This legendary Marine sniper made the Corps’ longest known kill shot more than 50 years ago with a machine gun

carlos hathcock marine sniper
Carlos Hathcock taking aim in Vietnam.

  • Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock holds the Marine Corps record for the longest confirmed sniper kill shot.
  • The late Marine sniper set the record in 1967 with a M-2 .50 caliber Browning machine gun.
  • With 93 confirmed kills, Hathcock is one of the deadliest snipers in the Corps’ history.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A Marine sniper killed an enemy soldier 1.4 miles away in 1967 with a .50 caliber Browning machine gun. To this day, it remains the Corps’ longest confirmed sniper kill shot.

The tales of Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock’s exploits in the jungles of Vietnam are legendary. With 93 confirmed kills and around 300 unconfirmed, he is one of the deadliest Marine Corps snipers in history.

The enemy gave Hathcock the nickname Long Tra’ng du K’ich, “White Feather Sniper,” because he notoriously hunted with a white feather tucked into the band of his bush hat.

Hathcock learned of the nickname after the Viet Cong put out a hit on him, offering to pay handsomely any soldier who killed Long Tra’ng and his commanding officer, Capt. Jim Land. The bounty on each of their heads was three years officer’s pay.

Many snipers tried to best Hathcock and claim their prize, but none succeeded. There were some close calls though.

One enemy sharpshooter came dangerously close to killing Hathcock in an intense battle near the firebase at Hill 55. In the final moments of the fight, the two snipers had each other in their sights, each man ready to end the other’s life, but Hathcock was faster on the trigger. He put a bullet clean through the man’s scope, killing him instantly.

Carlos Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock

‘The longest-reaching sniper weapon’

And that was far from Hathcock’s only outstanding shot. During the war, Hathcock also set a US military record for the longest confirmed sniper kill shot. That record held for almost four decades.

From a hill in Duc Pho, Hathcock shot an enemy in the head at 2,500 yards with an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun known as “Ma Deuce,” Charles Henderson wrote in “Marine Sniper,” his novelized biography of Hathcock.

“This is the longest-reaching sniper weapon, the M-2 .50 caliber machine gun,” Land, Hathcock’s CO, told a group of war reporters at one point, according to Henderson. He said the weapon was “effective out to three thousand yards,” well beyond Hathcock’s Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle.

Marine snipers could equip the Browning machine gun with either a Unertl Optical Company or Lyman Gunsight Corporation eight-power scope, the same ones the snipers put on their rifles, and provide “a battalion commander the benefit of extra long-range sniper fire,” Land said.

Hathcock’s longest confirmed kill shot before he was sent to Duc Pho for combat operations in early 1967, was at less than 1,200 yards, Henderson, a former Marine sniper, wrote in the follow-on book “Silent Warrior.”

Use of the M-2 machine gun as a sniper weapon began during the Korean War and continued during the Vietnam War.

While the Marine Corps still uses heavy machine guns, its snipers generally do not. “Scout Sniper platoons are not equipped with these assets in their internal sections but have the ability to request or utilize them if the mission requires,” the Corps told Insider.

“In the formal Scout Sniper curriculum, Marines are only trained on the prescribed Scout Sniper Rifles that are organic to their units’ table of equipment,” it said.

The Scout Sniper community does not officially keep records ranking its confirmed kills by distance, though the Marine Corps was able to confirm for Insider that Hathcock still holds the service’s record for the longest confirmed sniper kill shot.

As for why it does not keep official records, the Corps said that “close range or long range is little concern to Scout Snipers as long as an enemy combatant is neutralized.”

Hathcock, who helped build and shape the modern Marine Corps Scout Sniper program with his former commanding officer, Land, and others, held a similar view, considering numbers and records largely meaningless.

Carlos Hathcock Marine Sniper
A commanding general presents the Silver Star to Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock

‘A meaningful thing about numbers’

For many years, Hathcock was thought to have the most confirmed kills of any Marine Corps sniper. It is actually Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney, but even when it was believed to be Hathcock, that never mattered to him, according to Henderson.

During a discussion about his kill count, Hathcock once told a fellow Marine that “you can take those numbers and give ’em to someone who gives a damn about ’em.”

“It’s my job,” he said. “If I don’t get those bastards, then they’re gonna kill a lot of these kids dressed up like Marines. That’s the way I look at it.”

Hathcock is probably the Marine Corps’ most famous sniper, but his success was not measured simply in bodies or yards. Hathcock prided himself on doing his job well, not ending the lives of as many as 400 enemy troops.

