Snipers have existed since the late 18th century, thanks to the advent of long-range bore rifles, but it wasn’t until the first World War that sharpshooters were chosen from the regular infantry, organized into their own platoons and trained to pick out enemy combatants. Most snipers, including all the ones on this list, are ordinary men and women who have patience, nerves of steel and even tempers and who return to ordinary civilian life once their tours of duty are over.
5 Vasily Zaitsev
Zaitsev’s story—mostly taken from his own autobiography—is incredible and has been made into two movies: “Enemy at the Gates” in 2001, starring Jude Law, and “Angels of Death” in 1992. Whether or not the game of cat-and-mouse between snipers depicted in “Enemy at the Gates” actually happened, there’s no doubt Zaitsev was a successful sniper: It’s estimated that during the Battle of Stalingrad alone he killed 225 German soldiers, including 11 other snipers.
4 Lyudmila Pavlichenko
Lyudmila Pavlichenko is the most famous female sniper in history. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Pavlichenko was determined to fight in World War II, convincing skeptical recruiters to let her onto the front lines with a demonstration of her shooting skills. Over the course of two and a half months near Odessa, she made 187 confirmed kills; by the time she left the war she had killed 309 German soldiers.
3 Francis Pegahmagabow
A Canadian Ojibwa, Francis Pegahmagabow is the most decorated native Canadian soldier from World War I and has been called the most successful Allied sniper of the entire war. He killed 378 Germans, but that wasn’t half of what made Pegahmagabow a war hero. He also scouted for the Allies, led his men virtually unscathed through the battle of Passchendaele and captured 300 German soldiers at Mount Sorrel.
2 Simo HÃ¤yhÃ¤
Finnish farmer-turned-sniper Simo Häyhä is relatively obscure outside of Finland, due to the fact that he fought in a war most people haven’t heard of. During the Winter War, when Russia invaded Finland in 1939, Häyhä hid in snowbanks and killed Russian soldiers with a bolt-action standard rifle. He was so successful he was nicknamed “the White Death.” The number of his confirmed kills is 505, more than any other sniper during a single conflict.
1 Carlos Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock is probably the best sniper in U.S. history, and certainly the best known Vietnam War sniper. During his tour of duty, Hathcock made 93 confirmed kills. There is a sniper range named after him in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and the Carlos Hathcock Award is presented annually to the Marine who does the most to promote marksmanship.