Snipers, Airguns, and Reticles

Monday, May 19, 2008

When I rediscovered airguns nearly ten years ago, a secondary, complementary interest sprang upon me at the same time: long range accuracy. How far can you shoot and reliably hit what you’re aiming at? And what sort of skills does it take to get the job done?

I started poking into the subject of long-range shooting, and before long, I found myself fascinated by the world of snipers. Military and police snipers, in many regards, are the ultimate long-range marksmen. In the right place at the right time, snipers can change the course of history. Just witness Timothy Murphy, who is believed to have shot General Simon Fraser at the battle of Saratoga, October 7, 1777. There are historians who believe this changed the direction of the war for independence. I have also seen a video of a police sniper shooting a pistol from the hand of a man holding a hostage.

Further, snipers frequently operate in an environment where others are shooting at them. In my view, it takes a whole lot of Right Stuff to be a military or police sniper. (For the record, I have NO admiration, whatsoever, for the shooters who take pot shots at unarmed civilians from hiding. The media calls them “snipers,” but I call them what they really are: cowards.)

Having said that, I heard a rumor a while ago that snipers were using air rifles somehow as part of their training. Not long after that, I noticed an article entitled “Evolutionary Steps in Modern Military Sniping” by Steve Adelmann on the Precision Shooting Magazine website. He had just retired after 21 years in the Army, 14 years in special ops, including 12 years as a sniper. This was the guy I wanted to talk to! A couple of phone calls later, I was.

Steve Adelmann at work. Photo courtesy of Steve.

“Are snipers using air rifles as any part of what they do?” I asked.

“Absolutely. In a couple of ways,” Adelmann said.

He then went on to explain that, when you’re in special operations, you spend a lot of time “in the hangar,” waiting to be deployed on sniping and reconnaissance jobs. “To keep our skills sharp, we had some sidecocking air rifles – I think they were Feinwerkbaus, but I’m not sure – that we used for practice. It was sight picture and trigger work – the basics – and sometimes some practicing with non-standard shooting positions, although there are limits to that since the stocks are so different.”

Adelmann’s last assignment with the Army had been heavy involvement in weapons R&D, specializing in sniper weapons. Part of that involved a move toward “Christmas tree” reticles, like the Horus reticle. These reticles, which have much finer graduations than the standard mil-dot reticle, allow snipers to have much greater ability to adjust for holdover, wind-hold, range-finding, and lead for moving targets.

“Once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot faster and easier than twisting elevation and windage knobs,” Adelmann says. “When snipers are presented with critical shots, possibly under fire, missed targets equal mission failure. With the Horus reticle (and he notes that there are other similar reticles), if you or your spotter can spot your first shot on the extended stadia, your second shot has a very high percentage of being right on the money.”

One of the Horus Optics Christmas Tree reticles.

Adelmann says that in some sniper training venues, airguns are being used to teach students how to use the Horus reticle before they use the same reticle on their long-range rifles.

As we chatted, Adelmann (owner of Rifleman Consulting, a firearms training and consulting company) steered me to the Horus Optics website. The reticles there reminded me of something. I navigated to the Airguns of Arizona website, and sure enough, the Horus reticle is very similar to the reticle used in the MTC Viper scopes. If you want to experiment with aiming your airgun the way the next generation of snipers do, you might want to give one of the MTC Viper scopes a try.

The MTC Viper Reticle.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

Jock Elliott


  1. Rodney Boatner says:

    I would like to know where can I buy a Nikko Stirling 10-50X60 FT IR scope from I’ve been looking high and low. Do I buy one from the UK and how do I go about buying one or two of them for my Benjamin Marauders. Thank You.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      You can find them right here:

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