Marine Sniper Carlos Hathcock Took Out ‘The Cobra’ In Epic Fashion

Carlos Hathcock (Photo Credit: Carlos Hathcock - Son)

Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock easily joins the ranks of history’s greatest snipers, alongside figures such as Vasily Zaytsev, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, and Simo Hayha. He carried out his trade in Vietnam, racking up nearly 100 kills, and plenty more unconfirmed. He was so notorious during that war that the North Vietnamese dispatched a sniper known as ‘The Cobra’ to take him out. The Cobra failed this mission and ended up as another notch on Hathcock’s tally.

Carlos Hathcock

Mil Carlos Hathcock
Lieutenant General P. K. Van Riper, Commanding General Marine Corps Combat Development Command, congratulates Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock (Ret.) after presenting him the Silver Star during a ceremony at the Weapons Training Battalion. Standing next to Gunnery Sgt. Hathcock is his son, Staff Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, Jr. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. James Harbour)

Hathcock was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1942 into a family that heavily relied on hunting to obtain food. As a result, Hathcock became familiar with firearms at a young age. He had wanted to be in the US Marine Corps since childhood and joined the service at 17. He was sent over to Vietnam in 1966 as a military policeman but was quickly noted for his impressive natural talent with a rifle.

His skills were useful elsewhere, so he was transferred to Captain Edward James Land‘s sniper platoon, a role that he embraced with great enthusiasm.

Before long Hathcock had dispatched a huge amount of targets and earned himself a fearsome reputation. He was known to wear a white feather while on missions as a way of taunting the enemy. This motif became famous among the North Vietnamese, who called him ‘White Feather.’

Hathcock was dropping enemy Vietnamese troops left, right and center, so they placed the highest bounty of the war on his head; a sum of $30,000.

Plenty of Vietnamese snipers came to collect the bounty, but as Marty Robbins’ Big Iron goes; “Many men had tried to take him and that many men were dead.”

The White Feather

Carlos Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock (Photo Credit: Carlos Hathcock – Son)

Part of Hathcock’s popularity stems from the great detail he went into when recounting his eventful “hunts.”

One particularly troubling story for him is about “Apache,” a female sniper who was extremely sadistic in their work. She had been operating in the jungles of Vietnam long before Hathcock arrived, torturing captured Marines within earshot of their base.

When recalling the experience, he said “She skinned one kid that she’d captured all night and half the next day. When she turned him loose, he died right in the wire.” As a result, his mission to eliminate this sniper was “very, very personal.”

One day out on patrol Hathcock came across a group of Viet Cong (VC). He didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until one of the troops squatted down to urinate. He knew he’d found Apache.

“I saw her squat down to tinkle,” Hathcock says. “The guys with her tried to get her to stop but I stopped her. I put one extra in her for good measure.”

The Cobra

Hathcock’s most famous story details his showdown with the “Cobra,” a North Vietnamese Army sniper who was sent in with the sole task of killing Hathcock. The sniper made a point to Hathcock by killing a man right outside his living quarters.

“I took a vow, right there and then. I was gonna get him some way or another.” Hathcock said.

Hathcock admitted that the Cobra was skilled, so the game was on for who could get who first. “He was close to being as good as I was but ain’t no way,” he said. “Ain’t nobody that good.”

While he was making his way through the jungle, he tripped over a fallen tree on the busy floor. At this exact moment, the Cobra fired at him, which forced the shot to miss. It hit his spotter’s canteen instead.

After failing this shot the Cobra left his position, as any good sniper would, and the two opposing marksmen ended up on the opposite sides to where they had started.

But the Cobra had just put himself into a compromised position; facing into the sun.

Hathcock immediately took the opportunity and fired. “The sun glinted off the lens of his scope, I guess,” he said. “I saw the glint and I shot where the glint was… By the looks of things, I was just the quickest on the trigger, otherwise, he’d have killed me.”

He ended the war with 93 confirmed kills and a world record for the longest sniper shot which remained unbroken for 35 years. Due to the way kills were confirmed during the Vietnam War, Hathcock’s kill tally is likely to be much, much higher. He himself estimates this to be 300 to 400 kills.

The heroic Marine Corps sniper passed away on February 22, 1999, at the age of 56.