Back when I was student at the Royal Academy of Fletching, Falconry, and Private Equity Management, I was friends with a considerably older student who had taken 8 years off after high school to compete on the Olympic biathlon team. Like most biathletes, his training came courtesy of the U.S. Army, who made use of his shooting skill to teach him the delicate art of killing people from really, really far away.
When U.S. Navy snipers simultaneously took out three Somali pirates the other day, it reminded me of my friend’s tales of deadly accuracy from a distance. For normal people, it’s hard to shoot a door from 50 feet away. Trained snipers can hit an acorn squash from 10 football fields.
Slate writer Brian Palmer explains just how hard it is to hit three pirates from a bobbing ship:
If the pirates’ heads were fully exposed, it would have been an easy shot. A sniper rifle is accurate to within a “minute of angle,” provided the shooter can keep his or her target in the crosshairs. That means that a good marksman can reliably hit a 1-inch target at 300 feet and reliably kill someone at 3,000 feet. The bobbing of the lifeboat would have been a factor, but snipers regularly shoot at moving targets from moving vehicles. (Advanced Navy SEAL training includes target practice from helicopters.)
There are two techniques for hitting a moving target—trapping, in which the sniper holds the rifle still and waits for the target to move into the sight, and tracking, in which the sniper moves the rifle to keep the target in the sight. Trapping is the easier method and is preferred among less-experienced marksmen. However, the Navy snipers needed to strike all three pirates simultaneously. Once the countdown began, they could not allow their target to drop from their sight and wait for him to return. (Sniper teams generally count down from five and fire in unison on the T in “two.”)
Sounds pretty badass, right? Well check this out — yesterday I flipped my polo mallet at Nigel Wigginton from clear across the south lawn and it struck a passing gardner flush on the back. Boy was I surprised!
Open Sea Sniping [Slate]