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Snipers have a long, proud military history

The big buck walked out and surprised me. I had been on the stand in the piney woods of Pike County for only 20 minutes or so and I was not settled in. It appeared the deer would walk all the way across a food plot and I would have plenty of time to compose myself and shoot. This one was a wall hanger which is all I will pull the trigger on unless someone needs some meat. The buck disappeared behind a tree trunk that was 10 feet in front of my stand. I braced myself for what would be an easy shot ‘“ 45 yards max. Alas, the deer sensed danger and turned back the way he came. I had a very narrow shooting lane between the tree trunk and the cover of the woods. I put the scope on his shoulder, breathed deep and exhaled halfway as I was taught so many years ago. I had a scope full of brown deer hide. I squeezed the trigger and the report from the .243 filled the woods. I lowered the rifle, expecting to see the deer lying dead but it was nowhere to be seen. I waited a few minutes and then got down. No deer. We searched the woods thoroughly. We even used a bloodhound – nothing. I had flinched and missed a nice buck. I took some ribbing from my hunting buddies. It was embarassing. I consider myself to be good with my guns and, frankly, had never before missed a deer. But, I choked that time. I locked the gun away and hunted no more in 2014. Shooting is not as easy as it seems. Despondent, I arrived home and told Laura of the miss. ‘That’s good. I was rooting for the deer,’ she said. So, I was surprised the other night when she said she wanted to go see ‘˜American Sniper’. Laura is not into violence. I had heard this film was intense as ‘˜Blackhawk Down’ and the opening beach sequences of ‘˜Saving Private Ryan’. To me, the sniper flick did not quite live up to those standards but it was excellent. Laura made it through it. The film tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal sniper who did four tours in Iraq and had 160 confirmed kills. He ranks as the best sniper in U.S. military history. He is among good company on that list. Chuck Mawhinney had 103 kills and 216 probables in Vietnam. Carlos Hathcock also plied his trade in Vietnam. He had 93 kills. Among them is the most famous sniper shot in history. Hathcock and his spotter were hunting an enemy sharpshooter who had killed several Marines. Hathcock saw a glint of light off the enemy’s scope, sighted in and fired. His bullet went through the other sniper’s scope, hitting him in the face. The enemy had sighted in on Hathcock but Hathcock fired first. Snipers have a long, proud military history. Sgt. Grace of the 4th Georgia Infantry made a 1000-yard shot during the battle of Spotsylvania during the Civil War. His target, Gen. John Sedgewick, was ridiculing his union troops for ducking to avoid single bullets when the round from Sgt. Grace’s Whitworth rifle hit him just below his left eye. Snipers have taken many lives but their shooting has saved countless friendly troops. The fact is snipers are required as long as the other side has snipers. They provide long distance cover that is essential, particularly in urban combat. The men who fill this role are not soft. It requires a certain mindset and vast reserves of mental toughness. They are a rare breed indeed. Mawhinney idled in obscurity before someone wrote a book about his exploits. He had told no one about his work in the jungles. When he finally came forth he summed up the mentality of a sniper in one statement made during a lecture at a sniper school. ‘It was the ultimate hunting trip: a man hunting another man who was hunting me. Don’t talk to me about hunting lions or elephants; they don’t fight back with rifles and scopes. I just loved it. I ate it up,’ Mawhinney said. Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of Chris Kyle’s life and career is a superb film. It broaches a topic that many, particularly those like Michael Moore who make up this country’s soft underbelly, would prefer not to think about. The fact remains that America has always been and always will be a target because other nations are envious of our freedoms and lifestyles and hate our superiority. Yes, despite what our soft as milktoast president says, we are superior and therefore we will always have savages gunning for us. Therefore we need hardened men like Mawhinney, Hathcock and Kyle to do the dirty work for us when necessary. To criticize them is to loathe America and everything that made ‘“ and makes ‘“ it great. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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