The world of precision shooting is full of myths and I have heard my fair share of them. Some of them are absolutely outrageous, while others are almost believable, and once in a while, they’re true. Do snipers hold their breath to stabilize themselves when taking a shot?
Snipers do not hold their breath when taking a shot. Snipers will take a shot during their natural respiratory pause. To find your natural respiratory pause, slowly breathe in, breathe out, then pause. That short pause is known as the natural respiratory pause and is the most stable moment of the breathing cycle.
I have explained this to many new shooters, who are adamant that holding their breath gives them a better shooting platform, however, you can’t argue with basic human physiology. If you can shoot well while holding your breath, you will be able to shoot better by implementing this technique. There is a reason why elite military units all over the world teach this technique as part of the fundamentals of shooting, not only to their snipers but also to sharpshooters and general riflemen.
With that in mind, let’s look at why holding your breath while taking a shot is a bad idea, and why the natural respiratory pause is a better option for precise shooting.
Why don’t snipers hold their breaths when taking a shot?
Holding your breath while taking a shot will increase your heart rate, and starve your blood supply from oxygen. This will induce stress and cause trembling that will compromise your stability and might cause you to rush the shot. On the other hand, breathing normally and taking shots at random points of your breathing cycle will cause vertical dispersion of your shots.
How do snipers overcome this problem?
Snipers will take the shot during their natural respiratory pause. They are taught to keep the rhythm of their breathing constant and to pause for a few seconds after each exhale. This natural pause in the breathing cycle is the best time to take a shot and will render the most consistent hits and most stable platform for the shooter.
During this pause, a sniper is not holding their breath at all. If they need to take a shot, they will time it so that the shot is fired during that pause.
A sniper is highly aware of their breathing cycle, and rhythm. A skilled sniper or marksman will be able to time their shot during their natural respiratory pause, giving them the best platform and will yield the most consistent results. This technique is used not only by snipers and riflemen in the military but also in various sport shooting disciplines.
I believe that the myth of holding your breath when taking a shot comes from modern video games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the like. Sure, modern first-person shooting games are becoming more and more realistic, but they are still only games with a lot of inaccuracies in shooting, and this is one of them.
With more and more children growing up playing video games, and less of them actually going outside and shooting for real, good fundamentals in shooting sports are becoming very rare.
Speaking of sniper myths from gaming, let’s look at another famous sniper myth.
Do snipers use diazepam?
Another famous myth from a video game is that snipers use Diazepam to reduce trembling, making them better shooters.
Snipers do not use diazepam in real life. Diazepam is the same drug as valium and it is a beta-blocker that has unwanted side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, forgetfulness, and muscle weakness. These side effects will have a severely negative impact on the effectiveness of a sniper.
As young teenagers, my brother and I would spend entire weekends working our way through Metal Gear Solid. An exciting game where the player assumes the role of Solid Snake, a tactical espionage expert working behind enemy lines. One of the most intense scenes puts the player in an intense one on one sniper battle with an enemy sniper babe named Wolf. Any Metal Gear Solid veteran will tell you to use diazepam as much as possible, according to the game, an anti-anxiety drug that temporarily stops involuntary trembling.
This is all good fun in the virtual realm of video games, but in real life a sniper on Diazepam would be rendered useless, constantly falling asleep, forgetting vital information, being too weak to move fast if their position is compromised, and being too dizzy to take any meaningful shots.
Do snipers close one eye?
I always cringe when I see a sniper closing one eye in movies. It’s shocking how little research is done on this, even for some of the biggest modern-day blockbuster movies. If I haven’t given it away by now, let me answer the question, “Do snipers close one eye when shooting?”.
Snipers do not close one eye when shooting. Snipers, soldiers, police, hunters, and sport shooters alike, train to shoot with both eyes open. Shooting with one eye closed will limit your peripheral vision and create unnecessary muscle fatigue.
Shooting with both eyes open is not only taught to snipers, but also to soldiers, police officers, hunters, and sport shooters alike, and applies to shooting rifles, shotguns, and handguns.
Soldiers and police benefit considerably by keeping both eyes open while shooting. A police officer or a soldier needs to have situational awareness at all times. This is particularly important when they are placed under the stress of a firefight. They will want to be able to identify all threats and also be aware of innocent bystanders. Neglecting to recognize these details may cause the shooter to overlook a threat, costing them their life. The shooter might fail to notice a bystander moving into their line of fire and inadvertently shoot a civilian.
Similarly, hunters also need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Keeping both eyes open will help the hunter to observe their surroundings, fellow hunters, bystanders, and dangerous animals. Sports shooters also benefit from shooting with both eyes open. They will be able to identify their next target while shooting, saving them precious seconds while making them safer shooters.
