Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He specializes in American and European History.
10 of the World's Deadliest Snipers
Throughout history, snipers have been a crucial component of military strategy because they can eliminate enemy personnel at long range, provide reconnaissance, and infiltrate enemy lines unseen. Over the last century, this skill set has proven extremely valuable to commanders and generals on the battlefield.
Single sniper teams (from the First World War to the present) have repeatedly proven their ability to inflict massive damage on enemy personnel and morale. However, as with all warriors, some snipers have proven to be more effective (and deadlier) than others.
This article examines the 10 deadliest snipers in world history and briefly analyses their origins, skill set, and total confirmed kills. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of snipers will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
In selecting the 10 deadliest snipers in history for the following list, a number of criteria were applied. First and foremost, each sniper’s total number of confirmed kills serves as the primary indicator of their overall effectiveness on the battlefield. For the duration of this article, “confirmed kills” simply refers to a kill that was reported in after-action reports or witnessed by a spotter, civilian, or third-party individual.
The second (and final) criteria applied for this list is the number of “unconfirmed” or “probable” kills tallied by each sniper. As its name implies, “unconfirmed” refers to shots that likely resulted in death but cannot be confirmed by the sniper or their spotter. While shortcomings to these criteria certainly exist, the author believes that they offer the best means available for determining (and ranking) the 10 deadliest snipers in history.
The 10 Deadliest Snipers in the World
10. Chuck Mawhinney
9. Adelbert Waldron
8. Henry Norwest
7. Chris Kyle
6. Vasily Zaytsev
5. Lyudmila Pavlichenko
4. Carlos Hathcock
3. Francis Pagahmagabow
2. Fyodor Okhlopkov
1. Simo Hayha
Chuck Mawhinney Quote
“I just did what I was trained to do. I was in-country a long time, in a very hot area. I didn’t do anything special.”
— Chuck Mawhinney
10. Chuck Mawhinney (103 Kills)
Charles Benjamin “Chuck” Mawhinney was a former United States Marine who served sixteen months in the military during the Vietnam War. As a sniper, Mawhinney is credited with having 103 confirmed kills (a Marine Corps record), with 216 probable kills. Mawhinney was the son of a Marine Corps veteran from World War II and joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 1967.
After attending Scout Sniper School at Camp Pendelton, Mawhinney was assigned to First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division in South Vietnam, where he was later transferred to the HQ Scout Sniper Platoon. Working with various military units (and police forces), Mawhinney’s exploits in Vietnam became legendary. In one encounter, Mawhinney was even credited with dropping an entire enemy platoon (approximately 16 enemy soldiers) in one sitting. Mawhinney held no qualms about the nature of his work and felt that his actions helped save many American lives.
After being declared “combat fatigued” by a chaplain, Mawhinney was later transferred to the United States, where he served as a marksmanship instructor at his former base, Camp Pendleton. He later left the Marine Corps in 1970 and worked with the U.S. Forest Service until retirement.
Mawhinney never mentioned (or discussed) his accomplishments to family or friends (including his wife), preferring to keep quiet about his time in the Marines. In 1991, however, Mawhinney’s exploits were recounted by fellow sniper Joseph Ward in his book Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam. After documentation proved that Mawhinney had 103 confirmed kills during the war, he was officially recognized by the Marine Corps as having the most recorded kills ever in Marine history.
9. Adelbert Waldron (109 Kills)
Adelbert F. “Bert” Waldron III was a former United States Army sniper who served with the 9th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. Before serving in the Army, Waldron spent approximately twelve years in the United States Navy. Upon transferring to the Army, he was assigned to PBR boats to patrol the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. In less than eight months, Waldron racked up an astonishing 109 enemy kills.
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In one instance, Waldron reportedly dropped an enemy soldier at over 900 yards from his moving boat. For his dedication, commitment, and bravery, Waldron was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (on two separate occasions), a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, and a Presidential Unit Citation.
After leaving Vietnam, Waldron was later assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he served as a marksmanship instructor for the Army. However, Waldron’s stay in Georgia was short-lived, as he left the Army in 1970 (after making the rank of Staff Sergeant). He later died on 18 October 1995 at the age of 62. He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.
