It’s one thing to make a 2,240-yard shot with iron sights, or to make a 4,210-yard shot with a scope—two very remarkable long-range achievements—at a range on a set date with adequate practice and a number of do-overs. It’s quite another to make a similar shot in combat conditions, and score a kill.
A Canadian sniper has reportedly set a new world record by taking down an ISIS target from a distance of about 2.2 miles, according to this story from foxnews.com.
The exact distance of the shot was 11,316 feet (3,772 yards), the story says and was taken by a special forces sniper from Canada’s Joint Task Force 2. It beats the previous sniper record by 3,280 feet, which was set by British sniper Craig Harrison.
“The Canadian Special Operations Command can confirm that a member of the Joint Task Force 2 successfully hit a target from 3,540 metres [2.2 miles],” the Canadian military said in a statement.
Officials have not said where the shot took place, only that the command “provides its expertise to Iraqi security forces to detect, identify, and defeat Daesh activities from well behind the Iraqi security force front line in Mosul.”
This story from newsweek.com says the sniper used a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle, which is now the standard long-range sniper platform for the Canadian military. The story also says the shot was taken from a high-rise building.
The TAC-50 is officially classified as a long-range anti-material, anti-personnel sniper rifle and fires a .50 BMG rounds from a manually operated rotary bolt action with a maximum effective range listed as 1,970 yards.
It’s safe to say the sniper pushed the TAC-50 to its limits. But at these distances, shooting isn’t really shooting as we know it. Instead it becomes the launching of a precision projectile that is easily effected by things like wind, air pressure, gravity, and even the rotation of the earth, and requires calculations more akin to artillery fire adjustment than rifle-shooting.
In this story from The Washington Post, Thomas Gibbons-Neff described the difficulty of calculating such a shot in combat conditions:
“For the soldier to hit his target 3,540 meters (3,871 yards) he would need to account for every atmospheric factor available. Wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure, the bullets yaw and the rotation of the earth would all need to be considered before pulling the trigger. These variables, once harnessed from devices such as a handheld weather meter and potentially range-finding equipment on the gun, would then be processed through a ballistic calculator that would let the shooter make the necessary adjustments on the rifle’s scope.”
In the Fox News story, Ryan Cleckner, a former U.S. Army Ranger sniper who served in Afghanistan and wrote the “Long Range Shooting Handbook” said the feat owes just as much, if not more, to the skill of the sniper’s spotter.
A spotter typically accompanies a shooter on a two-man sniper team. He uses a powerful scope to “spot” a target and provides the shooter with the information he needs to adjust for various conditions and hit his mark.
“The spotter would have had to successfully calculate five factors: distance, wind, atmospheric conditions, and the speed of the earth’s rotation at their latitude,” Cleckner said in the story.
“Because wind speed and direction would vary over the two miles the bullet traveled, the true challenge here was being able to calculate the actual wind speed and direction all the way to the target.”
“To get the atmospheric conditions just right, the spotter would have had to understand the temperature, humidity and barometric pressure of the air the round had to travel through.”
While a bullet may exit the muzzle at supersonic speeds, at some point, over a long distance, it’s going to slow down to sub-sonic speeds and become less stable. This is where the shape and stability of the bullet comes into play the most.
The Canadian military uses a round that generates about 13,000 foot-pounds of force at the muzzle with a 750-grain Hornady bullet.
Fox News also spoke to Dennis Santiago, a California-based firearms expert and instructor, who also gave a lot of credit to the anonymous spotter.
“Equipment is just a starting point. The shooter on a military team will surely be skilled enough to hold hard on the ‘aimpoint’ and fire the shot accurately,” he told Fox News. “The spotter member of the sniper team is responsible for telling the shooter the precise moment the atmospherics align with the calculations they’ve made. When it comes together, it’s ‘mission accomplished’.”