For 35 Years, The Longest Sniper Kill Was With a Ma-Duece

FsrQzl

While the current record for the longest “confirmed” sniper kill is over 2,700 yards (just over 1.5) miles, with a .338 Lapua Magnum round, for nearly 35 years the record stood not with a traditional centerfire rifle, but with a modified M2 Browning Heavy Machine Gun, affectionately known as the “Ma Duece”

The “sniper?” None other than the famous US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock III. Using a 8x scope common for the era (a Unertl), Hathcock engaged the Vietcong from a stabilized tripod mounted M2. Per the book Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Veitnam, by Colonel Michael Lee Lannig stated that Hathcock engaged a moving target on a bicycle at over 2,500 yards, requiring two shots.

Hathcock’s first round disabled the bicycle (blowing off the handlebars), the second struck the enemy soldier in the chest.

The record stood for over 35 years including US missions in various low-intensity conflicts such as Somalia, Panama, etc., and larger wars including Desert Storm. It was finally broken in 2002 by a Canadian sniper using the same round, albeit this time in a purpose-built highly-accurate platform using likewise purpose-built ammunition.

P57fWl

Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock is still a legend within and outside the Marine Corps. Post-Vietnam, Hathcock helped established the Marine Corp’s Scout Sniper school along with training the best of Tier 1 units including Navy SEALS, Army Delta, and others.



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


Advertisement

  • datimes

    Necessity, the mother of invention.

  • Lance

    Hathcock, may he always be remembered with honer.

    • Wolfgar

      I second the motion. He was a great American who will be sorely missed.

      • CrankyFool

        I think that, in his honor, we should agree to never miss him.

    • John Wisch

      Honor, you may want to correct the spelling on this one, but I know where your heart is.

    • abraxialflame

      Arent Hohner harmonicas? Like, a hobo ballad for ridin’ the rails?

    • ScranunSlim

      Honor

  • Bill

    Like to know if he was using any special ammo – I understood that a lot of ammo designated for the M2 was purposely made “unbalanced,” to increase the beaten zone when firing.

  • Major Tom

    I forget, do the Marines still have the M2 in question that did that? Maybe in some kind of museum shed or something?

  • CommonSense23

    Can we stop using Tier 1 to describe things.

    • Don Ward

      Do you even Operate, bro?

  • hami

    When we are are talking about .50 BMG I imagine “blowing off the handlebars” is a bit of an understatement.

  • Phil Elliott

    I heard a about a Korean war soldier (or Marine) who also used Ma Deuce to take out a sniper at what was estimated to be over a mile, that sniper was using ranging fire on their compound. I think he used a tracer or incendiary if I remember correctly

  • Tim

    Just picked up “Marine Sniper” by Charles Henderson which is all about Hathcock. First read a borrowed copy in 1986. It’s too bad most of the stories about him dwell on his marksmanship, which was just a component of his superb sniping skills. His woodsman and hunting ability is what allowed him to get close enough to take a kill shot and more importantly, escape to do it again. Henderson’s book includes the famous counter-sniper shot when after days of tracking, he nailed an expert enemy sniper who had him in his crosshairs right down the scope tube just seconds before the one with his name on it was coming. Another classic is spending four days crawling thru grass and enemy patrols on his last mission to get an 800 yd shot on an NVA general. By comparison, plinking with a Ma Deuce was a piece of cake.

    • ScranunSlim

      I once emailed Henderson asking how the movie “Sniper” got away with being such a blatant knock-off of his book about Hathcock, so much so that it was actually used on the set as a guide to what comes next.

      Henderson quoted the old Hollywood axiom: “Never Pay for Something You Can Steal.”

  • Kivaari

    Didn’t he also get a VC that was filling canteens at a known watering hole? Also at about that yardage? IIRC, the Marines had seen VC repeatedly using the same spot to water up, for several days. I remember where he pre-registered or aimed and locked down the M2, and when the VC showed up again, he launched a round(s) that took the soldier out of action.

