Observation and Sniping
By Missing Link

Much has been written about stalking and eliminating opponents as a sniper, but very little is written about observation. This applies mostly to big games and scenarios with sufficient time to make it useful, so I will focus on those types of games. However, it may apply to recball games of sufficient duration and size. The sniper’s secondary mission is to gather and report timely and accurate information. The sniper may often find himself in a situation where he may be able to obtain information of vital importance to his team.

Reasons for observation

During big games, generals need timely information. But what information does he need? Before you leave for a patrol, you should find out if there is any specific information he wants to know. There are some common bits of information that should be considered standard. These include:

1. Where is the opponent focusing his strength?

2. Are the threat forces using area “X” as a staging area or supply route?

3. What is the enemy strength and disposition at area “X.”

These are the minimum bits of information that you should be on the lookout for. There may be more based on the scenario.

The sniper should have a means of communicating with his team. A radio is preferred so that he does not have to leave his hide. However, the paintball sniper has one advantage over his military counterpart; when he is “killed,” he will come back in a short while with all information intact. In a worst case scenario, a sniper can call himself out and come back in the next insertion to deliver his information. This should be a last-ditch measure because the sniper will have to leave a hide where he may be able to get more information if he stayed. Additionally, the sniper should carry with him equipment to assist and record his observations: sketchpad/notebook, binos/scope, night vision devices as needed, etc.

Skills and techniques

Extended observations should be done as a sniper/spotter team. That way, the duties of detailed observation can be rotated. While observing, snipers use all five senses, but rely primarily on sight and hearing. There are two basic types of search: hasty and deliberate. A hasty search is done shortly after occupying the hide. It is a quick study of areas in view that might conceal opponents. The deliberate is a more intense search. Starting from the area nearest the hide position, sweep side to side observing the area approximately thirty feet in depth. Each successive sweep moves further away in thirty foot increments each overlapping the previous sweep slightly.

Night provides the sniper with his greatest challenge. Night vision devices can assist, but not everyone can afford them. There are techniques that can help you. First, when you are going out on patrol, stop in a dark area for thirty minutes before entering the field. This will allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Second, the area of the eye that sees best at night is the sides of the retina. As a result, looking 5-10 degrees off center will help you pick out shapes in dim light.

The skills necessary for good observation come with practice. A sniper should practice often and use realistic objects that you will see on the field. There is little use in practice using bottles and cans when you will see goggles, pods, and loaders on the actual play field.

Elements of observation

There are four elements of observation which snipers must be aware of. These are awareness, understanding, recording, and response. Snipers must be aware of their surroundings and never take anything for granted. Snipers also need to be aware of elements that influence or distort awareness. These elements include:

- An object’s size and shape may be misinterpreted if viewed incompletely.

- Distractions degrade the quality of observations.

- The five senses have limitations.

- Environmental changes affect the accuracy of observations.

- Imagination may cause possible exaggerations or inaccuracy.

Understanding is derived from training, practice, and experience. It enhances a team’s knowledge of what to look for and the evaluation of the information. Recording includes the ability to save, recall, and pass on the information gathered. Snipers may have notepads to assist, but the most accessible device is memory. Snipers must work to improve their memory and recall skills. They must also have the communication skills to relay the information to their teammates. Response is the team’s action toward the information. It could be writing in a log, making a radio call, or taking a shot.


Once you have gathered the information, you must be able to get it to the right people. During a paintball game, the information often has to be relayed as soon as possible. You must be able to pass the information in a format that can be understood and used by the recipient. Due to the possibility of the opponents listening to your radio calls, you must keep them short and factual. Observation reports must be detailed and complete, but not overly wordy. Standard formats can make this easier. In the military, we use the SALUTE format. Each letter has a meaning.

Size- number of people seen

Activity- are they moving? setting a defense? searching an area?

Location- where are they? use map references if possible.

Uniform- any distinguishing clothing. are they all dressed alike?

Time- when did you see them?

Equipment- any special equipment; LAW, satchel charges, medics, props

This format may be used as is or modified, as long as both the sniper and the recipient understand it.

In the military, shooting is only about 15% of a sniper’s job. In paintball the percentage is a bit higher. Still, a well concealed sniper with the skills to observe and report what he sees can have a great impact on a game. Remember that there is more to being a sniper than a Ghillie suit and an accurate shot.