Sniper Path Selection and Stalking


We have already spent some time going over the individual movement techniques when it comes to a sniper. Those are your tools, but knowing how to move is not going to get a sniper team to its Final Firing Position (FFP) by themselves. The sniper has to utilize those tools in the best manner possible in order to get to the FFP undetected. What we will cover in this block of instruction is how a sniper plans his or her route in order to give them the best chance of success during an insertion.


The planning phase is perhaps the single most important part of not only stalking and path selection, but with any sniper operation. The idiom of “Failing to plan is planning to fail” holds a lot of truth and applies here as well. Now that I mention it, it is equally as important with just about any operation whether military and sniper related, or not. Murphy’s Laws of combat dictate that the best laid plan goes up in smoke the instant the first round is fired. That may be true, but when deliberately planning a movement into a FFP, a well thought up plan, with contingencies, will help the sniper team pull it off without a hitch.

Typically the best way to approach a plan is by knowing, as close as possible, where the FFP is going to be setup. This is where prior knowledge of an area of operation is valuable and being able to tap into other intelligence sources that have actually had boots on the objective can really come in handy. This is also a reason why good sniper hides tend to be utilized more than once as they become a known commodity and the team is experienced as to what to expect moving into and out of that particular FFP. Good intelligence is not always available for the desired FFP or Area of Operation (AO), so the use of maps, aerial and ground photos, and other means of intelligence gathering can be used. Obviously, when choosing the general area that a team would like to setup their FFP, several things should be considered, including sight lines and fields of fire on the objective, security and self preservation accommodations, and concealed routes immediately adjacent to the desired area.

Once a good area for an FFP is identified, the team should start working backwards from the FFP to the launch point of the insertion/stalk. Starting from the FFP and moving back will more quickly point out flaws and vulnerabilities in the desired FFP. The closer the team is to the AO and FFP, the more critical concealed routes of insertion and exfiltration become. The sniper needs to identify potential areas of exposure and see if those areas can be avoided. Obviously cover is more desirable than just concealment, but at times there may not be a better option than just concealment. If at all possible, a team should never move through an area that is unconcealed, even if moving at night. Again, a team can tap into any resources they have at their disposal, especially anyone who has put boots on the ground near the planned insertion route. Another important tidbit of information is if it is possible; never repeat the same insertion or exfiltration route. The odds of discovery go up considerably each time the same route is used.

As a sniper plans from the FFP back to the demarcation point of the stalk, he needs to be sure to annotate what equipment may be needed at which phase in the insertion, and be sure to plan listening and rest points. This is standard stuff from a Patrol Basics 101 class, but the stuff has been put in the infantry bibles for a reason, they work and save lives. As a sniper team compiles a list of needed equipment for the stalk, they need to be sure to organize and pack it in a way that allows the ‘next’ item to be available as the stalk progresses. This is all a part of complete planning.

The use of computers, GPS, sattelite imagery and all the other modern technology can also be very useful, especially in urban environments. Of course, providing a detailed computer plotted insertion route to the Sniper Employment Officer (SEO) or CO would also be beneficial.


Obviously a well laid out plan helps tremendously with the actual execution of the stalk itself, but nothing can substitute actually executing the plan and performing the stalk. While stalking, there are a few key things to remember while in the movement phase and these points apply no matter what terrain a sniper team is operating in.

First and foremost, a sniper needs to take his or her time. This applies to all facets of the stalk. A team needs to take their time when selecting a proper FFP, preparing a good plan, moving, and examining the FFP before moving into it. We have already covered the process of planning the stalk, but in regards to the actual movement phase, moving slow and deliberate is critical. A sniper is invisible, that is one of the key components to a snipers survival, and one of the easiest ways a sniper gives their position away is through movement. So when a sniper has to move, such as when stalking, it is done deliberately and never rushed. There is a common saying, ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast’, there is truth to that, and not only is slow smooth, it is also safe. As mentioned in the article on individual sniper movement techniques, a sniper should assume the movement technique that is one Step BELOW what the sniper believes is required. For instance, if the sniper believes he can get away with doing a hands and knee crawl, then utilize the High Crawl instead. This gives the sniper a cushion to help cover mistakes or unforeseen issues.

