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Top 10 Snipers in History
“It was night and low visibility, but I saw a guy with an AK-47 lit up by the porch light in a doorway about 400 meters away. I watched him through the sights. He looked like just another Iraqi. I hit him low in the stomach and dropped him.” – Specialist James Wilks, 25, from Fort Worth, Texas.
Concealment is key to becoming a great sniper—highly trained marksmen who can shoot accurately from incredible distances with specialized training in high-precision rifles. In addition, they are trained in camouflage, fieldcraft, infiltration, reconnaissance, and observation, making them perhaps the most feared military presence in a war. Below is my list of top ten snipers in history and some of the greatest shots ever fired.
10 Thomas Plunkett
died in 1851
Plunkett was an Irish soldier in the British 95th Rifles. What makes him one of the greats is that he shot a very impressive French general, Auguste-Marie-François Colbert.
During the battle at Cacabelos during Monroe’s retreat in 1809, Plunkett, using a Baker Rifle, shot the French general at a range of about 600 meters. Giving the incredible inaccuracy of rifles in the early 19th century, this was either a very impressive feat or one hell of a fluke. Well, Plunkett, not wanting his army buddies to think he was a bit lucky, decided to take the shot again before returning to his line. So, he reloaded his gun and aimed once again, this time at the trumpet major who had come to the general’s aid. When this shot also hit its intended target, proving that Plunkett is just one badass marksman, he looked back to his line to see the impressed faces of the others in the 95th Rifles.
Just for comparison, the British soldiers were all armed with “Brown Bess muskets” and trained to shoot into a body of men at 50 meters. Plunkett did 12 times that distance. Twice!
9 Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney
103 Confirmed Kills
Mawhinney was an avid hunter as a kid and joined the Marines in 1967. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during Vietnam and holds the record for the number of confirmed kills for Marine snipers, bypassing that of legendary Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock. In just 16 months, he killed 103 enemies, and another 216 kills were listed as probable by the military, only because it was too risky at the time to search the bodies for documents. When he left the Marines, he told no one his role during the conflict, and only a few fellow Marines knew of his assignments. It was nearly 20 years before somebody wrote a book detailing his amazing skills as a sniper. Mawhinney came out of anonymity because of this and became a lecturer in sniper schools. He was once quoted as saying, “It was the ultimate hunting trip: a man hunting another man who was hunting me. Don’t talk to me about hunting lions or elephants; they don’t fight back with rifles and scopes. I just loved it. I ate it up.”
A routinely deadly shot from distances between 300 – 800 yards, Mawhinney had confirmed kills of over 1000 yards, making him one of the greatest snipers of the Vietnam war.
8 Chris Kyle
April 8, 1974 – February 2, 2013
150 Confirmed Kills
A Navy SEAL sniper born in Texas, Chris Kyle is probably the best-known person on this list because of his 2012 autobiography, American Sniper and the subsequent 2015 film of the same title directed by Clint Eastwood in which Kyle was played by Bradley Cooper, and because of the tragic circumstances of his death. The exact number of confirmed kills he made in Iraq has been debated, but it stands somewhere around 150; he estimates having made another 100 unconfirmed kills. He took the title for highest number of kills by an American sniper from Waldron (see below). He was awarded the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars with “V” devices, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and many unit and personal awards.
Like Hathcock, the enemy had a nickname for Kyle. They called him “Al-Shaitan Ramadi,” which means “The Devil of Ramadi.” They placed a bounty on his head that kept increasing until it reached $80,000. Among the U.S. military, including the Marines he was tasked with protecting, he became known simply as “The Legend.” The nickname started among Kyle’s fellow SEALs after he took a sabbatical to train snipers in Fallujah and famously took a 2,100-yard shot that killed an insurgent sniper aiming at U.S. military personnel outside Sadr City in 2008. Kyle said it was “a straight-up luck shot.”
After four tours of duty in Iraq, he’d been shot twice and survived six separate IED attacks. He retired from the military in 2009. In 2013, Kyle was tragically murdered along with his friend, Chad Littlefield, at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas. The man who killed them, Eddie Ray Routh, was a U.S. Marine with PTSD. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murders.
7 Rob Furlong
A former corporal of the Canadian Forces, Furlong holds the record for the longest confirmed sniper kill in history at 1.51 miles or 2,430 meters. That’s the length of about 26 football fields.
