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As applied to sniper marksmanship, types of ballistics may be defined as the study of the firing, flight, and effect of ammunition. Proper execution of marksmanship fundamentals and a thorough knowledge of ballistics ensure the successful completion of the mission. Tables and formulas in this section should be used only as guidelines since every rifle performs differently. Maximum ballistics data eventually result in a well-kept sniper data book and knowledge gained through experience.


Ballistics are divided into three distinct types: internal external, and terminal.

a. Internal--the interior workings of a weapon and the functioning of its ammunition.

b. External--the flight of the bullet from the muzzle to the target.

c. Terminal--what happens to the bullet after it hits the target.


To fully understand ballistics, the sniper should be familiar with the following terms:

a. Muzzle Velocity--the speed of the bullet as it leaves the rifle barrel, measured in feet per second. It varies according to various factors, such as ammunition type and lot number, temperature, and humidity.

b. Line of Sight--straight line from the eye through the aiming device to the point of aim.

c. Line of Departure--the line defined by the bore of the rifle or the path the bullet would take without gravity.

d. Trajectory--the path of the bullet as it travels to the target.

e. Midrange Trajectory/Maximum Ordinate--the highest point the bullet reaches on its way to the target. This point must be known to engage a target that requires firing underneath an overhead obstacle, such as a bridge or a tree. In attention to midrange trajectory may cause the sniper to hit the obstacle instead of the target.

f. Bullet Drop--how far the bullet drops from the line of departure to the point of impact.

g. Time of Flight--the amount of time it takes for the bullet to reach the target from the time the round exits the rifle.

h. Retained Velocity--the speed of the bullet when it reaches the target. Due to drag, the velocity will be reduced.


To be effective, the sniper must know marksmanship fundamentals and what effect gravity and drag will have on those fundamentals.

a. Gravity. As soon as the bullet exits the muzzle of the weapon, gravity begins to pull it down, requiring the sniper to use his elevation adjustment. At extended ranges, the sniper actually aims the muzzle of his rifle above his line of sight and lets gravity pull the bullet down into the target. Gravity is always present, and the sniper must compensate for this through elevation adjustments or hold-off techniques.

b. Drag. Drag is the slowing effect the atmosphere has on the bullet. This effect decreases the speed of the bullet according to the air--that is, the less dense the air, the leas drag and vice versa. Factors affecting drag/density are temperature, altitude/barometric pressure, humidity, efficiency of the bullet, and wind.

    (1) Temperature. The higher the temperature, the less dense the air.  If the sniper zeros at 60 degrees F and he fires at 80 degrees, the air is leas dense, thereby causing an increase in muzzle velocity and higher point of impact. A 20-degree change equals a one-minute elevation change in the strike of the bullet.

    (2) Altitude/barometric pressure. Since the air pressure is less at higher altitudes, the air is less dense. Thus, the bullet is more efficient and impacts higher due to less drag.  Impact will be the point of aim at sea level. For example, a rifle zeroed at sea level and fired at a range of 700 meters at an altitude of 5,000 feet will hit 1.6 minutes high.

    (3) Humidity. Humidity varies along with the altitude and temperature.When humidity goes up, impact goes down; when humidity goes down, impact goes up. Since impact is affected by humidity, a 20 percent change in humidity equals about one minute as a rule of thumb. Keeping a good sniper data book during training and acquiring experience are the best teachers.

    (4) Efficiency of the bullet. This is called a bullet's ballistic coefficient. The imaginary perfect bullet is rated as being 1.00. Match bullets range from .500 to about .600. The 7.62-mm special ball (M118) is rated at .530 .

    (5) Wind. Wind is discussed in Section III.


Most practice firing conducted by the sniper team involves the use of military range facilities, which are relatively flat. However, as a sniper being deployed to other regions of the world, the chance exists for operating in a mountainous or urban environment. This requires target engagements at higher and lower elevations. Unless the sniper takes corrective action, bullet impact will be above the point of aim. How high the bullet hits is determined by the range and angle to the target (Table 3-3). The amount of elevation change applied to the telescope of the rifle for angle firing is known as slope dope.


For the highly trained sniper, the effects of weather are the main causes of error in the strike of the bullet. Wind, mirage, light, temperature, and humidity affect the bullet, the sniper, or both. Some effects are minor; however, sniping is often done in extremes of weather and all effects must be considered.


Wind poses the biggest problem for the sniper. The effect that wind has on the bullet increases with range. This is due mainly to the slowing of the bullet's velocity combined with a longer flight time. This allows the wind to have a greater effect on the round as distances increase. The result is a loss of stability.

a. Wind also has a considerable effect on the sniper. The stronger the wind, the more difficult it is for him to hold the rifle steady. This can be partly offset by training, conditioning and the use of supported positions.

b. Since the sniper must know how much effect the wind will have on the bullet, he must be able to classify the wind. The best method is to use the clock system . With the sniper at the center of the clock and the target at 12 o'clock, the wind is assigned three values: full, half, and no value. Full value means that the force of the wind will have a full effect on the flight of the bullet. These winds come from 3 and 9 o'clock. Half value means that a wind at the same speed, but from 1,2,4,5,7,8, 10, and 11
o'clock, will move the bullet only half as much as a full-value wind. No value means that a wind from 6 or 12 o'clock will have little or no effect on the flight of the bullet.


