The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Hidden In Plain Sight: Camouflage & Movement From A USMC Scout Sniper

FROM HUNTS TO BATTLEFIELDS, CAMOUFLAGE AND MOVEMENT ARE LIFE SKILLS

Cover photo by Ryan Burns – @dexterity_media, photos by Blake Gonzalez – @bg_concepts

Since the beginning of time, animals have used camouflage for survival. Animals conceal themselves from their predators as well as use camouflage to blindside their prey. Some animals, like the arctic fox, have evolved to change the color of their coat depending on the seasons to evade predators. 

Other animals, like the mimic octopus, can not only change their color to blend in with their environment but also change their shape and texture to mimic the surrounding environment, like rocks, sand, or plants on the ocean floor. 

Animals have also established a tactical way to move in their habitat to avoid predators and search for food. Movements like prowling, hopping, or crawling is essential to their survival. Early hunters learned from the animal kingdom and adopted these tactics to hunt and track game. 

Today, camouflage is considered the military art of deception. Modern militaries and hunters use ancient techniques as well as science and modern materials to create groundbreaking camouflage systems. Snipers worldwide have embraced the military art of deception and understand that it’s an essential skill of their craft. 

Before learning movement and camouflaging techniques, you should first understand what can compromise your position. These are called target indicators.

sniper camo
Sniper utilizing two Relv Eclipse thermal hides, one to camouflage his head in dry brush and the other to cover his body.

TARGET INDICATORS

A target indicator is anything a sniper does or fails to do which reveals himself, his position, his team, or equipment to the enemy.

Some types of indicators are: 

Movement: The human eye is attracted to movement. Stationary or slow-moving objects can be challenging to detect. Rapid or jerky movements catch the human eye faster, thus indicating your position.

Sound: Sound can be made by movement, equipment rattling, or loud talking.

Improper camouflage: Some types of improper camouflage are shine, outline, and contrast with background.

sniper camo
Sniper in a bed of dry leaves, in a seated position utilizing the Eberlestock pack for support.

Shine: Shine can be produced from many sources, such as optics, metal, natural oils produced by the skin, and water on objects or clothing.

Outline: The human body naturally shows “V” and “Y” shapes which are easily detected from long distances.

Contrast with background: Colors that stand out against its background, such as a man wearing an orange baseball hat against a white snowbank.

MOVEMENT

Having the proper mindset is key to moving like a sniper. When you’re moving, act as if you’re under observation. Possessing this mindset will remind you that all movements must be slow and deliberate. An important concept is to stop, look, listen, smell, and plan (SLLSP). When moving across long distances, the environment can cause you fatigue, taking away your stealthies.

Conduct an SLLSP. Stop all movement. Look around the area. Listen to your surroundings. Smell the environment. Plan your route. The focus of SLLSP is to keep you in tune with your surroundings and to get your bearings while moving with camouflage. You must be slow and deliberate. 

Weasel walk: The weasel walk, depending on the distance, is the movement that you’ll use the most. It’s a slumped-over crouch position, which helps you present a low profile with the shadows, rocks, and vegetation. When making steps, your heel should strike first with no weight on your foot. 

sniper walk
Sniper weasel walking into his observation point while wearing a Relv Eclipse thermal hide in tunnel rat pattern.

Your foot should slowly roll forward as it touches the ground, while trying to avoid all dry or loose terrain. Your body weight should shift forward until it all rests on the forward foot, but slowly enough that it makes little sound. Repeat the process with your opposite foot. The terrain will dictate the speed and silence of your movement.

Melting: Melting is nothing more than taking a knee when you’re either conducting SLLSP or you’re reducing your silhouette to avoid detection. When melting, crouch your torso and slowly squat down, being mindful to avoid disturbing the surrounding vegetation as you descend. You can also melt even further from kneeling all the way to the prone position. When melting, you must move as slow as possible to avoid drawing attention to your location.   

High crawl: The high crawl is used when available concealment is greater and more speed is required. Keep your torso off the ground and rest your weight on your arms and legs. Carry your rifle either in the low crawl or cradled in your arms. Alternately pull with each arm and push with one leg, if you still wish to remain low, or by alternating legs for pushing if there’s adequate cover. You should always be conscious of not allowing your head and buttocks to raise too high and keeping your legs from making excessive noise when dragging over brush and debris.

