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American Sniper tells the tale of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who is widely regarded as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. His story intrigued audiences by telling the backstory behind the highly specialized military profession. Here are several facts about how snipers operate:
1. Between heartbeats: Snipers train themselves to shoot between heartbeats because blood flow can affect their fingers while shooting. They achieve this goal by training their own heartbeats to slow down even under harsh desert conditions, which naturally cause a person’s heartbeat to rise. (This video tells more about the process.)
2: Longest shots on record: The longest documented confirm kill by a sniper team is 2706 yards, by UK sniper Craig Harrison in Afghanistan in November 2009.
3. Etymology: The word “sniper” originated during the 19th-century British occupation of India. The term, which means “shoot from a hidden place,” also refers to a long-billed marsh game bird.
4. Early History: During the U.S. Civil War, Generals Hiram Berdan and Robert E. Lee were the first to use “sharpshooters” during wartime. In WWI, the Germans were the first to place specially trained snipers. Russians were the first to use snipers in two-man teams.
5. Ghillie suits: The word “ghillie” comes from Scotland, which developed the special suits snipers wear to disguise themselves from the naked eye. These suits are modified from old military uniforms and contain heavy canvas to pad a sniper’s torso during those long stretches of lying on the ground.
6. Cost effective: The amount of money used to train snipers teams is huge, but at least they save the military a lot of ammunition. The average amount of rounds expended per kill in Vietnam (by U.S. soldiers) was 200,000. In contrast, the U.S. snipers in Vietnam expended 1.3 bullets per kill. The difference? $2300 vs. 27 cents.
7. Variables: Wind and gravity are a sniper’s two biggest enemies. Heat and humidity also factor into the equation. MOA (minute of angle) is the unit of measurement used by snipers to measure accuracy. MOA measures accuracy of shots by taking distance into consideration. From the greatest distances achieved by snipers, they’ve adjusted for a gravity drop of up to 150 feet.
8. Rewards: During WWII, Germany’s reward system for snipers was sadly hilarious. Not only did a sniper’s badge reflect his grade, but each confirmed kill added up to the following reward scale: (a) 50 kills – wrist watch; (2) 100 kills – hunting rifle; (3) 150 kills – personal hunting trip with military commander Heinrich Himmler.
9. No “natural born killers” allowed: At USMC Scout Sniper School, candidates are weeded out through a series of tests. Surprisingly, being a “good shot” or a “natural born killer” won’t get you in the door. Snipers must be level headed and able to make responsible judgment calls independent of authority.
10. A “perishable skill”: No one learns to be a sniper by reading a book. Simply put, a sniper must “do it over and over, and if you quit doing it for a while you can lose your skills. It’s a perishable skill.”
11. Chinese Proverb: The sniper’s job can be summarized by a proverb on display at Marine Corps Camp Pendleton: “Kill one man, terrorize a thousand.”