Non-Visual Target Indicators

This article is part of a series on the practical aspects of stealth. To see links to all of the articles on this topic, see the main page for The Stealth Fighter.

A target indicator is anything that makes your presence known to an enemy; it indicates a target (you, in this case). If you master this section, you can write the book on stealth. The purpose of camouflage is to reduce target indicators. The importance of the term “target indicator” is impossible to overstate. If you get just that from this article, it was worth your time to read it.

People spend an enormous amount of time on reducing visual target indicators. This article is on reducing your signature as a target in the domains of sound and smell. A misplaced radio crackle, or a whiff of cigarette smoke can burn you just as well as an errant movement. Let’s dive in.


In any field environment, perfumes stand out. The detergent you wash your clothes with is almost certainly scented, as is your shampoo. The simple solution is to keep your clothes for the civilized world and your field-wear separate. Wash your field wear in warm water with no detergent. It wont become rancid with stench, and yet it will not give you away. Similarly, avoid soaps, deodorants, colognes, and other such frills for a minimum of 24 hours prior to entering a field environment.

Another obvious olfactory target indicator is cigarette or campfire smoke. Don’t do it near the enemy. An unfortunate wind will leave no doubt as to your presence. Cooking food falls into the same category. You must eat, but use good judgement.

Perhaps one you didn’t consider is the food you eat seeping through your pores. This mainly pertains to situations where your potential observers are foreign. If you’d like to see this firsthand, get extremely drunk. The next morning, go for a jog. You’ll smell the booze seeping out. If you prefer not to abuse yourself that much, eat a healthy dose of curry and breathe in the same effect later.


Some sounds belong, and some don’t. The clanking of metal is sure to draw attention, as is the ringtone on your cell phone. Make sure that whatever sounds you make in a given area of operations belong, or don’t make them at all. Discipline is obviously a key factor.

The way you walk is also a target indicator. If you observe animals in the wild, you’ll note that they never just go tromping through the woods. They walk a bit, then stop, walk a bit, then stop. Crackling leaves and sticks on their own are not a definitive target indicator, but nonstop crackling indicates human movement.

Velcro, radio squelch, water sloshing, the thudding of feet on earth, coughing, and the rustling of paper and plastic are a few other sounds I can think of that cannot be easily explained away . During the Vietnam War, prior to hydration bladders, small recon teams would pass a canteen and empty it to avoid sloshing. I like to tape the metal tabs on zippered pouches, or replace them altogether with gutted 550 cord.

Weather plays a significant factor.  On cold days, sound seems to travel further. This isn’t an illusion. Sound refracts downward from warmer air toward the cold ground, which results in more sound making it further downrange prior to the sonic energy dissipating. The animals are a good bit quieter. The dried leaves and sticks crackle much more loudly than in summer. A cold, calm day is a terrible time to attempt stealthy movement.

During wet weather, leaves and sticks are muffled and make very little noise. While it may be miserable to be out in the field, you can be sure that your enemy is equally miserable, and the reduction in audible target indicators is welcome for the weary stalker.

In summary, don’t focus on purely visual target indicators. Sounds and smells can provide a searching enemy with a wealth of knowledge about your element. Don’t wash your field clothes with perfumes. Do use tape and 550 cord to silence metal and zipper elements on your kit. In the sounds and smells you make… be an animal.

6.5 Creedmore vs 5.56. One Datapoint

I am a proponent of the 5.56 for accurized rifles, but it has some limitations. Here’s a single datapoint to consider: A friend and I were shooting steel at 800 meters in a stiff wind. My friend was shooting 6.5, I 5.56. The Creedmore shooter had to hold off 3 feet to account for wind. I had to hold off 10 feet with my 5.56.

Food for thought when considering the merits and limitations of 5.56 precision shooting.

Gear Review: Bushnell 78154ED Legend T-Series Spotting Scope

1.5 / 5

Bottom line: Long range shooters should look elsewhere.

This scope is fine for casual long distance viewing, or wildlife watching. The price is excellent, and the features are plenty. Unfortunately, the glass is not of a high enough quality for serious rifle round spotting.


