Carlos Hathcock

Carlos Norman Hathcock II

Hathcock in November 1996
Nickname(s) "White Feather"[1]
Born (1942-05-20)May 20, 1942
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
Died February 22, 1999(1999-02-22) (aged 56)
Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1959–1979
Rank Gunnery Sergeant
Unit 1st Marine Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Silver Star
Navy Commendation Medal
Purple Heart

Carlos Norman Hathcock II (May 20, 1942  February 22, 1999) was a United States Marine Corps (USMC) sniper with a service record of 93 confirmed kills. Hathcock's record and the extraordinary details of the missions he undertook made him a legend in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was honored by having a rifle named after him: a variant of the M21 dubbed the Springfield Armory M25 White Feather, for the nickname "White Feather" given to Hathcock by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

Early life and education

Hathcock was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 20, 1942. He grew up in rural Arkansas, living with his grandmother after his parents separated. While visiting relatives in Mississippi, he took to shooting and hunting at an early age, partly out of necessity to help feed his poor family. He would go into the woods with his dog and pretend to be a soldier and hunt imaginary Japanese with the old Mauser his father brought back from World War I. He hunted at that early age with a .22-caliber J. C. Higgins single-shot rifle. Hathcock dreamed of being a Marine throughout his childhood, and so on May 20, 1959, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.[2] Hathcock married Jo Winstead on the date of the Marine Corps birthday, on November 10, 1962.[2] Jo gave birth to a son, whom they named Carlos Norman Hathcock III.


Before deploying to Vietnam, Hathcock had won shooting championships, including matches at Camp Perry and the Wimbledon Cup. In 1966, Hathcock started his deployment in Vietnam as a military policeman and later became a sniper after Captain Edward James Land pushed the Marines into raising snipers in every platoon. Land later recruited Marines who had set their own records in sharpshooting; he quickly found Hathcock, who had won the Wimbledon Cup, the most prestigious prize for long-range shooting, at Camp Perry in 1965.[3]

Confirmed kills

During the Vietnam War, Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong personnel.[4] In the Vietnam War, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party, who had to be an officer, besides the sniper's spotter. Snipers often did not have an acting third party present, making confirmation difficult, especially if the target was behind enemy lines, as was usually the case.

Hathcock himself estimated that he had killed between 300 and 400 enemy personnel during his time in Vietnam.[5]

Confrontations with North Vietnamese snipers

The North Vietnamese Army placed a bounty of US$30,000 on Hathcock's life for killing so many of their men. Rewards put on U.S. snipers by the NVA typically ranged from $8 to $2,000. Hathcock held the record for highest bounty and killed every known Vietnamese marksman who sought him to collect it.[6] The Viet Cong and NVA called Hathcock Du kích Lông Trắng, translated as "White Feather Sniper", because of the white feather he kept in a band on his bush hat.[7][8][9] After a platoon of Vietnamese snipers was sent to hunt down "White Feather", many Marines in the same area donned white feathers to deceive the enemy. These Marines were aware of the impact Hathcock's death would have and took it upon themselves to make themselves targets in order to confuse the counter-snipers.[10]

One of Hathcock's most famous accomplishments was shooting an enemy sniper through the enemy's own rifle scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him.[11][12][13][14] Hathcock and John Roland Burke, his spotter, were stalking the enemy sniper in the jungle near Hill 55, the firebase from which Hathcock was operating, southwest of Da Nang. The sniper, known only as the "Cobra," had already killed several Marines and was believed to have been sent specifically to kill Hathcock.[10] When Hathcock saw a flash of light (light reflecting off the enemy sniper's scope) in the bushes, he fired at it, shooting through the scope and killing the sniper. Surveying the situation, Hathcock concluded that the only feasible way he could have put the bullet straight down the enemy's scope, through his eye, would have been if both snipers were zeroing in on each other at the same time and Hathcock fired first, which gave him only a few seconds to act.[10] Given the flight time of rounds at long ranges, the snipers could have simultaneously killed one another.[15] Hathcock took possession of the dead sniper's rifle, hoping to bring it home as a "trophy", but after he turned it in and tagged it, it was stolen from the armory.[16]

