Saturday, December 3, 2011

Randy Shepherd, Sniper Information for Thriller Writers

ID: DMST8807422 Released to Public Service Dep...Image via Wikipedia

"FinDot" reticle.Image via WikipediaIt was fun to meet Randy Shepherd. He wears a broad and ready smile. Friendly, enthusiastic and just plain nice. He wears muscles on top of muscles, stacked high. Tight hipped. Cowboy stance. The gait of a soldier. His eyes invite conversation. Teasing is met with a quick wit. Definitely a ladies’ man, with a long history of banter practice under his belt.

Randy has a pulse of 54. Do you know what other animal has a pulse of 54? An Ox. Latent strength. I thought that it would be a bear in hibernation, but their rate is about nine beats per minute. And even Randy would be dead at that rate. Reptiles in cold conditions can get their heart rates down to 54. But not your typical guy. Of course, Randy is not typical.

He is able to keep his heart rate low by running. A lot of running. Marathons-just-for-the-fun-of-it running. His low heart rate is one of the keys to his success. That and nerves of steel. Incredible patients. Eagle eyes. Oh, and a willingness to lie there as he’s covered in bugs and other creepy crawlies, hour after hour, heat, sweat, cold, rain, whatever. Randy is a sniper. The winner of national sniping awards and a Lt. with the Guilford County Sherriff’s Dept.

Randy likes math. He was giddy over the idea of a cosine. Cosine make me nauseated. Well, they did back in college. If Randy had been my teacher, I would have had a better handle on my stomach. When he describes the formula, it is very interesting - it's exciting to think of math formulas from Randy’s point of view. And applicable. Maybe not for me - I’m not sniper material. I’d fall asleep if I had to lie still for eight hours at a time. Rifle  or no rifle. Bad guy or no bad guy. Exciting math formula or no. I’d either be asleep or swatting at the bugs, and needing a potty. Let's just say my pulse is not reptilian.

So here’s a little bit about sniping.

First the T Box - a T box on a face include the eyes as the top of the capital T and the nose as the stem. If a bullet hits in this area, the control portion of the brain will stop instantly. There will be no convulsion. The person who was hit would be unable to pull a trigger on the way down. Nothing. Just splat. Gone.

Snipers are trained to hit a 1” box at 100 yards. - 1” a football field away. 1”!!!! I’m thrilled to hit the bulls-eye at 20’. This area is multiplied by distance. For example at 200 yards the box is 2” and at 300 yards its 3”. At 300 yards! At 1,000 yards, he hits a 10” square. I didn’t know there was enough loft in a bullet to make it fly 1,000 yards. There are 1,760 yards in a mile just to make the distance clear.

Randy has a logbook where he meticulously documents weather conditions such as temperature, humidity, and wind speed. He uses these as a reference when he is adjusting his sites. Did you know that a 20-degree difference in temperature could shift the rise or fall of the bullet by 1” so if Randy were shooting on a day when it’s 40 degrees and a day when it's 100 degrees, the difference in the bullets movement would be 3”. Very significant when you need to hit the 1” box on the T.

Adjustments are made by changing the clicks on their cross-hairs  Theses changes are made in increments of minutes. A circle is divided into degrees and the degrees are further divided into minutes.

They have a formulaic for someone who is walking or running or sitting still. Randy never mentioned one for someone doing the tango - but it was probably because no one brought it up. Surely, Randy has thought of every contingency.

As Randy shoots, he has to not only consider hitting the T, he also has to consider where that bullet is going as it exits. Randy wants to embed it in a wall - he doesn’t want it to keep flying. I certainly don’t want it to keep flying!

So where do those cosines come in?

In Randy’s little black book, where he keeps all of his important numbers, he knows the heights of average things. The height of a window, a door, a lamppost etc. at various distances. This helps him figure out how far he is away from his target. He also knows how high up he is given the floor he is standing on. Important.

If someone from the ground were to say to Randy on the 14th floor, “Hey Randy, we have a laser on him and he’s 380 yards away.” Randy has to take into consideration that that measurement was taken from a 180-degree angle. Randy is shooting from 154’ above. This would make the distance considerably different. Randy does his math calculations (Randy does this - not me. I said it was interesting, not that I’d actually partake) and comes up with the correct distance. He sets the minutes on his reticle of his crosshairs and he’s ready should the shot become necessary.

When is a shot necessary?
When there is imminent danger.

Do the snipers use lasers on their guns?
No, it makes them lazy and it’s just one more thing to go wrong - mechanical failure issues. And we don’t need any issues when trying to get a bullet in that 1” box at 1,000 yards.

Is sniping a glamorous life?
Yes if your idea of fashion is a ghillie suit. This amorphous garment is made to disguise human form by making you one with nature. Basically, you look like a shrub.

The sniper practices being in place for 12 hours at a time. That’s where Randy’s sloth-like heartbeat comes in handy. The snipers are formed into two man teams called “sniper elements.” They try to have eight snipers in a situation. Imagine a building as a diamond. Two elements (4 people) sit together. One sniper element observes the right wall and the other sniper element observes the left wall. There are two other sniper elements doing the same thing only on the diagonally opposite side of the building. Watching walls three and four. So now, each wall of the building is being watched by a sniper element.

Let’s say Randy is on the element looking down the front of the building. He counts off the windows and doors and feeds this information to Command. The snipers try to find indications of what could be in each of the various rooms so if a ground team goes in, Command has an idea of where they are going. Person one on the element will look at their section with binoculars and report anything that they see, especially any movement to Command. They are trying to figure out where the bad guy is hanging out. Possibly barricading himself in.

While Randy’s partner is on binoculars, Randy is breathing steadily, heartbeat is low, eyes shut. He is in a state of suspended animation. On a cue, Randy will open his eye, train his rifle on any given window that is called by his partner, and shoot.

If after 12- 15 minutes nothing happens. They switch. Both snipers have their own guns. Though they train at regular intervals on each other’s guns - just in case one of them has mechanical issues.

They work on a SWAT team. Randy’s SWAT team is made up of two entry teams (16 men) and an 8-man striker team.

If you would like a link to more sniper math information try this:

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  1. This is an excellent post! Very helpful info for writers who want to include snipers in their stories. Well done! I hope Randy will return to WPA in 2012 so that I can sit in on his class. :-)

  2. Randy is my dad. I am extremely proud of him. WAY TO GO, DAD.

  3. I never stopped to consider the training that went into serving as a sniper. This is some great information, thank you!

  4. Explanatory yet easy to understand, great interview! Thank you to both of you. It is always those small details that are important.