Another key point to remember is that the human eye cannot see through non-transparent objects. So, while executing the planned route, the sniper should utilize the surrounding terrain and obstacles to hide their movement. I know this sounds obvious, but it is surprising how often young snipers make a beeline straight toward their select FFP, utilizing newly learned movement techniques to painstakingly traverse barren terrain instead of alternating their route to simply stay down in a slight depression that moves around such areas. Or even to simply keep trees between them and the potential enemy location. This is where good planning can really help out but common sense and situational awareness go a long way as well.

As one might imagine, since movement can give a sniper away, it typically is advisable to move when human eyesight is hindered, such as during the dark hours of the night. It is very common for a sniper team to insert during the night and if possible to remain in an FFP throughout the day and then exfiltrate the following night. Of course, extended stays in a hide are also required at times and can be very effective. Be aware that moving at night or in darkness only adds an additional level of security, it does NOT mean that a sniper team can reduce or skip over any of the other precautions they do during a stalk. All of the same rules should apply. Use the terrain to mask movement, utilize the proper movement technique, properly plan the stalk path, etc. Doing all of these things will help with a successful execution of the planned stalk, both day and night. The use of night vision devices is becoming more wide spread throughout the world, so a team can never assume the enemy is operating without the use of NVDs.

Using deliberate slow movement combined with longer paths to utilize the available cover will increase the amount of time it takes to execute the stalk, as such; plenty of time needs to be allocated for the proper execution. The feeling of operating under a difficult time restriction can cause anxiety, therefore causing a team to rush their movements. These rushed actions lead to sloppy execution and ultimately can lead to detection of the team during their movement. Allowing plenty of time for the stalk allows the team to maintain diligence during movement which will help a team stay sharp during a long stalk. Good physical conditioning and mental toughness help with this as well and extended stalking should be a regular part of a team’s training program.

Tips & Tricks

There are a few little tips and tricks that can help with the path selection for a stalk.

Do not be afraid to use any available technology. Google earth is a free application that has a large database of satellite imagery and while the resolution is not good enough for detailed route planning, it can be used to provide a good overall perspective as well as provide locations of some buildings and general ideas about terrain and elevation relief. Typically more up to date imagery is available for military use, but Law Enforcement may not always have access to such images and terrain detail, and here, Google Earth and other similar competing technologies may really come in handy.

When a sniper team is selecting a path for a stalk, the team needs to be careful not to select a path that is obviously the best path to use. It will be obvious to not only the team but the enemy as well. Obvious paths tend to be a great location to setup trip wires or ambushes. If a path looks too good to be true, just be sure to double check it.

I have mentioned it in several other articles before, but shadows are a sniper’s friend. A sniper needs to be sure to incorporate and use shadows in both their movement to the FFP and also at the FFP itself. Deep shadows help tremendously in concealment as the human eye has a hard time seeing into shadows when the pupil is shrunk down from bright light surrounding the shadows. But a sniper team needs to be aware that shadows both move and also become less concealing when the surrounding light begins to diminish. Much like movement at night, shadows should be used as another tool to aid in concealment; they are not to be used to replace any of the other tactically correct techniques.

Conclusion Like most things in life, proper planning goes a long way toward proper execution and the planning phase is equally as important as the execution phase of a stalk. The very survivability of a sniper team rests squarely on the team’s ability to remain invisible. Through proper route planning and movement technique, a properly prepared and trained sniper team will be able to successfully remain invisible and capable of accomplishing its designated mission. Ongoing training is paramount to maintaining a team’s stalking capability which in turn keeps the effectiveness of the unit at a maximum. Do not let these perishable skills whither on the vine and die, train with a purpose.