The Stalk

by MOA

“I said huntin’, honeybunch. Nothin’ about killin’. It takes no skill t’kill. What takes skill is sneakin’ up close enough to a skittish doe t’touch her – that‘s huntin‘” -Logan

“Time starts in five, four, three, two, one, mark.”

The man in the hat and dark sunglasses presses a button on his stopwatch and with a beep, the next three hours of my life begin. The route should be an easy one, though longer than on previous days. I fold my map inside its Ziploc bag, place it in my cargo pocket, and set the bezel on my compass. One last look in the small compact mirror at my green and black face before donning my tattered hat, camouflaged with bundles of thick thread and local foliage. A swath of green mosquito netting veils my face as I ensure my long bipod is secured to my rifle, the bolt held in place by a rubber band, bundles of pine needles, grass, and burlap banded to the scope and chassis. The silver pickup truck pulls away, and I wait until it’s out of sight to step off. The next time I see the man in the hat will be through a ten-power scope.

I set off alone, moving swiftly and silently through the thin pine forest. Despite the crisp October air, sweat starts to bead on my upper lip and the camouflage paint streaks down my face. I listen to the sounds of the wildlife around me, attuning and immersing myself in their world. The  disjointed cacophony of birds and insects is a constant din that provides a soundtrack for my movement. Its absence would be one of the first indicators of a foreign, potentially lethal threat. The sun is dropping quickly in the late afternoon sky. After a few hundred meters, I drop to a knee, take a drink of tepid water from my Camelbak, and check my map. Right on schedule; I’m hitting the roads and major terrain I’ve designated as checkpoints along my route.

Soon I’m at the base of the final hill before the objective. There is low ground to my left, sloping gently upwards towards my objective. It isn’t as thickly foliated as I’d hoped. Hooking around the other side of the hill would take time, and the vegetation isn’t guaranteed to be any better. The sun would soon be directly behind the objective on the horizon, making identifying the target and taking the shot more difficult. I recheck my camouflage and apply more to my face, hat, and rifle. This is the point of no return. I head left.

I slowly edge around the hill into the low ground, keeping an eye out for the objective, an ammunition trailer towed by a HMMWV. I keep to the shadows, staying as low as possible while maintaining quiet mobility. The ground slopes gently upward, and maintaining my low silhouette becomes more tiring with each step. Suddenly, I catch a glint of sunlight through the trees, and it is close. Too close. I drop to the ground and wait, mouth open, listening for anything…unnatural.

The birds and insects have maintained their respective dialogues, seemingly oblivious to me and ignoring the large machine at my objective. A gentle breeze sweeps through the forest, causing the small shrubs and young pines to sway. Ahead, there is level ground and what looks to be a thicket of scrub oak and other small bushes. It will be as good a firing point as any.

I inch forward on my belly, rifle cradled in my arms. After every small movement I pause and listen. After what seems like an eternity of inching forward, I am on flat ground, surrounded by scrub oak. I slowly rise onto my hands and knees, peering out towards the objective. I can see the trailer clearly, as well as the man in the hat. He’s eating something, not peering through his scope. This is my chance, and I may not get another.

I extend my bipod legs and kneel behind my rifle, draping my veil over the front of the scope as I settle behind the glass. The man’s head and torso fill the bottom half of my mil-dot reticle. I am well within two-hundred meters of him. He finishes his Snickers bar and peers through a magnified optic far more powerful than my own. He’s looking off to my right, oblivious to me and my impending shot.

I break my bolt, slide it open and closed again in one smooth motion, chambering the .308 round. My right index finger moves to the trigger as the man begins to pan his optic across the woodline towards me. I inhale deeply, like the last breath before a heavy deadlift, smelling that car air-freshener scent of pine as well as my own sweat and the paint covering my face, clothes, and rifle. I exhale, releasing the small tremors and stressors that turn a clean kill into a flesh wound. Again I inhale, stopping short of a full breath as I would during a twenty-rep squat set, and for a millisecond I am entirely motionless. The man’s gaze is almost upon me now, but he stops and his eyes rise above his tripod-mounted scope. My reticle is centered on his right eye as he peers into the brush to my right. The pad of my index finger applies backward pressure and squeezes the trigger.

The stalk is an exercise designed to test a sniper’s field craft and, more importantly, patience. Patience is everything. Patience to meticulously camouflage uniform, rifle, equipment, and the sniper himself. Patience to cover a short distance over the span of hours instead of minutes. Patience to create the most stable firing position possible. Patience to take the best shot possible. The patience cultivated on the stalk, like anything hard-earned through sweat and blood, impacts the mindset with which the sniper approaches his military training, strength training, and his daily life. Waiting in line is no longer torturous, as the sniper has waited at length for the slightest breeze to cover the sound of his movement. The minute details often missed by most of the population are seen and noted, as an enemy’s rifle has a very small profile at three-hundred meters, but is still just as deadly.

Progress in the gym is measured not by a convenient, magical “90 day” number, but by the tedious, amaranthine low crawl towards the final firing position, where every inch forward is like another two pounds on a work set. The discipline cultivated on the stalk becomes a suit of mental armor which protects against the desire for instant gratification. It is the same discipline used to create a sustainable training program designed not for twelve weeks of quick gains, but twelve months of steady progress. Finally, the stalk engages all of the senses to create a sense of being truly alive, while performing as an instrument of death.

MOA is a professional gunfighter who travels to exotic locales to refine his craft. He can be found on the StrengthVillain forums.


5 Responses

  1. CRB

    I really enjoyed this article. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

    November 5, 2010 at 12:23 am

  2. MOA

    Too true, CRB. Thanks for reading.

    November 5, 2010 at 1:23 am

  3. Mowgli

    I overlooked this one. I thought it was a simple deer hunting article and never checked it out. Masterfully written sir.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

  4. sapper09

    Wow. Great work, MOA. Love the metaphor and brilliantly written – you have a talent with words, keep ’em coming.

    Really like strength villain so far – keep up the good work JP.

    December 16, 2010 at 11:47 pm

  5. Trebin

    Great article, I always wanted to join the military but due to some past injuries and bad timing I wasn’t able to do so. I am envious of those who did and are in it to this day. I work for the DOD as I figured at the least I can support my country that way.

    June 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

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