A marksman is a person that is skilled in precision shooting, using projectile weapons, such as with a rifle but most commonly with a sniper rifle, to shoot at small long-range targets at a considerable distance away from the target. In the military, marksmen are sometimes attached to an infantry squad where they take accurate long-range shots at valuable targets as needed, thus extending the reach of the squad. Another term for a marksman is a sharpshooter.
The main difference between a marksman and a sniper is that a marksman is usually considered an organic part of a team of soldiers, whereas snipers tend to work solitary or with other snipers.
Middle Ages (500-1600 AD)
In the Middle Ages
, the first use of the term 'marksman' was given to the royal archers
, or bowmen
, of a palace
guard, which was an elite group of troops chosen to guard a royal palace. This was approximately around the 10th century, although records of some 9th century English Kings show the listings of groups of marksmen specifically chosen for their military.
American Revolution (1775-1783)
One of the first true appearances of units of sharpshooters was during the American Revolution
. American rifle companies, armed with the Pennsylvania/Kentucky Long Rifle
, served as skirmishers
for the Continental Army
. Because of the accuracy of these riflemen, many British officers removed their insignia to prevent the Americans from targeting them. The most famous unit of riflemen was Morgan's Riflemen.
Napoleonic era (1803-1815)
Another use of units of marksmen was during the Napoleonic Wars
in the British Army
. While most troops at that time used inaccurate smoothbore muskets
, the British "Green Jackets
" (named for their distinctive green uniforms) used the famous Baker rifle
. Through the combination of a leather wad and tight grooves on the inside of the barrel (rifling
), this weapon was far more accurate, though slower to load. The Rifles were the elite of the British Army, and served at the forefront of any engagement, most often in skirmish formation, scouting out and delaying the enemy.
U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)
During the American Civil War
, sharpshooters saw limited action, as tacticians sought to avoid the heavy casualties inflicted through normal tactics, which involved close ranks of men at close ranges. The sharpshooters used by both sides in the Civil War were less used as snipers, and more as skirmishers and scouts. These elite troops were well equipped and trained, and placed at the front of any column to first engage the enemy. The most notable sharpshooter units of the Civil War were the 1st
and 2nd United States Volunteer Sharpshooter Regiment
(USSS), who were formed from all states under the command of Hiram Berdan
, who was reputed to be the best amateur marksman in the nation at that time. Confederate sharpshooters were often less well equipped, using British Whitworth rifles
, rather than breech loading Berdan Sharps rifles
. There was also an all-Native American company of sharpshooters in the Union Army. These men, primarily Ojibwe and Potawotami from northern Michigan, comprised the members of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, Company K.
The terms 'marksman' and 'sharpshooter' are often used interchangeably with the term 'sniper
' (as often in history) within paramilitary counter-terrorism
teams such as SWAT
, since only a select few use long-range sniper rifles while the majority are armed with close quarter combat
Marksmen in different countries
In the United States Army
and Marine Corps
, the marksmanship of the soldiers are ranked based on their skill: marksman-sharpshooter-expert. Holders of each level wear qualification badges
below their ribbons with bars for the weapons they qualify in. In the United States Navy
and the United States Coast Guard
, full-sized medals
are only issued at the expert level. Both services award separate medals for pistol
proficiency. The United States Air Force
gives just a ribbon, although a bronze star can be earned if the wearer qualifies on both of these types of small arms.
This sequence comes from organized, competitive shooting where it was first created. Some civilian shooting organizations still use the same terms for classification purposes. However, the terms are not consistent between the military and civilians. Army and Marine-trained "experts" are often less skillful than competitive shooters classified "marksman". Earning an "expert" rating from a shooting organization requires even more skill.
Within the United States military, a marksman in the U.S. Army is referred to as "Squad Designated Marksman" (SDM), and a marksman in the Marines is called a "Designated Marksman" (DM).
In the British Armed Forces
, 'marksman' is traditionally the highest shooting rating. Holders of the rating wear a crossed rifles badge on the lower sleeve.
"Sniper" vs. "SDM/DM"
A "Squad Designated Marksman" or a "Designated Marksman" should not be confused with a sniper. United States marksmen rarely operate individually. Snipers are often deployed for specific objectives in teams consisting of snipers and observers. The marksman, however, operates as a regular member within a unit where his skills are called upon whenever the need for accurate shooting arises in the normal course of operations. While snipers are intensively trained to master fieldcraft and camouflage, these skills are not required for marksmen. There are differences in role and training that affect doctrines and equipment. Snipers rely almost exclusively on more accurate but slower-firing bolt-action rifles, such as the M24, while a marksman can effectively use a faster-firing, but less accurate semi-automatic rifle, such as the M14. A sniper's intensive training, forward placement and surveillance duties make their role more strategic than that of a squad-level marksman. Thus, marksmen are often attached at the squad level while snipers are often attached at higher levels such as battalion (cf.: designated marksman). In short, an "SDM" or "DM" is a regular infantryman that extends the effective range of a combat squad, while a sniper is deployed to gather information and eliminate specific targets.