Snipers compete at N.B. base: 'The coolest thing in the world basically'

Snipers take part in the 19th annual Canadian International Sniper Concentration at CFB Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B., in this Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo taken from video. Some of the world's best snipers are gathered at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, to compete against their peers in an elite profession that is the stuff of movies and myths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Bissett

CFB GAGETOWN, N.B. - Some of the world's best snipers are gathered at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, to compete against their peers in an elite profession that is the stuff of movies and myths.

"I thought it was the coolest thing in the world basically. I wanted to shoot people in the face and I got to do it," said Sgt. Steven Thompson, of the United States Marines reserve.

Thompson spent five years in the active forces, including two tours in Afghanistan, and said he was in the 19th annual Canadian International Sniper Concentration at this sprawling base in central New Brunswick to win.

It includes teams from Canada, France, Australia, the Netherlands and the United States.

Most of the snipers interviewed Friday took a more analytical approach to their task. Capt. John Bourgeois, officer in charge of the Canadian Forces Sniper Cell, said the event is both a competition and a chance to compare notes and improve skills.

"The shooting part of being a sniper is the easy part. What we're doing is challenging the snipers on every other part of being a sniper. They're going to be required to navigate over 40 kilometres through deep, thick woods. They have timings to meet and plan their missions to get through this exercise. We're going to push them to their limits," he said.

The event comes just three months after a Canadian Forces sniper set a record in Iraq for the longest confirmed kill at 3.5 kilometres.

The shot killed one fighter with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which the military said thwarted an attack on an Iraqi military unit.

While that sniper has not been named, Bourgeois said the other snipers are proud of him, rather than jealous.

Sgt. Ivan Sanson, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, agrees — but said it doesn't diminish the competitive nature of snipers.

"Everyone in the sniper community is very competitive. I think you have to be. It's important that they strive to be the best," he said.

While most competitors are military, there are also snipers from the Halifax Regional Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Saint John Police Force.

The Canadian Forces are primarily using two rifles, the .338 Timber Wolf and the Tac 50 — a .50 calibre weapon that was used to make the record shot in Iraq.

The Saint John force is now also equipped with the .338.

Saint John Const. Darren Milburn says his force will use it differently than the military because police tend to work in shorter distances.

"We're going to use ours more as an anti-material weapon — if we have to take an engine block out of a suspect vehicle. The military are using that calibre for extended range," he said.

The competitors used Friday to test their weapons and get them "zeroed in" before the competition starts Saturday.

Bourgeois said the skills required to excel includes a lot of math.

"They've got to know how far away the target is, they've got to know how big he is, they then determine the angle, the gravity, the atmospheric pressure, the wind, the temperature of the rifle, the temperature of the air, the angle of the sun, and time of day," Bourgeois said.

"The good guys here will factor those things in four or five seconds and take their shots."

The competition runs until Sept. 14.


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