You may be asking what a review on a sniper instructional book is doing in an outdoors magazine dedicated to effective wildlife conservation practices and game and fish cooking. What you might be missing is how the path of hunter to sniper has returned to hunter in the last ten years. It’s evident in the camouflage and even the equipment being used in the hunting community.
Hunter, Sniper, Hunter
Major Plaster uses the phrase “Close to the Earth” to describe that quality about the best snipers from around the world. This refers to the fact that almost all the best snipers, certainly the most recognized, had younger years based in the country, with a solid hunting background. Whether Russian snipers who hunted wolves in Siberia, or Austrailians who shot kangaroos, or American snipers who were raised hunting elk, deer and squirrels, all the highly regarded snipers had a solid background learning woodcraft in their youth.
How does this pertain to you, the hunter, just trying to do better in field? A lot!
In the last twenty years, the hunting community has benefited greatly by the equipment that has been developed for the sniping community. Previously, it was the sniping community that benefited most from what the hunting community provided. There’s this cycle that seems to have come completely around, where techniques and equipment gained through hunting were brought to the sniper schools of past: and now, the equipment and knowledge that is used in sniping has come full circle back to hunting…and anything you can do to be that more efficient in taking your game, lessening the chances of crippling or loss, is a level of effectiveness to reach for–good wildlife management and conservation practices demand it.
One of the easiest ties to recognize are the camouflage improvements to hunting clothing, advances in the military that were picked up and improved upon in the hunting community. There are also the improvements in rifles that make it almost a foregone conclusion that if you’re purchasing a new bolt-action rifle from a reputable manufacturer, you can pretty much expect it to shoot under 1 MOA.
A review of writings by Jack O’Connor would quickly tell you that in the 1930s and before WWII a rifle that shot 1.5 MOA was pretty good. And we’re not even talking yet about shooting technique and optics, of which the improvements in binoculars and laser rangefinders has been amazing! Sometimes snipers can even make good optical equipment purchases through the civilian hunting market because the advances have come so fast in this hunter focused market—driven by a market that wants the best and has the money to pay for it.
And let’s not forget those skills taught snipers that every hunter can benefit from knowing and practicing: attention to detail, personal and environmental awareness; and rifle, optics, and cartridge knowledge, and finally, but never least important–marksmanship.
The Ultimate Sniper
Of all the books out there, that takes a reader from the most basic skills to the most advanced, the latest updated and expanded the 2006 release of The Ultimate Sniper rises to the top. A large book with 573 pages, everyone of them worthwhile. It was written and compiled by sniper instructor and lecturer Major John L. Plaster, USAR (ret.), whose prior experience with MACV SOG in Indochina and starting a number of highly regarded sniper schools, are well-known.
Even though the sniper’s instructional tome is directed toward military and law enforcement snipers, there is so much information that applies to your hunting improvement. Here are just few of what The Ultimate Sniper covers.
Basic and Advanced Marksmanship
If only these sections were taught to everyone who picks up a rifle. In the basic section, Plaster writes about sniper attitude, proper sight picture, shooting positions and breath control, and one shot sighting in. With the advent of the Caldwell Lead Sled, I’ve found this to be one of the easiest to perform.
When Plaster gets to the advanced marksmanship techniques, there’s information in there that will improve your shooting skills immensely.
I’ve lost count of how many hunters I’ve seen miss because they just brought their rifles up and fired off-hand. How much more venison would have ended up in a hunter’s meatlocker had they used a better shooting rest?
A sniper is always aware of the best shooting position, always on the lookout for the rifle rest. This can be as simple as shucking a backpack and dropping it down the ground to lay the rifle over (one of my favorites if the ground permits) or dropping to a sitting position—many drop to a knee, when a sitting position is much more stable…
Bring shooting sticks with you. Plaster shows you how to make your own. You can make them long or short. I carry a foot-long tripod made with wooden dowels in my hunting pack, and also carry a set of Predator-styx slung across my shoulder with a thin bungee cord. At a moments notice, you’ll have a much better shooting rest than an offhand shot could ever be.
That’s not to say I won’t take a quick shot at something close in the brush, or even running from an offhand position. But, it takes a lot of practice to do what is called “snap shooting.” Major Plaster co-produced and hosted an excellent video called The Ultimate Rifleman, which was directed specifically toward the hunter, and where he taught how best to prepare for a running shot on big-game. If you happen to find an old copy, snatch it up—you can find quite a bit of that type of information in the The Ultimate Sniper DVD that Major Plaster still produces.
Excellent skills deteriorate rapidly…if you come away from these sections on marksmanship with only one thought, it should at least be: practice, practice, practice!
Breath and Squeeze
The art of marksmanship is covered in great detail and every hunter will be well-served by rereading the sections dedicated to the integrated act of shooting. Using a chart and graph, Plaster reveals major components of excellent marksmanship: breathing, and trigger control, integrated with good body position and scope picture.
Like in archery, shooting a rifle requires follow through. If we all had to hunt with flintlocks like our ancestors, the importance of follow-through would be that much more apparent to the average shooter. Keep your eye on the target, sights on the desired bullet impact point, and a solid stockweld.
