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Sharpshooters Gather at USASOC Sniper Competition

Special operations snipers from the U.S. and partner countries compete at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) annual competition. 

Sharpshooters Gather at USASOC Sniper Competition

The sniper community is a close-knit bunch, especially when it comes to the special operations units. These units are small and exclusive, so there is little information available about what they do and how they do it. If you’re connected, though, you might already know about the annual, week-long competition held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where special operations units from around the world get together and compete to see who performs the best. Previously, I’ve been limited to attending during the one day when the event opens up to vendors and those supporting the competition. However, this year I had the opportunity to observe the match in its entirety. What I observed was enlightening.

The hosting organization is the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). This year’s competition had 14, two-man teams in attendance, and the competition was set up and run by the Special Forces Sniper School cadre, who did an exceptional job. All of the Special Forces Groups (i.e., Green Berets) were represented, as was the 75th Ranger Regiment and a Tier 1 USASOC Headquarters element. The Marines sent a team of Raiders and instructors from their scout/sniper course, and the Coast Guard sent a team. There is normally good representation from federal law enforcement organizations, but this year only the Secret Service attended due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. Partner countries are also invited and usually show up in force, but due to those same travel restrictions, only the French Commandos had a team compete.

Worldwide Sharpshooters Gather at USASOC Sniper Competition

The competition occurs over four days with day five being reserved for the awards presentation. Each team completes approximately four events each day, and there are night events on two of the four days. This is a “.308 Only” match, but competitors can bring and compete with whatever guns and optics they prefer. The cartridge rule is to keep it service-related and to maintain good training value for the time invested. No one has fielded a 6mm for service use, and only a handful of snipers are using the .260/6.5mm cartridges. The .308 mandate keeps the playing field (mostly) level. The continued use of the .308 is due to logistical considerations and not any perceived superiority of the .308 over other cartridges for sniping use.

Every rifle shoots the same cartridge, but there is a lot of variety in terms of guns, and some variety among the scopes used in the match. Most bolt-action rifles I saw were built with custom actions dropped into the sniper’s chassis of choice. The most common actions used for these rifles were the Impact Precision Shooting 737R and Bighorn Arms’s by Zermatt Arms. The most impressive rifle I saw was Accuracy International’s new AT-X used by the Marine Raiders.

The optics used on the sniper rifles were almost exclusively made by Nightforce Optics. Each competitor brought a sniper rifle, a carbine and a pistol. Of the 28 sniper rifles present, 23 wore Nightforce scopes. Of the remaining five, three were Leupold and the French Commandos brought two Steiner Optics scopes. There were also 28 carbines at the match, and the split with those worked out to about 22 Nightforce 1-8Xs with the remainder being Vortex’s 1-6X.

Worldwide Sharpshooters Gather at USASOC Sniper Competition

The competition had about 20 stages requiring competitors to use all three guns, but never all three for the same stage. Some stages were what most expected with conventional sniper tasks of shooting small targets that are far away with one guy on the rifle and one guy on a spotting scope. One twist that competitors faced was a stage where the spotter could see the target but the guy on the rifle couldn’t. This was solved by giving corrections to the shooter based on a point both could see. Another stage had snipers surrender the ammunition they were using in exchange for mystery ammunition that they had to “dope” on the clock. This meant they had to not only zero the rifle for the new ammunition, but figure out its trajectory and hit targets while doing so.

Other stages included pistol and carbine shooting along with employing the sniper rifle. Most of these stages incorporated movement into the course of fire, required competitors to transition from one firearm to the next and also reload each rifle while on the clock.

One of my favorite stages was called “Heavy Drop.” It had two, 130-pound dummies that each team had to carry to get the ammunition they needed to shoot the stage. There was a small orange cone every 15 yards or so, and for each cone they passed the team got one round. If both guys carried both dummies, passing a cone netted two rounds. Once the team had the ammunition they needed, they ran up to the fourth floor of a tower and engaged steel targets from 550 to 850 meters away. The time they had to complete the stage was 4 minutes. This event required physical fitness, teamwork and shooting ability to complete.

The competition also required competitors to be familiar with a wide range of technology. Each team had night vision and thermal sights, and was required to shoot four of the 20 stages at night. The night stages were no less gun-handling intensive. One stage required magazine changes every six rounds and shooting off both shoulders when employing the carbine and rifle. That stage packed shooting with night vision, magazine changes across two different rifles and ambidextrous shooting, all into one event. That’s a lot to do at once, and every team I observed did it well.

I had an opportunity to interview the commanding general of the Special Warfare Center and School (, Maj. Gen. Patrick B. Roberson, during the match. I asked him what he’s seen change in sniping since the War on Terror began. He said, “We’ve gotten a lot better with how we train internally, our ability to use technology to our advantage, our ability to train our foreign partners, and how we employ them on the battlefield.” He credits this competition as one of the reasons sniping has improved so drastically in the last 10 years.

Worldwide Sharpshooters Gather at USASOC Sniper Competition

What makes this match unique among any and all precision rifle matches (other than who attends) are the unknowns each team faces at the start of a stage. The team receives limited information and has little time to prepare. They have to make decisions quickly while also knowing they don’t have all the facts they need to be comfortable with their decisions. This replicates what’s expected of them in combat. While things like firearm proficiency and physical fitness are keys to surviving on the battlefield, decision-making under pressure is the most important skill a special operations soldier can have.

By the time the dust settled, and the match was over, the USASOC Headquarters team took first place with the Marine Corps Raiders so close behind them that a single target could have changed the outcome of the competition. The 5th Special Forces Group took third and the 75th Ranger Regiment placed fourth.


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