“You would have to be crazy to enjoy killing,” he often said, according to Henderson. “I never enjoyed it. It was my job. It was important that I did it well.”

The sniper said that “if there was a meaningful thing about numbers, it would have been the number of lives I saved. Not the number I took.”

Although the Vietnam War did not end until the mid-1970s, it ended for Hathcock in 1969 after he suffered severe burns across most of his body while pulling Marines from a burning troop carrier that struck a mine.

Hathcock, his body on fire as he did it, saved the lives of seven of his fellow Marines. For his heroism, he eventually received the Silver Star.

Hathcock’s 2,500-yard shot in Vietnam is among the top seven longest known sniper kill shots worldwide and is the second longest in the US military.

His record for the longest confirmed kill shot by a US military sniper was broken by a US Army Ranger in 2004, roughly five years after he died of multiple sclerosis.

The disease, together with his injuries from war, did what his enemy in Vietnam never could, but not before Hathcock left a lasting impact on the Marine Corps.

Hathcock trained hundreds of snipers. He spent his life demonstrating and teaching, as Henderson wrote, “that the deadliest thing on the battlefield is one well-aimed shot.”

When Hathcock left the Marine Corps at just under 20 years of service, a commanding officer presented the legendary sniper with an M40A1 sniper rifle.

He was also presented with a plaque that read: “There have been many Marines, and there have been many marksmen, but there has been only one sniper – Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock. One Shot – One Kill.”

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Here’s what US snipers say they have to think about before they pull the trigger

An Army paratrooper points a weapon during sniper training at Pocek Range in Postojna, Slovenia
An Army paratrooper points a weapon during sniper training at Pocek Range in Postojna, Slovenia.

  • To be a sniper is to be an expert marksman at great distances.
  • Snipers consider their target, ballistics, and shooting position, knowing the first shots may be their best.
  • Several current and former US military sniper instructors told Insider about what it takes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

What do snipers think about before they pull the trigger? There are dozens of possible considerations that go into a sniper’s shot, everything from wind to an escape plan should things suddenly go sideways, current and former US military sniper instructors told Insider.

A sniper must be able to put accurate and effective fire on targets that may be moving at distances far beyond the range of regular infantry, which are trained to shoot at targets out to a few hundred meters. Snipers are trained to shoot targets possibly thousands of meters away.

To shoot at those greater distances, which sometimes requires pushing a weapon beyond its limits, snipers have to consider things like target selection and priority, size, distance to target, whether or not the bullet is lethal at that range, and, if the target is moving, target speed and direction.

‘We know what a bullet does’

There are also the ballistics – anything that affects the flight path of the bullet that could cause the sniper to miss.

Extensive ballistics knowledge is one of several key differentiators between snipers – expert marksmen – and other troops who are simply good shots, according to a former instructor.

“We know what a bullet does,” John Wayne Walding, a former US Army Green Beret who became a Special Forces sniper instructor after losing a leg in Afghanistan, told Insider. “A sniper has education on not just what the bullet’s doing but why it’s doing it. That is what sets us apart.”

There are both internal and external ballistics, he said.

Internal is everything happening inside the rifle and includes things like bullet size and weight, which affect to what degree a bullet will be impacted by the various external factors, and the barrel twist, which affects the spin drift of the round at greater distances.

External ballistics are everything happening to the bullet once it exits the barrel. Among the external factors that can affect the bullet’s flight path are atmospherics like wind, humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and air density.

Wind speed and direction, which can change suddenly and inexplicably, are particularly important because they account for most missed shots, US Marine Corps Scout Sniper instructor Staff Sgt. Joshua Coulter told Insider.

Snipers need to know wind at not only their position, but also at various points along the bullet’s path and at the target. To get a wind reading for the distant points, the sniper looks for makeshift wind indicators like trash, clothes on a clothesline, smoke, or really anything that might be blowing in the wind.

Other possible considerations may include the curvature and rotation of the Earth, the angle of the shot if the shooter and target are at different elevations, and anything, such as thicker vegetation, between the sniper and the target that might throw off the shot.

Snipers have to take most, if not all, of these factors into account and correct before they fire a shot to hit a distant target – with the knowledge that their first shot is likely to be their best chance at striking it.

There are electronic tools that snipers can use to simplify the process to determine things like range, gather atmospheric data, and generate a firing solution. Snipers try not to rely on these though, but if they do use them, they verify the data.

