An Introduction to International-Style Rifle Shooting
When I first started trying out for my high school sports teams, there was something I found out rather quickly: I was a below-average runner and didn’t have the athletic skills for most of the different teams I tried out for. My junior year however, I shot my first rifle at my local range and became hooked. I discovered that rifle shooting provides an outlet to people to become world-class athletes, regardless of physical size or athletic ability, and that in turn allows for rifle shooting be one of the few sports that provides a lifetime of participation, with athletes ranging from eight to 80-plus years old.
Competitive rifle matches are a unique sports experience, where world-class and beginner level athletes shoot side by side. Men and women compete separately in the Olympic realm, while they compete together in the NRA and Civilian Marksmanship Program matches. Matches are organized by two different sets of competitions—air rifle and smallbore (.22-caliber)—with three events—men’s and women’s three-position rifle and men’s prone—comprising the smallbore matches. Smallbore matches are shot across a distance of 50 meters, with the inner 10-ring of the target being only the size of a dime. These targets are very challenging; many world-class level athletes miss the 10-ring an average of 20 times out of 60 shots.
This sport also has a wide range of equipment that can be used for competing. Beginning-level athletes use .22-caliber rifles with stocks that enable few adjustments. These tend to be used for “sporter” competitions, both three-position and prone.
At the international-style level, both the guns and the gear change. For instance, competitors wear special canvas coats and pants that promote muscle stability. The canvas coats are used for both three-position and prone matches, while the pants are used exclusively for the three-position events. The coats tend to get a lot of attention, because they provide not only stability to the shooting positions themselves, but also help athletes keep their overall positions consistent throughout their shot strings. The stiffness and other qualities of these coats are highly regulated and checked by officials prior to competition.
When it comes to the firearms for international-style rifle shooting, this is where we see highly adjustable rifles. Rifles of this type allow the athletes to customize their rifle stocks and butt plates to fit their body types and their stylized shooting positions.
There are many different levels of competition within rifle shooting. Many school-aged children begin their rifle careers in local youth programs or through community 4H chapters. Through these programs, young athletes learn basic marksmanship skills and begin entering their first NRA competitions. Through NRA regional, sectional and national competitions, some talented athletes are brought into the realm of USA Shooting, the national governing body for Olympic, international-style shooting in the United States. USA Shooting matches provide even beginner athletes an elite atmosphere, with matches ranging from Junior Olympics for competitors 21 and younger, on up to Open matches, such as the USA Shooting National Championships.
Rifle shooting has given me not only an outlet to perform at a world-class level, but also a way to meet a great community of people. Learning the ins and outs of this sport is an enjoyable process and I hope that everyone who wants gets a chance to embrace the rifle shooting lifestyle and culture.