How Military Snipers Work

Sniper School

The spotter uses a range card to help him estimate the range to the target.
Photo courtesy Department of Defense Defense Visual Information Center

Every branch of the military uses snipers in some capacity. The SEALs, CCT, and Army Rangers all have sniper elements in their units. And although they all have their respective sniper schools, there is one school that stands out -- the United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper School.

The USMC Scout Sniper School is widely regarded in the military as the finest sniper training program. The Marines offer a tremendous program that trains eligible sniper candidates in all branches of the armed services. The few candidates who are chosen to attend the school typically represent the some of the finest that branch of the service has to offer. Fewer still emerge "Scout Sniper Qualified."


When selecting a candidate, commanders aren't looking for "good shots" or "natural born killers." There are a lot of soldiers that are skilled with a rifle and have the training and ability to take an enemy's life if necessary. Being a sniper comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. What command is looking for is a soldier that possesses good decision making and a level head.

"You don't want a real hot head to be a sniper," Army Ranger Sniper reports. "Snipers need to be able to work on their own. You have to be independent, you know, so when you're not with your unit you need to be able to make sound decisions on your own without having to call up, 'What should I do here?' or 'Should I shoot this guy or what?'"

The Marine Scout Sniper program is a two-month course. Students have physical training and firing-range practice every day. In addition, there are "games" that teach the skills snipers need in the field. Classroom time is spent learning the principles of range estimating, windage, barometric pressure, and deployment and tactics. Over the two-month course, students drill on the three basic components of sniper training:

  • Marksmanship
  • Observation
  • Stalking

According to Army Ranger Sniper, "It's not like you can read a book and go do it. You have to do it over and over, and if you quit doing it for a while you can lose your skills. It's a perishable skill."

In the next sections, we'll go into more detail on sniper training.