Sniper Movement Techniques


During WWII after the Germans steam rolled the Norwegian regular army, a fairly stiff resistance force was developed during the German occupation. There was a sniper that operated during the entire occupation as part of the resistance and was never captured or killed. He was credited with over 300 kills during that time and he was using a rifle that had no optics. How was he so successful? Fieldcraft was his key; he was a master of moving and firing while concealed. On this page, we’ll go over some of the movement techniques you can use as a sniper to “help” you move in a stealthy manner. We will not be going over route selection, as that will be a separate topic we will discuss elsewhere. So let us get started.

The Basics

When moving as an individual sniper and/or as a sniper team, there are a few things you will want to remember and focus on which will help keep your mind in the proper state of attempting to maintain concealment at all times. The US Army teaches, and I’m sure they probably grabbed the concepts from the USMC and/or SF/SOTIC, that there are “rules of movement” for a sniper team and that they should always remember them. These rules are:

  • Always assume the area is under enemy observation.
  • Move Slowly. A sniper counts his movement progress in feet and inches.
  • Do not cause overhead movement of trees, bushes, or tall grasses by rubbing against them.
  • Plan every movement and move in segments of the route at a time.
  • Stop, look, and listen often.
  • Move during disturbances such as gunfire, explosions, aircraft noise, wind or anything that will distract the enemy’s attention or conceal the team’s movement.

I would like to give a personal (and embarrassing) example of how a failure to follow these rules for just a single minute would have cost us dearly had it not just been a training exercise.

My team was to be an Opposition Force (Opfor) for one of our platoon’s that was doing a tactical movement exercise. They were going to patrol about 5 KMs and we were to engage them as an enemy sniper team toward the end of their patrol. We were going to use it as an engagement exercise for us as well, though we were not going to E&E after engagement in order to let them get some training. So, we knew the general path and timeline to expect them to move into our Area of Operations (AO). We conducted a fairly good movement into our Final Firing Position (FFP) and maintained good concealment during the entire movement. We set up in a slight depression over looking a nice wide field with great lanes of fire out to about 800+ meters looking up a hill where we knew the enemy was coming. We waited, and waited…. and waited some more with no sign of them at all. It was well past their “no later than” time and we could not raise their Platoon Leader on the radio. It was getting late afternoon during late fall in Montana, and the temperatures were dropping and the breeze was chilling and my poor teammate, operating as the spotter at this time, was freezing. He asked for permission to retrieve a poncho liner from his ruck to use as a blanket, which I authorized… but here was my mistake, I failed to enforce the proper movement rules listed above. We assumed we were not under enemy observation, he did NOT move slowly, he did not stop, look and listen, and he did not plan every movement and move in segments, but worst of all I as a team leader did NOT enforce any of it and the blame lies square on my shoulders, for the enemy was observing the area from within the tree line 900 meters away and, of all people, a private noticed the movement from our position. They had been observing for a while assuming enemy contact was eminent and would have NEVER seen us had it not been for the sitting up, crawling back to the ruck and digging around of my teammate. The enemy laid down suppressive fire and successfully moved to engage and wipe us out. We would/could have E&E’d out of there, but that was beyond the point. It only took 30 seconds for us to drop our discipline and we were had. I chalked it up as a VERY embarrassing lesson learned, but better to learn it in training than in combat where your mistakes can cost you your life.

Hopefully that story illustrates the importance of following the Rules of Movement, at ALL times. Do not take a break, do not slack, it will cost you. Now let us get into the individual movement techniques to use while moving as a sniper. There are many different variations that are taught or you could use and you will probably find things that work better for you and your team. The ones I am presenting here are just basic guidelines that may help you get started. I will do my best to present pointers and descriptions of the various movement techniques. The movement techniques we will cover here are Walking, Hands & Knees Crawl, High Crawl, Medium Crawl and the Sniper Low Crawl. When selecting which technique to use during movement, a good rule to follow is always use the technique ONE level below what you think you can get away with. For instance, if you think you can stay un-observed using the Hand and Knees crawl, use the next lower, the High Crawl in this case. If you follow this rule faithfully, you should do okay.

