Decoys and Distractions

A sleeve full of dirty tricks to help give an airsoft sniper the edge in game…

“All warfare is based on deception” – Sun Tzu

Most people know that phrase. Now, when I say dirty tricks, I’m not on about the ones you see on YouTube such as :

  • Camping the spawn
  • Turning hop off and/or lying about bb weight during chrono to cheat power limits
  • Adding hit markers randomly, even if the shot misses, to suggest there’s cheating going on
  • Not taking hits
  • Shooting well inside MED
  • There’s worse but I’m not typing it here

Being out to inflict pain or looking for a bit of drama/attention seeking is just being a dick, and I’m not condoning it here.

This blog is all about misleading the opposition to keep them guessing. Snipers have camouflage, and moving to gen 4 and shortly gen 5 systems keeps us very hidden from the other players. But we can’t just rely on the camouflage, sniping in airsoft is a game of skill and cunning. It has to be, because in a one on one situation, we lose out badly because we simply can’t put weight of fire down against a guy attached to a 3000 round mag with a semi auto switch. The sniper has to box clever, making it the most skilled role on the field. It used to be a shady, anonymous role to which few other players paid any attention, which gave snipers an edge as they managed to operate largely unnoticed. The secrets of the Sniper were just that. Unfortunately, in recent years the spotlight has been very firmly cast on snipers, and while some will rejoice at the rapid growth in sniper numbers leading to an increase in the amount of kit available to us, personally I do miss the days where we could loiter around the car park and nobody would pay any attention, slipping in and out of games without a word being said.

While many try to buy their way to success, few snipers I meet now are as agile with their thinking as they are with their movement. A lot of the guile is gone, and the tactics ditched in favour of hoping to simply outshoot the enemy. While technology has advanced hugely in airsoft, the sniper remains limited to their one-shot-at-a-time bolt action and their skills. Now more than ever, skills and tactics are needed to stay ahead of the rest of the field.

Letting them know you’re there

My day starts in ghillie trousers and just a tshirt, strolling around the car park and asking questions. Deception, no. But perhaps a little gamesmanship. With the trousers on, I want people seeing me as a sniper but not too often with the full kit on, so it doesn’t stick in the memory too clearly. My jacket is homemade and doesn’t stand out like some of the digital camo printed leaf suits on the site, and isn’t a recognisable pattern. To look at it another way, if I say right now to picture multicam in your head, 99% of people can. It’s something registered in your brain because you know exactly what it looks like out of familiarity.

I’ll butt into conversations to ask about things like LMG’s. Very nice, is it working OK? Is it something I need to worry about? Then shuffle off. It’s sometimes worth knowing who is on site and what their capabilities are, maybe identifying weak links or players that are likely to be distracted by misfeeds and dodgy tech work, but without going into too much detail.

“There’s a lot of snipers here today, Stip” my local site owner once said to me. “No, just a lot of players with bolt action rifles and ghillies” was my reply. She’s never forgotten that, and neither have I. The car park at my local site, usually bulging with 200+ players every week, is indeed starting to look like a snipers anonymous meeting. Plenty of the louder, more vibrantly ghillied snipers (brightly coloured and an easy spot with a mass of plastic aquarium plants or sneaky leaves) are happy to show off their rifle builds and boast about range while they eagerly wire up cameras. Yes, I do pay a lot of attention to the competition throughout the day – other snipers can be among the most difficult opponents to go up against.

As well as seeing them though, I also want them to see me. I want them to notice that I’m there, but not for too long so that they don’t get too familiar with what I look like out in the field. Obviously the regulars know who I am, which is good, but for the other players, it’s just to pop that thought into their heads that there’s a sniper out there without hanging around long enough for them to get a really good look.

