I was surprised recently when John C. Simpson reached out and let me know that he had a new book on the shelves. I was familiar with John’s prior work through researching the prone position and other bloggers, especially Todd over at the Art of the Rifle. This new book, titled, Foundations of Sniper Marksmanship is an updated and expanded version of an older title, Snipercraft.
You see, the original book was published by the now-defunct Paladin Press. I never got the chance to read it, but always heard wonderful things. So when John let me know he had a new version of it available, I bought it that same night for this review.
It wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t start with the author’s background.
About John C. Simpson
John got his start in the 10th Special Forces Group (SFG) in 1978. He taught his first military sniper school in 1985 and law enforcement sniper class in 1986. He’s been practicing and teaching snipercraft all over the world ever since.
John is a kind of encyclopedia of sniper knowledge. I’ve seen nothing but praise for him and his methods across the board. He also doesn’t tolerate bad information and will mercilessly squash it into the ground.
In addition to writing and teaching, John has a habit of finding “Fake Snipers” who have made careers out of stealing credit for things they never actually accomplished.
About the Foundations of Sniper Marksmanship
John told me that he wrote this book in order to combat the litany of bad information that’s out there on the market. Most sniper “manuals” are nothing but rehashed quoting of military instructions. As I pointed out in my review of Max Velocity Tactical’s manual, military manuals are light on real practical information.
John also mentioned that he really felt the need to write this book after he and Derrick Bartlett, President of the American Sniper Association, taught a group of law enforcement snipers
This book is clearly marketed towards people interesting in attending sniper school. It does not include any hardcore sniper tactics, techniques, or procedures. Rather, it’s all about the fundamentals of marksmanship and making the shot.
In the forward, Derrick Bartlett lays it out plainly:
The book spans 136 pages in total, with the meat of that divided between five main chapters and four appendices. The material builds sequentially from the fundamentals to live-fire practice. This sequence makes a lot of sense from an instructional point of view, and I would bet that John wrote it this way intentionally so that his work could serve as the basis for the real-world curriculum.
This is the table of contents after the initial forward:
- Marksmanship Fundamentals
- The Minute of Angle
- Reading Your Scope Knobs
- Live-Fire Practice
- Recommended Reading
- Appendix 1: Rifle Maintenance
- Appendix 2: Ballistics
- Appendix 3: Sniper Functional Fitness Test
- Appendix 4: The Snipercraft Qualification Course
With that, let’s get to the highlights.
Chapter 1: Marksmanship Fundamentals
If you’ve watched some of the marksmanship training videos I have on the free videos page, you might recall that the primary marksmanship instructors continually talk about the seven steady hold factors. In pursuit of simplification, John reduces these to just four:
- Steady Position
- Breath Control
- Trigger Control
To be honest, I do the same thing when I take new shooters to the range. Focusing on these four elements is the most straight forward and easy to remember.
John’s reviews of the major components such as the natural point of aim, relaxation, and bone on bone support are all very good. Interestingly, he calls out the practice of closing your eyes as you shimmy and test your natural point of aim. I’ve been talking about doing it that way for years.
Additional topics here include more definitions and nomenclature regarding the rifle, determining eye dominance, breath control, trigger control, and follow-through.
In all, this is a very useful chapter. A lot of the information is stuff you’ve probably seen elsewhere, but I like the slightly different take that John brings to the table. Like my comments about Clausewitz and Moltke, John errs on the side of Moltke by talking more about “this is what works” than theory.
Chapter 2: Positions
John focuses on the four primary positions: standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone.
Interestingly, he uses diagrams from the 1889 US Army Small Arms Firing Regulation. It’s not out of some nostalgia or that they did it better, though. Rather, he’s emphasizing that proper shooting technique from these positions is not new, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
I’ve never thought about it, but John makes the point that standing is the best position to learn marksmanship fundamentals. This is because there is no support to cover up mistakes. With that, the skills required to stabilize the standing transfer directly to the other more stable positions.
With each of the main positions, John hits the most useful variants. For example, with the sitting, he only covers the crossed ankle and crossed leg positions.
This chapter is also the first time I’ve seen someone quantify a difference in group size when going from prone to sitting or standing.
Chapter 3: The Minute of Angle
As you can probably guess, this chapter is all about angular measurement.
I found his explanations of the Minute of Angle and the Milliradian easy enough to understand. This book is written for people who’ve never seen this stuff before, so it makes sense to break it down the way he did. There isn’t any magic voodoo here, though.
I enjoyed the admonishment to stop referring to sight adjustments in terms of “clicks” and instead use the actual angular value.
Chapter 4: Reading Your Scope Knobs
This is another fundamentals discussion involving scope adjustments. John focuses on the hash marks on the knob itself as well as the ones below the knob indicating how many complete turns you’ve made.
Along with that, he talks shares some good practices with checking your elevations settings whenever you’ve been away from the rifle for a bit.
Chapter 5: Live-Fire Practice
This chapter includes a series of drills you can perform to practice your fundamentals. Range work, John mentions, should not begin until you’ve had sufficient practice with the fundamentals through dry-fire.
One at the range, he lays out a sequence of activities starting with bore sighting and then up through zeroing and timed performance drills.
I particularly liked his incorporation of fitness into some of the activities.
Appendix 1: Rifle Maintenance
This section describes good maintenance practices, suggested tools, and some safety precautions.
In all, if you are already familiar with cleaning rifles then there isn’t anything new here. I did appreciate the warning about not putting grease on the front of bolt locking lugs due to chamber pressure concerns.
The sequence of steps for cleaning is simple and easy to follow if you don’t already have a routine.
Appendix 2: Ballistics
My inner data nerd really enjoyed this portion. John has a very good discussion about internal and external ballistics. He even does some myth-busting along the way.
Some of the important things he mentions are temperature, humidity, wind, and bore dimensions. He covers the practice of taping the muzzle to prevent debris, and why it is OK to do despite old wives tales.
His discussion on the effects of wind was very interesting. He emphasizes that you really need to be more concerned with the wind closer to the muzzle than at the target, which is totally counter to everything I’ve seen before. But, to back it up, he also presents evidence through experimentation.
Appendix 3: Sniper Functional Fitness Test
Now we circle back to fitness, something I enjoy talking about. John admits that it seems odd to include a section of fitness in a book about marksmanship, but I don’t think it is at all.
Good physical fitness is important, and not just because the book is geared towards police officers. The faster you can recover from vigorous movement, then the more accurate you will be after that movement.
In this appendix, John goes through the various stages of his functional fitness test. Each stage of the test covers a different component, from cardiovascular endurance to strength.
Appendix 4: Sniper Qualification Course
This final section discusses the qualification course used at Derek Bartlett’s Snipercraft school, which John works with. It’s done in a series of phases, with each one building on skills learned through focused practice.
He mentions that you should not “train for the test.” Rather, you should build your skills with fundamentals and practice. The test covers all aspects of shooting from positions, with precision, and including physical exertion.
If you already compete and have a strong grasp of the fundamentals, there might not be a lot of new information for you here. The target audience for this book is folks who are relatively new to shooting and haven’t had any formal instruction on how to handle rifles.
That said, I think there is still a lot of valuable content.
John’s explanations on how to adjust, test, and set a natural point of aim are far more clear than reading through TC 3-22.9 or other military manuals. He effectively cuts out a lot of fluff in order to teach you the bare minimums to get you started.
The intent, after all, is for people to get a grasp on the basics before heading to a physical shooting school.
You can pick up John’s book on Amazon.