The much more important tool snipers have is their collection data on previous engagements, which contains detailed information on how the sniper, the rifle, and the bullet performed in certain conditions in the real, not digital, world.

“At the end of the day, the bullet is not going to lie to you,” US Army sniper instructor Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Jones told Insider.

“We really don’t need a lot of technology to be able to operate,” he said, explaining that “given a weapon system with an optic and data on previous engagements, we are pretty effective at doing our job as far as engaging targets goes.”

US Army sniper during a sniper competition
US Army sniper during a sniper competition

‘That is when you want to fire the weapon’

There are also marksmanship fundamentals like shooting position, trigger control, and breathing that the sniper has to take into consideration. Through training, many of these things will become second nature for a sniper.

The ideal shooting platform is one that is solid, stable, and durable, and the ideal shooting position is prone. That is not always an option in battle though, so snipers have to be prepared to work with what is available, Walding told Insider.

“Out in the real world, you’re shooting over a Humvee, shooting out of a window, on a rooftop, on a knee, standing, standing while moving,” he said. “There are so many alternate shooting techniques we run through because of the realities of the battlefield.”

A proper shooting position improves recoil management, preventing the explosion that violently forces the bullet out of the rifle from disturbing the sight picture and complicating follow-on shots.

For similar reasons, it is also important that snipers have good control of the trigger, applying pressure smoothly when firing, and have relaxed, natural breathing.

“You want to breathe as natural as possible,” Jones said, explaining that snipers wait for a “natural pause” in ther breathing. “That is when you want to fire the weapon,” he said.

Snipers also have to think about mission-specific considerations such as muzzle flash, lens glare on the scope if the sniper is shooting into the sun, and barrel blast that can blow out vegetation or kick up dust. Any of these things can affect concealment and give away a shooter’s position.

Stealth and concealment, though they are crucial sniper skills, are not necessarily required for every mission, but when they are, snipers have to be prepared for the possibility that their position is compromised by their shot.

It is critical that snipers have an escape plan, “a tenable egress route and sourced contingency assets and fire support agencies in the event their position is compromised post-shot,” Coulter said.

‘Somebody that can get the job done’

“There are a million things that go into being a sniper, and you have to be good at all of them,” an Army sniper previously told Insider. That said, when it comes to the shot process, “everybody is going to have their checklist” that they run through, Jones said.

And in many, but not necessarily all, cases, there is also planning before the mission.

Coulter said that ideally a sniper’s “ability to conduct a mission analysis prior to crossing the line of departure or taking the shot will allow them to occupy a brief position of advantage when relatively compared to the enemy, the terrain and current weather.”

Doing so increases “the odds of mission success,” he said.

And with practice comes experience, reducing the time it takes to run through the process. A trained sniper can put accurate fire on at least 10 targets in about 10 minutes. It is actually something Army snipers have to do to graduate from the program.

For the extreme long-range shots, the shot process can still take some time, as well as some math. A Marine Corps sniper previously told Insider about a shot he took in training that involved putting a bullet in a target 2,300 meters away. It took him roughly 20 to 25 minutes to plan the shot.

Although shooting is a very important part of what snipers do, it is only a part. Snipers also gather intelligence and provide overwatch on the battlefield. The role requires professionalism, reliability, capability, and maturity.

“Just because you can shoot doesn’t mean you can be a sniper,” Walding said, adding that “You’ve got to have somebody that can get the job done, and not every marksman can.”

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How Canadian soldiers set 2 records for longest sniper kill during the first major battle in Afghanistan

CH-47 Chinook helicopter Operation Anaconda Afghanistan
CH-47 Chinook helicopters take off in the early morning in support of Operation Anaconda, March 4, 2002.

  • Within weeks of the September 11 attacks, US forces were in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts.
  • By March 2002, US special-operations forces, their international partners, and local allies set out on the first major battle of the war.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Nineteen years ago, a team of Canadian snipers set back-to-back world records for the longest sniper kill during one of the largest battles of the war in Afghanistan.

The US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks caught Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts by surprise. Instead pouring tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan’s harsh terrain, as the Soviets had done, the US military took the unconventional route.

A small number of US special operators and CIA paramilitary officers partnered with the Northern Alliance, a hodgepodge of anti-Taliban factions, and other groups. By late 2001 they had largely defeated Al Qaeda and the Taliban through a combination of air power and ground operations conducted by local fighters with guidance from Green Berets.