Medium crawl: The medium crawl is like the low crawl in that it’s used in low cover or concealment. It’s faster for the sniper and less tiring to the body. Keep all parts of your body as low to the ground as possible. Instead of just pushing with your feet, cock one leg forward to push with. When your pushing leg is tired, your opposite leg can take over, but only use one leg at a time for a sequence of pushing. This keeps the lower portion of your body from raising into the air.

Low crawl: The low crawl is used when cover and concealment is low to the ground or scarce, when the enemy is near or has a clear field of view to your position, or when moving into a final firing position. 

sniper prone
Sniper in a prone position in their final firing position, wearing a Tactical Concealment ghillie suit to conceal their silhouette.

Your movement is slow and methodical; speed shouldn’t be a priority. Lay your body as flat on the ground as possible, with legs together, ankles flat on the ground or pointed to the rear, and arms to the front and flat on the ground. 

HOW TO APPLY CAMOUFLAGE FACE PAINT

In the past, camouflage face paint was heavily emphasized in training and on operations. With the advancements in lightweight camouflage materials, it has become less of an issue. However, it’s still an element that shouldn’t be overlooked when attempting to blend into your environment. 

The goal when applying camouflage face paint is to break up the shape of your face so it blends into the surrounding area. When applying face paint, it’s best not to overthink it. The paint doesn’t have to look pristine; it just has to be applied with the correct colors that match your environment. 

Step 1: Start with the areas around your eyes, under your nose, and side of your head. Under your nose, use lighter colors, like tan or light brown. Applying light colors on these areas draw attention away from some of the lighter areas on your body and helps to break up the shape of the human face.

sniper
Sniper in a bed of dry leaves, in a seated position utilizing the Eberlestock pack for support and covered with the RELV Moab Eclipse thermal hide.

Step 2: In the areas over the eyes, the cheeks and on the chin, you can use darker colors, like dark greens or brown. Black typically doesn’t work well because few things in nature are the actually black. Finally, use your fingertip to blend all the hard edges together and cover any exposed areas. 

One of the best ways to conceal your profile is to use a ghillie suit. The origins of the ghillie came from the Scottish word “ghillie,” meaning lad or servant. A ghillie, as we call it today, is a man who serves as a game attendant and specializes in stalking and hunting. 

The first ghillie suits were constructed by shepherds who wore them while attending their flocks of sheep. As poachers or predators approached the herd, the shepherds would quietly and patiently lie in wait until they came close enough for them to attack. Today, we see widespread use of ghillie suits within military sniper schools.  

A ghillie suit is a type of camouflage clothing or netting designed to resemble the background of an environment, such as snow, sand, rock, or vegetation. Typically, the suit’s outer layers are comprised of cloth or burlap. 

Also, vegetation or other materials are added to give the sniper’s outline a three-dimensional appearance. When applying vegetation, you should attach it in the same direction as surrounding vegetation and as naturally as possible. 

Ghillie suits have evolved significantly over the last 25 years and are becoming even more effective in camouflaging snipers. 

Within the last couple of years, a company began producing a mesh-style netting that you can shroud over your body to defeat thermal detection technology. Technology of this type was thought to be space age and not marketable. Now many military sniper teams are using these systems to conceal themselves and/or their team from threats on operations. 

sniper on overwatch
Sniper providing overwatch, utilizing the Primos Gen 3 trigger stick for support.

During the 20 years of the Global War on Terror, U.S. troops were sent to all corners of the globe to hunt down terrorist organizations. With many sniper units operating in elevated areas, scaling back on weight to be agile was paramount. Snipers and special operation units started streamlining their equipment for operations, and camouflage was the first thing to go. 

Gone were the days of having a top and bottom ghillie suit with heavy burlap boonie hats. Snipers started trimming down their suits, leaving behind the boonie covers and adopted hoods.

These ideas gave way to the hood cloak-style ghillie suits that are now standard for law enforcement and military units around the world. One of the companies that spearheaded the concept was Tactical Concealment out of Tempe, Arizona, setting the standard for this style of ghillie suit. 

They’re always innovating and redesigning the product with new lightweight and more breathable materials. Their A-TACS Mosquito is excellent; it’s their lightest and most compactable model. It’s well suited for environments of extreme heat or constant wetness. It’s also completely breathable and retains very little moisture when wet. 

Ghillie garnish and natural foliage can be inserted onto the suit with nylon 550 cord, tacked onto the entire exterior surface of the garment. 

