The pressure on a SWAT team counter sniper for precision shot placement can be extremely demanding. The goal of a police sniper is to achieve an “instantaneous non-reflex kill shot” on their adversary with just one shot. Indeed, the demands on a police sniper are great, and expectations are for perfection on every shot.
That is a high standard to maintain, and it takes a lot of training and talent from the sniper to perform at that level. Throw in some stress and inclement weather, like extreme cold or high winds, and the task increases in difficulty.
Consequently, teaching and training our SWAT sniper operators becomes an incredibly important mission. Unfortunately, it is in this task some seem to slip below the level of perfection we’re asking our snipers to achieve.
Demanding Quality Instruction
Most will agree that, when teaching sniper rifle tactics, marksmanship and fundamentals are vital to ensuring the officer will succeed in his tactical mission. I agree with this concept, but I feel the most important element in the success of the student is the ability of the trainer to teach.
I’ve attended sniper courses where the instructor will teach the basics but won’t spend any one-on-one time with the student who is struggling to keep up. Some instructors will press forward, and those who can’t keep up will be washed from the course.
While that’s not necessarily a bad philosophy, the sniper instructor (or any police instructor, for that matter) who can teach the struggling police student and bring them up to the operating standard is an instructor with talent.
That doesn’t mean that everybody passes. There will be students who don’t have what it takes — who can’t be taught the sniper craft — and they’ll have to be excused.
Creating Good Habits
Developing good shooting habits and muscle memory are top priorities for the beginning sniper. I like to start off teaching the various techniques of gripping the rifle. In my case it’s more of a “lack of grip” since I only like to touch the rifle with the tip of my shooting finger as it squeezes off the round while the top of the butt stock is nestled gently in my pectoral / shoulder region.
My “stock weld” or cheek placement often looks like my cheek is laying on the stock, but I try to not touch the stock if I can. Some instructors teach a tight stock weld, and that’s OK in my book as long as it doesn’t affect the shooter.
My left hand is under the stock gripping a squeeze bag (old school) and my right hand may be free of the weapon completely or lightly laying on the rifle grip depending on the rifle and the stock as my trigger finger is extended into the trigger guard.
I take great care to eliminate any potential torque on the weapon system. I have learned from many years of shooting archery that the body creates torque anytime it touches the bow, which will create missed shots — that holds true for a rifle as well.
Supporting the rifle is next on the list. However, this topic can become its own conversation since there are so many variables: surface, position (seating, standing, kneeling), and the use of bipods/tripods.
What’s important is having the ability to provide good bone support, muscle relaxation and a good natural point of aim. Training under various conditions such as standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone, along with various supports such as a bi-pod or no support at all, are critical for the sniper student to have in their knowledge base.
A couple factors to be handled in the classroom include “fitting the rifle” to the shooter and “eye dominance.” Obtaining the proper eye relief should be checked by the instructor before you move to the range. Eliminating any scope shadow at the hooch will save time and brass at the range.
A common theme I’ll touch on as we move through future articles on sniper tactics is “Repetition during training builds muscle memory, and muscle memory provides accurate shot placement under stress.” This concept applies to all law enforcement training, but is a critical component in counter sniper operations.