Techniques of Observation

A Sniper is not only a shooter. In fact, it can be argued that his most valuable trait is that he works as a scout gathering intelligence. To accomplish this mission he must have an expertise in all aspects of observation and stalking at night and day. As the eyes of the unit he must be able to observe an area to collect information. He must be able to push his or her eyes to the limit, whether in daylight or night. All in order to detect, identify, index and if necessary, eliminate his target.

Observation and scouting skills are critical for an effective sniper team. Here are some pointers as taught by the USMC.

*ALWAYS REMEMBER : No matter how bright the night may appear to be, it will never allow the human eye to function with daylight precision. For maximum effectiveness, the sniper must apply the following principles of night vision.*

  • Darkness Adaptation: It takes the human eye about thirty minutes to adjust itself to a marked lowering of illumination During that time the pupils are expanding and the eyes are not reliable. In cases where the sniper team is to depart on a mission during darkness, it is recommended that they wear sunglasses or red-lens goggles in lighted areas prior to their departure.
  • Off Center Vision: Off center vision is the best method of observing at night. It is the technique of focusing attention on an object without looking directly at it. An object under direct gaze in dim light will blur and appear to change, sometimes fading out completely. If the eyes are focused at different points around the object, about five to ten degrees away from it, your peripheral vision will provide a true picture of it. The reason for this is the portion of the eye that functions in reduced light is located around the outside edge of the retina.
  • Factors Effecting Night Vision: Of the factors effecting night vision the sniper has control over the following:
    • Lack of vitamin A impairs night vision. However., an overdose of will not increase your night vision capability.
    • Colds, fatigue, narcotics, headaches, smoking and alcohol will reduce night vision.
    • Exposure to bright light impairs night vision and necessitates a re adaptation to darkness.
    • Darkness blots out detail and color so a sniper must compensate by learning to recognize objects by and bodies by outline alone.

During the twilight hours the constantly changing natural light levels cause rapid shadow movement that the sniper must be aware of. This constant change in the light level also causes an equally constant process of eye adjustment.

  • Twilight: Twilight induces a false sense of security, and the sniper must be extremely cautious. For the same reason the enemy is prone to carelessness and will be more likely to expose himself. This is the time when most LPs and OP’s will be moving about This is a good time to note their locations for future reference. The cross hairs on the Unertl scope are visible and accurate from about one half hour before sunrise and one half hour after sunset. Begin morning nautical twilight (BMNT) and end evening nautical twilight (EENT) will vary from season to season. Other reticules like the German #1 are more effective during twilight and can extend those shooting hours a little.
  • Illumination Aids: On occasion, the sniper may have the assistance of artificial illumination for observation and shooting. Examples are:
    • Cartridge, Illuminating, M301A2 – 50,000 candlepower.
    • Zenon searchlights mounted on tanks – 50,000,000 candlepower.
    • Campfires, street lights and buildings often provide enough light to see and reduce a target.

Binos as an observation aid.