APPLICATION OF JUTE AND VEGETATION TO A GHILLIE

The internet is filled with thousands of images of ghillie suits, mostly constructed by airsofters and novice hunters whose ghillie suits look like a cross between Sasquatch and Chewbacca. 

When applying jute and burlap, use a common-sense approach. The phrase “less is more” is a good way to approach this. The process of applying jute burlap is broken down into six easy steps.

Step 1 – Study the Area: Study the area you’ll be moving and operating in, focusing on the most dominant colors in the environment. 

Step 2 – Separate the Braids: Your jute, twine, or burlap will generally be packed tightly. Unravel the strands and separate the short ones from the long ones. The longer ones will go on your shoulders, and the shorter ones will go on the side of your head and eventually overlap the longer ones.   

Step 3 – Tie in Your Jute Strands: Take a handful of lighter jute strands and tie them onto the 550 cord with an overhand knot. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be secure so they don’t fall off. Randomly space them out all over the ghillie suit until you have a suitable base layer. Once you have a satisfactory base layer, start adding various colors of twine and burlap. Make it look natural and avoid patterns. 

sniper exfiltrating
Sniper exfiltrating out of his observation position, utilizing shadows to cover his movement.

Step 4 – Inspect, Don’t Expect: Try your ghillie suit on. The suit must not be constrictive and should feel somewhat comfortable. Keep in mind that you may be wearing it for several hours at a time. Trim away any strands that cover your hands or constrict movement or breathing. 

Steps 5 – Get Ready to Veg Up: Lay your ghillie suit on the ground. 

Grab piles of vegetation from different plants and stack them around your suit. Start at the top of the ghillie hood and move to the back of the suit. Randomly insert and tie in vegetation with the roots facing down to look as natural as possible. Avoid any plants that are flower bearing. Any movement of these types of plants acts as an indicator to your position. 

Keep this in mind when adding vegetation to your ghillie suit that “natural veg is the edge.” Natural vegetation will help you conceal yourself far better than jute, twine, or burlap ever can.  

Step 6 – Break-in Time: Once your ghillie suit is completely constructed, you’ll need to break it in. Generally, jute, burlap, and twine are sprayed with a chemical to either preserve longevity or for dyeing. The chemical produces a shine when exposed to sunlight, so you’ll need to remove it before you wear it on an operation. 

First, wet down the ghillie suit with a hose. Then take the ghillie with the burlap facing the ground and rub it in dirt and then grass. Get the browns and green pressed into the burlap and twine. Lastly, hang the ghillie suit in direct sunlight until dry. 

Once dry, shake it out several times to ensure no little critters decided to make their home inside your ghillie. Lastly, turn the suit inside out so none of your hard work adding burlap or jute gets caught on anything when you’re storing it. Now your ghillie is complete and ready to go operational. 

Another evolution in camouflage is the Eclipse thermal hide from RELV. You might be thinking it’s for a hide site, not a ghillie suit. However, the material of the thermal hide is extremely lightweight and keeps some airflow between the heat source and the fabric. It can be draped over your body and equipment, completely breaking up your silhouette and allowing you to blend into the environment.  

The RELV’s thermal hide is printed on both sides with various proprietary camouflage patterns, allowing you to use it in different environments. 

In the end, companies will always continue to evolve and develop new and effective ideas for concealment. There’s no substitute for patience, slow methodical movement, being mindful of target indicators, and common sense. The most fundamental concept to understand about movement is that the individual or team must carefully plan their route to avoid enemy contact. This is conducted by a map study or satellite imagery. 

When selecting a route, focus on natural lines of drift, areas where humans naturally travel like roads, ridgelines, and open valleys. By avoiding lines of drift, you reduce the likelihood of chance contacts with the enemy. If you need to cross a natural line of drift, do it perpendicularly and, if possible, under the cover of darkness.

On the other hand, while you should avoid natural lines of drift in your own movement, these routes make for excellent places to hunt an adversary. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Victor Lopez has extensive experience as a military and law enforcement instructor, and he is a 20-year USMC Scout Sniper veteran.

In the Marines, he had two combat deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. In addition to his military career, Lopez has been a police officer with one of California’s largest police departments since 1999.

Lopez is currently the director of training for Sierra Element Tactical Firearms Training in Los Angeles, California. Lopez, along with a crew of veterans, and law enforcement officers, continues to strive for excellence.

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