@Stuart Van Onselen
"1) Shouldn't beancounters actually *love* snipers? Snipers use a ludicrous number of rounds when training, but far fewer in combat, making them cheaper in the long run. Maybe I have my facts wrong, or maybe beancounters are idiots. (Just ask the BOFH.)"
Re-read Lewis' article. Between wars, they shave costs by cutting the more intensive and costly training programs that are deemed "unneeded in peace time". Training snipers is very costly. Many standing armed forces don't keep up war-time numbers of snipers-in-training, in order to save money. I guess they figure there is enough time to train 'em after war breaks out, but before they are needed in the field. Fortunately, the USMC doesn't see it that way.
"2) But didn't Hathcock use a 50-cal, the very round you said caused potentially fatal shrapnel?"
Probably not. Although they played with mounting optics on Browning .50 MGs fired in single shot mode, that kinda gear is a trifle heavy for most Scout/Sniper work. Most snipers in the field back then used Winchester Model 70 chambered for 30-06. Kinda like the one in the gun cabinet over my right shoulder. Personally, I prefer the Remington Model 700 chambered for 308, sitting next to it, for long distance work when I have to lug the weapon around ... If I don't have to carry it more than a couple feet, the .416 Barret wins hands down.
Also remember that with any distance shooting, the bullet isn't following a flat trajectory. It is ballistic in nature, meaning you'd have an incoming bullet not only hit the center of the scope, but it would have to be as near as possible coming in at the same angle of the scope tube. So, in answer to your next question:
"Or were you drawing a distinction between "head shredded by flying bits of his own scope" on the one end, and "surgical shot leaving the scope barrel intact, like I saw in the movies, so it has to be true" on the other?"
The later is how the shot is described by the myth, not the former.
We fired a LOT of rounds, in a LOT of calibers, loaded for a LOT of velocities ranging from hot-handload at the muzzle, to the velocity at the extreme effective range of the weapon, according to standard ballistics charts. (We had over 5500 otherwise useless surplus scopes to play with, so we did ... If you are wondering, they failed calibration testing).
In all short range tests, we laser aligned the barrel and target scope before taking the shot. In the longer range tests with the heavier rifles, we fired a shot to find the true zero, then aligned the target scope to that.
Weapons ranged from some of those above, a Kimber .45 (my competition pistol), a couple TC Contenders, one in .30 Herret and one in 357 Herret, a S&W K-frame .38, a .22 magnum revolver, a High Standard .22lr (7 inch barrel), a bog-standard Winchester 30-06 rifle, a .44Mag Rugar carbine and matching Rugar revolver, a .50 black powder replica Kentucky, a highly customized .220 Swift, a .177 Bee, a 45-70 rolling block (Great Granpa's buffalo gun), a 12 guage with both deer slugs and buck shot ... There were others.
We captured a bunch of lead within the scope tubes. The only round that broke the actual eyepiece was the 20mm target load, at 50 yards ... but even then, it just broke the glass and didn't push any lead out the far end of the scope tube. It probably broke it from the initial impact. I'd like to run the experiment again, but with high speed video to get a better idea of the mechanics. Unfortunately, I don't have a stock of surplus scopes anymore.
And yes, to whoever asked, we used FMJ, hand cast lead (type and dive belt), and various mixtures of lead & "other", and a bunch of factory lead. All were handloaded, by us, and tested, by us. Is it possible we made a mistake, or missed something? Of course! We're only human.
But as far as I am concerned, it never happened as described. It's a myth.
HOWEVER, I'm enough of a realist to be shown otherwise :-)