Having a really consistent rifle is a good start on your path to becoming a good sniper. A ghillie that blends correctly into your area and disrupts your outline helps keep you hidden. But your wallet will only take you so far, and it’s the stuff you can’t buy that makes the real difference out in the field. And the most important thing to learn and get right is how you use the environment to keep you hidden, allowing hit and run tactics, giving you the opportunity to safely take enemy players out without having to take that long trip back to the safe zone.
If you don’t use the environment to help you, you’ll invariably end up wandering the same paths as all the other players and finding yourself in direct fire fights with assault rifles capable of dumping 200 shiny white balls into you before you’ve had a chance to load your second shot, leading many to a miserable experience in the sniper role and ensuring that second hand sales pages are always well stocked with barely used bolt actions.
Bolt action airsoft rifles are no longer the artillery pieces they once were on the field due to advances in technology on other platforms, and so we have to be much smarter with our tactics, playing hide and seek for the most part, striking in near silence with precise single shots, leaving enemy players wondering what just hit them and where from.
The ghillies we wear are undoubtedly a key tool in our ability to blend into the surroundings, though until true invisibility suits are invented, they are still useless if not used correctly. It is possible to play the role without a ghillie if you understand and manage your cover and movement correctly, but we might as well make use of every available advantage because our opponents do too.
Wouldn’t want to make things too easy for them…
THE GHILLIE ITSELF
There are many guides out there on how to build a suit for yourself, obviously there is one in the menu at the top of this page, and so you’ll need to do some research on that first to make sure you have something that works. Some important points to remember though :
- Every environment is different. There isn’t an “out of the box solution” that will fit, you’ll always need to adjust colours, densities and types of vegetation whether real or artificial. You get out of a ghillie suit what you put into it, and dollars don’t count.
- You will not fit everywhere simply by looking like a big pile of leaves, especially a particularly tall pile of leaves.
- Avoid a universal colour or micro pattern all over the suit, it’ll just give you a very distinguishable outline.
- Avoid strong colours – outdoors is subjected to sun, wind and rain constantly. Dull colours are better.
- Big, tall components (plants, branches, those artificial fern leaves) will swing and bounce around a lot even from your smallest movements if they’re too far off your suit base, and that will catch attention.
- Don’t obstruct your hearing or vision, those senses will save you a lot more than the extra camouflage will.
- Don’t obstruct the aim down your rifle, or any moving parts.
- Do consider that you need to be able to move efficiently and effectively in it. The Airsoft sniper is a much more mobile unit than the real steel equivalent.
However, simply putting a ghillie suit on will not instantly make you invisible, and this is a very important point. Many players, not just snipers, will enter the field in a leaf suit and immediately believe they’re able to hide much better, but there is a huge difference between a player in a ghillie suit with a bolt action, and an actual sniper. An actual sniper could go and play in a pair of jeans and a tshirt and still remain hidden because they know how to use the terrain to help them. A ghillie obviously helps, but it doesn’t work on its own, and this is why it is important to not go too heavy on the camouflage – if you can’t see clearly, hear clearly, or move without making a lot of noise as your overly-embellished suit catches on every branch and drags half of the forest with you, then you’re going to struggle to avoid detection.
Right, we’ve all seen the one where snipers have to get flat on their front and crawl for hours to get across a field. Yes, it’s a useful skill at times but unlike our real world sniper counterparts, we simply don’t have the time to spend that long crawling into position. What we need to do with our game time is break it down into sections where we are near the action (active) and far away from the action (inactive). Assuming the standard “action” during an airsoft game is a skirmish style firefight where players are busy slinging plastic at each other and making a lot of noise.
Inactive periods are perhaps where we’re just starting the game and moving into position, or attempting to flank the long way round, such that we’re far enough away to not be seen or heard anyway. It therefore makes little sense to be attempting a sniper low crawl for three hours to make our flanking manoeuvre, when we could quickly (but carefully) walk into a much closer position, before switching to an active period of play where we need to be much more switched on and aware of who is around us. A big part of the sniper game is being able to appear in unexpected places, and so a long trip around the flank to hit the enemy from behind is worth the effort to give the element of surprise.
Walking quickly gives us time to do this and compensates for the much slower movement we’ll be doing afterwards, but we still need to be careful. Especially in woodland areas, it’s amazing how sound travels in an otherwise quiet environment, and even though you may be a few hundred metres away from the action, tripping over a branch or standing on one could alert someone to a potential threat in that area. For that reason too, when constructing any kind of ghillie, it’s important to keep your own hearing clear because that’s usually the first sign you’ll get of anyone nearby, especially given that most players can’t keep quiet for long.
Switching to active periods of play, where you find yourself near to the action or are moving into a good shooting position, you’ll need to change your movement completely. If you can see or hear enemy, that’s usually close enough. In active periods, one wrong move will get you spotted regardless of how many leaves you’ve glued to your suit, because movement catches the eye making the quality of your ghillie irrelevant. Conversely, a player in basic Bdu’s or even a pair of jeans can remain undetected if they can use cover well enough to hide themselves and their movements.
