Sniper training has historically been ignored during peacetime, at least by the US military. As I wrote previously the modern .mil sniper training came out of the jungles of Vietnam. We owe so much to those warriors who went before us and passed down the legacy we hold today. I had originally planned on writing three posts to cover ammunition, rifle, and training, but John Mosby asked a good question about the future of precision marksmanship in the Army, which led to the last two posts.
Fundamentally the skills are simple in and of themselves, the math isn't terribly complicated, and the fieldcraft isn't particularly difficult. The marksmanship standard can be met by nearly anyone who cares to compete in High Power rifle matches. So why do so many potential snipers wash out of sniper school? Because adding all the little things together makes something more than the sum of its parts.
Outside of the .mil world there has been a lot of changes. Since the 1980s there has been a rise in civilian interest in military sniper style training and shooting. Hollywood helped by portraying American Snipers as heroes instead of "cowardly murderers" as the Marquis of Queensbury would have proclaimed. Also the publication of several biographies and autobiographies of American Snipers has helped turn "Sniper" from synonymous with "murderer" to "Life Saver." There has been a rise in equipment built for "sniper style" shooting, from first focal plane mil/mil scopes to heavy barreled "tactical" bolt action rifles. Both "match grade" and "tactical" ammunition is readily available.
There are some very good books and instructional videos for those who are interested, and several worthwhile schools open to anyone with money and willingness to learn. I don't think it is possible to do justice to sniper training in one blog post, so I'll focus on what I see as the "problem areas." In my experience the two things that wash students out of Army sniper training is shooting movers at distance, and the dreaded stalk exercise.
When you are shooting at movers there are two basic techniques, "trap" and "lead."
Trapping is pointing your rifle at a place where your target is likely to be, and pulling the trigger when they hit a mark (either near them, or a mil measurement on the reticle). Leading is moving your rifle to a point in front of your target and pulling the trigger. Duck hunters are quite familiar with leading the target, "butt belly beak BOOM!" is an old catchphrase to teach young waterfowl hunters to lead the bird.
Trailing is the same as "leading" but it means you are moving faster than your target. Shooting from a helicopter (really cool when it works) is like this. The principle is the same, aim at a point other than your target and if all goes well the bullet and target meet at the right time and place.
This is simple right? Now account for the wind. Now account for temperature changes. Now account for humidity changes. As I wrote before, nothing on its own is too difficult, but they all add up quickly to make it hard to get first round on target.
Stalking is relatively simple in concept, approach a target unseen, take a shot, remain unseen, leave unseen. How do you do that? By not violating the rules of camouflage; Shape, Shine, Silhouette, Shadow, Slow and Still. The human eye notices light (shine) before movement (slow/still), movement before shape (silhouette), shape before color and depth (shadow), and this is the key to staying unseen. Go slow, break up your silhouette, match color with your surroundings, stay in the shadows and don't cast any that you don't absolutely have to. All simple concepts, all difficult to get correct at the same time.
Training to pass the stalk exam is a bit more complicated than simply competing in High Power matches. But only because it involves actual stalking. You have to hunt. If you don't want to kill an animal (why are you reading my blog) you could hunt with a camera. The technique can be called "still hunting" or "deer stalking" and it doesn't matter if you use a bow, muzzle loader, or modern rifle, just practice moving through an environment and sneaking up on something that is intent on not being your dinner.