Importance of Good Range Cards


The typical infantryman becomes very proficient at creating a range card throughout their career simply because of the sheer number of range cards they end up creating. Each time a fighting position is occupied, a range card is created and then hauled back to the next up in the chain of command so that they can evaluate the lanes of fire, and determine if there are any gaps in their defenses or other things to be aware of. The range card itself is a critical part of the infantryman’s life. The sniper team also has a great need for range cards, but the uses are different than the standard infantry use and this then dictates some changes to the range card creation process. This article is intended to go over some of the uses and differences of range cards as used by sniper teams, and while most of it pertains to Military snipers, there is still value for a Law Enforcement sniper to be proficient in the creation and use of range cards as well. Read further to discover the details on how to effectively use range cards to the betterment of the sniper team as well as the overall unit a sniper team is serving with.

Why Snipers Use Range Cards

For the standard infantry unit the range cards are created for each individual fighting position (foxhole) and those cards can look a lot like the sample above. Granted that is a textbook style range card for a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and the average infantryman doesn’t quite get them looking that good. All of those fighting position range cards are then used by the squad leader to create a squad sector sketch which would look like the image below.

Those squad sector sketches can then be taken to the platoon leader where he does the same thing on a platoon level, and then the platoon ones are created and given to the company commander where he can evaluate the various sectors, create his own sketch, and evaluate where he may need to provide additional security or listening and observation posts (LP/OP). This is just standard operating procedures for most infantry units in the world, and when sniper units are operating attached to, or as a part of an infantry unit, chances are they will be tasked by the CO to fill in some gaps in their security that became apparent after creating his sector sketch. It is up to the CO and Sniper Employment Officer (SEO) to determine how best utilize his sniper team(s) based on the need. This is why it is best that the sniper teams be directly attached to the HQ platoon or company, depending on the organization. Once that tasking has been made, the sniper team would then move out and determine their final firing position (FFP) to cover the assigned area, and then guess what, they would create a range card to be passed up the chain of command.

The above process is all fine and dandy, and that is an excellent use of snipers in a defensive position and an excellent use of sniper range cards. But this is not the only case in which a sniper team would create a range card; in fact, snipers create range cards far more frequently than the average infantrymen. A well trained sniper team will create a range card every time they enter a FFP in which they intend to stay for longer than 15 minutes. Regardless of the mission type or with whom they are operating with, when a team enters a firing position, out comes the range card. The reason this is the case is because a sniper team will personally use that range card in a variety of ways that the normal infantry would not. Some uses that a sniper team will use a range card for include the following:

  • To pre-range various reference points to aide in quick range estimations when targets appear
  • Pre identify reference points for target acquisition in sniper/spotter communication
  • Identify Target Reference Points (TRP) for indirect fire as well as the sniper teams direct fire
  • To provide a log and reference to refer back to when something “odd” appears in the area
  • To help identify trouble spots to either watch closely or booby trap as needed.
  • To help identify and mark prevailing winds of observed area.

There are other uses that range cards can be used for that are not listed above, but this gives a general idea of the many functions that a sniper team has for a good, highly detailed range card. Each of these factors will aid in target acquisition, engagement and team security. But what are some of the required elements that should be used on a range card? Keep reading to find out.

Creating a Good Range Card

A range card is typically drawn on a preprinted card which is commonly found in just about all sniper data books. There is a section on the top portion of the card that includes some basic information such as magnetic north, date, and some other basics. The main part of the card includes a series of range circles that spread out from a center point that represents the location of the sniper team. Each circle represents a certain amount of distance as determined by the sniper team and the area in which they are setup. This area of the card is where the actual sketch of the team’s observation sector is drawn and symbols are used to provide as much useful information as possible. The portion of the range card below the sketch is used to provide additional details about various points on the range card such as Target Reference Points and other vital information to complete the details for the area.

There is no set perfect way to draw a range card, but there are a few basics that should always be included so as to provide useful information to other teams that you might be handing the position over to or to higher ups in the chain of command who may request to see the range card. Some of these necessities might include the following:

  • Weapon Symbol
  • Sector of fire
  • Target Reference Points (TRP)
  • Dead space and Terrain
  • Distance and azimuth from a known point
  • Magnetic north arrow
  • Max Engagement Line(s)
  • Data

Let us go over each of these in detail

Weapon Symbol – At the center of the range card a weapon symbol is drawn to represent what weapon the range card was drawn for. This is done so that the commanders up the chain of command know the capabilities of the weapon system covering the area they are looking at on the range card. For a sniper team the standard “arrow” used for an individual rifle is used. If the range card is being drawn on a generic infantry range card then in the “weapon” section of the data area, the model of the sniper rifle is specified. For a sniper specific range card, that information is not typically required. A modified symbol other than the standard arrow can be used to identify to the commanders that a trained sniper team with its associated capabilities is employed there, but this can ONLY be done if the symbol is already agreed upon and has been distributed throughout the necessary unit commanders.