We will take some time now to cover all of these movement techniques and explain them the best we can with the aide of some pictures. You will notice that in all of the techniques illustrated below, the rifle is not in a drag bag. The techniques are easier when the rifle is drug behind in a well camouflaged drag bag, but that does slow down access to the rifle. The choice is yours, but we have elected to illustrate the movement techniques with the rifle out.


Okay, so if we are always suppose to move one movement technique below what we think we can get away with, then when would we ever walk? I guess that is a valid question, so we’ll assume that the sniper walk is one step below the patrol walk. I will mention that when moving with a security detail, squad, fireteam, or otherwise, you do want to blend in and try to hide your sniper team status, because as we said, always assume you are under enemy observation.

The sniper walk is a bit different than a standard walk that is used while on patrol or otherwise. First, for all of these movement techniques, we are going to assume you will be ghillied and camo’d up. You would walk when you need to cover ground at a more rapid pace than you can when crawling and of course when you are certain you are aptly concealed to hide your upright movement and when the threat is fairly low. Walking is the fastest and easiest way to move when extreme silence is desired and is the most expedient of the movement techniques.

As indicated in the picture above, you will want to assume a bit of a crouched position bent forward at the waist. This helps maintain a lower profile and helps prevent silhouetting your profile. Try to keep the walking movement to areas with cover and concealment and stick to shadows and bushes when at all possible. When walking keep your weight on one foot, and then raise the other insuring that you clear all brush and moving it to your next desired location, sitting it down toe first and then the heal. When placing that 2nd foot, insure that you have solid footing where you will not kick or cause rocks to roll, etc. Over hard ground, the least amount of noise is usually created by placing the outside of the foot first and then rolling the toe/foot. There is no reason to walk with your head down, as it does not add any added protection and it impedes observation.

The weapon is held in line with the body by grasping the sling swivel and keeping the muzzle pointed down. With the weapon held like this and your opposite hand either lightly helping hold the weapon, or completely free, it will allow the sniper to drop to the ground fairly easily if need be, and still protect your weapon. At night time it is common to keep the weapon in close to the body so you can use your free hand to feel as needed.

Based off of what I have described above it is obvious that though walking is the fastest, the Sniper Walk is indeed still very slow. Remember what was mentioned in the beginning, snipers measure movement in inches and feet. Concealment is Critical! That does not change even when walking.

Hands and Knees Crawl

If cover is only adequate but still there, usually about 2 feet high or more, and silence is necessary, then the Hand and Knee crawl can be used. As is self explanatory by its name, this movement technique involves the sniper crawling on his/her hands and knees. Though, it may be more accurate to call it Hand and Knees, as you will typically be cradling the rifle in one hand and using the other to support the weight of your body. You can pick up and place the rifle on the ground as you move along, but I personally never liked doing that as I tend to protect even rugged military sniper rifles as much as I can.

The sniper above should probably bend that elbow a bit more to bring the body lower in order to reduce his profile. You will want to cradle that rifle in close to the body and support all of your upper body weight on that opposite arm. Then pick a point ahead where you want to place your hand and carefully and quietly move your hand to that location. If needed, you can support the weight of your body with the elbow of your rifle carrying hand. Also, if you see dry leaves, twigs or other things that will make noise, you can move them away with your hand before moving. Stealth is both audible as well as visual.

If at all possible, it is desirable to place the knee in the spot that was just vacated by your hand. This helps minimize movement of brush or the possibility of breaking twigs, etc. A warning also needs to be given to watch to keep your head and posterior down as low as you can.

High Crawl

When there is still decent cover and the sniper needs to cover some ground in a timelier manner than a low or medium crawl, then the high crawl comes into play. The idea is to keep the body off the ground slightly and place all the weight on the elbows and the shin area of your legs. The rifle can be carried by grasping the swivel as in the low crawl illustrated below, or it can be cradled in your arms for more speed. Be careful to remember that when cradling the weapon, you have a much wider footprint and the rifle can be moving brush and other things that can give away your position.