A female Viet Cong sniper, platoon commander and interrogator known as "Apache" because of her methods of torturing U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese Army (SVA/ARVN) troops and letting them bleed to death, was killed by Hathcock. This was a major morale victory as "Apache" was terrorizing the troops around Hill 55.[17]

Hathcock only once removed the white feather from his bush hat while deployed in Vietnam.[18] During a volunteer mission days before the end of his first deployment, he crawled over 1,500 yards of field to shoot a high-ranking NVA officer.[19] He was not informed of the details of the mission until he accepted it.[15] This effort took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling.[19] Hathcock said he was almost stepped on as he lay camouflaged with grass and vegetation in a meadow shortly after sunset.[2] At one point he was nearly bitten by a bamboo viper, but had the presence of mind to avoid moving and giving up his position.[19] As the officer exited his encampment, Hathcock fired a single shot that struck the officer in the chest, killing him.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30]

After the arduous mission of killing the NVA officer, Hathcock returned to the United States in 1967.[15][19] He missed the Marine Corps, however, and returned to Vietnam in 1969, where he took command of a platoon of snipers.[10]

Medical evacuation

On September 16, 1969, Hathcock's career as a sniper came to a sudden end along Route 1, north of LZ Baldy, when an AMTRAC he was riding on, an LVT-5, struck an anti-tank mine. Hathcock pulled seven Marines from the flame-engulfed vehicle, suffering severe burns (some were third-degree) to his face, trunk, arms and legs, before jumping to safety. While recovering, Hathcock received the Purple Heart. Nearly 30 years later, he received a Silver Star for this action.[10][31][32] All eight injured Marines were evacuated by helicopter to hospital ship USS Repose (AH-16), then to a Naval Hospital in Tokyo, and ultimately to the burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

After the Vietnam War

After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School, at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. Due to his extreme injuries suffered in Vietnam, he was in nearly constant pain, but he continued to dedicate himself to teaching snipers. In 1975, Hathcock's health began to deteriorate, and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He stayed in the Marine Corps, but his health continued to decline. And, just 55 days short of the 20 years that would have made him eligible for regular retirement pay, he received a permanent disability separation. Being medically discharged, he received 100 percent disability pay.[33] He would have received only 50 percent of his final pay grade had he retired after 20 years. He fell into a state of depression when he was forced out of the Marines, because he felt as if the service had kicked him out. During this depression, his wife Jo nearly left him but decided to stay. Hathcock eventually picked up the hobby of shark fishing, which helped him overcome his depression.[34]

Hathcock provided sniper instruction to police departments and select military units, such as SEAL Team Six.[35]

Later life and death

Hathcock once said that he survived in his work because of an ability to "get in the bubble", to put himself into a state of "utter, complete, absolute concentration", first with his equipment, then his environment, in which every breeze and every leaf meant something, and finally on his quarry.[36] After the war, a friend showed Hathcock a passage written by Ernest Hemingway: "Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter." He copied Hemingway's words on a piece of paper. "He got that right," Hathcock said. "It was the hunt, not the killing."[18] Hathcock said in a book written about his career as a sniper: "I like shooting, and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing anybody. It's my job. If I don't get those bastards, then they're gonna kill a lot of these kids dressed up like Marines. That's the way I look at it."[37]

Hathcock's son, Carlos Hathcock III, later enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps;[38] he retired from the Marine Corps as a Gunnery Sergeant after following in his father's footsteps as a shooter and became a member of the Board of Governors of the Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association.[39]

Hathcock died on February 22, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, from complications resulting from multiple sclerosis.[40]

