I recently returned back to the states working with various special operation snipers in Finland. My time there was spent instructing the units on sniper theory, tactics, precision, counter sniper, and HELO operations.
When arriving in the Helsinki capital, one thing came to my immediate attention, the extremely cold weather! Living in south Texas for the past three years, I had become accustomed to the extreme heat and had forgotten what is was like to feel cold. The only memory I have of being anywhere remotely that cold, was my time in Daholnega Georgia, Mountain phase of Ranger School where the temperatures were around 30-35 degrees, but with no food and losing 35 pounds, it felt worse.
After getting somewhat getting accustomed to the weather, and recovering from a Jack Daniel’s self induced sleep coma on a long flight, I had a chance to meet some of the guys and hear some of their backgrounds. Without giving any unit names away (as they asked not to), I came to understand that they were equivalent to the US Green Berets, Army Rangers, HRT, and 1st SFOD. The average time spent within their units was around 10 years, half of that was serving as snipers.
The first day of consisted primarily of long range sniper theory for the .308 and their primary caliber of choice, the .338. The classroom portion of the day went well, with an the outside temperature that neared -11 degrees Fahrenheit! I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from the class of 15 shooters, in regards to their level of precision shooting knowledge, after all the last time Finland saw any conflict was 1939-1944.
Shooting in -8 to 5 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, snow packed on the ground, and almost 200 rounds of .338 Lapua ammo per shooter per day, we put their knowledge of what they had learned to the test. After seeing their less than modern day rifle scopes, I was expecting it to be fairly long and rough day, after all, I promised them that I would have them out-shooting themselves/capabilities of the weapon during my short stay. While the shooters lay in the snow and fire a 5 round group I had to take a step back and say to myself, “I hope I’m never on the other end of their sights. They are that good!” Although they were not shooting to what I would have liked them to, I was fairly impressed.
After working with various special operations units and snipers in America and serving in a special operations unit, I know that in order to be apart of these ranks, you have to learn and adapt quickly, no matter the environment or circumstances. I guess that this mentality and personality resonates within all of the men in spec ops communities. After another brief classroom instruction, and one on one with a few of the guys, everyone’s shot group dramatically tightened and improved on the next five rounds fired. I understand that it’s a .338, but being able to have a shot group where all of the bullets go through the same hole, shows great understanding of the fundamentals.
I asked one of the guys in the group, “How often do you guys get out and shoot?”, he responded, “As often as we can, but only at short distances. But we live up to Simo Häyhä as snipers and we take our craft seriously. Anything we can learn is much appreciated.”
After getting the guys to a level of precision shooting that I felt comfortable with, I wanted to introduce them to some training drills that are not often practiced by snipers. The drills consisted of speed drill shooting, bolt manipulation, multiple target engagements, non-prone shooting, support side, barricade shooting, etc. In combat, the prone shot is the rare shot taken. Most of my engagements as a sniper were taken from a position other than the prone, something that I didn’t train on as much stateside, and had to pick up on the fly. I wanted to get the guys out of their comfort zone and show them techniques that will make them just as accurate and deadly in alternate positions. What I neglected to tell them was being that they were all spec ops guys, they would be shooting a target sizes smaller than the average man’s fist in diameter, around 3 inches.
The first shots downrange from the speed drill and squatting position were…not so good. One high ranking individual pulled me to the side and said, “We have never done anything like this, our shots are terrible, show us how to be good at it.” The phrase “Amateurs train until they get it right, professionals train until they can’t get it wrong” came to my mind.
I pulled the guys to the side and picked up a .338 rifles from an individual who was having problems, squatted down, and loaded a 5 round magazine. “I want everyone to watch me and listen to everything that I am saying.” As they watched I cracked off the rounds, calling each bullet impact, “center, center, center, etc.”
“Very nice, very nice!” One of the men said as I put the rifle on the ground. “We have to train how we will fight!” I replied. “Why come to the range and shoot expensive ammo at things we are good at shooting. Let’s get this down so we are good at shooting things we are uncomfortable with.” Any distance, position, or time limit that I threw at the guys, they continued to improve. Each shot they took was more than capable of incapacitating an enemy target.
In almost no time and walking by each shooter, giving them tips and tricks, every shooter was shooting almost as good as they were in the prone, outstanding. I almost thought this was some prank, or these guys had done this before until their commander walked out to the range to say how impressed he was with the shooting.
Its not often that I come across a group of individuals who truly impress me. They were able to adapt, overcome, and excel in their shooting abilities in a short amount of time. These men were absolutely top notch snipers and I’m confident with the new information given during my stay that they will continue the legacy of producing some of the “deadliest” precision shooters in history.
For more pictures and videos from the Finland sniper class, you can check them out at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nicholas-Irving/581131258564884
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