Legendary Sniper Carlos Hathcock Took Out An Enemy Marksmen In Epic Fashion

Photo Credit: 1. USMC Archives / Flickr CC BY 2.0 2. Carlos Hathcock's Son, Used with Permission
Photo Credit: 1. USMC Archives / Flickr CC BY 2.0 2. Carlos Hathcock's Son, Used with Permission

US Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock easily features in the ranks of history’s greatest snipers, alongside such figures as Vasily Zaytsev, Lyudmila Pavlichenko and Simo Häyhä. He served overseas during the Vietnam War, racking up nearly 100 confirmed kills, with many more unconfirmed. He was so notorious that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) dispatched a sniper known only as “Cobra” to take him out.

Carlos Hathcock served valiantly with the US Marine Corps

Carlos Hathcock wearing his US military decorations on his chest
Carlos Hathcock being presented with the Silver Star, 1996. (Photo Credit: Sgt. James Harbour / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Carlos Hathcock was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1942 to a family that heavily relied on hunting to obtain food. As a result, he became familiar with firearms at a young age. He’d wanted to serve with the US Marine Corps since childhood and enlisted when he was just 17 years old.

Hathcock was deployed to Vietnam in 1966 as a military policeman, and was quickly noted for his impressive natural talent with a rifle. Knowing his skills were useful elsewhere, his superiors transferred him to Capt. Edward James Land’s sniper platoon, a role he embraced with great enthusiasm.

Before long, Hathcock had dispatched a large amount of targets and earned himself a fearsome reputation. He was known to wear a white feather during missions as a way of taunting the enemy soldiers, which became infamous among the North Vietnamese, who called him “White Feather.”

Given how lethal Hathcock was, the North Vietnamese Army placed a $30,000 bounty on his head, the highest of the war. Plenty of snipers attempted to collect the reward, but, as Marty Robbins’ song “Big Iron” goes, “Many men had tried to take him and that many men were dead.”

Recounting his encounter with ‘the Apache woman’

Carlos Hathcock standing with his sniper rifle
Carlos Hathcock in Vietnam. (Photo Credit: Carlos Hathcock’s Son, Used with Permission)

Part of Carlos Hathcock’s popularity stems from the great detail he went into when recounting his missions. One particularly troubling encounter for him was with “the Apache woman,” a female sniper who’d been operating in the jungles of Vietnam long before he arrived, torturing captured Marines within earshot of their bases.

While out on patrol one day, Hathcock came across a group of Viet Cong fighters. He didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until one of them squatted down to urinate. At that moment, he knew he’d found the Apache woman and swiftly took her out.

Carlos Hathcock vs. ‘Cobra’

US Marine Corps portrait of Carlos Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock, 1959. (Photo Credit: USMC Archives / Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Carlos Hathcock’s most famous wartime story detailed his showdown with “Cobra,” an NVA sniper tasked with killing him. Hathcock admitted Cobra was skilled, so the game was on for who could get who first. While he was making his way through the Vietnamese jungle, he tripped over a fallen tree. At that exact moment, Cobra fired at him. The shot missed, striking his spotter’s canteen.

Cobra then left his position, as any good sniper would, and the two opposing marksmen wound on opposite sides to where they had started. However, the NVA sniper had put himself in a compromised position, facing into the sunlight. Hathcock took the opportunity and fired, taking out the enemy soldier before he had a chance to fire another round.

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Hathcock ended his service in Vietnam with 93 confirmed kills and the world record for the longest sniper shot, which remained unbroken for 35 years. Due to the way kills were confirmed during the war, his tally is likely much higher, with he himself having estimated it to be between 300 and 400.

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

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE