Shooting Uphill

The Captain’s Journal – by Herschel Smith

I asked my former Marine son Daniel if the Marine Corps taught him to shoot uphill.  He has in fact shot at ranges with elevations before, but mostly there was little formal instruction, even for designated marksmen like he was (other than things like Kentucky Windage type adjustments).  I suppose that Scout Snipers go through some sort of training on shooting up or down elevations, but most Marines do not.  I have also talked with our reader Jean (who commanded troops in N2K), and there was no particular training for Soldiers to teach them how to target Taliban up a hill.  

Daniel also tells me that in his opinion there are more important things for Marines to learn.  If we’re targeting enemy fighters up a hill at 300 meters and beyond, we’re doing the wrong things the wrong way.  In his opinion, even though he scored at the very top of his Battalion every year he qualified, his time at ranges all over America did little good for him.  In his opinion we ought to be training Marines more on their run and drop drills (e.g., squad rushes), their development of enfilade fires, the use of combined arms, and especially bounding drills and movement to contact for small unit maneuver warfare (and for urban combat, satellite patrols and room clearing).  If the enemy is in the mountains, it makes little sense to shoot at them from 400+ meters.  Go and fetch them out of the mountains.

But for us, planning on potential end of America scenarios, we don’t have combined arms, and we don’t have access to fire teams, squads and platoons of fighters.  It might be more important for us to know how to do things like shoot uphill or downhill.  Many good shooters already know all of this, but some do not.  I don’t propose that the Taliban, those backward, pagan, culture-less, woman abusing pedophiles, know Newton’s laws, but it’s possible that they learned their downhill shooting by trial and error.  We can do better because we understand trigonometry and Newton.

Basically, we know that if you use your BDC (bullet drop compensation) hash marks versus distance while shooting uphill, you will shoot high.  The force of gravity must be divided into its component vectors in Cartesian space (two dimensions).  Let’s say that you’re shooting uphill at a 45 degree angle, and at a target 500 meters away (up the hill, not horizontal distance).  Cos(45) X 500 = 354 meters.  So you need to use your BDC for 354 meters (or the closest mark you can find), not 500 meters.  If you’re shooting uphill at a 30 degree angle, and at a target at 500 meters, you need to use the BDC at Cos(30) X 500 = 433 meters.

My iPhone (turned sideways) has virtually all of the mathematical functions of most calculators, including the trigonometric functions.  If you happen to have a range finder and iPhone with you, you’re set.  If you need more rudimentary fixup, there are some helpful rules of thumb.  That’s all assuming that you have ammunition with which to practice.

5 thoughts on “Shooting Uphill

  1. Find and read every book you can by retired Marine Colonel, H. John Poole. Discusses how Eastern, or guerrilla fighting, will always eventually trump Western firepower. Also, your iPhone may not be working when it comes time to go down range, so take a look at cosine indicators. They can be attached to your rifle.

  2. I always wondered about shooting at angles, but now that I know it involves trigonometry I’ll probably try to avoid doing it (math was never my thing) unless I can pick something up from the school of trial-and-error.

    But I’m not hitting anything 500 meters away anyway, slope or not.

  3. Thats one reason to keep the Iphone operable in a SHTF scenario, I have Ballistic AE on mine,, has a range finder tool as well as a bullet drop and compensation tool that automaticly determines drop taking into account angle etc,,, good tool for anyone serious about shooting, can be used to make up cards to have for when in the field,, so far the calcs that it puts out are real accurate.

  4. I’m going to go with Sun Tzu on this one when he says in the “Art of War” in the chapter, “Maneuvering” to NOT “advance uphill against an enemy”.

    However, he also does say in the next chapter of “Variation of tactics” that there are some situations in which you must go against this rule if it is to your advantage and you know that you are definitely able to do it.

    So, in other words, don’t be so quick to go up against an enemy uphill. If you can definitely pull it off, then do it. Otherwise, leave it alone. Use your best judgement.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.