In the picture above, the sniper’s head and shoulders may be a bit too high again, by widening the elbows out a little it would lower his profile, and he should also be able to lower his chin a bit.

Now, to move, you would alternate pulling with each of your elbows, but you only push with ONE of your legs. You do not want to alternate legs because it causes your buttocks to raise, increasing your profile and it also increases the amount of foliage and other things you come in contact with. You can alternate legs if cover is adequate and time is critical, but it is not advisable. To avoid flopping the rifle around more when cradled, you can also elect to pull with both elbows at once while pushing with your one leg.

Medium Crawl

The medium crawl is used when there is minimum cover around and a sniper must keep a low profile but yet needs to move faster than the low crawl permits. The sniper’s medium crawl actually resembles the standard infantry low crawl.

It is similar to the sniper low crawl but one of the legs is bent forward and is used to push with. But insure that it is only one leg, once it gets tired, you can switch over to the other leg, but avoid alternating legs back and forth as this will cause your buttocks to raise and lower. Notice that the rifle is laid across the back of the forearm or even the hand. This protects the rifle from dragging along the ground and still keeps it in a low profile. If laid across just the hand, be careful about it hitting nearby brush and other things that may give vertical movement and give your position away. In the above picture the rifle may be laid a bit too high up the arm and gives the rifle a fairly high profile, something that may need to be corrected.

Sniper Low Crawl

The sniper low crawl is used when extreme caution is required or when there is little to no concealment. It is extremely slow and can be very tiresome over the long haul, but it will allow a sniper to cross areas that are otherwise not open for safe passage. The key to the sniper low crawl is very slow and even movements. You are not moving your legs beyond your toes and you want to prevent as much up and down bobbing of body parts as possible.

You want to keep your legs together and pay close attention to your feet, insuring they are laid flat. Heels that stick up are easy to spot across fairly open fields, especially if the boots are not well camouflaged like our sniper above. Your arms are stretched forward in front of the sniper and you literally inch along using your fingers and toes. You do not want much arm movement for the same reason you do not want leg movement. Smooth and slow, no jerkiness. The rifle can be laid across the back of the hand again as shown above or some prefer to lay it across the back of the hand but have the rifle extend back under the arm, keeping the rifle close to the body and better concealed. Either way requires extreme caution as that rifle can betray you when trying to remain concealed. Also be careful the muzzle does not protrude into the ground and fill your muzzle with dirt or debris. A piece of scotch tape across the muzzle works well for stalking and it will NOT effect your bullets flight at all as it breaks before the bullet hits it due to the pushed air in front of the bullet. I have heard electrical tape works just as well, but I have never tried it.

Other Techniques

There are other movement techniques and twists on the basics that you will tend to develop as you yourself use them more and more and find out what works for you and your team. I have also seen some different techniques taught and used by snipers from other areas. There is one technique I would like to mention here primarily because of its source and because it is potentially a good movement technique. The source is interesting because I learned of it while reading a reprint of the British sniping manual from 1946, right after WWII ended. That is over 60 years ago, but yet it still taught me something new! The pictures below are right out of the manual and are copyrighted to the Crown.

The technique is a bit of a mix between the sniper low crawl and the medium crawl, but what I really like about it is that the weapon is practically at the ready and yet it provides about the same low profile of the medium crawl. The weapon is actually held at the ready but not up to the shoulder. The feet are left flat and drag behind the sniper. And keep the head down.

Now, to actually perform the crawl, you pull your body forward using your elbows and bring the rifle below your chin, dragging your body behind you. This should be done in a slow and fluid motion and try to avoid jerky movement.

Notice how that beautiful No4mk1(T) sniper rifle is right there and ready to go and it would be easy and require less movement to bring it to the ready when the sniper reached his FFP. This technique can be something that can be added to the tool box for your use.

We have covered a number of different movement techniques as well as the rules of movement for a sniper. By using these techniques you will have the fundamentals required to move as a sniper team as well as perform a successful stalk or movement into a FFP. Remember the importance of the rules and practice the techniques on a regular basis. Your survivability may very well depend on it.