Before adjusting the sight to compensate for wind, the sniper must determine wind direction and velocity. He may use certain indicators to accomplish this. These are range flags, smoke, trees, grass, rain, and the sense of feel. However, the preferred method of determining wind direction and velocity is reading mirage. In most cases, wind direction can be determined simply by observing the indicators.

a. A common method of estimating the velocity of the wind during training is to watch the range flag. The sniper determines the angle between the flag and pole, in degrees, then divides by the constant number 4. The result gives the approximate velocity in miles per hour.

b. If no flag is visible, the sniper holds a piece of paper, grass, cotton, or some other light material at shoulder level, then drops it. He then points directly at the spot where it lands and divides the angle between his body and arm by the constant number 4. This gives him the approximate wind velocity in miles per hour.

c. If these methods cannot be used, the following information is helpful in determining velocity. Winds under 3 miles per hour can barely be felt, although smoke will drift. A 3- to 5-mile-per-hour wind can barely be felt on the face. With a 5- to 8-mile-per-hour wind, the leaves in the trees are in constant motion, and with a 12- to 15-mile-per-hour wind, small trees begin to sway.

d. A mirage is a reflection of the heat through layers of air at different temperatures and density as seen on a warm day . With the telescope, the sniper can see a mirage as long as there is a difference in ground and air temperatures. Proper reading of the mirage enables the sniper to estimate wind speed and direction with a high degree of accuracy. The sniper uses the M49 observation telescope to read the mirage. Since the wind nearest to midrange has the greatest effect on the bullet, he tries to determine velocity at that point. He can do this in one of two ways:

    (1) He focuses on an object at midrange, then places the scope back onto the target without readjusting the focus.

    (2) He can also focus on the target, then back off the focus one-quarter turn counterclockwise. This makes the target appear fuzzy, but the mirage will be clear.

e. As observed through the telescope, the mirage appears to move with the same velocity as the wind, except when blowing straight into or away from the scope. Then, the mirage gives the appearance of moving straight upward with no lateral movement. This is called a boiling mirage. A boiling mirage may also be seen when the wind is constantly changing direction. For example, a full-value wind blowing from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock suddenly changes direction. The mirage will appear to stop moving from left to right and present a boiling appearance. When this occurs, the inexperienced observer directs the sniper to fire with the "0" wind. As the sniper fires, the wind begins blowing from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock, causing the bullet to miss the target therefore, firing in a "boil" can hamper shot placement. Unless there is a no-value wind, the sniper must wait until the boil disappears. In general, changes in the velocity of the wind, up to about 12 miles per hour, can be readily determined by observing the mirage. Beyond that speed, the movement of the mirage is too fast for detection of minor changes.


All telescopic sights have windage adjustments that are graduated in minutes of angle or fractions thereof. A minute of angle is 1/60th of a degree . This equals about 1 inch (1.145 inches) for every 100 meters.


                                    1 MOA = 2 inches at 200 meters
                                    1 MOA = 5 inches at 500 meters

a. Snipers use minutes of angle (Figure 3-22) to determine and adjust the elevation and windage needed on the weapon's scope. After finding the wind direction and velocity in miles per hour, the sniper must then convert it into minutes of angle, using the wind formula as a rule of thumb only. The wind formula is--


b. The observer makes his own adjustment estimations, then compares them to the wind conversion table, which can be a valuable training tool. He must not rely on this table; if it is lost, his ability to perform the mission could be severely hampered. Until the observer gains skill in estimating wind speed and computing sight changes, he may refer to Table 3-4.


Light does not affect the trajectory of the bullet; however, it does affect the way the sniper sees the target through the scope. This effect can be compared to the refraction (bending) of light through a medium, such as a prism or a fish bowl. The same effect, although not as drastic, can be observed on a day with high humidity and with sunlight from high angles. The only way the sniper can adjust for this effect is to refer to past firing recorded in the sniper data book. He can then compare different light and humidity conditions and their effect on marksmanship. Light may also affect firing on unknown distance ranges since it affects range determination capabilities.


Temperature affects the shooter, ammunition, and density of the air. When ammunition sits in direct sunlight, the bum rate of powder is increased, resulting in greater muzzle velocity and higher impact. The greatest effect is on the density of the air. As the temperature rises, the air density is lowered. Since there is leas resistance, velocity increases and once again the point of impact rises. This is in relation to the temperature at which the rifle was zeroed, If the sniper zeros at 50 degrees and he is now firing at 90 degrees, the point of impact rises considerably. How high it rises is best determined once again by past firing recorded in the sniper data book. The general role, however, is that when the rifle is zeroed, a 20-degree increase in temperature will raise the point of impact by one minute; conversely, a 20-degree decrease will drop the point of impact by one minute.


