Having trained a fair amount of law enforcement snipers and listened to them talk about the shortfalls in their training programs, I wanted to get the facts. Let’s face it: We all gripe, and sometimes we focus on the negatives instead of looking at things objectively.
By Caylen Wojcik
“So I conducted an informal survey, reaching out to 13 local and state agencies to get some visibility on how many training hours were dedicated to maintaining proficiency and readiness for snipers. The survey included part-time teams only, as this makes up the majority of departments and we didn’t want to skew the numbers.
Why? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted the hard numbers straight from the horse’s mouth. Second, I wanted to be able to identify a realistic amount of training hours from which I could derive a basic marksmanship training plan that law enforcement snipers could use to maintain the highest level of proficiency and readiness within the allotted time. With an average of 10 hours a month to train, we need to get rid of the fluff and cut to the chase.
What I’m about to outline is solely my opinion based on what I’ve come across in my time as a trainer and an operational sniper running a team and a platoon. If what you read is applicable to you or your requirements, great. If not, or if only some of it is applicable, then that’s great, too.
The focus is solely on marksmanship, as trying to cover all the skills in which a sniper needs to maintain proficiency could fill a book. Marksmanship is only 10 percent of a sniper’s mission, maybe less. But when the time comes to use those skills, they become 100 percent of your purpose, and failure is far from an option. The moment chooses you, and you’ve got to be ready for a wide variety of situations, so diversity in a training program is an absolute must. However, establishing both diversity and proficiency within a limited amount of time can be tricky at best. We must accept that being a sniper is a way of life. As such, you must source a large majority of your training time and knowledge on your own. It takes dedication, discipline and an innate desire to never settle for average. All of those things should be in our blood to begin with, so let’s get started.
From a marksmanship perspective, snipers require diversity. You never know what you’re going to be presented with on the crisis site, and your training needs to reflect that. You also need some sort of a metric for identifying strengths, weaknesses and progression of skills.
In order to do this, a member of the team should be keeping records of drills, individual scores, times (if applicable) and logging this data in an easy to interpret format. A lot of departments use scenario-based training, which takes a lot of time and effort to put together for the Disneyland-ride effect: Stand in line for an hour to get five minutes of fun. Purpose-built drills are far more beneficial to building the critical skills the sniper needs to be effective. Scenarios are a great tool but should be viewed as a culmination for team interoperability training and used sparingly. Below are some drills that compose a qualification course for law enforcement snipers in our training program at Magpul Core. I’m also going to cover the progression of skills and tasks in my team if I were constructing the training plan.
First, before implementing any new training plan, take an inventory of skills and abilities from both the new guys and the senior guys. Spend a couple of hours and do the following: Confirm your cold-shots. Check zeros with both open-air ammo and barrier ammo, if you have it. Confirm zeros with night optics if you have them. Check point-ofimpact shift through glass with both barrier ammo and open-air ammo. The bottom line: That stuff is mission critical, and it’s got to be 100 percent dialed. Next, take an inventory exam of basic sniper marksmanship.
That’s going to be the following drills:
1: 100 YARD FBI FACE TARGET
This is a simple, no-stress command fire shot meant to test the shooter’s ability to apply the proper trigger control for a command-initiated assault. Prone, command fire. Pass/Fail.
2: 100-, 150- AND 200-YARD BARRICADE SUPPORTED POSITIONS
These three drills test the shooter’s ability to rapidly construct an alternate position
and precisely engage a life-size hostage target. From each distance the shooter will sprint 50 yards to the barricade, build a supported position and fire one round in one minute. 100 yards: standing only. 150 yards: kneeling or standing. 200 yards: kneeling or sitting. Pass/Fail.
3: 21 DOT DRILL USING 1½-INCH DOTS FROM 100 YARDS
The dot drill is an excellent drill to identify a wide variety of marksmanship issues.
It’s mainly focused on the rapid acquisition of a sight picture and the balance of speed and precision. The top dot is shot from the prone, two rounds in 30 seconds. The next row of five dots is shot from the prone, strong side, one round per dot in 30 seconds. The second row of five dots is shot from the prone, support side, one round per dot in 40 seconds. The third row of dots is shot with the rifle staged on the deck and the shooter in the standing position. On command, the shooter will fire one round from the prone, per dot, per iteration in the following time limits: 20, 18, 15, 12 and 10 seconds. For the last row, the shooter will stand with the rifle at the low ready and on command move to the deck and fire one round from the prone, per dot, per iteration in the following time limits: 30, 25, 20, 18 and 15 seconds. Score it 4½ points per hit, 17 hits required for 80 percent.