I wanted to love this spotting scope. It has all of the features long range tactical shooters want: a mil reticle, 45X magnification, three focus rings, rail attachments, tripod mounting, rugged construction, and best of all, a front focal plane reticle. At roughly $500, the price is eye-catching. Unfortunately, this scope’s glass just isn’t good enough to spot trace, or even round impacts on steel from very far.

At range, the view is blurry. The glass is difficult to focus at any range, but becomes impossible out at 800 meters. The main focus ring is spring loaded, and will start creeping on its own on a hot day. The glass was so poor that I ended up just using my 15X Vortex riflescope to spot my buddy’s rounds, because it was a better view.

This review should not be seen as a dig on Bushnell; they are a great company. Unfortunately, they skimped just a little too much on this glass, and the result is less than their usual stellar performance.

Features of An Accurized Rifle

For this post, I’m going to discuss specific features to look for on an accurized rifle. This will not be a commentary on manufacturers, calibers, semi versus bolt, or glass.

  1. Free floated barrel. A free floated barrel means that from the chamber to the muzzle, nothing touches the barrel (with the exception of sights and the gas system). Especially, the handguard of the rifle does not touch the barrel. This is important for several reasons.
  2. Heavy barrel. A heavy barrel has several benefits. It is structurally stiffer, causing less movement during the integrated act of firing. It maintains a constant heat better, leading to less warping which causes a zero shift.
  3. Match trigger. Poor trigger pull is a common source of shooter error. A light, crisp trigger can go a long way toward alleviating this.
  4. Good Furniture. I’m a big fan of adjustable stocks. The Magpul PRS is the first I know of off hand which allows for easy cheek and length of pull adjustments. In the old days, we had to build up the cheekpieces with foam scraps and tape. Additionally, I like bipods. They make for an extremely good prone support. All of this hardware also adds to weight. Heavier rifles tend to be more accurate, unless of course they have tired out the shooter over the course of a long walk!

I think that a lot of precision rifle features are cool, but overkill for most shooters. With a few additional features, most stock rifles are decent candidates for precision work.

The Rifleman’s Rule (Angle Firing)

When I teach ballistics, I love to ask people how you should compensate your aim when firing uphill and downhill. People usually get the downhill portion right. It’s intuitive. The bullet is “going down a hill.” The idea that it picks up speed, goes further, and thus would hit higher is quite easy for most to grasp. You compensate by aiming low. Likewise, they assume that for an uphill shot, you must aim high. The reasoning is similar; “the bullet has to climb up a hill, so it must slow down more and fall more, thus you aim higher.” This is incorrect. In both the uphill and downhill cases, you must aim lower.

For both uphill and downhill firing, the reasoning that the bullet gains or loses much steam due to the altitude change is incorrect. The difference in bullet speed by firing uphill or downhill is generally negligible compared to the deceleration due to air resistance. Rather, the major factor in the changing trajectory is that the effect of gravity is no longer full. As with most things, a picture is best:

Flat firing:


Uphill firing:



The trajectory “bends” because of gravity. When gravity is at an angle to flight, the trajectory bends less. The more the trajectory bends, the more drop you have. The less it bends, the less drop you have. That’s why shooting uphill produces less drop. If you are still struggling with this, I give you two more pictures.

In this first picture, you are firing flat. The bullet leaves at a slightly upward trajectory to compensate for drop. This is a typical trajectory.


In this second image, you are shooting the gun straight up. Again, the direction of fire is canted slightly due to the normal angular difference between your line of sight and the actual direction the barrel is pointed. The blue trajectory was right before, but is now quite wrong. The green trajectory is correct. In this extreme case, you must aim below your target to hit it.


The Rifleman’s Rule

The Rifleman’s Rule is a simple formula to help shooters make accurate angle shots in the field. It’s quite simple:

Whether shooting uphill or downhill, correct only for the horizontal distance, not the straight line distance. In layman’s terms, do the following:

  1. Establish a range for your target.
  2. Measure the angle away from horizontal.
  3. Correct for range * cosine(angle)

As an example, imagine I am shooting at a target 500 meters away. I am shooting down a steep hill, at a 45° angle. Instead of correcting for 500, I correct for 500*cos(45) = 353 meters. My normal 500 meter correction for my Mk12 clone would be 3.67 mils. The correction for 353 meters is 1.87 mils. It’s an easy calculation. This method is even more field-worthy if you memorize a few big cosine values. In fact, knowing that cosine(25°) = .9, cosine(45°) = .7, and cosine(60°) = .5 will get you most of the way home in angle firing.