Obviously, low and slow here is key. Observe the area fully before choosing to move, and be aware of :
- Player movements
- Vegetation movements
- Any sounds from any direction that may indicate nearby enemy or friendly forces (remember friendlies will still shoot you if they can’t identify you, or will look/shout at you alerting others to your location)
- Smoke drifting from nearby pyro
- Startled wildlife
If you’re all good, start moving but do so carefully and continue to monitor the above points, but watch your footing for hazards, or anything that might make noise when you step on it. A good technique is to place the foot down on the outside first, then roll your foot inwards until it is flat on the floor.
This allows you to tread using a much smaller contact point first, although it does require more concentration than just casually strutting about the forest. As you move, look for natural cover that can help hide your movements or approach to the target, such as trees, bushes or depressions in the ground. Even if it’s only partial cover. Why natural cover and not artificial? Because we know how airsofters play…
When you’re at an airsoft site and are taking fire, the first place any airsofter checks are the “obvious spots” such as doorways, windows, and behind barricades or other hard cover, and particularly at what they perceive as eye level. Why? Because 90% of the time, that’s where players are, and eye level is the expected height of a human being to be at. They’ll naturally play from any available hard cover because it makes most defensive sense to hide behind something solid, to reduce the chances of getting hit. Additionally, these are the best places to shoot from (windows etc) because they help cover part of the body while attacking. It isn’t a fault of the typical airsoft player, it just makes sense.
However, when your game is all stealth, you don’t want to be easily found in obvious places. Snipers should be looking at soft cover instead.
Although it doesn’t provide the sniper with hard cover to protect from hits, we’re going to try and use it to avoid even being shot at in the first place. Soft cover can be anything that at least partially hides you; branches, long grass, depressions in the ground, bushes etc. Something that isn’t a solid piece of cover to protect you from incoming fire, but coupled with your camouflage will hide you enough from unattentive enemy players, and still allow you to see “through” (gaps in branches or vegetation). This gives us a perfect position to work out attacks whilst still remaining hidden and defended. It is still important though to move slowly and be careful not to disturb branches or create noise that would give you away in ordinary circumstances anyway. Soft cover is light cover, not a riot shield. It isn’t a perfect defensive tool, but it has other advantages. Always try and keep something between you and the enemy position and avoid open areas, because at that point your movement in the open renders your ghillie completely useless, no matter how slow you move.
You can shoot through it, if your rifle allows. This is one of the drawbacks of short rifle builds, but with a properly balanced bolt action, you can push the barrel forward just enough to protrude from the other side and this allows for a clean shot, whilst still having something to help camouflage you, the shooter, and movement from reloads.
One mistake I see all too often on the field though are players who misjudge the height of soft cover. Its easier to walk than crouch, easier to crouch than crawl, but if you’re up above the height of the available cover it’s an easy spot for the enemy.
IF you do have to use any cover, try to avoid peeking over the top of things, instead try to peek around the sides, which will be less expected and usually lower down, although still the hard cover needs to be a last resort.
Weather can be used to your advantage, or be something you need to be aware of and make adjustments to your game.
Sunlight, especially low sun in winter, casts long shadows which can’t be hidden by any amount of ghillie skills. Slight movements can create a lot of movement via shadows that opposing players will pick up on. Be aware of where the sun is and try and keep the enemy in between you and the sun, and avoid where possible stepping out into sunlit areas that will highlight you. Move in the shadows. It does then mean shooting into the sun, so a shade on your scope is essential firstly so that you can see, and secondly so that you don’t give off any reflection from the glass. This is also a reason for wearing either a cap or boonie; to shade your eyes so that you can see what’s going on around you.
Hats and boonies are also essential in the rain, to stop water dripping down into your eyes. Any movement to wipe that water off should be considered unnecessary movement. It’s also an issue with rifles, especially on slings. The scope lense needs to be kept dry. Slings invariably leave the scope facing up or down, although down is preferable if you have a choice because the rear glass is easier to wipe when you need to. Rain also has an effect on how other players navigate the site, often the AEG operators will huddle together under shelter, and avoid mud and standing water such as puddles or lakes (depending on the severity of the rain). They will also be more likely to stick to paths to avoid getting wet in the undergrowth, this limits their movements making it easier to track and predict their locations.
Rain makes stalking a bit easier too, as the wet vegetation makes less noise and if it’s raining enough, the sound of rain coupled with the discomfort of other players in getting wet helps cover any noise made by the sniper. Use layers underneath (related blog here) to stay dry and comfortable but do not be afraid of getting wet – snipers have to cope with anything, it’s not about being comfortable, it’s about being effective.
Wind is a problem for long range shooting, and although we can try and “bend” shots into the wind, the simple fact is that we just have to get closer on windy days. As with rain, wind noise can help cover our movements and is more forgiving when disturbing vegetation, such as grabbing branches.
Every environment is different, and every environment will throw up different opportunities and challenges, but hopefully this will serve as a base to work from and develop your own understanding of how you interact with your local terrain.
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