It was a perfect unconventional-warfare campaign and a ringing endorsement of the US and Coalition special-operations community, leading policymakers to rely more on commandos.

Operation Anaconda

anaconda afghanistan John Chapman

Following the Battle of Tora Bora, in which Delta Force and British Special Boat Service commandos almost caught Osama bin Laden in December 2001, the US military sought to find and destroy any Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the country.

Intelligence indicated a large combined Al Qaeda and Taliban force was in the Shahi Khot Valley in eastern Afghanistan. The US military decided to strike the roughly 1,000 terrorists and Taliban fighters there.

Surrounded by mountains, the Shahi Khot valley has a base altitude of 8,500 feet and is about 3 miles wide and 6 miles long. The peak of Takur Ghar mountain – which would end up playing a key part in the operation – looks down on the valley from a height of about 12,000 feet.

The plan was to trap the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the valley in an “anvil and hammer” operation.

Paratroopers from the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division would land in several different areas south of the valley, while an Afghan partner force led by Army Green Berets would block the valley’s north end. Meanwhile, several small special-operations teams would position themselves on the mountains surrounding the valley and provide intelligence updates and direct airstrikes against the enemy below.

All in all, Operation Anaconda, which took place during the first half of March 2002, involved about 2,000 troops, including Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, Australia’s and New Zealand’s Special Air Services, and Canadian commandos.

You broke the world record? Hold my beer

Army 101st Airborne soldiers Afghanistan
US Army 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers scan the ridge line for enemy forces during Operation Anaconda, March 4, 2002.

Canada, a steadfast US ally, was one of the first to commit troops to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. By March 2002, there were about 1,000 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, but only a handful participated in Operation Anaconda.

Two three-man sniper teams from the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were attached to the 101st Airborne for the operation’s duration.

In addition, operators from the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2), a Canadian special-operations unit similar to the US Army’s Delta Force, worked independently and directed airstrikes against the enemy.

The Canadian snipers hit the ground running, racking up multiple kills, but they truly distinguished themselves a few days into the operation, when Master Cpl. Arron Perry took out an Al Qaeda fighter who was acting as a forward observer.

Canadian soldiers Afghanistan Princess Patricia's Light Infantry
Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry search for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters north of Qualat, Afghanistan, July 2002.

Perry’s shot was from 2,310 meters, or 2,526 yards, breaking the record for the longest sniper kill. But glory was not his for long.

A few days later, Cpl. Rob Furlong broke that record with a 2,430-meter (2,657-yard) shot against an enemy machine-gunner.

By the end of Operation Anaconda, the Canadian snipers had made the difference, killing numerous enemy fighters and saving countless US lives. As a result, the five snipers received the US military’s Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the fourth-highest award for bravery under fire.

In the years of fighting that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the impressive records set in Shahi Khot Valley were broken, but the titles remain in Canadian hands. The current record is 3,540 meters (3,871 yards), set by JTF-2 commandos against ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.

Disaster on Takur Ghar

John Chapman Afghanistan Anaconda
US Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

Operation Anaconda, however, didn’t end well for everyone.

Advance Force Operations teams from the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were the first to deploy to Shahi Khot Valley, sending precious information about enemy positions back to headquarters.

But as the battle progressed, the teams – composed of Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, and operators from other special-mission units – ran out of rations and batteries. Instead of resupplying the teams on the ground, JSOC sent in fresh personnel. However, the new teams weren’t acclimated to the brutal conditions and terrain. This would be fatal.

MAKO 30, a SEAL Team 6 element, decided, with approval the JSOC task force commander, to insert on top of Takur Ghar instead of landing on its slopes and making its way to the top.

During its approach, the MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying MAKO 30 came under intense fire. Chief Petty Officer Neil Roberts fell from the ramp of the Chinook as it took evasive action.

Britt Slabinski Anaconda Takur Ghar
US Navy Master Chief Britt Slabinski on top of Takur Ghar after the battle.

The chopper had to make an emergency landing on the slopes before heading back to base. MAKO 30 was reinserted on Takur Ghar to save their teammate, who by that time had been killed and mutilated by Al Qaeda fighters after a valiant last stand.

Once reinserted, the SEALs were pinned down and forced to retreat with several wounded, leaving behind Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, who they thought had been killed. Chapman, however, was still alive and fought to the end, even charging the enemy positions by himself.

