Let's face it. There is some sort of allure to the military sniper. Once considered the pariahs of the battle field, cowards hiding and ambushing their victims, the role of the sniper has evolved into a highly trained, dedicated marksman who’s role is indispensable for the safety of his fellow soldiers and the successful completion of a mission.
Early forms of sniping were first employed during the American Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars in Europe when the British Army created a special regiment deployed solely for marksmanship. By the mid 1800s the role of the sniper had become a necessity in the ever-changing face of warfare, and companies began developing long-range weapons for the task.
The Whitworth rifle was the first sniper rifle to be adopted by militaries around the world, most notably the French Army and the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and could hit a target at a range of 2,000 yards, forever changing military tactics on the battlefield, and ensuring that opposing forces were always looking behind and above them when entering a ‘hot zone’.
While there have been countless prolific snipers in military history, the snipers on this list have not been chosen solely for the amount of kills they have confirmed, nor chosen solely for the distance in which an enemy was taken down through the scope of their rifle; those on this list are included sometimes for distance, sometimes for the sheer numbers they killed, but also in some cases due to their utmost importance in a particular mission. Here are the overall most prolific snipers of all time.
6 Adelbert Waldron United States Army
At one point, United States Army sniper Adelbert Waldron held the most confirmed kills of an American sniper at 109. He was deployed in Vietnam and is considered to be one of the most accurate snipers in American military history. Indeed, in his memoirs from the Vietnam War, Col. Michael Lee Lanning recounts being on a mission with Waldron, and describes just how accurate, and deadly he was with his rifle:
“One afternoon he was riding along the Mekong River… when an enemy sniper on (the) shore pecked away at the boat. While everyone else on board strained to find the antagonist, who was firing from the shoreline over 900 meters away, Sergeant Waldron took up his sniper rifle and picked off the Vietcong (sniper) out of the top of a coconut tree with one shot…”
Making this shot while on a moving boat in the middle of a wide-open river clearly demonstrates Waldron’s skill as a sniper. For both his accuracy, and his high number of confirmed kills, he remains one of the American Military’s most prolific snipers.
5 Rob Furlong Canadian Forces
A Canadian sniper from Newfoundland, Rob Furlong was a Corporal with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, in March 2002 while fighting in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda. When a group of three insurgents began moving into a mountainside position in order to set up mortars to attack Canadian and American held territory, Furlong and his sniper team were sent to neutralize the threat. After taking up their position, Furlong identified the targets and took aim with a .50-caliber sniper rifle. Furlong shot twice and missed, but his third shot killed his target. The distance of the kill shot was measured at 2,430 m (2,657 yd) making it, at the time, the longest confirmed sniper kill in history. After Operation Anaconda, the U.S. Army awarded Furlong the Bronze Star for his display in combat. Furlong ultimately lost the record to Corporal Craig Harrison of the British Army in 2009 by 45 meters.
4 Carlos Norman Hathcock United States Marines
Carlos Hathcock is somewhat of a rock star as far as snipers are concerned, and for good reason. One of his primary roles in Vietnam was to stalk and kill enemy snipers in the jungle, and he was wildly successful. All told, Hathcock amassed 93 confirmed kills during the Vietnam War, had a bounty of $30,000 placed on his head by the North Vietnamese Army and made one of the most famous shots in sniper history. Ever see a movie (Saving Private Ryan comes to mind) where a sniper kills another sniper by shooting him through the lens of his own rifle, with the bullet entering the enemy’s eye? Well, Carlos Hathcock set the precedent for that shot. In Vietnam he zeroed in on a target and using the reflection of the sun off the enemy sniper's scope, shot him through the eye. Hathcock’s fame followed him from the jungle back home to America as well. Many films and books have been loosely based on Carlos Hathcock’s exploits as a sniper, most notably Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series, making Hatchcock not only one of the most prolific, but also famous snipers in history.