Awards and decorations


Hathcock remains a legend in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock Award is presented annually by the National Defense Industrial Association "to recognize an individual who ... has made significant contributions in operational employment and tactics of small arms weapons systems which have impacted the readiness and capabilities of the U.S. military or law enforcement."[42] The Marine Corps League (MCL) sponsors an annual program with 12 award categories, which includes the Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II Award presented "to an enlisted Marine who has made an outstanding contribution to the improvement of marksmanship training."[43][44] A sniper range named for Hathcock is at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In 1967, Hathcock set the record for the longest sniper kill. He used an M2 .50 Cal Browning machine gun mounted with a telescopic sight at a range of 2,500 yd (2,286 m), killing a Vietcong guerrilla.[45] In 2002, this record was broken by Canadian snipers (Rob Furlong and Arron Perry) from the third battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry during the War in Afghanistan. Hathcock was one of several individuals to utilize the M2 Browning machine gun in the sniping role. This success led to the adoption of the .50 BMG cartridge as a viable sniper round. Sniper rifles have since been designed around and chambered in this caliber since the 1970s. The Canadian Forces snipers also used the .50 BMG round in their record-breaking shots. Rob Furlong held the record of longest kill shot recorded in history until November 2009, when his record of 2,430 m (2,657 yd) was beaten by British CoH (Corporal of Horse) of the Household Cavalry of the British Army Craig Harrison, who set a new record by shooting two Taliban fighters at 2,475 m (2,707 yd).[46]

Springfield Armory designed a highly accurized version of their M1A Supermatch rifle with a McMillan Stock and match grade barrel and dubbed it the "M-25 White Feather". The rifle had a likeness of Hathcock's signature and his "white feather logo" marked on the receiver.[47]

Turner Saddlery similarly honored Hathcock by producing a line of leather rifle slings based on his design. The slings are embossed with Hathcock's signature.[48]

On March 9, 2007, the rifle and pistol complex at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar was officially renamed the Carlos Hathcock Range Complex.[49]


Hathcock is the subject of a number of books including:


Hathcock generally used the standard sniper rifle: the Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle with the standard 8-power Unertl scope. On some occasions, however, he used a different weapon: the M2 Browning machine gun, on which he mounted a 10X Unertl scope, using a bracket of his own design. Hathcock made a number of kills with this weapon in excess of 1,000 yards, including his record for the longest confirmed kill at 2,500 yards.[50] Hathcock carried a Colt M1911A1 pistol as a sidearm.[17]

In popular culture

Hathcock's career as a sniper has been used as a basis for a variety of fictional snipers, from the "shooting through the scope incident" to the number of kills he made.