This amazing feat occurred in 2002 when he was involved in Operation Anaconda. His Sniper Team consisted of 2 Corporals and 3 Master Corporals. When a three-man Al-Qaeda weapons team moved into a mountainside position, he aimed. Furlong was armed with a .50-caliber McMillan Brothers Tac-50 Rifle and loaded with A-MAX very low drag bullets. He fired and missed. His second shot hit the enemy’s knapsack on his back. He had already fired his third shot by the time the second hit, but now the enemy knew he was under attack. The airtime for each bullet was about 3 seconds due to the immense distance, enough time for an enemy to take cover. However, the dumbfounded militant realised what was happening just in time to take the third shot in the chest.
6 Vasily Zaytsev
March 23, 1915 – December 15, 1991
242 Confirmed Kills
Zaytsev is also a well-known sniper, thanks to the movie Enemy At The Gates. It is a great film, and I wish I could say it was all true. However, the truth only goes as far as the battle of Stalingrad. There was no Nazi Counter-Sniper Specialist in real life. Well, not to the extent laid out like in the film. Here’s the truth. Zaytsev was born in Yeleninskoye and grew up in the Ural Mountains. His surname means “hare.” Before Stalingrad, he served as a clerk in the Soviet Navy. But after reading about the conflict in the city, he volunteered for the front line. He served in the 1047th Rifle Regiment. Zaytsev ran a sniper school in the Metiz factory. The cadets he trained were called Zaichata, meaning “Leverets” (Baby Hares). This was the start of the sniper movement in the 62nd army. It is estimated that the snipers he trained killed more than 3,000 enemy soldiers.
Zaytsev himself made 242 confirmed kills between October 1942 and January 1943, but the real number is probably closer to 500. I know I said there was no counter-sniper, but there was Erwin Kónig. He was alleged to be a highly skilled Wehrmacht sniper. Zaytsev claimed in his memoirs that the duel took place over a period of three days in the ruins of Stalingrad. Details of what actually happened are sketchy, but by the end of the three-day period, Zaytsev had killed the sniper and claimed his scope to be his most prized trophy. For him to make this his most prized trophy means that this person he killed must have been almost as good as Zaytsev himself.
5 Lyudmila Pavlichenko
July 12, 1916 – October 10, 1974
309 Confirmed Kills
In June 1941, Pavlichenko was 24, and Nazi Germany was invading the Soviet Union. She was among the first volunteers and asked to join the infantry. She was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Infantry Division. From there, she became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Soviet forces.
Her first two kills were made near Belyayevka using a Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle with a P.E. 4-power scope. The first action she saw was during the conflict in Odessa. She was there for two and a half months and notched 187 kills. When they were forced to relocate, she spent the next eight months fighting in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. There she recorded 257 kills, and for this feat, she was cited by the Southern Army Council. Pavlichenko’s total confirmed kills during WWII was 309—36 of those were enemy snipers.
4 Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow
March 9, 1891 – August 5, 1952
378 Confirmed kills
Three times awarded amilitary medal and twice seriously wounded, Pegahmagabow was an expert marksman and scout, credited with 378 German kills and capturing 300+ more. He was an Ojibwa warrior with the Canadians in battles like those at Mount Sorrel. As if killing nearly 400 Germans wasn’t enough, he was also awarded medals for running messages through very heavy enemy fire, for directing a crucial relief efforts when his commanding officer was incapacitated, and for running through enemy fire to get more ammo when his unit was running low.
Though a hero among his fellow soldiers, he was virtually forgotten once he returned home to Canada. Regardless, he was one of the most effective snipers of World War I.
3 Adelbert F. Waldron
March 14, 1933 – October 18, 1995
109 confirmed kills
Waldron once held the record for the highest number of confirmed kills for any American sniper in history—until Chris Kyle (see above). However, it is not just his impressive kill record that makes him one of the best, but also his incredible accuracy.
This excerpt from Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam by Col. Michael Lee Lanning describes just what I’m talking about:
“One afternoon, he was riding along the Mekong River on a Tango boat when an enemy sniper on shore pecked away at the boat. While everyone else on board strained to find the antagonist, who was firing from the shoreline over 900 meters away, Sergeant Waldron took up his sniper rifle and picked off the Vietcong out of the top of a coconut tree with one shot (this from a moving platform). Such was the capability of our best sniper.” Nuff Said.
