This was a fun episode to record. When John Simpson reached out a while back to let me know that he had a new book on the market, I jumped at the chance to bring him on the podcast as my first interview. John is a veritable encyclopedia of sniper history and know-how.
During the course of the interview, the conversation wandered through John’s start as an Army Special Forces light weapons sergeant on through his developing sniper training curriculum for both the military and other training agencies. We also touch on why he wrote The Foundations of Sniper Marksmanship.
Beyond that, we also dove into some of the ancillary skills required in order to become a proficient sniper. Among these topics were the importance of physical fitness, flash memory recognition, and the dedication to do the work.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- Book review of Foundations of Sniper Marksmanship
- Snipercraft Training & Sniper Week
- American Sniper Association
- 1889 US Army Firing Regulations by Col Stanhope Blunt
- On War by Carl Von Clausewitz
- 1908 Scouting For Boys Handbook by Robert Baden-Powell (free PDF also located here)
If there’s one key takeaway from the entire interview it’s this: becoming good at shooting is not voodoo, it’s the result of doing lots of little things correctly over time. The sum of those little things builds up to something great.
With that, John offered a lot of advice when it comes to learning new skills. Not the least of which was avoid spending time watching others do it the wrong way. The Army doesn’t teach you how to jump out of planes by showing you all the ways you can do it wrong, and we shouldn’t learn marksmanship that way, either.
This relates to a topic I discussed in my review of With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham. Study and surround yourself with people who are doing it the right way, and you’ll naturally begin to copy them and become better yourself.
With that, you also need to use objective criteria for judging your performance. The target doesn’t lie, and if you’re not doing it right then it will show. Use a sequence of repeatable and observable steps to make sure you’re doing things the correct way.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
One important message was that you should not try and change something and make it “better” unless you fully understand and master the current way it’s done. Sniping, as we know it, goes back to World War I. I covered some of those elements in my discussion of the designated marksman rifle.
More importantly, though, marksmanship has a very long history. In his book, John uses illustrations from the 1889 Army Firing Regulations manual. These depictions of the classic rifle shooting positions are nearly identical to what we still practice today.
In short: they work.
Know Your Limits
During the interview, John relayed a story of a police sniper student who turned in his rifle and admitted he wasn’t ready. John appreciated the honesty and said that he’s rather someone “Brief your limits before your capabilities.”
To expand on that, there are a lot of things people don’t expect about being good at sniping. One of those is that being a sniper is a very physical job. Think about having to run up four or five flights of stairs with all of your gear, arrive to a window, and then set up for a critical shot. If you have a poor level of fitness, then you are not effective in this situation.
John also talked about sticking to provable facts and evidence.
During the conversation, we discussed John’s belief that it’s the responsibility of all American’s to learn the basics of marksmanship. As our own history with warfare has shown, there isn’t enough time to train the average joe to be effective with a rifle before sending him off to fight. It’s far better for Joe to show up already knowing the fundamentals so that he can expand into newer areas.
This is actually another topic I’ll discuss in the future, stay tuned.
Another interesting topic we delved into was the role of memory. I mentioned Kim’s Game, which up until this point I thought was an acronym for “Keep in Mind.” In fact, it’s a reference to a Rudyard Kipling novel with the titular character Kim O’Hara.
The British recruit Kim to assist with efforts in India. They teach him to very quickly see and catalog objects with only a short exposure time. John mentioned that the reference appears in the 1908 Scouting For Boys Handbook by Robert Baden-Powell (linked above).
John also discussed a concept called Flash Recognition. The idea came around during WWII as a way to quickly recognize enemy aircraft. John argued that it’s still very effective, and provided examples, but that the military abandoned it after they continued to “fix” it until it didn’t work anymore.
Another key point of discussion focused on the behavior of bullets as they travel downrange. One of the reader questions was about whether or not bullets get more stable as they travel.
The short answer is yes, they do.
John sent along this chart from FM 3-06.11 demonstrating that rifle rounds tend to penetrate better at distance because of this.
This summary only hit some highlights. The entire 80-minute interview covered a variety of topics.
If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe on your podcast player of choice. Talk to you soon!