World’s Longest Sniper Kill: The Enemy Killed at 3,871 Yards (Over 2 Miles Away)
Another major factor that would have affected the shot was windage. When shooting at extreme distances, even a mild wind of five miles an hour will have an effect on the flight of a bullet, slowly but surely nudging it off its flight path toward the direction of the wind. At 400 yards, a .50 caliber bullet will be nudged 2.5 inches off its path by a five mile an hour wind. At 3,800 yards that balloons to an incredible 366 inches. In other words, the snipers had to assume their bullet would impact just over thirty feet in the direction of wind travel and plan accordingly.
Other environmental factors played a hand in the shot. Air pressure (generally a function of altitude), temperature, and humidity are factors most shooters at ranges of 500 yards or less rarely encounter, become major issues at 3,800 meters. These factors are mitigated by the use of wind sensors, barometric pressure readers, and a knowledge of local weather conditions. To complicate matters, these conditions may change so that a shot taken on a cold morning will be much different in the heat of the afternoon and snipers must recalculate the shot accordingly.
Earth itself, and the position of the shooter and target on the globe become factors at long range. The Coriolis Effect dictates that bullets shot in the northern hemisphere drift to the right, while those shot in the southern hemisphere drift to the left, and this phenomenon increases the farther one gets to the poles. Furthermore, shooting east with the rotation of the earth will cause bullets to strike high, while shooting west will cause the same bullet to strike low.
Even the construction of the rifle itself affects the shot. A high quality barrel will naturally be more accurate and the rifle involved in the shot, the McMillan TAC-50, is one of the best around. The barrel rifling, a spiral-like pattern that makes the bullet spin in flight, stabilizing it, imparts “spin drift.” According to Cleckner, a rifle with a right-hand spiral twist will send a bullet up to ten inches to the right at 1,000 yards. How much spin drift would affect the shot at 3,800 yards was essential information for the Canadian snipers.
In taking their record-breaking shot, the Canadian sniper team had to consider all of these factors—merely misjudging one would have caused a clean miss—and it is an incredible testament to their skill that they were successful. The average man-sized target is just twenty-four inches wide, leaving zero room for error in a two mile shot. The shot took place at the extreme edge of viability, given the current levels of sniper technology. While the JTF-2 shot will almost certainly be equalled, it seems unlikely it will be decisively beaten for the foreseeable future.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.