I want them to know I’m around, of course, because in a game, a stray bb out of nowhere is usually credited to a sniper, and they’ll shout that out amongst themselves and panic. Perhaps panic is too strong a word, but players do completely change their tactics and act differently if they think they have a sniper nearby (even if you aren’t there, take the credit). If you can stay hidden in a position but let them know you’re there, it’s possible then for you to distract maybe 10-20 players from their objectives, without necessarily going for kills. Sometimes just shooting nearby surfaces with heavy ammo is enough to tie a squad up. The role of the sniper isn’t just to take enemy players out, but also to harass them and prevent or disrupt them from being able to play their game, and being able to do it without directly engaging is then less of a risk.

Using sound

Following on from the idea of shooting hard surfaces to let enemy players know they’re being targeted, you can use a few shots to grab their attention in other ways. Players who are switched on and paying attention to the game will be very alert to sound and movement, especially in quiet woodland areas. You can use this to your advantage by shooting objects nearby to create different sounds to draw their attention, whether that is away from you or to get them to jump or move into a position where you can get a clear shot on them. However, you’ll need to be very quiet yourself, including the rifle you’re shooting (guide here) so that they’re not picking up noise from your location too. Bear in mind as well that this time, hitting a hard surface will sound exactly like a bb hitting and that might just alert them to danger, so try softer vegetation nearby. Bear in mind however that you are choosing to let them know someone is nearby. In quiet woods, sound travels very well.

I have a friend, Aaron, who is a very competent CQB player. He has a habit of picking up empty grenade casings when he sees them. Once he’s stacked up by a doorway, he’ll throw an empty on in a room just to listen for any footsteps or noises as people for a split second think it’s live pyro coming through the door and react to it, so that he knows if there’s anyone in there. Not that snipers stack up on doors of course. It’s a similar technique though – just trying to get a reaction or to get players to change their focus.

Noise using the rifle is very easy and effective, avoid having throwable objects like pyro because the movement of throwing is likely to give you away.

Being where they don’t expect you

It’s a little difficult to predict exactly where the enemy players will be, but the sniper should always be working in those areas of the site that nobody else is in. In woodland areas, other players will tend to use paths or well-trodden routes because it’s easier to traverse. The sniper as a minimum should be avoiding these areas, ideally using their own network of routes around the site that help keep them hidden but allow for attacks on the path where the enemy are expected. At most sites I’ve been to, paths are like a train track – you can pretty much expect players coming along at some point. This allows for ambushes, but bear in mind if you set up like that it’s a gamble on waiting a long time in one position to get the shot in, versus stalking the field looking for opportunities.

The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few– Sun Tzu

If you’re a regular to one site, it’s often worth making notes about the site and if permitted, get out into the field when nobody is looking (lunchtime, during games being played elsewhere on site) and prepare some shooting positions using cutting tools to create openings, and modifying soft cover. It’s a balance between finding cover, but also creating a position that will give you opportunities for kills. At my local site, there is a particular ridge line with good shooting arcs that is almost always occupied during games by at least five snipers. It’s so well known as a shooting position now that AEG players under attack will just hose the entire ridge with full auto fire even if they can’t see the sniper, usually resulting in a few casualties among the bolt action firing line. I’ve learned to move to a nearby position where I can still hit targets, but am well out of the way while they cover the hillside in plastic in retaliation.

Obviously, there are always going to be times when you travel to somewhere new and don’t have the opportunity to “prep” the site. But you’ll still want to be as effective as possible. Paths and easy, flat terrain provide routes through the site for most players, so try to operate off piste, as it were; rough terrain, densely vegetated areas, even wading through water if needed to avoid finding yourself in someone else’s sights. Broken or flattened vegetation is usually a good indicator of how regularly an area is used, however you don’t want to go too far from the action on a wilderness walk.

Airsofters are generally quite lazy, so a long walk around the flanks will reap rewards. Sniping can feel like a slow start to get into position, as the game gets underway, but once in position the sniper can do a lot of damage. It is this level of patience that puts many people off to begin with, but is exactly why the role doesn’t suit everyone, especially those looking for an action-packed day.

