Fundamentally the skills are simple in and of themselves, the math isn't terribly complicated, and the fieldcraft isn't particularly difficult. The marksmanship standard can be met by nearly anyone who cares to compete in High Power rifle matches. So why do so many potential snipers wash out of sniper school? Because adding all the little things together makes something more than the sum of its parts.
Outside of the .mil world there has been a lot of changes. Since the
1980s there has been a rise in civilian interest in military sniper
style training and shooting. Hollywood helped by portraying American
Snipers as heroes instead of "cowardly murderers" as the Marquis of
Queensbury would have proclaimed. Also the publication of several
biographies and autobiographies of American Snipers has helped turn
"Sniper" from synonymous with "murderer" to "Life Saver." There has
been a rise in equipment built for "sniper style" shooting, from first
focal plane mil/mil scopes to heavy barreled "tactical" bolt action
rifles. Both "match grade" and "tactical" ammunition is readily
There are some very good books and instructional videos for those who
are interested, and several worthwhile schools open to anyone with money
and willingness to learn. I don't think it is possible to do justice
to sniper training in one blog post, so I'll focus on what I see as the
"problem areas." In my experience the two things that wash students out
of Army sniper training is shooting movers at distance, and the dreaded
When you are shooting at movers there are two basic techniques, "trap" and "lead."
Trapping is pointing your rifle at a place where your target is likely
to be, and pulling the trigger when they hit a mark (either near them,
or a mil measurement on the reticle). Leading is moving your rifle to a
point in front of your target and pulling the trigger. Duck hunters
are quite familiar with leading the target, "butt belly beak BOOM!" is
an old catchphrase to teach young waterfowl hunters to lead the bird.
Trailing is the same as "leading" but it means you are moving faster
than your target. Shooting from a helicopter (really cool when it
works) is like this. The principle is the same, aim at a point other
than your target and if all goes well the bullet and target meet at the
right time and place.
This is simple right? Now account for the wind. Now account for
temperature changes. Now account for humidity changes. As I wrote
before, nothing on its own is too difficult, but they all add up quickly
to make it hard to get first round on target.