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Proper Methods of a Military Snipers
Tracking and counter Tracking

When a sniper follows a trail, he builds a picture of the enemy in his mind by asking himself questions: How many persons am I following? What is their state of training? How are they equipped? Are they healthy? What is their state of morale? Do they know they are being followed? To answer these questions, the sniper uses available indicators to track the enemy. The sniper looks for signs that reveal an action occurred at a specific time and place. For example, a footprint in soft sand is an excellent indicator, since a sniper can determine the specific time the person passed by comparing indicators; the sniper obtains answers to his questions. For example, a footprint and a waist-high scuff on a tree may indicate that an armed individual passed this way.


Any indicator the sniper discovers can be defined by one of six tracking concepts: displacement, stains, weather, litter, camouflage, and immediate-use intelligence.


Displacement takes place when anything is moved from its original position. A well-defined footprint or shoe print in soft, moist ground is a good example of displacement. By studying the footprint or shoe print, the sniper determines several important facts. For example, a print left by worn footgear or by bare feet may indicate lack of proper equipment. Displacement can also result from clearing a trail by breaking or cutting through heavy vegetation with a machete. These trails are obvious to the most inexperienced sniper who is tracking. Individuals may unconsciously break more branches as they follow someone who is cutting the vegetation. Displacement indicators can also be made by persons carrying heavy loads who stop to rest; prints made by box edges can help to identify the load. When loads are set down at a rest halt or campsite, they usually crush grass and twigs. A reclining soldier also flattens the vegetation.

Analyzing Footprints. Footprints may indicate direction, rate of movement, number, sex, and whether the individual knows he is being tracked.

  1. If footprints are deep and the pace is long, rapid movement is apparent. Long strides and deep prints with toe prints deeper than heel prints indicate running.
  2. Prints that are deep, short, and widely spaced, with signs of scuffing or shuffling indicate the person is carrying a heavy load.
  3. If the party members realize they are being followed, they may try to hide their tracks. Persons walking backward have a short, irregular stride. The prints have an unnaturally deep toe, and soil is displaced in the direction of movement.
  4. To determine the sex, the sniper should study the size and position of the footprints. Women tend to be pigeon-toed, while men walk with their feet straight-ahead or pointed slightly to the outside. Prints left by women are usually smaller and the stride is usually shorter than prints left by men.

Determining Key Prints. The last individual in the file usually leaves the clearest footprints; these become the key prints. The sniper cuts a stick to match the length of the prints and notches it to indicate the width at the widest part of the sole. He can then study the angle of the key prints to the direction of march. The sniper looks for an identifying mark or feature, such as worn or frayed footwear, to help him identify the key prints. If the trail becomes vague erased, or merges with another, the sniper can use his stick-measuring devices and, with close study, can identify the key prints. This method helps the sniper to stay on the trail. A technique used to count the total number of individuals being tracked is the box method. There are two methods the sniper can use to employ the box method.

  1. The most accurate is to use the stride as a unit of measure when key prints can be determined. The sniper uses the set of key prints and the edges of the road or trail to box in an area to analyze. This method is accurate under the right conditions for counting up to 18 persons.
  2. The sniper may also use the 36-inch box method if key prints are not evident. To use the 36-inch box method, the sniper uses the edges of the road or trail as the sides of the box. He measures a cross section of the area 36 inches long, counting each indentation in the box and dividing by two. This method gives a close estimate of the number of individuals who made the prints; however, this system is not as accurate as the stride measurement.

Recognizing Other Signs of Displacement. Foliage, moss, vines, sticks, or rocks that are scuffed or snagged from their original position form valuable indicators. Vines may be dragged, dew droplets displaced, or stones and sticks overturned to show a different color underneath. Grass or other vegetation may be bent or broken in the direction of movement.

  1. The sniper inspects all areas for bits of clothing, threads, or dirt from footgear that can be torn or can fall and be left on thorns, snags, or the ground.
  2. Flushed from their natural habitat, wild animals and birds are another example of displacement. Cries of birds excited by unnatural movement is an indicator; moving tops of tall grass or brush on a windless day indicates that someone is moving the vegetation.
  3. Changes in the normal life of insects and spiders may indicate that someone has recently passed. Valuable clues are disturbed bees, ant holes uncovered by someone moving over them, or tom spider webs. Spiders often spin webs across open areas, trails, or roads to trap flying insects. If the tracked person does not avoid these webs, he leaves an indicator to an observant sniper.
  4. If the person being followed tries to use a stream to cover his trail, the sniper can still follow successfully. Algae and other water plants can be displaced by lost footing or by careless walking. Rocks can be displaced from their original position or overturned to indicate a lighter or darker color on the opposite side. The person entering or exiting a stream creates slide marks or footprints, or scuffs the bark on roots or sticks. Normally, a person or animal seeks the path of least resistance; therefore, when searching the stream for an indication of departures, snipers will find signs in open areas along the banks.


A stain occurs when any substance from one organism or article is smeared or deposited on something else. The best example of staining is blood from a profusely bleeding wound. Bloodstains often appear as spatters or drops and are not always on the ground; they also appear smeared on leaves or twigs of trees and bushes.

By studying bloodstains, the sniper can determine the wound's location.

  1. If the blood seems to be dripping steadily, it probably came from a wound on the trunk.
  2. If the blood appears to be slung toward the front, rear, or sides, the wound is probably in the extremity.
  3. Arterial wounds appear to pour blood at regular intervals as if poured from a pitcher. If the wound is a vein, the blood pours steadily.
  4. A lung wound deposits pink, bubbly, and frothy bloodstains.
  5. A bloodstain from a head wound appears heavy, wet, and slimy.
  6. Abdominal wounds often mix blood with digestive juices so the deposit has an odor and is light in color.