See also


  1. van Zwoll, Wayne (December 6, 2013). Mastering the Art of Long-Range Shooting. Iola, Wisconsin: F+W Media. p. 214. ISBN 978-1-4402-3485-9. Hathcock was called Long Trang by the NVA:"White Feather"
  2. 1 2 3 Henderson 2001, p. 29
  3. National Shooting Program/ NRA National Trophies/Wimbledon Cup
  4. Kennedy, Harold (March 2003). "Marine Corps Sets Sights on More Precise Shooting". National Defense Magazine. Archived from the original on January 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-30. Founded in 1977, the school’s first staff NCOIC was the famed sniper, Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock II, who was credited with 93 confirmed kills in Vietnam.
  5. Flores, John. "The Story of Legendary Sniper Carlos Hathcock". Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  6. "Sniper Rifles". GlobalSecurity. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  7. Dockery, Kevin (July 3, 2007). Stalkers and Shooters: A History of Snipers. New York: Penguin Group US. p. 148. ISBN 978-1-4406-2890-0. Hathcock had taken to wearing a small white feather in his boonie hat. It was just stuck in the brim ...the Viet Cong came to know the sniper as Lông Trắng, "the White Feather".
  8. Dougherty, Martin J. Sniper: SAS and Elite Forces Guide: Sniping skills from the world's elite forces. Amber Books Ltd. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-909160-38-5. Carlos Hathcock (1942–99) Nicknamed the 'White Feather' for the feather he wore in his hatband, Carlos Hathcock is perhaps the most influential sniper of all time.
  9. Cawthorne, Nigel (December 2011). "The White Feather". Confirmed Kill: Heroic Sniper Stories from the Jungles of Vietnam to the Mountains of Afghanistan. Ulysses Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-61243-023-2. The Vietcong and the soldiers of the NVA called him Long Tr'ang—the “White Feather”—for the plume he stuck in his hat band.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Chandler 1997
  11. Dougherty, Martin J. Sniper: SAS and Elite Forces Guide: Sniping skills from the world's elite forces. Amber Books Ltd. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-909160-38-5. Upon reaching the target area he discovered that his shot had gone through the scope of the sniper's rifle
  12. Sasser, Charles W.; Roberts, Craig (July 1, 2004). Crosshairs on the Kill Zone: American Combat Snipers, Vietnam through Operation Iraqi Freedom. nEW yORK: Simon and Schuster. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-4165-0362-0. Hathcock's bullet had gone through the cobra sniper's scope and entered his eye
  13. Riegert, Keith; Kaplan, Samuel (June 25, 2013). The MANual: Trivia. Testosterone. Tales of Badassery. Raw Meat. Fine Whiskey. Cold Truth. Ulysses Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-61243-183-3. Unfortunately for the guy behind the scope, Hathcock's shot was clean and true—perfectly passing through the glass scope
  14. Sasser, Charles W.; Roberts, Craig (April 1, 1990). "Their Mission: One Shot One Kill". One Shot One Kill. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-4391-3712-3. Both lenses of the enemy's sniper scope, front and back, were shattered. It was obvious what happened. My bullet smashed through his scope and into his right eye.
  15. 1 2 3 Dockery 2007, pp. 150–153
  16. Henderson 2003, p. 167
  17. 1 2 Roberts 2004, p. 56
  18. 1 2 Henderson 2003, p. 35
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 Sasser & Roberts 1990, p. 208
  20. Brookesmith, Peter (2007). Sniper, 2nd Edition: Training, Techniques and Weapons. St. Martin's Press. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-0-312-36290-4. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  21. Dockery, Kevin (2007). "Into a new century". Stalkers and Shooters: A History of Snipers. Penguin Group US. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-4406-2890-0. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  22. Martin, Iain C. (2007). The Greatest U. S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told: Unforgettable Stories of Courage, Honor, and Sacrifice. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 255–267. ISBN 978-1-59921-017-9. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  23. Childress, Clyde O. (2011). Forks: The Life of One Marine. Xlibris Corporation. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4653-3711-5. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  24. Dye, Julia (2011). Backbone: History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons of Marine Corps NCOs. Osprey Publishing. pp. 195–198. ISBN 978-1-84908-897-8. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  25. Lewis, Jack; Steele, David (2007). "A Skill Called Sniping". Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons (7 ed.). Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-1-4402-2652-6. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  26. Dougherty, Martin J. (2012). "Carlos Hathcock". SAS and Elite Forces Guide Sniper: Sniping Skills from the World's Elite Forces. Lyons Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-7627-8876-7. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  27. Stirling, Robert (2012). Special Forces Sniper Skills. Osprey Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-78200-765-4. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  28. Coughlin, Jack; Kuhlman, Casey; Davis, Donald A. (2007). Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper. St. Martin's Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-4299-0322-6. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  29. Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). Confirmed Kill: Heroic Sniper Stories from the Jungles of Vietnam to the Mountains of Afghanistan. Ulysses Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-61243-030-0. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  30. Haskew, Michael (2005). The Sniper at War: From the American Revolutionary War to the Present Day. St. Martin's Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-312-33651-6. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  31. Marine Corps Social Media (April 2, 2013). "Ultimate Marine (Hathcock vs Mawhinney)". MarinesBlog, The Official Blog of the United States Marine Corps. United States Marine Corps. Retrieved October 4, 2015.
  32. Military Times staff. Doug Sterner, ed. "Valor Awards for Carlos N. Hathcock, II". The Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved October 4, 2015.
  33. Spencer, Jim (September 7, 1986). "A Quiet Man Uniquely Qualified To Stalk And Kill". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015. Retrieved October 4, 2015.
  34. Henderson 2001, p. 306
  35. Mann 2011, p. 127
  36. Lantz, Gary. "White Feather". America's 1st Freedom. National Rifle Association. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  37. Senich 1996, p. 372
  38. Office of the Secretary of Defense (1996). "Still Asset Details for DMSD9802324". Archived from the original on January 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. Standing next to Gunnery Sgt. Hathcock is his son, Staff Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, Jr.
  39. Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association (2008). "Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association Board of Governors" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  40. Henderson 2003, p. 285
  41. Dougan 2006, p. 256
  42. "The Hathcock Award". National Defense Industrial Association. Retrieved October 4, 2015. The Hathcock Award is named in honor of Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock, II, USMC, a career Marine who dedicated his life to the service of this country in both the military and law enforcement communities ...'The Gunny' not only distinguished himself in combat as a scout-sniper, but also as a competitive marksman and trainer. In his capacity as a trainer, he not only significantly impacted the current United States Marine Corps Scout-Sniper Program, but also influenced the sniper programs of the other military services and similar law enforcement programs nationwide.
  43. "2015 Marine Corps League Enlisted Awards Announcement". Official U.S. Marine Corps Website. July 21, 2015. Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved October 4, 2015.
  44. "MCL Awards". Marine Corps League. Retrieved October 4, 2015. The Hathcock Award is presented to an enlisted Marine who has made an outstanding contribution to marksmanship and marksmanship training during the previous twelve months.
  45. Henderson 2003, p. 181
  46. Arnold, Adam (2010-05-03). "Super Sniper Kills Taliban 1.5 Miles Away". Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  47. Morelli, David. "Review: Springfield Armory's M-25 Whitefeather". Tactical Gear Magazine. Gun Digest. Retrieved 2011-04-17.
  48. Greer, G.R. (2008). "Gear Review". Soldier of Fortune. Omega. 33 (9): 64.
  49. "Range complex named after famous Vietnam sniper". Marine Corps News. United States Marine Corps. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  50. Sasser (1990) p. 82
  51. Luis Llosa (January 29, 1993). Sniper (DVD). United States: TriStar.
  52. Hunter, Stephen (2010). Dead Zero: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel. Simon and Schuster. p. 404. ISBN 978-1-4391-3865-6.
  53. Penzler, Otto (2009). The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives. Hachette Digital, Inc. pp. 161–167. ISBN 978-0-316-03193-6.
  54. Terry McDonough (March 9, 2011). "One Shot, One Kill". Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. 60:00 minutes in. CBS.
  55. Donald P. Bellisario (1996-01-13). "High Ground". JAG. 60:00 minutes in. CBS.
  56. Jamie Hyneman; Adam Savage (November 29, 2006). "MythBusters 2006 Episode Guide". MythBusters. Season 2006. Episode 67. San Francisco: Beyond Television Productions. Discovery Channel. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  57. Jamie Hyneman; Adam Savage (March 21, 2007). "MythBusters 2007 Episode Guide". MythBusters. Season 2007. Episode 75. San Francisco: Beyond Television Productions. Discovery Channel. Retrieved September 27, 2015. that's definitive, this bullet made it all the way through one of these scopes and in far enough to be a kill, that's a plausible myth
  58. Peter Ellis, Gil Grant (2004-02-10). "One Shot, One Kill". NCIS. 60:00 minutes in. CBS.
  59. "Sniper - Inside The Crosshairs". Retrieved 11 June 2016.