  • SnakeEater-0317

    Deuce*

  • Tim

    Until the Brit with the Lapua six years ago, the last four records were with .50BMG, including two Canadians (Tac50-Hornady Amax) and a US Army Sgt in Iraq with a 2515 yd shot (Barrett M82A1- Raufoss NM140MP) and of course GSgt. Hathcock at 2500 yd with an M2.

  • Giolli Joker

    According to the book “Marine Sniper” the first shot disabled the bike and the second was fired only because the Vietcong (a kid) instead of running away picked up his AK.

  • Straight out of the latest Badlands game.

  • ElderAmbassador

    I arrived at the Rifle Range on Oahu a month or so After he left. I would SO liked to have met him and trained under him. One Hell of a Marine and one Hell of a Man!
    Of course everyone knows that Ma Deuce was also employed in the same role in Korea, Right?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve said this before, but while Hathcock is a hero, the accounts of that shooting are all from other parties, and the claimed distances are all over the board depending on the source.

    As much as people hate to hear it, there’s just no physical way that engagement occurred as described above, for numerous reasons that should be blatantly obvious to any LR shooter who has even a passing familiarity with the M2HB. From the atrocious inherent accuracy of the weapon itself, to the equally bad consistency of the ammunition in production at the time, to the coarseness of the adjustments in the T&E on an M3 tripod, to the statistical impossibility of making a deliberate hit on a bicycle frame at that range, to the issues of drop compensation at extreme distances with low BC .50 ammo, to the issue of range estimation, to the adjustments inherent to the scope claimed to be used…

    The only plausible possibilities are either that it occurred at a much shorter distance (<1000 yards), or was a feat of sheer luck, potshotting at a target of opportunity and happening to hit something by accident. A deliberate hit at that distance, in that era, with that weapon system, under those circumstances, is astronomically improbable. Making two in a row is up into Powerball territory. Occam's Razor and the awareness of the modern fetishization of the Marine Corps Sniper leads one inexorably to a differing conclusion…

    • Just say’n

      Maybe so, seems like a “mythbusters” type effort should be in order to prove/disprove the feat. Would be easy to try to replicate.

      All I know with my limited experience with an M240 and M80 ball it makes a heckuva’ sniper rifle (due to the heavy barrel no doubt). Ohio Ordinance even makes a select fire trigger group for that purpose.

      • TB

        The Mythbusters have already in one of their episodes disproved Hathcocks equally famous claim to have shot an enemy sniper through his scope. They showed that the only way a bullet would make it all the way through the scope is with armor piercing ammo, which I doubt that Hathcock was using as a sniper in Vietnam.

        • Tim

          “The Discovery Channel series MythBusters tested the question of shooting another sniper through the telescope. Without any clear evidence that a bullet can penetrate a sniper scope, the MythBusters decided to label the myth as “busted”. On a subsequent episode, using a period-accurate scope, it was found to be plausible….
          Hathcock’s shot was mentioned in the History Channel “Sniper – Inside The Crosshairs” in 2016. As in Mythbusters, this show also tested the question of whether counter-sniping a sniper through the telescope was possible and came to the conclusion that it is highly plausible after four shots by a modern marine sniper.”

          • TB

            Yes, in the first episode, the “busted” verdict was given while not using a period-accurate scope. But in a follow up episode, when they used a period-accurate scope, they found that only armor piercing ammo made it all the way through this scope. So, as it is very unlikely that Hathcock used armor piercing ammo, this is pretty much busted. And, another commenter has also said that Hatchcock eventually denied having made this through-the-scope-shot. So, that does settle the issue, right?

          • Stijn Van Damn

            no it does not.
            Others have repeated it with regular ball ammo and a basic scope comparable to a russian scope of that era.
            Mythbusters are not the only ones that test things.

          • jcitizen

            Armor piercing ammo is commonly used when match is not available – but bullets stay stable at longer ranges.