8. Henry Norwest (115 Kills)
Henry “Ducky” Norwest was a Canadian sniper known for his exploits in World War One. Born in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, on 1 May 1884, Norwest worked as a ranch hand, rodeo performer, and eventually the Royal Northwest Mounted Police before joining the Canadian Army in 1915.
Although initially discharged for misbehavior only three months into his military career, he later re-enlisted under a different name and was assigned to the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion. In less than three years, Norwest accumulated 115 confirmed kills.
Due to his remarkable knowledge of stealth tactics and camouflage, Norwest was often sent on reconnaissance missions into the heart of “No Man’s Land.” He was awarded the Military Medal and Bar during the Battle of Vimy Ridge for his heroism. Despite his remarkable abilities and steadfast devotion to his unit, Norwest never saw the end of the First World War.
Just three months before fighting ceased, Norwest was spotted by a German sniper and was killed before he could return fire (18 August 1918). He was later buried in the Warvillers Churchyard Extension Cemetery in Warvillers, Somme, France. His rifle (“Ross Rifle”) is currently displayed at The King’s Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC) Museum in Calgary.
Chris Kyle Quote
"It was my duty to shoot the enemy, and I don't regret it. My regrets are for the people I couldn't save: Marines, soldiers, buddies. I'm not naive, and I don't romanticize war. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. But I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job."
— Chris Kyle
7. Chris Kyle (160 Kills)
Christopher Scott Kyle was a United States Navy SEAL sniper who served four tours of duty in Iraq. Kyle was born in Odessa, Texas, on 8 April 1974 to Wayne and Deby Lynn Kyle. After working as a farmer, professional rodeo rider, and ranch hand, Kyle later joined the United States Navy after suffering from a career-ending injury during his time as a rodeo rider.
After having surgery to have his arm repaired, Kyle received an invitation to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) training at Coronado, California (1999). Later assigned to SEAL Team-3’s sniper element, Kyle quickly found himself amid some intense action throughout Iraq.
During his four tours of duty, Chris Kyle racked up 160 confirmed kills across Iraq in locales such as Ramadi, Fallujah, and Baghdad. Because of his legendary status, insurgents in the area later named him Shaitan Ar-Ramadi (which translates to “The Devil of Ramadi”). Iraqi insurgents even placed a $20,000 bounty on Kyle’s head, which was later raised to $80,000 before the end of his career. Kyle was also well-known for his incredible shots, his longest being a 2,100-yard kill with a McMillan TAC-338 sniper rifle.
After leaving the military (at the rank of Chief Petty Officer) in 2009, Kyle returned home and became a leading figure in helping former military members that suffered from PTSD transition to civilian life. Sadly, on 2 February 2013, Kyle and his good friend, Chad Littlefield, were murdered by Eddie Ray Routh (also a veteran) while visiting a shooting range in Erath County, Texas.
A memorial service was held for Kyle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, before he was finally laid to rest at Texas State Cemetery in Austin. To this day, Kyle is considered one of the most effective and deadly snipers to have served in the American military.
Vasily Zaytsev Quote
"The arrival of the Nazi sniper set us a new task. We had to find him, study habits and methods, and patiently await the moment for one, and only one, well-aimed shot."
— Vasily Zaytsev
6. Vasily Zaytsev (242 Kills)
Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev was a Soviet sniper that served in the Red Army during World War Two. He is credited with over 242 confirmed kills. Born in Yeleninskoye, Orenburg Governorate, on 23 March 1915, Zaytsev reportedly learned his marksmanship from his grandfather in the Ural Mountains. After graduating from college and working briefly in construction, Zaytsev later enlisted in the Soviet military, serving with the Pacific Fleet (beginning in 1937).
After war broke out only a few years later (following the launch of Operation Barbarossa), Zaytsev volunteered to join the front lines, where he was assigned to the 1047th Rifle Regiment of the 284th Tomsk Rifle Division. Even before becoming a Red Army sniper, Zaytsev was credited with 32 kills using a standard-issue rifle.
It wasn’t until 1942, just before the Battle of Stalingrad, that Zaytsev’s career as a sniper officially began. A master of stealth and concealment, Zaytsev was well-known for regularly changing positions and his ingenious ability to cover large areas from just a handful of strategic locations (a tactic later dubbed “the sixes”).