The sniper can also determine the seriousness of the wound and how far the wounded person can move unassisted. These problems may lead the sniper to enemy bodies or indicate where they have been carried. Staining can also occur when muddy footgear is dragged over grass, stones, and shrubs. Thus, staining and displacement combine to indicate movement and direction. Crushed leaves may stain rocky ground that is too hard to show footprints. Roots, stones, and vines may be stained where moving feet crushes leaves or berries.

The sniper may have difficulty in determining the difference between staining and displacement since both terms can be applied to some indicators. For example, muddied water may indicate recent movement; displaced mud also stains the water. Muddy footgear can stain stones in streams, and algae can be displaced from stones in streams and can stain other stones or the bank. Muddy water collects in new footprints in swampy ground; however, the mud settles and the water clears with time. The sniper can use this information to indicate time; normally, the mud clears in about one hour, although time varies with the terrain.


Weather either aids or hinders the sniper. It also affects indicators in certain ways so that the sniper can determine their relative ages. However, wind, snow, rain, or sunlight can erase indicators entirely and hinder the sniper. The sniper should know how weather affects soil, vegetation, and other indicators in his area. He cannot determine the age of indicators until he understands the effects that weather has on trail signs.

  1. By studying weather effects on indicators, the sniper can determine the age of the sign (for example, when bloodstains are fresh, they are bright red). Air and sunlight first change blood to a deep ruby-red color, then to a dark brown crust when the moisture evaporates. Scuff marks on trees or bushes darken with time; sap oozes, then hardens when it makes contact with the air.
  2. Weather affects footprints. By carefully studying the weather process, the sniper can estimate the age of the print. If particles of soil are beginning to fall into the print, the sniper should become a stalker. If the edges of the print are dried and crusty, the prints are probably about one hour old. This varies with terrain and should be considered as a guide only.
  3. A light rain may round the edges of the print. By remembering when the last rain occurred, the sniper can place the print into a time frame. A heavy rain may erase all signs.
  4. Trails exiting streams may appear weathered by rain due to water running from clothing or equipment into the tracks. This is especially true if the party exits the stream single file. Then, each person deposits water into the tracks. The existence of a wet, weathered trail slowly fading into a dry trail indicates the trail is fresh.
  5. Wind dries tracks and blows litter, sticks, or leaves into prints. By recalling wind activity, the sniper may estimate the age of the tracks. For example, the sniper may reason "the wind is calm at the present but blew hard about an hour ago. These tracks have litter in them, so they must be over an hour old." However, he must be sure that the litter was not crushed into them when the prints were made.

  6. Wind affects sounds and odors. If the wind is blowing toward the sniper, sounds and odors may be carried to him; conversely, if the wind is blowing away from the sniper, he must be extremely cautious since wind also carries sounds toward the enemy. The sniper can determine wind direction by dropping a handful of dust or dried grass from shoulder height. By pointing in the same direction the wind is blowing, the sniper can localize sounds by cupping his hands behind his ears and turning slowly. When sounds are loudest, the sniper is facing the origin.
  7. In calm weather (no wind), air currents that may be too light to detect can carry sounds to the sniper. Air cools in the evening and moves downhill toward the valleys. If the sniper is moving uphill late in the day or at night, air currents will probably be moving toward him if no other wind is blowing. As the morning sun warms the air in the valleys, it moves uphill. The sniper considers these factors when plotting patrol routes or other operations. If he keeps the wind in his face, sounds and odors will be carried to him from his objective or from the party being tracked.
  8. The sniper should also consider the sun. It is difficult to fire directly into the sun, but if the sniper has the sun at his back and the wind in his face, he has a slight advantage.


A poorly trained or poorly disciplined unit moving over terrain may leave a trail of litter. Unmistakable signs of recent movement are gum or candy wrappers, food cans, cigarette butts, remains of fires, or human feces. Rain flattens or washes litter away and turns paper into pulp. Exposure to weather can cause food cans to rust at the opened edge; then, the rust moves toward the center. The sniper must consider weather conditions when estimating the age of litter. He can use the last rain or strong wind as the basis for a time frame.


Camouflage applies to tracking when the followed party employs techniques to baffle or slow the sniper. For example, walking backward to leave confusing prints, brushing out trails, and moving over rocky ground or through streams.


The sniper combines all indicators and interprets what he has seen to form a composite picture for on-the-spot intelligence. For example, indicators may show contact is imminent and require extreme stealth.

  1. The sniper avoids reporting his interpretations as facts. He reports what he has seen rather than stating these things exist. There are many ways a sniper can interpret the sex and size of the party, the load, and the type of equipment. Timeframes can be determined by weathering effects on indicators.
  2. Immediate-use intelligence is information about the enemy that can be used to gain surprise, to keep him off balance, or to keep him from escaping the area entirely. The commander may have many sources of intelligence reports, documents, or prisoners of war. These sources can be combined to form indicators of the enemy's last location, future plans, and destination.
  3. Tracking, however, gives the commander definite information on which to act immediately. For example, a unit may report there are no men of military age in a village. This information is of value only if it is combined with other information to make a composite enemy picture in the area. Therefore, a sniper who interprets trail signs and reports that he is 30 minutes behind a known enemy unit, moving north, and located at a specific location, gives the commander information on which he can act at once.

I think that about covers it. Anyhow, study hard and be safe. But most of all be quiet.

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