4: TRIPOD BREAK-OUT DRILL
The tripod break-out drill is used to test the shooter’s familiarity with their equipment and their ability to rapidly deploy said equipment to deliver a precise shot under a time constraint. This drill is shot from 80 yards using 3-inch colored shapes as the targets. The shooter will sprint 50 yards, build a standing or kneeling shooting position with either a tripod or a barricade and engage four shapes with one round each in 90 seconds. This is repeated four times for a total of 16 rounds fired. Score it 6¼ points per hit, 13 hits required for 80 percent.
5: STRESS SHOOT
The stress shoot is designed to test the shooter’s ability to manage breathing, trigger control and fundamentals while under physical stress. This drill is shot from the prone at 100 yards and 1¼-inch targets can be used. The rifle is staged at the firing point with a pile of 16 loose rounds of ammunition 25 yards behind it. On command, the shooter will move from the rifle to the ammunition, retrieve one round, move to the rifle and engage one target. This process will repeat until 16 rounds have been fired or the time limit of seven minutes runs out. Score it 6¼ points per hit, 13 hits required for 80 percent.
6: TRIPOD UNKNOWN DISTANCE
This is used for a variety of purposes. It builds confidence and will show the shooter how to build their own system for gear management when moving into a firing position so they can maximize their effectiveness on the crisis site. This drill uses steel targets ranging in distance from 150 to 500 yards, and uses sizes from 8 inches up-close to man-sized plates at the far distances. The shooter starts approximately 25 yards from the firing line with their equipment packed and callout ready. On command, the shooter will have 10 minutes to move to the position and locate and construct a range card for all targets. At the completion of time, the shooter must be ready to engage the first target. The first four targets must be shot from the standing, targets 5 through 8 can be shot from either kneeling or standing and targets 9 and 10 can be shot from standing, kneeling or sitting. For beginners, four rounds can be fired per target and hits are scored 10, 8, 6 and 4. Fourth round misses are zeros. A total of 80 points is a passing score.
These drills are a good baseline to start establishing proficiency within your team. There are 98 rounds fired if the shooter fires four rounds at each target on the unknown distance shoot, and 68 rounds fired if the unknown distance shoot is shot clean. All six of the drills can be shot in a few hours if the logistics are coordinated carefully. They cover a wide variety of skills that each sniper should be proficient in. Looking at each one objectively, you can quickly identify the skills required to accomplish each and how those skills can translate directly to real-world situations. These drills can also be modified to suit a particular
scenario. We can shrink the times to increase difficulty if plateaus occur.
As an example for advanced students, the tripod unknown distance shoot can be made more realistic by enclosing the shooter in an average-sized residential room and placing one or two obstacles in front of them, simulating windows. Or incorporate defeating a barrier into the barricade supported hostage shoots. Use your imagination to incorporate realism into the fundamentals.
Once the baseline scores are established, we can quickly identify strengths and weaknesses within the team. Each training session should begin with a core skill, such as a cold-shot stress shoot or a full-gear breakout to an unconventional position. Next, move into a fundamental warm-up drill. That could be a version of the 21-dot drill, but on a more generous timeline. Once that’s complete, move into an area of weakness that requires improvement from the majority of the team. Maybe that’s tripod breakout drills or building unconventional positions. Every training session should at least include the following:
- Kick-off with a core skill, shot cold for score or pass/fail.
- F undamental warm-up.
- Skill-building drills that focus on improving weaknesses.
- Some sort of stress event for recorded score.
- If possible, end with another fundamental drill.
The team leader should be responsible for gathering scores and inputting them into some sort of database to track progress. It doesn’t do any good to not track progression, as that’s what allows us to ensure our training time is spent wisely. It also holds us accountable to focus on what we’re not good at, because let’s face it, no one likes to do what we suck at! We learn from our failures with far greater clarity than our successes.
Marksmanship is just one area in which a sniper must remain proficient; there’s also fieldcraft, camouflage, movement and, for some snipers, maintaining a dual-role as an entry team member. With such a short period of time to train, snipers must focus on being disciplined with time, resources and money allotted in order to maintain a high level of readiness. Establish a routine, track progress and focus on building core skills that apply directly to what your team will need the next time you get called out. You will have no idea what tool you’re going to need until the last minute, or maybe even the last second. You don’t choose the moment; it chooses you.