An Army Ranger quick reaction force went in to save MAKO 30 but came under fierce enemy fire. One Chinook carrying the Rangers crash-landed on the slopes of the mountain. The soldiers inside put up a brave fight but lost four men, while five were wounded. A second Ranger quick reaction force relieved them after several hours of battle.

The Battle of Takur Ghar yielded two Medal of Honors. Chapman and Master Chief Britt Slabinksi, MAKO 30’s team leader, received the military’s highest award for valor.

A CIA drone was over Takur Ghar as Chapman fought, making his the first Medal of Honor action ever caught on film.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

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National Guard snipers crushed in competition, beating even elite special operations sharpshooters in a test of their skills

Staff Sgt. Bradley Beeler, Arizona National Guard, lays still as stone before sending each shot downrange with devastating accuracy as the time to true each weapon was winding down one the day before the start of the 50th Winston P. Wilson and 30th Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting Sniper Championships
Staff Sgt. Bradley Beeler, Arizona National Guard, lays still as stone before sending each shot downrange with devastating accuracy as the time to true each weapon was winding down one the day before the start of the 50th Winston P. Wilson and 30th Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting Sniper Championships.

  • Snipers from across the US military recently participated in competitions that tested almost every aspect of what it means to be a one-shot warrior.
  • The All Guard Team representing the National Guard had the highest score by far, besting even special operations snipers.
  • “We’re all just trying to be the best that we can be and make everyone all around us better,” said a California National Guard staff sergeant on the winning team.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The results of recent sniper competitions revealed that some of the US military’s best snipers are in the National Guard.

Thirty-five sniper teams, each consisting of a shooter and a spotter, competed in the 50th Winston P. Wilson Sniper Championship and the 30th Annual Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting earlier this month.

The latter competition involves sniper teams from across the military, and the National Guard teams emerged victorious, beating even the special operations snipers.

Grabbing his weapon Staff Sgt. Jared Ramey, Ohio National Guard, prepares his equipment before stepping off toward his objective during the Stalk event December 9, 2020 at the 50th Winston P. Wilson and 30th Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting Sniper Championships hosted by the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, with the help of the U.S. National Guard Sniper School, which were held at the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center December 4-10, 2020.
Staff Sgt. Jared Ramey, Ohio National Guard, during the stalking event.

The sharpshooter competitions hosted by the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center together with the US National Guard Sniper School at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas are designed to test sniper skills, such as shooting and marksmanship, fieldcraft, and other relevant skills. They serve as a kind of training exercise and are intended to mimic certain aspects of real-world combat.

For example, there are exercises like call on fire, infiltration and exfiltration, and stalking, among others. In total, there are 28 events in the AFSAM competition alone.

In the AFSAM, California National Guard Staff Sgts. Demetrios Iannios and Eric Vargas scored a 625.5, which put them in first place ahead of the Special Warfare Training Group Team and the Marine Raider Training Center Team, which came in second and third place respectively.

Sniper teams put rounds down range.
Sniper teams put rounds down range.

The 2nd place winners were Sgt. 1st Class Jeff D. and Staff Sgt. Bj J., members of the special operations community who currently serve as instructors, according to a public affairs spokesperson at Fort Bragg who withheld their last names to protect their identities as SOF soldiers. Their final score in the competition was 500.

And, the Marine sniper team that came in 3rd place in this competition was Staff Sgt. Dylan P. Deano and Gunnery Sgt. Eduardo L. Ocampo. Their score was 455.

Sgt. Triston Ivkov, Colorado National Guard, has a confirmed hit on a timed night fire event
Sgt. Triston Ivkov, Colorado National Guard, has a confirmed hit on a timed night fire event.

In the Winston P. Wilson Sniper Championship, which is just for National Guard participants, sniper teams from the Colorado National Guard, Iowa Guard, and Utah Guard took the top three spots.

The overall winners of the competitions were the California National Guard team with its score of 625.5. They were followed by the Colorado National Guard team, Sgt. Triston Ivkov and Spc. Max Miller, with a score of 546.5 and the Iowa National Guard Team, Spcs. Aaron M. McAndrews and Kyle R. Thies, with a score of 504.

“We’re all just trying to be the best that we can be and make everyone all around us better,” Vargas, humble in victory, said in a statement.

“We all wear the same flag on our right shoulder, and that’s what it is all about,” the staff sergeant said. “Coming together. Doing what we need to do. Being masters at our craft, shooting well, and just getting the mission accomplished the best way we can.”

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