  • Binoculars: Of observation aids, the binoculars are the easiest to use. They are easily manipulated and the field of view is limited only by the snipers scanning ability. Each sniper team will be equipped with binos to aid in searching for and selecting targets. The binocular, 7×50 (Standard military issue), has seven power magnification and a 50mm objective lens. Focusing adjustments are on the eyepieces with separate adjustments for each eye. One monocle has a horizontal and vertical scale, graduated in mils, that is visible when the binos are in use.
  • Method of Holding Binoculars:
    • Binos are held lightly, monocles resting on the and supported by the heels of the hands.
    • The thumbs are used to block out light that would enter between the eyes and the eyepiece.
    • The eyepieces are held lightly to the eyes to avoid transmission of body movement.
    • Whenever possible a stationary rest should be used to support the elbows and/or the binos. Having the best pair of binos in the world will do you no good if they are not adjusted correctly. There are two adjustments needed, the interpupillary and the focal.
  • interpupillary Adjustment: The interpupillary distance (distance between the eyes ) varies with individuals. The two monocle that make up a pair of field glasses are hinged together so that the receptive lenses can be centered over the pupils of the eyes. Most binos have a scale on the hinge, allowing the sniper to preset the glasses for interpupillary distance. This will reduce unnecessary eye strain. To determine this setting, the monocles are adjusted until the field of vision ceases to be two overlapping circles and appear as a single sharply defined one.
  • Focal Adjustment: Each individual eye of that individual requires different focus settings. To adjust your binos follow these steps:
    • With both eyes open look at a distant object.
    • Close the objective lens dust cover on the right monocle and turn the focus ring on the left eyepiece until the object is sharply defined.
    • Repeat the procedure for the right monocle.
    • Read the diopter scale on each focusing ring and record for future reference.
    • Binos should always be focused prior to putting them up to your eyes to reduce unnecessary eye strain.
  • Reticle: The reticle pattern found in one of the monocles of the binoculars is a mil scale (see mil-dots section). It is used in adjusting artillery and estimating range. in older military binos, the reticle was etched onto the objective lens. On the newer ones the reticle is laminated onto the inside of the objective lens, so care must be taken not to leave these binos unattended while exposed to direct sunlight. The reason for this is that the sun could melt the reticle off. Palm sized binos as made by such companies as Tasco, Nikon etc.. could be carried by the sniper to assist him in his observations. They are smaller than the 7×50’s and are very easy to carry. The only limiting factor is the smaller objective lens. The smaller are usually 8×30 which is a slight handicap at night but will not effect you during daylight. These mini bino’s are easy to drop into a pocket and are very valuable while stalking.
  • M49 & M144 Spotting Scopes: The M49 scope is a prismatic optical instrument with a 20 power magnification and is still carried by USMC snipers but is no longer issued to US Army snipers. The US Army adopted the M144 15-45x spotting scope. The spotting scope is carried by the sniper team whenever justified by the mission. The lens of these scopes are coated with a hard film of magnesium fluoride for maximum light transmission. This coating along with high magnification makes observation and positive identification on camouflaged targets at longer distances or in shadows possible. The process of observation is planned and systematic. Your first consideration is towards any immediate danger towards yourself, so you begin with a hasty search of the entire area. This is followed by a systematic and deliberate observation called a detailed search As long as you and your partner remain in position, you and your partner maintain a constant surveillance by repeating hasty and detail searches.
  • Hasty Search: A hasty search is a very rapid check for enemy activity conducted by both the sniper and the observer. The observer makes the search with the 7×50 binos, making quick glances at specific points throughout the area, not by viewing the terrain in one continuous panoramic sweep. The binos are used in this type of search because they afford the observer with a wide field of view necessary to cover a large area in a short period of time. The hasty search is effective because the eyes are sensitive to any slight movements occurring within the arc of the object they are focused on. The sniper, when conducting his hasty search, uses what is called side vision or peripheral vision. But in order for this side vision to work, the eyes must be focused on a specific point on order to have ibis sensitivity.
  • Detailed Search: If the sniper team fails to locate the enemy during the hasty search, they must then begin a systematic and deliberate examination known as a detailed search. Again, the observer uses the 7×50 binos, affording him the widest view available. The search should begin with the terrain nearest your position, because it normally offers the greatest danger. Your detailed search should start at a point fifty meters to either flank. You then scan in a 180 degree arc, searching everything in exacting detail. When you reach the opposite flank, scan back across your front, ensuring that you slightly overlap your last scan. Continue making overlapping strips until you reach your far limits. This method of observation is known as the fifty meter overlapping strip method. Only when the sniper team spots a target or a suspicious object will they switch to the spotting scope to make a positive identification or detailed description of the object. To use the spotting scope any more than this, you run the risk of extreme eye fatigue. While conducting these searches the team must make mental notes of prominent terrain features and areas that may offer the enemy cover and concealment. These areas should also be noted an the sketch.
  • Maintaining Observation: Once again, the best instrument for making both hasty and detailed searches are the binos. After completing the detailed search the sniper team will maintain a constant observation of the area. This is done by making quick glances at various points throughout the entire area, focusing the eyes on specific points. Since it is possible that a hasty search may fail to locate any enemy activity, the team must periodically make detailed searches, especially if the team must alternate duties as observer/sniper so as to reduce fatigue.

This exercise is known as “The Target Detection Drill” or ‘TD’ and is used at Sniper School as well as often as possible for Sniper Sustainment.


  1. Five minutes to sketch the area.
    1. Sketch must be neat and readable.
    2. Sketch must also be accurate.
  2. Twenty minutes to observe from first perspective.
  3. Twenty minutes to observe from new perspective.
    1. Must move locations.
    2. Must take all equipment with you.
    3. The last five minutes of observation will be open line.
      1. Movement optional
  4. Ten minutes to collect items.
    1. Must stay in the optics and in the prone to identify objects.


  1. Absolutely no talking to anyone.
    1. Anyone caught will receive a zero.
    2. If you have a question, ask the instructor.
  2. Observation sheet and or sketch kit must be kept under chest.
  3. Must lay in the prone with heels flat on the deck.
  4. Must use a support when observing with the binos.


  1. Five points for each item found.
    1. Can be ATB, however must have thorough description.
  2. Five points for description.
    1. Size and shape.
      1. Must have sketch.
      2. Must have dimensions.
    2. Color.
    3. Condition.
    4. Target indicator.
      1. Shine, outline, contrast of background, etc.
  3. All objects must be plotted correctly.
  4. Points will be deducted for the following.
    1. Items not found.
    2. Items not plotted.
    3. Items that are miss plotted.
    4. Incomplete description.


  1. M22 binoculars
  2. M49/M144 spotting scope with Ml 5 tripod.
  3. Sketch kit with observation windows.