      • FarmerB

        Really? With an open bolt? I fire M80 type ammunition (or German DM111 equivalent) through H&K DMR’s and find it not effective beyond about 750-800m. I’m with Mr A. Mous, the whole story is highly implausible. I shoot with a lot of guys shooting M33 type ball with purpose built 50 cal bolt guns, and they struggle to hit much at all using it. I was shooting with a guy last week out to 2700 meters using a 408 and it was a real challenge, with a ten times better rifle and 20x better ammo.

      • TankGuy

        I can tell you that I’ve hit a dove with a M-240 coax on an M1A2 Abrams, at 1100 meters. Not a one off, I’ve done it multiple times- yes, all from an open bolt.

        • Todd

          Poor dove.

          Or should I say doves.

        • FarmerB

          Co-ax? Hardly a fair comparison when the rear bag weights 65 tons.

          • TankGuy

            BUT! a testament to the technical knowledge, and expertise of an experienced, well trained crew!! In 17 years on tanks, I never knew anyone else who could zero a COAX that tight. And I wasn’t stingy with my skills! I taught anyone who wanted to know how to do it. When we had the old A1’s, I would do the same thing with the Ma Deuce. Now that’s a fun gun to shoot!!

    • Tim

      I believe the distance was cross-checked fairly recently using GPS. Regarding the shot itself, since it was from a hill top FOB, there was probably an abundance of officers around to make it a “confirmed kill.” While match grade ammo was available in VN, I doubt it applied to .50BMG, leaving open whether Hathcock “improved” his rounds. Similarly, he modified the M2. It’s hard to believe shots like these could be made open bolt. To my knowledge, the gun is lost to history.

      • Mike

        The M2HB is a closed bolt.

        • Stijn Van Damn

          he probably means not shot with a bolt that cycled automatically.
          Eg, they ran it in single shot mode.

      • jcitizen

        I read exerpts of how he selected his ammunition. Armor piercing was desired because the core was homogeneous enough to keep the bullet stable longer. Lead tends to have changes in density through out the core. He also rolled them on a flat surface to see how well the bullets were seated, and to help examine the bullets as well.

        Also the barrels were purposely selected to be at the top of the spec for trunnion fit. So the larger the bearing surface of the heavy barrel the better – smaller diameter trunnion bearings were also selected for the same reason – get the barrel to bearing surface as tight as possible. US machine guns are purposely manufactures to be sloppy to improve cone of fire and reliability, so this is necessary to improve long range accuracy.

        I’m sure many other tricks of the armorer were used as well – Hathcock wasn’t stupid; he thought out his craft like an engineer.

  • Rock or Something

    “Shooting the 50 cal at a person is illegal, so aim for the enemy’s equipment they are wearing!”

    -Every Misinformed Drill Sergeant Since Then

    • Jim_Macklin

      What law or order says that?

      • Rock or Something

        The Geneva Convention as so many clueless people will say.

        • J Garcia Sampedro

          Actually, the Geneva Convention is about prisoners of war.
          Forbidden weapons are in the Hague Conventions.
          😉

          • Stijn Van Damn

            Actually no, forbidden weapons are not discussed in just one set of protocols (Not convention, the convention was the event where they talked about it and signed it). And there are illegal weapons in both the Hague and Geneva protocols.

            Chemical or biological weapons for instance are in the Geneva protocols.. not in the Hague.

            For instance hollow points were discussed way earlier in 1868 Saint Petersburg and it just was Signed at the Hague in 1899
            It also included the suggestion that some weapons cause to much suffering and as such are against the laws of Humanity.

            Either way the US never signed or ratified that, and is legally not bound by it, but in practice does.

            That same concept was refined in the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977, which expanded the concept past that of classifying it based on a specific weapon or it’s characteristics, but also describes that the method used may itself result in unneeded suffering, and thus making it an illegal use.
            Eg, if you intentionally shoot a man in the leg, to pin him down on the battlefield, and to draw in others
            You know the scene in Full Metal Jacket, that would be illegal.
            Even though it’s a regular 7.62 bullet, you can’t do that.
            You can shoot to kill, or shoot to stop, but you cannot intentionally shoot somebody to make him suffer and draw in others.