If there were a scale of difficulty for shots like these, it would be next to impossible to beat. Well, let’s try to do that anyway.
Here’s “White Feather”…
2 Carlos Norman Hathcock II
May 20, 1942 – February 23, 1999
Nicknamed “Lông Trung du Kich” or “White Feather”
93 Confirmed kills
Hathcock has one of the most impressive mission records of any sniper in the Marine corps. Let’s forget about the dozens of shooting championships he won. During the Vietnam war, he amassed 93 confirmed kills. The Vietnam army put a $30,000 bounty on his life for killing so many of their men. Rewards put on U.S. snipers by the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) typically amounted to … say $8.
It was Hathcock who fired the most famous shot in sniper history. He fired a round over a very long distance, which went through the scope of an enemy sniper, hit him in the eye, and killed him. Hathcock and Roland Burke, his spotter, were stalking the enemy sniper (which had already killed several Marines), which they believed was sent to kill him specifically. When Hathcock saw a flash of light reflecting off the enemy’s scope, he fired at it in a split second, pulling off one of the most precise shots in history. Hathcock reasoned that the only way this was possible would have been if both snipers were aiming at each other’s scopes simultaneously, and he fired first. However, although the distance was never confirmed, Hathcock knew that it would have been easy for both snipers to kill each other because of the flight time.
The white feather was synonymous with Hathcock (he kept one in his hat), and he removed it only once for a mission. Keep in mind that he volunteered for this mission, but he had to crawl over 1500 yards of enemy territory to shoot an NVA commanding general. Information wasn’t sent until he was en route. (He volunteered for a mission he knew nothing about.) It took 4 days and 3 nights without sleep of inch-by-inch crawling. One enemy soldier almost stepped on him as he laid camouflaged in a meadow. At another point, he was nearly bitten by a viper, but he didn’t flinch. He finally got into position and waited for the general. When he arrived, Hathcock was ready. He fired one round and hit the general through the chest, killing him. The soldiers started a search for the sniper, and Hathcock had to crawl back to avoid detection. They never caught him—what nerves of steel.
1 Simo Häyhä
December 17, 1905 – April 1, 2002
Nicknamed “The White Death”
705 confirmed kills (505 with a rifle, 200 with a submachine gun)
Häyhä was a Finnish soldier who, using an iron-sighted bolt action rifle, amassed the highest recorded confirmed kills as a sniper in any war—ever!!
Häyhä was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi near the present-day border of Finland and Russia and started his military service in 1925. His duties as a sniper began during the “winter war” (1939-1940) between Russia and Finland. During the conflict, Häyhä endured freezing temperatures up to -40 degrees Celsius. In less than 100 days, he was credited with 505 confirmed kills, 542 if including unconfirmed kills. However, the unofficial frontline figures from the battlefield places the number of sniper kills at over 800. Besides his sniper kills, he was also credited with 200 from a Suomi KP/31 Submachine gun, topping off his total confirmed kills at 705.
How Häyhä did all this was amazing. He was basically on his own all day, in the snow, shooting Russians, for three months straight. Of course, when the Russians caught wind that many soldiers were being killed, they thought, “well, this is war, there’s bound to be casualties.” But when the generals were told that it was one man with a rifle, they decided to take a bit of action. First, they sent in a counter-sniper. When his body was returned, they decided to send in a team of counter-snipers. When they didn’t come back at all, they sent in a whole goddamn battalion. They took casualties and couldn’t find him. Eventually, they ordered an artillery strike, but to no avail. You see, Häyhä was clever, and this was his neck of the woods.
He dressed completely in white camouflage. He used a smaller rifle to suit his smaller frame (being only 5’3″) and increase his accuracy. He used an iron sight to present the smallest possible target (a scoped sight would require the sniper to raise his head for sighting). He compacted the snow in front of the barrel so as not to disturb it when he shot, thus revealing his position. He also kept snow in his mouth, so his breath did not condense and reveal where he was. Eventually, however, he was shot in the jaw by a stray bullet during combat on March 6, 1940. He was picked up by his own soldiers, who said half his head was missing. However, he didn’t die and regained consciousness on the 13th, the day peace was declared.
Once again, total kills—505 sniper + 200 submachine = 705 total Confirmed Kills—all in less than 100 days.