For centuries, sharpshooters and marksmen have been employed as strategic arsenals or assets by various armed forces and fighting units. The ability to accurately hit someone from a long distance has long been considered one of the quickest ways to wear down an enemy. This was supposedly proven true during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 when the English longbow prevailed over the French armor. In what was to be the most decisive battle of the Hundred Years’ War, Henry V of England together with 900 soldiers and 5,000 archers were intercepted by French troops that allegedly outnumbered them three-to-one. Making excellent use of the terrain and strategic positioning of the longbowmen allowed the English to wallop the French army. Another more ancient armed conflict that was settled by the power of the long-range weapon was the legendary Battle of Thermopylae. According to the accounts of historian Herodotus, King Leonidas and 300 Spartan warriors together with other non-Spartan volunteers, succumbed to a hail of Persian arrows but only after inflicting a heavy toll on Xerxes’ minions over three days of bloody fighting.
However, the sharpshooter really came into his own during advent of modern warfare. The Second World War gave Russian sharpshooter Ivan Sidorenko the chance to make shooting history by registering 500 confirmed kills. As a separate entity among the infantry during the World War II, the sniper was able to establish his worth as a strategic asset and psychological weapon. Instead of volume of fire and overwhelming force, the sniper utilized stealth, high ground and terrain, and superior aim to cause dread and panic that is enough to halt an entire platoon or battalion on its tracks.
The steady, highly calculated aim is the hallmark of a true sniper. With nerves of steel, a sniper can place a pinpoint shot on a still or moving target by considering the wind direction, bullet deflection, target distance, and a host of other factors that impact on whether a kill is made or not. Never a job for the weak and unstable, the sniper often has to work alone or with a spotter — far from larger units of infantry or fire support. Usually, they employ camouflage and infiltration techniques to get within lethal range of the target. After hours or even days of waiting in ambush, they make a short, controlled squeeze on a trigger that effectively neutralizes a threat or target. One shot, one kill — the motto of every sharpshooter worth his rifle.
Keeping the rifle steady and one’s eyes fixed on a scope under the extreme conditions of war are, at the very least, highly difficult skills to master. While there is little that can be done about rifle recoil, the sniper must remain totally focused on the target and his weapon. Using a tripod, the sniper can sweep on a range or lock-on a target the same way a leopard’s unblinking eyes follow the movements of its prey before making its attack. The slightest discrepancy or the minutest movement can cause a miss that alerts the target who can either flee the kill zone, or shot back at the general direction of sniper.
But behind the history, mystique and battle accounts that would mesmerize the uninitiated, lies another story.
Battle conditions are simply unforgiving, where even the most highly trained soldier can “lose a grip.” In Vietnam, regular infantry and snipers had to struggle with the hilly terrain where even the sturdiest tripod proved useless. To compensate, the U.S. military issued their snipers with supplies of muscle relaxant medication.
Muscle relaxant drugs were meant to help keep the sniper’s arms and body as still as possible while taking aim, compensating for the lack of stabilization provided by a tripod. In theory, some of the stronger muscle relaxant drugs given out could also help the body absorb some of the recoil from the shot. The basic idea was to give the snipers a better chance of getting the job done in one shot, eliminating the danger of missing the target and alerting the enemy to their presence. The use of a muscle relaxant is, according to some reports, still common practice in different battlefields today. This is particularly true in desert and jungle combat situations, which are theater of operations that often lack even, solid ground on which a sniper can stabilize and shoot from. The use of such drugs is, however, not a modern practice. Some archaelogists and historians believe that medieval archers used specific types of herbs that acted as natural muscle relaxants. Indeed, many ancient civilizations used a variet of plants as muscle relaxant medication but conclusive evidence of the use by archers of those bygone eras of such natural, plant-based relaxants has yet to be unearthed. There is some justification to the belief that archers would require some sort of muscle relaxant, particularly because of the stresses of using some of the larger types of bow, but most experts believe that if there was such a practice, it would have been recorded by a credible source.
At present, muscle relaxant drugs are in wide use in many different military organizations but it has yet to achieve acceptability among law enforcement units. The use of a muscle relaxant is currently not seen as necessary among police snipers since the urban environment relatively provides plenty of stable ground. In contrast, a combat unit that is sent to infiltrate a compound in a wooded area would likely be assigned a muscle relaxant supply instead of a tripod — which can only add more load to an already back-breaking combat pack or bergen. In today’s battlefronts — the use of chemicals to improve the execution of military action such as sniping may has been considered a breakthrough, but it still does cause slight controversy in some circles.