            .50 cal on humans, is not banned at all.
            20mm isn’t either, and 30 mm isn’t either.

            It’s unlikely that you will make somebody suffer more from being shot with a 50 cal, then you would shooting him with a 7.62.
            Either way it’s going to hurt, and more likely then not shooting him with a 50 will in fact result in a quicker death thus less suffering.
            Notably most countries signed and ratified it.
            Except 3 that only signed it but did not ratify
            Essentially if not ratified, the country officially is not bound by it.
            The USA is in good company there, since the only others that did not sign it, are Pakistan and Iran
            The USA has a bad record of doing the talks and signing things, but then not ratifying them as not to be bound by em.

            Long Story short:
            Illegal Weapons are not discussed in in either the Hague or Geneva Protocols , it’s in both.
            And .50 is not discussed in any.

          • J Garcia Sampedro

            It seems I’m not good at joking.

            But you are right, specific weapons are not mentioned in either. International laws are spread out across a lot of places, but some people seems to have only heard about the Geneva Convention.

          • Rock or Something

            Exactly. But despite the frequent follow up corrections, I still see people refer to the Geneva when they rally mean the Hague. Kinda like how everyone is all about the Constitution supposedly now.

          • Mike Lashewitz

            It has been my experience the Geneva convention only has bearing to Americans. After having to cut down Kuwaiti and American soldiers who were flayed alive I said FUQ the Geneva Convention after that.

            These “conventions” only place restrictions on our ability to end a war as quickly as possible. Just like having idiot politicians run a war from half a planet away. Russians would be speaking English today and wars would be unnecessary if it were not for criminal politicians catering to parasitic wealth Elite creating false wars for wealth.

          • Rock or Something

            I agree that many of these treaties or agreements are taken without consideration of actual intent or enemies we are facing in modern war today. But that’s the way political correctness works: these political elites beat you down with their ignorance, apply standards to the lowest common denominator, and push the burden on people on the ground to make it work. I was amazed at the latitude of (criminal defense) rights we extended to non-uniformed detainees when I did interrogations in Afghanistan, which technically shouldn’t apply to non-uniformed insurgents or foreign fighters captured in a warzone.

          • jcitizen

            That’s okay, I don’t want to be put into the same category as foreign nations anyway – although I do agree with the stupidity of letting Omar go, and other similar retarded actions.

          • Rock or Something

            Adhering to agreements with foreign sovereign nations we signed with is one thing. Apply those same automatic standards to non-uniformed fighters, insurgents, terrorists, unlawful combatants, pirates, and anyone else not specified from the various conventions, law of land warfare, and military SOPs is another.

      • Bill G

        It’s kinda a joke. You don’t shoot (at) the person, just his gear, ie. his harness, vest, vest-mounted ammo carriers.

    • CommonSense23

      Once got into a argument with a JAG officer about that. I kept asking him to show me where it says it’s forbidden, and he just kept saying it is.

      • ScranunSlim

        Reminds me of General Tommy Franks having Mullah Omar in his sights and asking a Navy JAG (female) if it was ok to light ‘im up.

        NO was the answer, and Rumsfeld, to his credit, supposedly threw a door slamming fit

        • carlcasino

          This is just plain Sick! Mother May I comes to mind. Asking permission to do what you were trained to do.

          • ScranunSlim

            Dubya should’ve held a Rose Garden firing: “General, on September 11th we saw almost 3000 people of all races and creeds – American citizens and immigrants – incinerated by a hateful ideology.

            “Anyone who checks with a lawyer when he has one of the masterminds of this atrocity in his sights just doesn’t have the bit in his teeth.

            “We thank for your service to our country and wish you a happy retirement – with one less star that you’re now wearing.”

  • Sermon 7.62

    During the WWII

  • I hope that isn’t true he deserved better.

