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What Type of Shooting Sport is Right for You?

Here are some of the most popular competitive shooting disciplines for you to consider. 

What Type of Shooting Sport is Right for You?
Image Courtesy of Serena Juchnowski
Kevin Nevius is a National Champion in smallbore and Palma shooting. Skills learned in both translate between the two disciplines. 

Some people spend their entire lives shooting the same type of firearm they started out with. While it could be said that as a responsible firearm owner it would be important to know how to safely use all three main types of firearms—rifle, shotgun and handgun—it can be difficult and time-consuming to attain high levels of proficiency with all of them. For most, then, it comes down to a choice of the firearm type you prefer to shoot, then deciding on just what it is you want to shoot with those guns.

But that’s just the start, because the world of shooting disciplines is a vast one. Do you prefer iron sights or optics? Short or long ranges? Moving or stationary targets? Another consideration is the equipment involved. Some competitions, such as the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation handgun matches or skeet shooting, don’t require a ton of equipment beyond the gun, but other target sports can be very gear-intensive. If you just want to have fun and enjoy the company of friends while working on improving your skills in a casual way, then a sport that requires less gear to have a great day on the range is probably what will interest you, but if you’re someone with a highly competitive spirit who really gets into perfecting skills and gaining top rankings, you’ll want to understand the commitment to gear, range time and travel to perform at elite levels. 

That said, there is no one discipline that is “easiest” to get into. Much depends on what you already have, what resources are in your area and what your interests are. Though this is not an exhaustive list nor summary of rules and qualifications, here are some of the most popular competitive shooting disciplines for you to consider, whether you’re an experienced firearm owner looking to expand their horizons or one of the millions of new, first-time gun owners out there embarking on the discovery of just how much the shooting sports have to offer in terms of entertainment. 

Rifle Disciplines

Image Courtesy of Serena Juchnowski
Smallbore is a popular discipline among junior rifle programs as it can be fired indoors and outdoors and has endless opportunities for advancement. Skills learned shooting smallbore apply to all rifle disciplines.

Following are some of the most popular rifle disciplines, though all require a significant amount of equipment including a shooting coat. Silhouette, benchrest shooting and competitions run by the National Rifle League and the Precision Rifle Series have their own expenses as well, but do not require shooting jackets or other specialty attire. 

SmallboreSmallbore is a discipline in which shooters fire a .22-caliber rifle from the standing, kneeling and prone positions or the standing, kneeling, sitting and prone positions. Indoor and outdoor distances for smallbore competition range from 50 feet to 100 yards. Supported positions use a sling. It is a popular discipline among junior clubs, especially those with those competitors exploring the opportunity to advance into collegiate-level competitions and possibly Olympic competition. It is also popular with those new to competition, thanks to its relatively low out-of-the-gate cost and minimal recoil.

Air Rifle—Air rifle is traditionally shot from the standing position only but can also be fired from the positions as in smallbore. Air rifle and smallbore programs tend to go together as they are both collegiate and Olympic events, but air rifles are not technically classified as firearms, which can make such competitions more feasible in certain areas. 

High-Power Service RifleHigh-power service rifle combines aspects of long-range shooting with the positions found in smallbore, but on a much larger outside range. Most shooters compete with an AR-15 or other modern sporting rifle (MSR), but vintage military-model rifles such as the M1 Garand also fall into this category. 

Competitors in this discipline fire from the standing and sitting positions at 200 yards and from the prone position at 300 and 600 yards. High power also includes two rapid-fire stages. Palma is often the next step for high-power shooters at peak performance and can almost be thought of as “long-range smallbore” fired with a .223 or .308 at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. 

Handgun Disciplines

For simplicity, pistol disciplines can be divided into conventional pistol and action pistol. Though there exist many different types of matches, each stage of a conventional (a.k.a. bull’s-eye) pistol match is shot from a standard distance from one location, with an emphasis on trigger control, concentration and accuracy. Proficiency in conventional pistol can translate to better scores in action-pistol matches such as those in IDPA and USPSA (International Defensive Pistol Association and U.S. Practical Shooting Association) in which the competitor is moving through a course of targets based in multiple shooting stages. 

Shotgun Disciplines

Image Courtesy of Serena Juchnowski
Shotgun sports like trap and skeet are prevalent throughout the country. Here Amy Cawley shoots skeet at Rochester Brooks Gun Club in New York.

Trap and skeet are undoubtedly the most well-recognized of the shotgun shooting sports and the starting points for nearly all competitive shotgun shooters. The difference in these sports, originally designed to mimic bird hunting, is that trap uses one machine to throw clays away from the shooter while skeet uses two machines to throw clays from the left and right. 

Trap and skeet are games of repetitive consistency, and frankly, that doesn’t make everyone’s day. For those looking for more of a challenge, sporting clays and the more extreme FITASC discipline offer up a wide range of targets, target presentations and difficulty levels.

Sports for Many Guns

For those who cannot decide on just one or truly love shooting multiple types of guns, competitions such as 3-Gun, cowboy action and steel challenge incorporate different types of firearms into their matches. All of these competitions are based on speed and involve movement to engage multiple targets. As you might imagine, when more than one gun is involved, there’s also more gear, and some, such as the cowboy-action competitions run by SASS (Single-Action Shooting Society) even involve costumes. So be prepared. If you want to shoot these more involved sports, they’ll require more of your time and your discretionary income.

You Can Watch—But It’s Better to Jump Right In

Before jumping into any new discipline, contact an area range hosting the type of matches you’re interested in and talk to the match directors about observing a competition. Just know that most times, instead of watching, you’ll likely be invited to borrow some equipment and jump right in! Most competitors are people more than willing to help prospective new members of their sport, ensuring a positive first experience without you having to bear the heavy costs up front of getting involved. Take advantage of these offers. Not only are they genuine, they give you a leg up on success no book, no blog and no YouTube video could ever provide. 

As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

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