Sniper/Spotter Communication


Before we can talk about Sniper and Spotter Communication we will need to first outline the purpose of the spotter.  Most people do not realize just how vital the role of the spotter is.  Let us use the example of a single shooter heading to the range to do some long range practice.  How effective is that shooter once they  have reached the limit of their optics or spotting scope to see the round impact on paper?  From personal experience, the maximum range is limited to just a couple hundred yards. Now once the shooter moves out even further, the task becomes almost impossible without a clean sheet of steel to shoot at because as soon as the shooter squeezes the trigger they experience violent recoil, the scope black’s out and except for really long range shots, once the rifle has recovered and settled after the recoil, the round has already impacted the target, or near by, and the shooter is forced to guess where the bullet impact was. It becomes apparent how helpful a spotter would be if their role was solely to report bullet impact.  However, there is far more that they are responsible for doing.

Role of the Spotter

Believe it or not, in most circumstances of the two team members, the “Spotter” is generally the Sniper with the most experience.  Why is this you may ask?  Well that is a great question and I think you will have a better idea as we discuss more of the Spotters responsibilities a little more in depth.  So let’s dive in to what other purposes a spotter can serve.

  1. Identifying targets/Observation.  With the use of binoculars or a spotting scope the spotter is able to  assist the shooter in identifying targets and observation of possible threats.  Not only does he provide an extra set of eye’s, but with the use of Binos, he is provided a larger field of view allowing a larger area to be scanned quicker.  The use of a spotting scope also allows a larger field of view, and allows the spotter to zoom in a lot more than most rifle scopes are capable which helps in observing targets. In most case’s a sniper team will spend much more time observing, forwarding vital information than actually engaging targets.
  2. Range Estimation and Range Calculations.  Once a target has been identified, before it can be engaged, it’s range has to be estimated.  Bad Range-E is the number one reason for misses in unknown distance long range shooting, which obviously is the most common shooting for a sniper team.  For example if you are engaging a target at 900 yards and you estimate it at 950 yards, with a .308 that shot goes over his head.  Many of your high end spotting scopes and some military type binoculars have a reticle like in a rifle scope.  This will allow the spotter to not only help identify target’s but he or she can also provide a second mil reading if time permits.  Once the mil reading has been taken by the shooter it’s the spotters job to calculate the range of the target, and with the use of their Data Of Previous Engagements (DOPE) give the shooter the proper scope corrections to successfully engage the target.
  3. Calling wind.  Calling wind is one of the trickiest jobs of the spotter.  The reason is because wind is always changing.  The wind blowing at your positing is most assuredly blowing differently at your target, and everywhere in between.  It takes years of practice to be able to confidently and effectively call wind and give the shooter proper corrections.
  4. Report Bullet Impact.  We have already touched on this subject a bit, but once the bullet is fired it’s the Spotters responsibility to tell the shooter where it went.  In a perfect world the round will go right where the shooter was aiming. Unfortunately, with all the variables involved,  it is not always the case. Due to distance, terrain, and environmental conditions the Spotter can not always see bullet impact.  So he is forced to rely on other methods of observation, primarily Reading Trace.   A quick explanation of Trace can be described as follows: as the bullet in flight is pushing the air in front of it,  It’s rotation and heat disrupts the light waves behind it creating a path the trained eye can follow when using optics.  The “path” looks somewhat like a tiny boat wake of mirage. With the help of a high quality spotting scope on the correct power, the eye is capable of following that path from about midway of the bullets trajectory to the bullets impact, and sometimes even more.  Without positive identification of the bullet impact the spotter is unable to give effective corrections to the shooter, which places more emphasis on being able to see trace.
  5. Support. This is a role of the spotter that is of the most importance in actual combat. Having the moral support and confirming opinion of the second team member helps the sniper team as a whole be able to deal with the psychological impacts of operating as a sniper team. It is also nice to have a second opinion and second set of eyes to help with difficult scenarios.
Canadian Special Forces Sniper Team

As you can see, the job of the Spotter is not as simple as it initially sounds. Many of the skills involved requires years of training and practice to master.