    • Larry

      Many thought he deserved a medal from the Amtrak explosion, and crew rescue he made.
      There’s an American Legion member here in Fife Lake MI, who shot against Carlos at many matches, and knew him well, along with other legends like Lones Wigger, Herb Parsons etc. (And by God, he’s STILL shooting at the Long Range Matches!) 70-something and took First at last years 1000 yard shoot in Raton
      Larry Walls
      Gunners Mate Chief USN, Retired (1961-1981)

  • Sermon 7.62

    The longest shot using regular ammo is the one by the Russian sniper: 1.350m from the Dragunov rifle!

    • Bland Samurai

      1.350m, eh? So the bullet traveled a little over one rifle length and hit the target? That is phenomenal accuracy for an SVD!

      • Sermon 7.62

        Digit grouping mark in most European countries is not the same as in the US.

      • Good Try Asshat

        The moment when you realize he used a comma, not a period.

  • JW

    Spellcheck is free. Use it.

  • Realist

    Records were made to be broken.

  • FarmerB

    With a 338, the energy beyond 2500 meters is less than that of a 45 – even at 2000m altitude. So one shot kills are quite unlikely. But the main issue with shooting at that distance (beyond issues of scope zero) is spotting. It’s almost impossible to spot bullet strike – imagine trying to see a 45 hitting the ground from more than 1.5 miles away?

    • Tim

      You realize, of course, they always went in pairs, and the spotter always had a scope to make “adjustments”. If you threw an M33 at me, it would hurt. Not sure it would take much more.

      • FarmerB

        Yes, I know that – I work with a spotter all the time. But it doesn’t change physics – you just cannot see it – even with a 60x scope. They rarely had spotting scopes at all in those days, let alone something that could spot a splash at that distance. In this scenario, it’s not clear he had one at all. I’m sure a hit with an M33 would hurt, even at that distance, but there’s a lot of places on your body that it could hit without it being anywhere near being fatal. People claim a “hit” at some distance as a kill, but it could have been through the left pinkie.

  • Tim

    He got the Silver Star in 1996, three years before he died, for rescuing several of his buddies from a burning LVT-5 that hit a tank mine and getting severely burned himself.

  • DaveP.

    Yep. The Sovs continued to issue the big 14.5mm PTRS and PTRD AT rifles long after tank armor became too thick for them to penetrate, and part of their training was to aim for commanders and crewmen riding heads-out-of-hatches or to punch through barriers to get enemy soldiers hiding behind walls, sandbags, et cetera.
    Of course, they’d still do a number on SP artillery, halftracks, and anything else with less than full tank-level protection.

  • Aaron

    He wasn’t doing well when i saw him at the richmond gun show selling autographed photos to pay medical expenses. That was a couple years before he died. I doubt he was hopping on any boats at that point.

    I never heard he denied the thru the scope shot or that it was a woman? The story i remember him talking about in a video 20 years ago had a vc woman torture a marine removing parts from him then releasing him to die at the perimeter wire. He found her and a couple guys on a path. Saw her squat to pee and an artillery exploding scared her into running towards him into range. That’s as much detail as i remember. I haven’t watched a vhs since back then.

  • Boogur T. Wang

    20mm(?) Lahti has been used as a sniper rifle.

    • matteson_avenue@yahoo.com

      So with all the BS regarding use of a .50 cal round on men what did that SEAL team use off Somalia when those pukes pirated that MAESK container ship? Wasn’t that a Barrett .50 cal BMG round? Wonder were my old man got two brass 90mm shells that he used to store rod goods in his workshop.

  • Kafir1911

    The more I read and hear about our SecDef and see of our President, the more I wonder if there will ever be another Hathcock?

  • Great_Baldung

    I think I’ve built this in Fallout 4

  • marvin james

    Gunny Hatcheck was in my unit on my last tour. I heard after I returned stateside that the burns he received while in country finally killed him. It was tough to try and do what he did, I don’t know if it is his woodlands skills or his guts. Probably both. Glad to see this grunt remembered.

  • Leveller

    As I recall, the M2 was Specially Modified to Fire Single Shot and was Designated a SM2…

  • Stijn Van Damn

    I did not say anything in conflict to what you posted.