WHAT IF YOU ARE LEFT EYE DOMINANT, BUT A RIGHT HANDED SHOOTER?
People who are left-eye dominant will find shooting right-handed with both eyes open difficult. This is because they see two sight pictures and remedy this by closing their left eye. All shooters see two sight pictures but naturally pay more attention to the right eye. Left eye dominant shooters need to retrain their brain to pay more attention to the right eye, and learn to ignore the left eye’s sight picture.
Applying this technique will train shooters with left eye dominance to be able to shoot right handed with both eyes open.
Do snipers shoot between heartbeats?
This apparent misconception, also from a modern shooting game, but unlike the others, has some truth to it actually.
In 1767, Norwegian border patrol troops created a sport that combined cross country skiing and rifle shooting. They called this new sport “military patrol”. This sport is still practiced today as an Olympic sport called the biathlon. The course included cross country skiing up to 20km at an intense pace, followed by target shooting, where you had one shot per target. If you miss, you get penalized. These biathletes have mastered the art of squeezing off a shot exactly between heartbeats, and it could mean the difference between hit or miss, first place or last.
Similarly, a sniper will try to time the shot between their heartbeat, but only if it is required. If the sniper’s heart is pounding after intense physical activity, the sniper will notice a slight bounce when looking through the rifle scope at high magnification. Ideally, the shot should break between these “bounces”.
For the most part, when a sniper is in a static position, the sniper’s heart rate will be too slow and mild to even notice, and trying to time the shot between beats would have little to no impact on the actual shot. However, when the sniper’s heart is pounding through his chest after an intense sprint, it would make sense to release the shot between these beats, in the same way as the sniper would release the shot during the natural respiratory pause.
Do snipers have glint in real life?
Snipers scopes do have “glint” in real life, but it’s not nearly as noticeable as it is portrayed in video games. Only in rare circumstances, and at very specific angles will this glare give away a sniper position. Snipers eliminate this effect by keeping their scope lens out of the sunlight, and using devices such as sunshades and kill flashes.
In addition, modern rifle scopes have anti-glare coatings, which even further reduces the chance of a sniper giving away his position by scope glare. Taking these measures is not only to prevent being spotted by an enemy but also to remove the glare seen by the shooter while looking through the scope when facing the sun.
Do snipers roll into a shooting position?
A stable shooting position is paramount to any shooter, especially snipers. There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions about how a good shooting position is built, and one of these, perpetuated by another Hollywood hit, is rolling into a shooting position.
Snipers do not roll into a shooting position. This is just a movie myth from the movie Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise. Building a good shooting position is less dramatic and more technical. Building a good shooting position is a process that’s all about consistency, doing it the same way, every single time.
With that said, at least Jack Reacher shoots with both eyes open…
HOW DOES A SNIPER BUILD UP A SHOOTING POSITION IN REAL LIFE?
A good sniper will place his rifle on the ground, pointed towards his target. He will then life down directly behind the rifle with his legs spread apart and his feet open and flat on the ground, making as much contact with the ground as possible.
The butt of the rifle should be placed inside the pocket of the shoulder, between the shoulder and the collar bone.
To make sure the body is lined up correctly, an imaginary line through the rifle should cross the inside of the shoulder and through the inside of the right knee if the shooter is right-handed, or the left knee if the shooter is left-handed.
Arms should be spread out so that the shooter is lying flat on their chest. The dominant hand is placed on the grip of the rifle, and the supporting hand is placed underneath the stock, holding a sand sock that supports the butt of the rifle. Snipers will make use of a bag or bipod to support the front end of the rifle.
The sniper will then push forward into the rifle, this is called loading the bipod. The sniper’s cheek should rest completely on the stock of the rifle and there should be no need to use the neck muscles to hold their head up.
The shooter should be relaxed, and the natural point of aim should be dead center on the target. If there is any straining to stay in position or to keep the target aligned, then there is a problem with the shooter’s position and they need to readjust.
Snipers do not hold their breath, they do not use diazepam, and do not close one eye when shooting. Snipers also do not roll into their shooting position like Jack Reacher does, these are all myths perpetuated by games and movies.
However, some of these apparent myths do have some basis in real life. Glint or scope glare can be an issue for a sniper in real life, but it is nowhere near as noticeable as in Call of Duty, and snipers take enough precautions that it will never be noticed by their targets.
While it is not generally practiced by snipers, Olympic biathletes do time their shots between heartbeats after intense physical activity. This is definitely something snipers will do after intense physical activity.
I myself was quite surprised while I was doing research for this article. Some of the myths turned out to have some basis of truth. Which one of these myths did you find the most interesting? Do you know any other myths about snipers, or shooting in general? Let me know in the comments section below!