Throughout the Battle of Stalingrad, Zaytsev accumulated more than 200 enemy kills before being blinded by a German mortar attack. After regaining his sight a month later, Zaytsev returned to the front in February of 1943, finishing his career at the Battle of the Seelow Heights in Germany (at the rank of Captain).
After the war, Zaytsev later joined the Communist Party in 1943 and settled in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he worked as an engineer for the remainder of his life. He died on 15 December 1991 at the age of 76 and was later reburied at Mamayev Hill in Volgograd with full military honors. For his actions during the war, Zaytsev was awarded “Hero of the Soviet Union.” To this day, he remains one of the deadliest snipers in modern history.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko Quote
"The only feeling I have is the great satisfaction a hunter feels who has killed a beast of prey."
— Lyudmila Pavlichenko
5. Lyudmila Pavlichenko (309 Kills)
Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper that served with the Red Army during World War Two. She is credited with an astounding 309 kills during her military career. Born in Bila Tserkva (modern-day Ukraine) on 12 July 1916, Pavlichenko later moved with her family to Kyiv, where she worked as a grinder at the Kyiv Arsenal Factory.
In her spare time, Pavlichenko developed a keen interest in shooting and even joined a local shooting club where her skills as a sharpshooter first developed. After getting married and having a son, Pavlichenko later attended Kyiv University during the 1930s, where she eventually earned a Master’s Degree in History.
Following Operation Barbarossa and the invasion of Soviet territory by the Nazi Army, Pavlichenko volunteered for military service and was assigned to the 25th Rifle Division. Although offered the opportunity to become a nurse, Pavlichenko instead opted for sniper training, becoming one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army.
Trained with a Mosin-Nagant Bolt-Action Rifle, Pavlichenko made her first two kills near Belyayevka. Later, during the fight for Odessa and its surrounding areas, Pavlichenko racked up an impressive 187 kills in only three months of fighting.
After being severely wounded by mortar fire in June of 1942, Pavlichenko was withdrawn from combat just after reaching the rank of Lieutenant in the Red Army. The Southern Army Council later credited her with 309 confirmed kills, including 257 German soldiers and 36 enemy snipers.
After the war, Pavlichenko finished her education and began a career as a historian. Sadly, she died on 10 October 1974 at the age of 58 after suffering a stroke. She was buried in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow. To this day, Pavlichenko remains one of the deadliest snipers in modern history and is considered the most successful female sniper of all time, earning multiple campaign medals, the Order of Lenin (twice), as well as the title “Hero of the Soviet Union.”
Carlos Hathcock Quote
“The most deadly thing on a battlefield is one well-aimed shot.”
— Carlos Hathcock
4. Carlos Hathcock (93 Confirmed Kills)
Carlos Norman Hathcock II was a United States Marine Corps sniper that served during the Vietnam War and is credited with 93 confirmed kills. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on 20 May 1942, Hathcock became acquainted with shooting from an early age, as his family relied heavily on hunting for food.
At the age of 17, Hathcock enlisted in the Marines, fulfilling his childhood desire to serve in the military. After being deployed to Vietnam in the 60s, Hathcock initially served as a military policeman before being transferred to Captain Edward James Land’s sniper platoon. Land, who was impressed with Hathcock’s natural shooting ability (particularly since Hathcock had won the prestigious Wimbledon Cup for long-range shooting in 1965), felt that Hathcock was a natural fit for sniper duty.
Hathcock entered his new role enthusiastically, and within only a short time, he racked up an impressive 93 kills. Due to the difficulty of confirming kills at this time, however, modern estimates put Hathcock’s kill count between 300 and 400 enemy soldiers during his time in the war.
Hathcock’s exploits prompted the North Vietnamese Army to place a $30,000 bounty on his head due to the large number of men lost to this lone warrior. Hathcock even earned the nickname “Long Tr’ang” (which translates to “White Feather Sniper” in Vietnamese due to the white feather he always wore within the brim of his hat).
