they move, and try to watch their head movements – if it looks like they’re looking in your direction, freeze. Again, be aware of other players in the area too. Never put yourself at risk of being hit out for the sake of a kill; you’re far more use staying out there in the field and letting the enemy worry about it, even if you fail to take the enemy sniper out, you’re able to provide the same threat to their team.

Counter sniping isn’t an easy task, sometimes it feels like one of the least rewarding too. I’ve said at Sniperworks events that it’s the ultimate challenge, going up against other snipers. Trying to find someone you can’t see, who could be watching your every move, with one shot in your barrel. Your senses are the best tools you have available, just try to stay one step ahead and let them make the first move.

Good luck.

Oh, and that podcast was actually quite good. It’s called November Foxtrot and is live on Friday at 8pm GMT on their FB page (link provided here), though it is available to watch afterwards.

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