3 Chris Kyle United States Navy SEAL
The most prolific sniper in American history, Chris Kyle was a soldier through and through. Reading is autobiography American Sniper, one easily gets the sense that the man stood for courage, honor, dedication to the mission, and above all else, his country. At the end of his military career Kyle held 160 confirmed kills by the U.S. government and claimed to have killed 255 insurgents in total during his four tours of duty in Iraq. Confirmed or otherwise, this statistic still makes him the most lethal sharpshooter in U.S. history. He was so lethal in fact that the enemy nicknamed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and like Hathcock, placed a bounty on his head.
Apart from killing the enemy, Kyle was involved in multiple IED attacks, and was shot twice himself. For his service to the United States he was awarded two Silver Stars and 5 Bronze Stars as well as numerous other combat decorations. Sadly, in the end it wasn’t four tours of duty in Iraq that killed Chris Kyle, but an incident on a shooting range not far from his home in Texas when a former Marine with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shot and killed Kyle and another man; a tragic end to a prolific career, and a senseless act so far away from the battlefield. Kyle’s legacy lives on however, not only in his autobiography, but also in a supposed movie in the works based on his life.
2 Vasily Zaytsev Soviet Red Army
Vasily Zaytsev is another wildly famous sniper, but for markedly different reasons on opposite sides of the globe. In North America, Vasily Zaytsev is best known as the main protagonist in Enemy at the Gates, a grossly inaccurate, laughable Jude Law film portraying the Battle of Stalingrad. In Russia Zaytsev is remembered as a hero of the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
While Zaytsev served in the Red Army on the Eastern Front during the war, it is the Battle of Stalingrad where he actually first saw combat and became well known. During the German siege of the city, Zaytsev killed up to 225 enemies and of those kills most apparently came in the month of November, 1942 alone. Zaytsev himself estimates he killed over 400 people during the Battle of Stalingrad but his official number of confirmed kills is 242.
Zaytsev was so prolific that the Red Army used him in their propaganda to intimidate the German soldiers, and even created the story that a German officer was headed to Stalingrad to hunt and kill Zaytsev (the main plot point for Enemy at the Gates). Though no evidence of such a German sniper explicitly sent to kill him exists, Zaytsev was both a propaganda boost for the Red Army, and a marked man by the Germans. Though his career was short in the Red Army, it was prolific and lethal, and Vasily Zaytsev was awarded the Hero of the title of the Soviet Union prior to leaving service and joining the Communist Party in 1943.
1 Simo Häyhä Finnish Army
Possibly the least known sniper on this list, Simo Häyhä, nicknamed “White Death” is by far the most prolific and lethal sniper of all time. The Finn fought for the Finnish Army during the Finland-Soviet Union Winter War between 1939-1940. Of course, being named the Winter War, and being fought in northern Finland, the temperatures were anywhere from a brisk -4 Fahrenheit to an unbearably cold -40 Fahrenheit. And yet, Häyhä, dressed in white, snow colored camouflage, set out alone every day for nearly 100 days to kill members of the Red Army. And kill he did. Häyhä has a confirmed sniper kill total of 505 in less than 100 days! Furthermore, Simo Häyhä was old school and only ever employed a bolt-action rifle, without a scope as a sniper. In the context of warfare, and being a sniper, this was truly a remarkable feat. If one takes into account that Häyhä also employed a submachine gun during Red Army sieges, his confirmed kills total rises to 705. Simo Häyhä could very well have been the inspiration for all of the Vasily Zaytsev propaganda in Stalingrad, as the Russians actually did employ expert marksmen of their own to hunt and kill him, but to no avail. Häyhä was eventually shot in the face by a Russian soldier, thus taking him out of action, letting Soviet soldiers sleep a little better at night. The wound left Häyhä unconscious until the day peace was declared between Finland and the Soviet Union, and he went on to live until he was 96 years old, still by far the most prolific sniper in military history.