Humidity varies along with the altitude and temperature. The sniper can encounter problems if drastic humidity changes occur in his area of operation. Remember, if humidity goes up, impact goes down; if humidity goes down, impact goes up. As a rule of thumb, a 20-percent change will equal about one minute, affecting the point of impact. The sniper should keep a good sniper data book during training and refer to his own record.


The sniper can use hold off in three ways to compensate for the effect of wind.

a. When using the M3A scope, the sniper uses the horizontal mil dots on the reticle to hold off for wind. For example, if the sniper has a target at 500 meters that requires a 10-inch hold off, he would place the target's center mass halfway between the cross hair and the first mil dot (1/2 mil).

b. When holding off, the sniper aims into the wind. If the wind is moving from the right to left, his point of aim is to the right. If the wind is moving from left to right, his point of aim is to the left.

c. Constant practice in wind estimation can bring about proficiency in making sight adjustments or learning to apply hold off correctly. If the sniper misses the target and the point of impact of the round is observed, he notes the lateral distance of his error and re fires, holding off that distance in the opposite direction.


Engaging moving targets not only requires the sniper to determine the target distance and wind effects on the round, but he must
also consider the lateral and speed angle of the target, the round's time of flight, and the placement of a proper lead to compensate for both. These added variables increase the chance of a miss. Therefore, the sniper should engage moving targets when it is the only option.


To engage moving targets, the sniper employs the following techniques:

Trapping or ambushing.
Tracking and holding.
Firing a snap shot.

a. Leading. Engaging moving targets requires the sniper to place the cross hairs ahead of the target's movement. The distance the cross hairs are placed in front of the target's movement is called a lead. There are four factors in determining leads:

    (1) Speed of the target. As a target moves faster, it will move a greater distance during the bullet's flight. Therefore, the lead increases as the target's speed increases.

    (2) Angle of movement. A target moving perpendicular to the bullet's flight path moves a greater lateral distance than a target moving at an angle away from or toward the bullet's path. Therefore, a target moving at a 45-degree angle covers less ground than a target moving at a 90-degree angle.

    (3) Range to the target. The farther away a target is, the longer it takes for the bullet to reach it. Therefore, the lead must be increased as the distance to the target increases.

    (4) Wind effects. The sniper must consider how the wind will affect the trajectory of the round. A wind blowing against the target's direction of movement requires less of a lead than a wind blowing in the same direction as the target's movement.

b. Tracking. hacking requires the sniper to establish an aiming point ahead of the target's movement and to maintain it as the weapon is fired. This requires the weapon and body position to be moved while following the target and firing.

c. Trapping or Ambushing. Trapping or ambushing is the sniper's preferred method of engaging moving targets. The sniper must establish an aiming point ahead of the target and pull the trigger when the target reaches it. This method allows the sniper's weapon and body position to remain motionless. With practice, a sniper can determine exact leads and aiming points using the horizontal stadia lines in the mil dots in the M3A.

d. Tracking and Holding. The sniper uses this technique to engage an erratically moving target. That is, while the target is moving, the sniper keeps his cross hairs centered as much as possible and adjusts his position with the target. When the target stops, the sniper quickly perfects his hold and fires. This technique requires concentration and discipline to keep from firing before the target comes to a complete halt.

e. Firing a Snap Shot. A sniper may often attempt to engage a target that only presents itself briefly, then resumes cover. Once he establishes a pattern, he can aim in the vicinity of the target's expected appearance and fire a snap shot at the moment of exposure.


When engaging moving targets, the sniper makes common errors because he is under greater stress than with a stationary target. There are more considerations, such as retaining a steady position and the correct aiming point, how fast the target is moving, and how far away it is. The more practice a sniper has shooting moving targets, the better he will become. Some common mistakes are as follows:

a. The sniper has a tendency to watch his target instead of his aiming point. He must force himself to watch his lead point.

b. The sniper may jerk or flinch at the moment his weapon fires because he thinks he must fire NOW. This can be overcome through practice on a live-fire range.

c. The sniper may hurry and thus forget to apply wind as needed. Windage must be calculated for moving targets just as for stationary targets. Failure to do this when squiring a lead will result in a miss.


Once the required lead has been determined, the sniper should use the mil scale in the scope for precise hold off The mil scale can be mentally sectioned into 1/4-mil increments for leads. The chosen point on the mil scale becomes the sniper's point of concentration just as the cross hairs are for stationary targets. The sniper concentrates on the lead point and fires the weapon when the target is at this point. The following formulas are used to determine moving target leads:

Time of flight = flight time of the round in seconds.
Target speed = speed the target is moving in fps.
Lead = distance aiming point must be placed ahead of movement in feet.
Average speed of a man during--
Slow patrol = 1 fps/0.8 mph
Fast patrol = 2 fps/1.3 mph
Slow walk = 4 fps/2.5 mph
Fast walk = 6 fps/3.7 mph
To convert leads in feet to meters:



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