Photos by Jake Swanson
A Former SEAL Schools Us On the Finer Points of Fieldcraft and Marksmanship in the Concrete Jungle
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 80 percent of the American population lives in urban areas. Yet, whenever we see classes or articles about precision marksmanship, they’re usually set against a backdrop of wide-open spaces, with emphasis on the mythical “1,000-yard shot.” Charles Mosier, lead sniper with Las Vegas SWAT and a former Navy SEAL, aims to change that with his urban sniper course.
Basic skills of fieldcraft, navigation, stalking, and trigger pulling don’t change, whether the environment is the tundra of northern Norway or the mountains of Afghanistan. But the methods used to ensure a successful shot and the survival of the shooter must be adapted to circumstance. This is why Mosier teaches through doing. Each student gets the chance to practice with his or her equipment in a hands-on setting to see what works, and if it doesn’t, to come up with an alternative.
Although the classic ritual of “vegging up” still has its place, even if it’s to take a position in someone’s herbaceous borders, a full-on ghillie suit looks a little incongruous if the sniper is setting up in an office suite. Instead, cloth mesh in various shades is employed to break up the outline and limit visibility from outside.
Start by drawing the blinds and, if there are any other light sources, using a poncho or similar opaque cloth to cut down light from behind you so that you’re not backlit. Then, use black mesh to cover the window you’ll be observing or shooting through — Mosier uses duct tape and king-sized thumbtacks to keep it in place. From the outside, it’ll look like the room is dimly lit, and even if an observer glances in from the sidewalk, your presence will be concealed. Hang an additional layer of mesh from the ceiling between the window and your firing position, and then cover the shooter with mesh as well. The firing position can be constructed from furniture, or a tripod and Hog Saddle shooting rest.
The same construction techniques can be used inside vehicles — start by blocking out as much light as possible, then layer up mesh to improve camouflage. Las Vegas SWAT uses pre-cut cardboard panels that can be taped in place over windows in order to quickly darken the interior, along with suitably sized pieces of mesh to cover the space between a vehicle’s B and C pillars. Backpacks are piled on the rear seat to provide a steady rest and once the shooter has folded himself into position, his partner then covers him with — yes, you guessed it — more mesh. The more layers you add between you and your target, the greater the level of concealment. You may worry about bullet deflection, but at typical engagement distances, its effect on accuracy is negligible.
Making Holes Through Holes
One factor that most definitely will affect hit probability, however, is if your rounds impact a wall before reaching the target. Because the urban environment produces so many opportunities for shots that must be taken through cover, it’s critical to know your sight offset at different distances. To teach this, Mosier places cardboard screens with different sized holes in them a couple of yards in front of students, who are then tasked to engage targets 100 yards downrange. The cardboard represents a wall with a hole through which the shooter would engage targets, referred to as a loophole. Using loopholes can help conceal your location. Shooters must adjust their positions in order to place the reticle on the target, while ensuring their bore axis is clear of the cardboard “wall.” Want to find out exactly what your sight offset is? Set up a target 6 feet from your muzzle, aim at a reference point and fire one round, then use a ruler to measure the distance from your point of aim to the bullet impact. Log this data, as you now know what’s the smallest size loophole you can fire from at that distance.
When you have this information, you can then collect additional data at 10-yard increments out to your zero distance. Once this is in your logbook, you have all the tools you need to overcome another ubiquitous urban obstacle: the chain-link fence. Unlike cloth mesh, clipping a strand of wire with a bullet is guaranteed to send it way off course or cause it to fragment. But once you know your sight offset, it’s possible to confidently send a projectile through the spaces in between. It also helps to remember that each diamond in a fence panel is usually 4.5 inches, corner to corner.