Team Communication

Let us now talk about the actual Team Communication.  To be honest there is not set way for a team to communicate.  It is developed as a team  and can consist of what ever lingo you desire as long as its communicated effectively, quickly, and discretely -you would hate to give you position away because you were to loud.  While there is no one set way for a team to communicate, there are some specific things that should probably be ironed out for effective communication. These include things such as using MOA or Mils, or even “clicks” to communicate scope adjustments. Whether a team will use meters or yards (It does make a difference, though lots of times unit SOP dictates that for you). Some teams will talk while others grunt, and some even use pats or kicks to communicate certain situations without using noise.   To help illustrate how communication can take place between spotter and shooter, here is an example of a potential shot sequence as a team:

Acquire Target.
Spotter:  Target, 24″ square to the right of the road.
Shooter:  Roger, got it.
Estimate Range.
Spotter:  Give me a reading.
Shooter:  ah, looks like 1.5 MILS.
Spotter: Roger that, 1.5 MILS. That equates to 445 yards.
Provide DOPE.
Spotter:  Lets go with our 450 yard dope. Dial in 9.75 MOA from your 100 yard zero.
Shooter:  Roger, Up 9.75 MOA.
Wind Reading.
Spotter:  I have a slight left to right wind, dial in Left 1 MOA.
Shooter: Roger, Left 1 MOA.
Spotter:  Spotters up
Shooter: ahhhhhhhhhhh.
Spotter:  Send it.
Shooter: 9 O’clock, 2 inches.
Report and Correct.
Spotter:  Just off the right edge of target, hold left edge and re-engage. Spotters Up
Shooter: ahhhhhhhhhh.
Spotter:  Send it.
Shooter: 11 O’clock, 1 inch.
Spotter: Center Mass, nice shot.

Now this is just one example, although it is a pattern that works for some, it may not work for all.  So as a team figure out what works best for you, practice it and perfect it. Notice that as the shooter was preparing to take the shot and was taking up the slack in the trigger, he did not say “Shooter Up”, as this causes unwanted body movement to talk. Instead he just made an audible “aaahhhhh” sound, which the team had previous set as their indicator that the shooter was ready to engage the target. Notice also that the team used a clock method combined with inches to indicate their called shot as well as round impact. This again is something that is team dependent and should be settled on ahead of time.

Additional Pointers

A couple notes of interest in Sniper/Spotter communication is the shooter calling his shot and the action of spotter and shooter repeating the information that passed between team members.

1000 yard results from successful team communication

First, Calling the Shot by the shooter-before the spotters report of shot impact is vital! Calling the shot by the shooter is simply the Shooter telling the Spotter where the reticle was aiming when the round went off.  It is SELDOM center mass. As a beginning long range shooter this was a very difficult concept for me to accept.  Why would I squeeze the trigger if my sights were not aligned correctly?  I wouldn’t -or so I naively thought. If you imagine yourself shooting at a 1″ pasted bulls eye at 100y away you will notice very small movements even while using front and back support of your rifle.  Now imagine your shooting at a target 35″ tall by 20″ wide at 800y.  The little bit of movement you had at 100y is still there but what once covered .25″ now covers a much larger distance.  It is important that you are honest with yourself and your spotter as to the location of the reticle at the time the rifle is fired, and communicate the error. Many teams use the clock method to record this location. If your shot was a little high and to the left tell him 10 O’clock 4″, or maybe it was just a few inches to the right – 3 O’clock 2″.  This information YOU provide as a shooter is vital to the spotter being able to give you correct scope adjustments.  Otherwise you will continue to follow your shots and gain no consistency, and Consistency equals Accuracy.

Second, Repeating Information. This simple act will ensure that the communication between team members is interpreted correctly, i.e.: that left is left, and up is up.  There are not many things more frustrating in training than a good correction applied incorrectly. In certain tactical situations poor communication could be the life of a hostage, or your own life if that target is another sniper hunting you and you miss first.


It is often times said that communication is the life blood of a relationship. That holds true with a sniper team as well. Effective team communication can make or break a team. As we have trained hundreds of long range shooting teams over the years, we have seen all forms of communication. Some of it is mild, understanding and precise. Others is brash, brazen and down right mean. But we have seen all types work equally as well as the others, and we have seen all types fail. What is important is the the team figures out the basics, and then begins shooting and communicating. That is when the details will then get ironed out. Make sure it is efficient, effective and consistent so there are no mix-ups when it really counts. Consistency equals Accuracy in everything a sniper team does.