Further reading

  • Chandler, Roy F. (1997). White feather: Carlos Hathcock USMC scout sniper: an authorized biographical memoir (1997 ed.). Iron Brigade Armory Publishing. ISBN 978-1-885633-09-5. 
  • Dockery, Kevin (2007). Stalkers and Shooters: A History of Snipers. Penguin. pp. 150–153. ISBN 978-0-425-21542-5. 
  • Dougan, Andy (2006). Through the Crosshairs: A History of Snipers (2006 ed.). Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-7867-1773-6. 
  • Henderson, Charles W. (2003). Silent Warrior (2003 ed.). Berkley Books. ISBN 978-0-425-18864-4. 
  • Mann, Don (2011). Inside SEAL Team Six: My Life and Missions with America's Elite Warriors. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-20429-3. 
  • Sasser, Charles; Roberts, Craig (1990). One Shot, One Kill (1990 ed.). Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-68219-4. 
  • Roberts, Craig; Sasser, Charles W. (2004). Crosshairs on the Kill Zone: American Combat Snipers, Vietnam Through Operation Iraqi Freedom. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-0362-0. 
  • Senich, Peter R. (1996). The one-round war: USMC scout-snipers in Vietnam (1996 ed.). Paladin Press. ISBN 978-0-87364-867-7. 

External links

Preceded by
Billy Dixon
Longest confirmed combat sniper-shot kill
2,286 m (2,500 yd/1.420 mi)
Browning M2 w/.50 BMG
Succeeded by
Arron Perry
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