Don’t go Han Solo

Firstly, shootouts in crowded places are a bad idea. Secondly, he’s quite a loud character. One of the best tools available to any airsoft sniper though, is a second airsoft sniper. A sniper buddy gives you double the firepower, double the impact on the game and also doubles your chances of survival if you can keep a few metres distance between you. I remember well, a superb play by two young snipers, Jack and his brother Matty, at my local site. The pair of them had taken up a position on a hill overlooking a the main “village” area where most of the play occurs.

Hidden on the embankment at the bottom of the picture, Jack and Matty were able to cause huge problems for the AEG players who were too busy trying to stack up on doorways.

It always seems to take a while before enemy players either realise who keeps hitting them, or do something about it. Unable to see where the shots were actually coming from, a team of five were eventually sent to explore the hillside and remove the sniper threat. I was observing from the opposite side of the village, also well hidden. With a few lengthy bursts of fire, eventually I saw Jack stand up, arms raised after being showered in BB’s. The squad were jumping in the air and cheering, as well as half the enemy team, yelling “we got him! we’ve taken out the sniper!”. As they put weapons down to sit on the hillside and enjoy their triumph, I watched a ghillie creep up on them with a mk23 and remove all five from play before they even realised there was a second sniper on the hill. Jack and Matty had a very good connection on the field and used each other either as bait or support, setting ambushes and always causing problems for their opponents, often without saying a word to each other. The enemy players would always think they’d removed the sniper threat, but it was only ever half the threat which caused a lot of confusion and kept them under pressure.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable” – Sun Tzu

Decoys

Decoys are the main reason I decided to write this article. Although it needed padding out a bit more than that. We’ve all seen cartoons where someone puts a helmet on a stick and lifts it up above a wall to attract fire. It’s a classic strategy and one I get asked about a lot. A decoy is “a person or thing used to mislead or lure someone into a trap“, but obviously we’re not going to sacrifice a person as bait. Much better to use an object instead, although you don’t want to get too close to it when in use. Clearly, a helmet or hat isn’t going to fool anyone into thinking it’s a sniper, because very few airsoft snipers wear helmets. The trick is, you want something that looks like a sniper, but is still obvious enough that people can actually see it to react to it. A good solution then is a spare leaf suit – easy to spot in an environment if you don’t do any work to it, but recognisable as a potential sniper anyway. It’s become synonymous with airsoft snipers during the recent explosion in publicity and exposure, which plays perfectly into this situation. A leaf suit can be packed up small into a waist bag or backpack, and then set up in an area either to draw enemy players closer, or to distract fire from the real sniper – you.

Decoys will take a short amount of time to set up and get right, so be mindful that while setting up you will be creating a lot of extra movement and not be alert to your surroundings. This makes it less suitable for players with a more dynamic approach to the game, or sites/games that simply don’t allow time to set up. The bigger problem with a decoy, however, is that at some point you’ll have to go back to collect it, either to re-use it or just to get it back. This does create a bit of a problem in that you’re forced to go back to a known location at some point, and you may even find another sniper then using that to bait you into their crosshairs.

It can be a useful tactic, but personally I don’t use decoys. Purely because in games, I prefer to be free flowing and able to adapt to what is going on. Not that I’m an “active sniper” where I go running around the site simply looking to shoot people, that’s best left to the video makers. But tactics to me that require taking my concentration off the surrounding area to set something up, be it a decoy or a tripwire, aren’t worth the risk of me missing something or being spotted while distracted. And being tied to going back to that spot to retrieve whatever equipment is a bit restrictive. It also becomes a gamble on whether or not it will work once set up; enemy players are not guaranteed to move into the area it is set up in, and then there’s always a chance it won’t work. Novelty weapons and equipment are rife on YouTube at the moment as video makers desperately clamour for waning attention, but in the stipsniper book, I believe a good sniper should be a fully self-contained unit, not relying on anything other than their rifle and skillset, able to adapt to any situation on the field, and not being tied down by kit left behind. Using sound works, using awareness of yourself and being aware of other players helps. But that’s all in the head, not left dangling on a tree. If you take anything, take a sniper buddy.

Be unpredictable, be mobile, think on your feet, and keep them guessing.

“In warfare, there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent will succeed and win” – Sun Tzu

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