Sniper School: 10 Reasons Why You'd Never Make It

You may think you're an excellent marksman, but sniper training school takes a little bit more

Writer’s Note: By “sniper,” I mean either U.S. Army, Marine Corps, or SEAL. For purposes of compiling this list, I’ve combined what I was able to learn about each program; they have a great deal in common.

Snipers are the new Good Guys. Starting with Carlos Hathcock, military super-shots have ridden a crest of popularity that has tied in neatly to the craze for anything tactical and the newly found fascination with long-range hunting. We like to think that with the right sniper training and gear we could shoot like a Marine, Army, or SEAL sniper. The reality is that simply getting into a sniper school is so difficult that very few of us could make it that far, much less graduate. Here's why.

1. You’re not in good enough shape to even get into sniper school. The Marines, for example, require a 3-mile run in 18 minutes, 20 deadhang pull-ups, and 100 situp crunches in less than 2 minutes. If your ass looks like 50 pounds of chewed bubble gum, look for something else to do.

2. Physical condition aside, you’re probably not skilled enough. Sniper schools are not in the business of taking average personnel and educating them to a high level. They seek out the most skilled people and distill the best of those.

3. You probably can’t take the pressure. You can flunk out at any time, right up through the last event on the last day. As the Marine Corps puts it, “There are no second chances at the school and drops are a daily occurrence.”

4. Your math probably isn’t good enough and/or you can’t do it under pressure. Hitting at long range is a highly developed science, and snipers are taught to do it both in their heads and on a ballistic computer. At the SEAL Sniper school (The difficulty level here is described as “insane.”), the physical part is not all that bad, at least for SEALs, but it is extremely tough mentally.

5. You like your 7 hours’ rack time too much. Snipers must be able to function in a state of constant exhaustion for weeks on end.

6. You want to shoot, nothing else. The fact is that both the Army and Marines train scout/snipers, which requires that you master an entirely different set of skills, such as land navigation, observation, map making, sketching, patrolling, and adjusting supporting arms, which means that you learn to call in artillery fire without getting killed or killing your own men. At the Army sniper school, shooting is only 20 percent of the curriculum.

7. You just want to sit in one place and deal death from afar. Both schools require that you be able put on your ghillie suit and crawl, undetected by a team of expert spotters, for long distances, over a period of hours. At the Marine school, this course is taught on a patch of land that many rattlesnakes call home.

8. You may be crazy, in which case they’ll weed you out. In the Army, you have to pass a psychological evaluation before you can get in. As the Commandant of the Marine Corps Sniper School once told me, “We look for all-American boys who’ll go out and kill who we tell them to and no one else. No Rambos.”

9. You want to be a lone wolf, a solitary hero like Carlos Hathcock. The reality is that you may be assigned as a spotter, and never get to shoot, and if you are a shooter, you and your spotter will become inseparable because you depend on each other. Some sniper teams can include as many as six men, because it’s too dangerous to send fewer.

10. You believe that a little danger adds spice to life. But what we’re talking about here is not a little danger. There are no specific figures I could find for sniper mortality, but if you’re the most lethal guy on the battlefield, the people on the other side are going to give you some extra-special effort. Also, no sniper wants to be captured. It goes very hard with members of this profession who fall into enemy hands.