Hathcock took on a variety of legendary missions, including a mission to kill a PAVN General (a mission headed by the CIA) in which he crawled 1,500 yards over four days and three nights with no sleep or food to take his shot. Other accomplishments included taking down a female Viet Cong leader known as “The Apache,” who had tortured numerous American soldiers, as well as killing an elite enemy sniper known as “The Cobra.” In the latter, Hathcock killed the enemy sniper (who had been sent to kill Hathcock specifically) before he could react, sending his bullet through his enemy’s scope (a nearly impossible shot).
Sadly, Hathcock was later evacuated from Vietnam after sustaining life-threatening injuries from an anti-tank mine that struck his vehicle. After returning to the United States, Hathcock helped to establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in Virginia and dedicated much of his remaining life to training future snipers, special forces, and police units in the art of sharpshooting. Due to his severe burns sustained from the blast, Hathcock never returned to Vietnam.
After battling years of Multiple Sclerosis, Hathcock later died on 22 February 1999 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia.
3. Francis Pagahmagabow (378 Kills)
Francis Pagahmagabow was a Canadian sniper who served in World War One. He is credited with 378 enemy kills. He was born on the Shawanaga First Nation Reserve in Nobel, Ontario, on 9 March 1891, to Michael and Mary Contin Pegahmagabow. Following the outbreak of World War One, Pagahmagabow volunteered for military service and was assigned to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914 (and later reassigned to the 23rd Canadian Regiment).
Deployed in February of 1915 with the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion, Pagahmagabow quickly saw action during the Second Battle of Ypres and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Due to sharpshooting skills developed in his youth (due to hunting in his local area), Pagahmagabow quickly developed a reputation for being a fierce sniper. Brave and faithful to his fellow soldiers, Pagahmagabow was instrumental in numerous battles, helping his battalion to fend off countless waves of German soldiers during his career.
One of his major accomplishments occurred during the 30 August 1918 Battle of the Scarpe when his company nearly ran out of ammunition fighting off German forces. Braving “No Man’s Land” alone, Pagahmagabow brought back enough supplies (from dead soldiers in the field) to carry his unit through a final enemy counterattack. By the time the war was over, Pagahmagabow was credited with 378 confirmed kills and had succeeded in capturing more than 300 enemy troops alive.
After achieving the Sergeant-Major rank, Pagahmagabow returned to Canada, where he remained part of the Algonquin Regiment Militia. He was later elected Chief of the Parry Island Band and became a political activist for Native Americans throughout Canada. Pagahmagabow also became Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government in 1943 and worked as a guard at a munitions plant in Nobel, Ontario, during the Second World War. He later died on Parry Island Reserve in 1952 at 61.
2. Fyodor Okhlopkov (429 Kills)
Fyodor Okhlopkov was a Soviet sniper that served with the Red Army during World War Two. He was credited with 429 kills during his career. Born on 2 March 1908 in the village of Krest-Khaldzhay, Russia, Okhlopkov was an ethnic Yakut from the Far-Eastern sectors of the Soviet Union. Although little is known about Okhlopkov (due to the lack of records concerning his life), it is believed that he first joined the Red Army with his brother, who was later killed in combat.
Infuriated by the loss of his brother, Okhlopkov reportedly swore to avenge his death, becoming a sniper and machine-gunner on the Eastern Front. Often sent out alone to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of enemy troop movements, Okhlopkov was credited with 429 kills with a sniper rifle alone and countless others with automatic weapons.
Always on the front lines of combat, Okhlopkov sustained 12 serious wounds during his military career, with his 12th occurring on 23 June 1944. After being struck in the chest during an assault on Vitebsk, Okhlopkov was forced to recuperate in a hospital for the remainder of the war before finally being discharged several months later.
Despite being rejected for the title “Hero of the Soviet Union” (due to his ethnicity), the Soviet Union later bestowed this honorary title on Okhlopkov on 5 June 1965. Nearly a decade later, he was also given the “Order of Lenin” following his untimely death on 28 May 1968 at 60.
Simo Hayha Quote
"I only did my duty, and what I was told to do as well as I could."