Sector of Fire – The sector of fire is identified on the range card with a left and right sector limit drawn in. These lines represent the far left and far right areas the sniper team is covering. If time permits, these sector lines should be accompanied with proper azimuths measured with a compass and then correctly annotated in the data section of the range card. These sector limits are important as they are used by commanders when setting up sector sketches; this also includes the Sniper Employment Officer (SEO) who is coordinating the employment of the various sniper teams in the AO, or alternatively, the commander of the unit that the sniper team is attached to.

Target Reference Points – Target Reference Points (TRPs), are selected locations within a given sector that are identified on a range card with grid coordinates that can be pre assigned to artillery units in order to rapidly engage enemy units without having to go through all the normal steps when calling for fire. For sniper teams, TRPs are also used for various other reasons such as a spotter being able to use the TRP to direct his sniper onto a target as well as other uses which will be discussed later. A team should have at LEAST one TRP on a range card, typically several would be better. Assigning the TRPs names helps with team communication and this can be done with standard SOP naming conventions, or simply calling it what it is, such as “road intersection”.

Dead Space and Terrain – Dead space is any area in the teams sector that cannot be observed by the sniper team directly. It should be drawn on the overhead sketch of the range card and is typically indicated by drawing the actual unobservable area and then filling in the area with diagonal hash lines. Accurate representation of dead space is critical for the overall employment of both snipers and other units to insure there are no gaps in coverage or operating areas. For multiple sniper teams operating in conjunction with each other, a well-drawn range card with accurate dead space can be used to plan joint operations to help search out and engage targets of opportunity as well as provide over watch for friendly units. Drawing contour lines of major terrain features goes to serve the same purpose as dead space and helps give coordinating officers an idea of the lay of the land within their AO. Without knowing dead space and terrain features, it becomes extremely difficult to effectively operate as a cohesive unit.

Distance and azimuth from a known point – Typically a team will indicated on the range card the range and azimuth to a known point on a map, this is done to identify where the team is operating to help with coordination and employment of multiple units. The grid coordinate should be provided for that known point to remove any ambiguity.

Magnetic North arrow – This one should be obvious as it will provide an indication to all those looking at the range card of just how the sniper team’s sector is orientated from their position.

Max Engagement Lines – Max Engagement Lines (MEL) indicate on the range card the maximum effective range at which the team can engage the enemy. This is done to provide an overall picture to the commander(s) of where the sniper teams can effectively cover and engage. Again, this is another aide for planning operations and defenses. The MEL is a line drawn on the range card at the maximum effective range of the team. The line is drawn following the range arcs. If the team has multiple weapons systems, such as a 300 WM M24SWS working in conjunction with a 7.62 M110, both MELs can be drawn in to give a visual representation of those ranges.

Data – This refers to the bottom portion of the range card that provides an area for additional information such as weapon system, what distance each arc represents, TRP info and any other pertinent data for the team.

Sniper Specific Data and Use

There are some distinct reasons why a range card can profoundly improve the effectiveness of a sniper team and for these reasons; sniper teams typically use a range card design that is specific to the specialties of a sniper team. Perhaps the single biggest way a range card improves the effectiveness is by helping them be more effective in rapidly engaging targets. As a sniper team moves into their Final Firing Position (FFP) the first thing they should do is begin working on a range card. Because of the fluid and variable nature of how a sniper team operates, many times these range cards are only utilized by the team itself and are never passed up the chain of command as with a traditional range card. But it still pays large dividends for a team to create a range card and especially to focus on easily identifiable Target Reference Points (TRPs). By having several key TRPs identified in the teams sector, it makes the task of identifying and referencing a target much quicker for the team and makes it easy for one of the team members to help the other team member locate the target. “50 meters left of the burnt out tank hulk” is a much easier and quicker means of identifying the location of a target than “next to the smaller bush on the left”, which obviously can be much to ambiguous to quickly locate the target.

