Profile of Scott Tyler, professional sniper.
Credit: Photograph by John Lee

There is a decision you must make. The world is vast and unstructured. In it, things move seemingly at random. There comes a narrowing, a focusing, as the aperture reduces and reduces. The act, combined with training and skill and vision and, yes, philosophy, leads to a gradual, noiseless ratcheting down and down, like ripples in a pond going backward toward the pebble, closer and closer, smaller and smaller, the chaos dissipating into a tiny center of detailed clarity. And then the trigger.

Scott Tyler has been out of the Navy Seals for two years, but you don't simply forget what you did best. And what he did best, other than lead men in high-stakes combat, was aim a high-caliber, long-range rifle at a "target," be that machine, structure, or, most relevantly, a man, and, in Tyler's words, "take it out." That is what snipers do. Their craft – a part of warfare since the emergence of the Kentucky rifle during the American Revolution and in some ways even further back, to whenever the first accurate, long-distance bow shooter or rock thrower appeared – might seem outdated in an era of smart bombs and computer-controlled drones. But that is not the case. In the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq, where the sporadically appearing plainclothes enemy might be far away, amid protective rocks, or close-up amid innocent citizens, stealth killing and accurate killing – the sniper's trademarks – are essential.

To shoot a man from a distance is a fascinating, awe-inspiring thing. It is nearly mythic in its godlike bequeathal of power. You are here, and he is there, and the connective and intensely private embrace is one of death. The two parties are linked by the flight of a tiny projectile traveling at supersonic speed, arriving to do its work well before the sound does and a moment after the powder flash and smoke are visible. To see that brief flash and to recognize, if only for a millisecond, that you will be the recipient of the explosive message, after which you will cease to exist, must be among the more horrifying recognitions there is. If the chamber noise is reduced and the blast light dulled (Tyler and the men he directed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines generally used silencers or suppressors on the barrels of their rifles), the impact – a far-off head exploding, an arm abruptly detached, a body suddenly pierced by an invisible drill – occurs in a world without context or reason for the enemy, and is therefore not just terrifying but dispiriting.

"Long-range target interdiction: That's the two-dollar phrase," says Tyler, who sometimes speaks so quietly that you find yourself studying his lips. "In a conventional war you're on the battlefield, and if you look over and your buddy's head blows up and then you see another friend go down, it freaks you out. It demoralizes you; it makes you question things. It's a psychological thing. You, as a sniper, try for the highest-ranking person, if you can, to create that chaos. But in an insurgency, as we have now, when the enemy comes out in ones and twos, sometimes right in the cities, without ever being a big force, it's all ambush. So it can be better to have snipers rather than a man on every corner. A sniper team can stay hidden.''

Tyler now works when he can as a security consultant – a job that still takes him to hot spots such as Somalia and Iraq. His company, Qaletaqa Corps, works with various governments, tracking down terrorists and war criminals, and with private companies, planning logistics for their personnel traveling to volatile regions, sometimes even accompanying them. He was also recently featured in a short-lived reality show on NBC called 'The Wanted.' In that show, Tyler and three other specialists tracked down alleged terrorists and killers now living freely in other countries. Instead of a rifle, Tyler carried a passport and a camera. The trouble with the show was it made no final sense. The evildoers had found legal loopholes so they could live openly, and Tyler sure as hell couldn't go to, for instance, Norway, where the first episode occurred, and blast a dude from half a mile away. Though that would have been something.