The typical image of an airsoft sniper is a walking bush, at one with the forest, moving quietly through the trees as they stalk targets, caked in mud and taking half the vegetation along with them.
What is rarely discussed though is the sniper in an urban environment instead. Not the type of games you see online, with a sniper in a sea of wooden pallet walls, putting as many shots down as possible in the hope of landing a 0.48 into the side of someone’s head as they emerge from spawn. No shopping malls either, total indoor environments aren’t somewhere I’d be taking a sniper rifle, a bag of pyro would be more use. I mean actual urban environments. Most commonly here in the UK, such airsoft events are hosted at army training facilities. Across Europe, I’ve seen disused holiday villages, WW2 ruins and abandoned theme parks. Does it change the way snipers operate in what is a vastly different terrain?
At a recent event, the team rocked up to an abandoned cold war military base to do some training. It’s not a common environment at all, even for CQB peasants it remains a rare treat to have access to places like this. The site is big, we got lost wandering around doing a recce, and while wandering it presented some fascinating challenges that led to a lot of interesting ideas about snipers in urban areas, which we’re still developing absolute answers for.
In the past, I’ve always advised snipers to avoid buildings, but that’s from experience at “airsoft buildings” – small handmade things like converted shipping containers, small wooden huts, old vehicles etc. It simply doesn’t give you an escape route half the time, and they’re very obvious shooting positions. Navigating around a small town though is quite different, and does actually give us a few advantages. Depending on the layout, these buildings block sightlines and sound more than trees do. It does still require as much care moving through as woodland though, twigs replaced by broken glass, metal wires and other debris underfoot. The buildings inside provide a good opportunity for a quick break, or to reload out of sight, obviously provided the building is empty. It allows for much faster movement around the site as well without being spotted, which gives the sniper an opportunity to relocate very quickly to different areas and provides welcome solid cover. The flip side is that you can only have one exit point from behind that building…
If someone is paying attention, even peeking that corner will get you spotted. Avoid appearing suddenly from behind corners. You could venture into the building if windows allow to check for enemy players, otherwise drop back from the corner and move in a large arc, trying to keep some distance but being ready on the trigger in case you need it. Inbetween walls and buildings is the most dangerous part of navigating the site.
Movement in buildings is a risky move, as footsteps travel (especially with creaky floorboards) and if the building is occupied then every move will be heard by the occupants, and doorways will usually be guarded. If you’re working as a sniper pair, avoid talking in the hope that they might think, for a moment, you’re friendly forces coming in. It goes without saying though that a bolt action and pistol combo here will be no match for several automatic weapons. Check site rules in advance by the way to see if bolt actions are allowed inside buildings. Straight away there will be some readers thinking “well I’ll just run an automatic secondary weapon”, but remember that weapon needs carried and will be a hindrance when sniping properly, regardless of how expensive your sling setup may be. The pistol is without doubt the best CQB weapon going, although it still won’t do you much good when facing a team occupying a building purely in terms of ammo capacity. Extra pistol mags are helpful, as is taking the time to reload often. Any players in a building with a brain will have weapons trained on doorways and are much more alert to noise than in the woods. If you do decide to go with just a full auto weapon to match the opponent, then you might as well just drop the ghillie too and run around as an AEG player.
The role of the sniper isn’t too dissimilar to woodland – we want to deny the enemy use of the big open areas in between buildings, and force them inside where our AEG teammates can engage. Indeed, I recall an England vs Scotland game where one Scottish sniper with a thermal scope at night effectively locked us out of the woodland area that ran down one side of the site, forcing the England team through the narrow, well defended streets and it made life extremely difficult; a single enemy player, well placed albeit with a huge advantage with that scope, denied 60 players his patch of the site. Denial of area is a key role for urban snipers, but there’s still a requirement to stay hidden in order to do that.
Urban Sniper Camouflage
I would never advise to go with that black/white/grey urban camo from the supermarket, and there’s a good argument for wearing bin bags with rubbish/trash glued on. But on the whole, dull colours and low reflectance (greys and browns) will do a good job in urban areas. If the sniper is still playing the areas in between the buildings, then standard ghillies apply. Staying hidden though is as much movement as it is ghillie and camouflage. Movement and silhouette are more noticeable against flat man-made surfaces and walls, even moving slowly. be more aware of shadows and the sun and how that might cast onto surfaces behind you. If you are in buildings, stay away from windows. Don’t be tempted to peek out to look around. But that brings me to another popular idea…
Snipers as Recon teams
Ah, the classic idea of sticking a sniper team at a window on an upper floor to observe and report enemy movements to the team. High vantage points are a common misconception anyway for snipers – you’re expected to be “up there”, wherever that may be at your site. And going back to camouflage basics, you should never silhouette yourself on the crest of a hill or ridge line. But that’s drifting into other blogs.
I’ve seen this done before, and I’ve seen it done very successfully for England. A sniper, aloft in a window, observing all enemy movements, using a radio to guide friendly forces quite literally on the ground, giving us directions of incoming threats and safe routes to push forward. I’ve seen guys do it off a ten storey tower in the middle of the site, giving 360 degree views over everything from an unassailable position.
However, as appealing as the idea is, personally I wouldn’t waste a sniper on an observation post that may be better served by a radio operator or some kind of HQ element that can then coordinate things better from that location, and use the sniper on the ground to do what snipers do. Which makes more sense from a team perspective. There is an issue with radios in urbanised zones with a high content of red bricks, which are rich in iron and shield a lot of radio waves. On a personal level only, I’d rather not be the one spending the day trying to fix radios and decipher poor transmissions.
Urban sniping is something the team will be looking at in the coming months and it may well be something to come back to in more depth in future blogs. Of course, there are many books and articles on how real steel snipers work, but airsoft as always is different and requires its own solutions.