A sniper specific range card

But as we have indicated, perhaps the single biggest advantage of creating and using a range card is ranging a target and rapidly engaging it, or multiple targets. As a sniper team moves into a FFP there is typically some observation time before a target of opportunity enters the teams sector of engagement. More often than not, it is a very long time. During this time, if the team does take the time to identify their TRPs and then determines the range to those TRPs, whether using their scope reticle or a Laser Range Finder, it then becomes very quick and easy to get an accurate estimate of range to a target when one does enter their sector. If a target appears near the intersection TRP which was ranged at 630 meters, it is quick and easy to say “Target, slightly past the intersection, 640 meters”. This is the reason why it is good to try and locate several TRPs within a teams sector and if possible, have them at various distances away. If all the TRPs are at the same distance, and a target appears somewhat closer than those TRPs, then it is not as effective. This method of range estimating is far quicker than even using a LRF as the spotter and shooter never have to remove their eye away from the target, especially if they have taken the effort to memorize the distance to the TRPs they might be using.

The sniper specific range card typically has areas for the team to indicate what the correct DOPE is for each of the given range rings, and there is also an area for indicating holds for specific areas or TRPs of the sector. (See the example card above). In an effort to simply the range card, some of the data that is found in the standardized range card has been removed from the sniper specific range cards and there are more slots for the all-important TRPs.

To further increase the effectiveness of the TRP method of range finding, it is even better for a team to evaluate their area of operation and their sector and determine where the more likely appearance of a target may happen, and then figure out what DOPE they want to dial into their scope in order to be pre-dialed for the most likely engagement range in their sector. Then, using their log books and ballistics data, the sniper team comes up with some rough holdoffs for the other TRPs in relation to the pre-dialed in DOPE on the scope. This then can even further enhance the speed and effectiveness of the team’s engagements.

Let us look at an example: a sniper team may have entered into an overwatch position up on a slight rise overlooking a road intersection that has been receiving increased reports of suspicious activity. When the team first moves into their FFP the spotter begins filling out a range card and with the shooter scanning through the rifle, and the Spotter using a laser range finder (LRF) they identify four distinct TRPs; the intersection itself at 630 meters distance, a single oak tree on the left of their sector at 380 meters, an irrigation pump house at 750 meters, and a pronounced group of boulders on the far right of their sector at 525 meters. Because the reports had indicated the suspicious activity focused around the road intersection itself, the team decides to dial in their 625 meter dope which they acquired from examining their log book. They then again referenced their log book data and came up with hold offs for the other TRPs in relation to their 625 meter DOPE. The numbers they came up with included the need to hold about 3.5 MILS low at the oak tree, hold about 2 MILS high at the pump house, and hold 1.5 MILS low at the rock cluster. The spotter went ahead and wrote those hold values on the range card itself in the data section next to each TRP. At that point, the team began their normal sector scan routine and began monitoring the wind as well. After about 30 minutes the spotter reported “This wind is staying constant left to right, lets dial in 2 MOA left wind for a 600 meter engagement”, the sniper responded, “roger, coming left 2 MOA”, and then the scanning continued. It was two hours later, and the roles had changed and the wind calls had also changed over the last few hours. The shooter was now on the spotting scope and the spotter was behind the rifle, as was typical for their team’s standard operating procedures (SOP). Suddenly the new spotter reported:

“Target, 20 meters left and back from the rock cluster. Carrying an AK-74 and what appears to be an I.E.D.”
“Roger that, I’m on target”
“He’s heading to the ravine, hold 1.5 MILs low”
“Roger, holding 1.5 low”
“Spotter Up”
“Shooter Up”
“Send It”
“3 O’clock 4 inches”
“Roger that, good hit, target is down”


As was illustrated in the example above, the use of properly created range cards, even if just hastily created on the back of a scrap piece of paper, can dramatically enhance the effectiveness of a sniper team. If the team had not identified their TRPs and taken the time to range and estimate hold overs for those TRPs, the bad guy could have made it to the ravine and eluded their engagement. But knowing what the immediate hold over was and not having to dial in any scope adjustments allowed them to quickly and easily get a round on target where the traditional engagement process of identifying, ranging, dialing in the DOPE, and then engaging would have taken too long and the target would have potentially escaped.

There is an increased effort that is required to create a good range card every time and to fill out the proper data, and for the typical infantryman, it is a chore. But for an experienced and effective sniper team, it should be something that is routinely practiced and something that becomes a source of pride as the enhanced results and benefits of properly creating and using a range card are well worth the additional efforts.