How accurate is this method? Well, the real calculated trajectory of this 500 meter shot at 45° is 2.23 mils. The Rifleman’s Rule is about a half mil off, or 25 centimeters at 500 meters. It’s close enough for government work, but the error is significant. The Rifleman’s rule is a great tool for field use. Even better is the angle fire function of Sendit Ballistics. This feature will be available for In-App Purchase in late April. The angle fire function adds another layer of accuracy to the trajectory, even accounting for the slight change in air density as the bullet gains or loses altitude. While you wait for this feature to become available on the App Store, give Sendit Ballistics a try. It’s free out to 500 meters.

Sendit Ballistics Released

Sendit Ballistics finally released on March 6, 2017. As expected, downloads and sales are rather slow. The ballistics calculator market is somewhat saturated. However, Sendit Ballistics has a cleaner user interface, and an al-a-carte pricing scheme which will appeal to users. As the app gains features, we expect to slowly carve out a major segment of the ballistics app market.

It’s a free download, give it a try today!

How Temperature Affects Your Bullet

Most long range shooters are aware that weather conditions affect bullet trajectories, though maybe not by how much or to what degree. In this post, I’m going to take you through all of the effects of temperature, in order of importance. First I’ll talk about the comfort level, and then we’ll discuss the science of how external flight changes. Finally, we’ll look at some sample results from the Sendit Ballistics engine at varying temperatures.

The most important effect temperature has, in my opinion, is shooter comfort. Anyone who has laid in the prone for hours on a cold day knows the difficulty of keeping concentration, and minimizing shivering while making a long shot. On hot days, the shooter’s eyes burn with sweat, and mirage can make the target difficult to see. I have seen square targets at 700+ meters whipping back and forth like a flag through my scope due to the massive mirage. But what do you care about comfort? You’re tough and can deal. You came to read this for the science.

Temperature Effect on Internal Ballistics

Colder bullet powder has less internal energy, resulting in a lower muzzle velocity. The powder combusts more slowly, and simply doesn’t generate as high of pressures as it would on a hot day. The end result is that from freezing cold to burning hot, your bullets may have a variation of 200 feet per second or more on muzzle velocity. This leads to drastically different trajectories. For a more in-depth look at this phenomenon and the history, see a great post on the topic at Firearms History, Technology, and Development. The advanced trajectory package on Sendit Ballistics will account for the internal ballistics variation brought on by temperature changes.

And now, a graph showing the difference in trajectory between two 5.56mm rounds given a muzzle velocity change of 200fps. As you can see, at 1000m, it’s near a 2 meter difference in drop:

Temperature Effects on Bullet Flight (External Ballistics)

By the Ideal Gas Law, we can predict that the air will be less dense as temperature rises. Some quick math:

pressure = density*R*T  (T is temp, R is a constant)


density = pressure / (R*T)

Higher temperature leads to lower density. What effect does this have? Let’s check it out from 0 degrees C to 40 degrees C (roughly 32 to 100 F):

It’s a meter or so difference. But not so fast. A change in temperature also leads to a change in the speed of sound. In this case, it’s about a 25m/s difference. That’s important because it means your bullet has a different Mach number at given trajectories. Mach number is important because projectiles experience very different drags at different Mach numbers. Here is the trajectory, only varying speed of sound:

It’s a slight advantage to the cold temperature. Now, for all temperature effects combined:

Happy hunting.

Introducing Sendit Ballistics

It is my pleasure to introduce Sendit Ballistics to the world. I can’t say that it’s going to revolutionize shooting, but it certainly will improve the process of getting rounds on target.

As a sniper, I have been frustrated with the user interface of every ballistics calculator I have tried. They take too long to issue valid corrections. They are clunky, requiring far too much information from a user before issuing a correction. They are not field friendly.

Sendit Ballistics is none of those things. It’s designed around “the shot.” The first thing a user sees upon opening the app is a big bold elevation correction. A single finger flick of the slider changes the range, and a new correction appears. And then, in the words of a good spotter, “SEND IT!”

Head on over to the app’s page for more information.