Know Your Round
One of the best things you can do toward improving your shooting skills is knowing what your bullet does in flight. I do this two ways, actually going to the range and shooting at 25 yard increments out to 600 yards with my hunting loads. Also, I use my ballistic software (I have copy of the Nightforce Ballistic Program that has a collection of factory rounds cataloged and the ability to type in values from a chronograph) to get a pretty good idea of travel of my bullets in their arch. I sight most of my rifles in at 1.5 inches high at 100 yards. If I run across a really close buck and want to shoot it in the neck, I aim a bit lower…little adjustments that can make a great difference when you know what your bullet’s doing in its travel.
Kim’s is a game that was first described in the story Kim, written by Rudyard Kipling. It’s a game that was taught to Kim when he was being trained to spy. It’s a game in a variety of forms that’s taught to spies and snipers and anyone involved in intelligence gathering. Its purpose is to improve memory skills. Attention to detail is also covered in it, which to a hunter is very useful.
Plaster has included a sniper’s version of the Where’s Waldo visual puzzle. I suggest using the Where’s Ivan as an example and sketch a herd of deer with a small buck and medium-sized buck and monster buck scattered within the herd. Then, give time limits to you and your friends to pick out bucks, and then try remembering where exactly they are in relation to the rest of the deer in the group.
Then, when you’re out in the field, scan for deer and remember what qualities there are in deer, or whatever your prey–what makes them stand out against the landscape? During archery season, and early rifle seasons, in the West, this is easy, as the red-brown and light brown hides of deer really stand out on green grass and foliage. Against the snows of winter, or the dry brown grass, a deer’s darker winter hide really stands out.
Train your subconscious to pick out inconsistencies. One of the best sighting techniques I was taught as a teen was to look for horizontal lines. Aside from the horizon, Nature normally stretches out in vertical lines, tree trunks rising to the sun, and hillsides washing downhill. When you see horizontal lines on a hillside, like the back of a deer, cougar, pig, elk, bear, or cow, it’s very apparent when you’re looking for it! And how many of us have looked at a group of rocks, suddenly seen one of them shapeshift into a wild boar on the hoof, before running off? Pay attention…and use your optics!
Wind and Range
One of the most confusing for many hunters is estimating for wind and range. There are so many things in the environment that because of size, position, and distance can drastically effect a hunter’s ability to estimate distance: inclines, declines, objects much larger than your target. They’re all covered in this section of the The Ultimate Sniper.
And you might be surprised how much wind can effect your bullet even at ranges under 400 yards…but I’ll leave that to the reading.
Close to the Earth
One of the most important points to take is that about how the best snipers had a connection to the earth that went way back to their childhoods. From all parts of the world that has turned out some of the most impressive snipers (Australia, Scotland, Russia and the US) most of them had a hunting and woodcraft background that started in childhood. Close to the earth has relevance in a number ways. It’s the background of snipers, like Vasili Zaitsev (hunted wolves and wild boar in Siberia), Chuck Mawhinney (hunted elk and deer back in Oregon) and Carlos Hathcock (hunted squirrels and other game for the table), all well-grounded in a youth of hunting and learning wood craft. It’s the deep inner knowledge of how we are related to the earth, how we standout, and how we can blend in with this earth.
It’s also the level of awareness that almost seems psychic in its ability to detect and enable a sniper to be two or three moves ahead of the target. It’s almost innate in someone who was introduced to firearms as a hunter, as compared to just a competition shooter. Remember that the German sniping instructor sent by Hitler to hunt down Zaitsev was better equipped, but Zaitsev relied on his “cunning” as the Germans liked to comment, and is carried in the Soviet sniper’s motto: “While invisible, I see and destroy.”
Major Plaster puts forward a hypothesis that the reason there were hardly any well-trained snipers in the Iraqi Army during what would have been a great environment for snipers, the trench warfare during the Iraq-Iran War, goes out without a blip because an Arab society that historically had a reputation for longrange shots, was by modern times devoid of them because of an enmasse move of the hinterland population into urban areas–like in so many other parts of the world. They basically lost cultural skills instilled and developed through years of pre-service experience in the country.
By improving your woodcraft as a hunter, you will increase the number of successes while hunting. Every hunter would be best aided by reading the chapter on stalking and movement. Addressing “The Wall of Green” as the author calls it, is most often hard for new and experienced hunters: much like a stream fisherman who fishes an ocean coast for the first time and doesn’t know how to read the coastline for fish. It’s overcoming this, using the scanning tactics described by Plaster, that has led me to shoot a number of deer and feral pigs in their beds. You can see an example of this, when I’m picking out a wild boar that is only 10 yards away from me in deep brush in this episode of Cork’s Outdoor TV.
If you’ve ever had failures sneaking up on those open-land antelope in Wyoming and Arizona, the section on stalking will be very helpful.
Get The Ultimate Sniper, read it, apply the techniques, read it again and see how you might improve or modify the information for your own environment…no matter your present level, I’d be surprised if your skills didn’t improve—and get out there and practice, practice, practice!
Get your copy here:
Tips and Techniques directly from the Master
Major John Plaster is well represented on two websites. As an advisor at Millet Sights, he has written a number of articles to help the shooter. He has his own http://ultimatesniper.com, where he offers his books and has a shipload of information, not the least of which are pdf scans of historical books going back to mid-1800 printings about sniping. In the following broadcast of Cork’s Outdoor Radio we talk about some of the tips. This one would be helpful to a lot of hunters by helping undersand what your bullet can and can’t do—even if you can shoot that far, depending on what cartridge you’re using, you might not want to based on the information in this brief: TERMINAL BALLISTICS