— Simo Hayha
1. Simo Hayha (505 Kills)
Simo “Simuna” Hayha was a Finnish sniper that served in the Winter War of 1939–1940 and is credited with 505 confirmed kills against Red Army soldiers. Born in Rautjarvi, Viipuri Province, Finland, on 17 December 1905 to a farming family, Hayha later joined the Finnish Voluntary Militia (Known as the “White Guard”) at the age of twenty-one.
Using skills first developed in his youth from hunting expeditions with his father, Hayha competed in numerous shooting competitions throughout Viipuri Province, earning numerous trophies for his sharpshooting abilities. With the outbreak of war between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939, Hayha served as a sniper for the Finnish 6th Company of JR 34 during the Battle of Kollaa.
In temperatures reaching -40 Degrees Fahrenheit and camouflaged in solid white (to blend in with the snow and ice), Hayha dropped one Red Army soldier after another, racking up all 505 of his kills in less than 100 days of combat. The incredible feat earned him the nickname “White Death” amongst both fellow and enemy soldiers.
Hayha used a SAKO M/28-30 with iron sights. He was also known to pack himself in heavy snow to provide cover and balance his rifle, all while placing small bits of snow on his tongue to prevent his breath from giving away his position to the enemy.
On 6 March 1940, Hayha was severely wounded in his left jaw by an armor-piercing bullet fired by the Red Army. After losing consciousness for several days, Hayha awoke on 13 March 1940 (the day peace was officially declared between the two nations) with nearly half his face missing from the gunshot.
After the war, Hayha was promoted to Second Lieutenant and retired from the military. Hayha later recuperated from his wounds and became a moose hunter and dog breeder following the Second World War. At the age of 96, Hayha passed away in a veteran’s nursing home located in Hamina (2002). He was buried in Ruokolahti, Finland.
For his service, Hayha was awarded the Cross of Liberty (3rd Class and 4th Class), along with the Medal of Liberty (1st Class and 2nd Class) and Cross of Kollaa Battle. To this day, Hayha remains the deadliest sniper in world history.
Suggestions For Further Reading
- Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. New York, NY: Penguin, 1988.
- Kyle,Chris. American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2012.
- Slawson, Larry. "Carlos Hathcock: The Legendary Marine Sniper." Owlcation. 2019.
- "Adelbert Waldron - Recipient." Military Times Hall Of Valor. Accessed August 06, 2019. https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/4500
- Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. New York, New York: Penguin, 1988
- Greenblatt, Mark Lee. "Two Chris Kyle Stories You Won't See in 'American Sniper'." Military.com. Accessed August 06, 2019. https://www.military.com/special-operations/two-chris-kyle-stories-you-wont-see-in-american-sniper.html
- "Simo Hayha." Finnish Sniper • Simo Hayha • The White Death. Accessed August 06, 2019. https://www.simohayha.com/
- Stillwell, Blake. "This Marine Was The 'American Sniper' Of The Vietnam War." Military.com. Accessed August 06, 2019. https://www.military.com/marine-corps-birthday/carlos-hathcock-famous-marine-corps-sniper.html
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Larry Slawson
JOSHUA LIAN on July 10, 2020:
Great Article!!! really worth to read
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on August 06, 2019:
Thank you Barry! So glad you enjoyed!
Barry G Carpenter from Mindanao, Philippines on August 06, 2019:
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on August 01, 2019:
Thank you Hacicu! I'm glad you enjoyed :)
Hacicu Bogdan from Cluj-Napoca, Romania on August 01, 2019:
These are some extremely interesting and unbelievable facts. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together!
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on August 01, 2019:
@Liz Thank you! That would be a good article to do too! Haha. I might have to do one on assassins.
@Sam Very good idea! I've seen both, and they are definitely good.
Sam Shepards from Europe on August 01, 2019:
I would add the names of the movies:
Chris Kyle portrayal in American Sniper directed by Clint Eastwood.
Vasily Zaytsev in Enemy at the Gates.
If you like war movies, these are both decent movies.
Liz Westwood from UK on July 31, 2019:
You have compiled an interesting fact file. It must be my mindset, but when I read the word 'sniper' I was expectong illegal kills by assassins. This is well-focussed on 'legitimate' scores in war settings. I think I was expecting to see Carlos the Jackal and his associates. You have done well to reasearch the details and find photos.