The location was ideal, but my timing was off by a sliver in time. I had crawled onto a knob overlooking two small canyons that led from a hayfield below that was bordered by winter wheat fields above. Any whitetail traveling between the food sources would have a tough time avoiding either canyon regardless of its morning destination. I propped up my Bergara .300 Winchester Magnum on a bipod and was just preparing to range when I spotted a blur of whitetail below me. As I peered through my binocular, my mind exploded at the sight of a non-typical frame, and I immediately latched onto my rifle to adjust for a shot.
The position in the previous hunt replay has all the makings of a sniper perch. Although I do not have a military background, my self-taught style of hunting reflects many of the elements military marksmen look for in a successful position while on target. Reading Marine Sniper, a novel detailing Carlos Hathcock’s Vietnam sniper exploits, then later American Sniper, the Chris Kyle story, not only stirred my appreciation for these overlooked patriots but added to my confidence that I was on the right track to hunting success at an early age.
You may not be able to attend the U.S. Army Sniper School in Fort Benning, Ga., or sniper training courses for other military branches, but the basic elements of their training are worthy of a read. By analyzing the techniques of marksmen, your hunting skills and ambush hides will advance beyond basics.
Your personal rig should match the areas you intend to hunt. Optics, caliber and rifle action should fit you and your intended hunting style. Make sure the bullet will smack with at least 1,000 ft.-lbs. of energy at the longest distance you expect to encounter and you are set. If you read Chris Kyle’s accounts, you learned that most of his shots were between 200 and 400 yards, common in many hunting scenarios. But to get those shots, an ideal position needs to be acquired.
Scouting becomes crucial for snipers and you. You are looking for location with a high density of opportunity, a position giving you a viewpoint of these places, the ability to stay out of sight and, finally, a veiled avenue for ingress and egress. Popular hunting apps give you handheld assistance to scout terrain, add in topography overlays and even update weather conditions onsite. Even so, a scouting visit or hunting trip tells you the real story whether the site has merit.
Hunting apps let users log known shot distances, wind direction and other factors. Combine this with a DOPE card for quick execution.
In some locales the location may be height-challenged. Most suitable hides for an ambush overlook require you to be above the area of opportunity. This allows you to see activity whether on a field, coulee or even a valley with crisscrossing trails. If a rise or hilltop vantage point is not on hand, consider barn lofts, abandoned farm equipment, hay bale stacks, treestands or even the window of an abandoned homestead. Make sure any impromptu hide is safe and allowed by a landowner. Be diligent in finding a position that provides as many observation and shooting opportunities as possible from the position. More than once I have crawled atop the cab of a forgotten tractor to gain elevation.
Next, examine all means to access and exit your overlook without spooking game. Hilltops and rises may give you the cover required to hide behind as you slip into position. Trees, brush and crops could also provide the cloaking to slip into a location without being seen. Too many inadvertent encounters with your target—a whitetail or other big game—gives it an advantage in patterning you over you patterning it. A read on wind, predominant and current, also helps you mask your presence while at your ambush setting.
Terrain, vegetation and even camouflage netting can help you disappear once you do settle into position. Remember to follow all blaze-orange requirements, though. Before getting too comfortable, assess all places from where you expect an encounter to occur. Examine whether a locality will experience morning or afternoon traffic, the distance of encounters and probable wind at distance, if drift could be a factor. I refer to my SIG BDX Ballistic Data Xchange app while reviewing all overlooks to ensure changing climatic conditions are matched to my riflescope.
Military snipers sketch out these scenarios for quick reference and refer to the sketches as a range card. You can easily do the same on your hunting app. That information, combined with a DOPE card (data on previous engagement), provides a speedy reference to execute a shot when an animal appears in a shooting location. Keeping up to speed on wind changes instead of watching YouTube videos all day ensures your estimation will be fresh for spot-on projectile placement.
Watching an area for your chance at a buck from a sniper hide has its challenges, and YouTube is not a horribly bad way to break the monotony. The challenge lies in not getting too involved in the entertainment, giving your quarry ample time to slip through as you engage in the latest meme. Over the years, my solution has been to slip in one ear bud to listen to local radio or a podcast. The other ear is still picking up sound from the surrounding environment. In a combat situation, that might not be advisable, but the subdued banter in one ear keeps me awake and allows both of my eyes to continue scanning without being focused on a screen. Whatever your answer is to remain awake, have a plan—or a partner—for constant observation.
Hunting whitetails and other big game has no comparison to what our service members face in a true sniper situation. Nevertheless, the tactics they employ can boost your success when up against a worthy opponent in the world of hunting.
As for my encounter, the buck raced up an adjacent hillside along an open ridge as I tracked his flight. Not sure of what spooked him, he paused for an instant to assess his next move, and I knew it would be into the dense cedars of the slope’s north face. Luckily, I had ranged the hill just before the encounter and I had the ballistics memorized. The Hornady ELD-X crumpled him on the spot, and after watching the lifeless body for a few moments, I knew my sniper strategy had again succeeded in a great trophy ending.