There’s one word so taboo, so beyond the pale, that you’ll rarely find it in news stories about women and guns.
That word is FUN.
It’s time to admit the awful truth: shooting is fun. Whether it’s just a day spent at the range in informal plinking, or intensely focused competition at the Olympic level, firearms provide untold hours of amusement for millions of people every year.
One of the coolest things about the shooting sports is that, in most firearms games, women are able to compete on an equal footing with men. Nor is age a barrier in many firearms competitions. In fact, the record for both the oldest and the youngest Olympic competitors belongs to people who competed in shooting sports.
The Shooting Sports
There are a lot of different competitions and other games which involve firearms. These are referred to collectively as “the shooting sports.” Although many of the links in the text below will take you to the sponsoring national organizations for official competitions (where I could find them), you should be aware that most local ranges offer many, many informal matches and shooting events. These unofficial matches are often far more flexible to a beginner’s needs, and can be a good way to wet your toes before diving into the more structured officialdom that the national organizations require.
Some shooting games include lots of activity on the part of the shooter: running, crouching, kneeling, even skiing from stage to stage. Others are more sedentary. Many require acute levels of concentration. Some games are very particular about the equipment used, and place a premium on wise gear choices and skill at choosing or creating ammunition. Some are all about the total package: outfit, gear, shooting skill. Many provide lots of competitive categories so shooters can choose the level of competition which best matches their own experience level.
No matter what the name of the game may be, you’ll find people who are prepared to swear it is the best game ever!
The following list is by no means all-inclusive, and really isn’t in any particular order. It’s just a quick overview. If you like to play a game that isn’t on the list below, and would like to tell the world about it, please drop me a note.
ACTS (American Confederation of Tactical Shooters) — a fairly new discipline, ACTS’ goal is to provide a sport in which civilian rifle owners along with military and law enforcement professionals can practice ‘real world’ shooting skills in a sporting venue that has not been offered by any other shooting discipline or association; to promote the safe practical, proficient use of rifles; to foster sportsmanship and camaraderie among rifle owners; and to support and defend the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Biathlon — a race with a difference. Participants shoot highly accurate straight-pull .22LR rifles at small 50-yard targets, making the game similar to most precision target games. The difference is that players must ski cross-country from one shooting station to the next, adding in a high degree of difficulty as they must be able to calm their breathing and slow their heartbeats on demand. Not for the unfit, biathlon is an Olympic sport.
- Variant: Summer Biathlon combines cross-country running with rifle shooting.
Cowboy Action / SASS — now this one’s really cool. Participants get to dress up fancy in old-time western wear, choose amusingly rustic character names, and shoot historic firearms (and replicas) at reactive targets. The stages often involve some activity, such as climbing atop a barrel designed to simulate a cowboy pony, or swaggering through the doors of a saloon to confront bad guys who look suspiciously like steel plates. Some scenarios are designed to mimic true historic events or even movie scenes. The firearms are single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, and double-barreled shotguns. The costumes are often hand-crafted by the players.
- Variant: Cowboy Mounted Shooting has participants shooting blank (no bullets) .45-caliber black-powder guns at balloons, while riding real horses. A hoot to watch, it’s really more of a horse game than a gun game. But still cool.
GSSF — the Glock Shooting Sports Federation sponsors matches around the country which are open to anyone who owns a Glock. GSSF matches are somewhat similar to very simple action pistol stages, but GSSF does not require participants to draw from a holster or do any shooting while moving. While everyone competes together, there are separate prize categories for seniors, youngsters, females, law enforcement, teams, and probably others I’ve forgotten. A special effort is made to be sure that those at the beginning end of the spectrum have a chance to win some good prizes too. For these reasons, GSSF matches are an excellent choice for beginning shooters who would like to get a little taste of what handgun competition is all about.
ICORE ? International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts. Autoloaders need not apply! Similar in some respects to IPSC, IDPA, and Bianchi Cup, ICORE games are the game for the dedicated revolver shooter.
IDPA — an action pistol sport similar to IPSC, but which retains more of its martial heritage than IPSC does, with a focus on defensive tactics and situations. Pistols are limited to being in or near stock configuration. IDPA is probably more accessible for the beginning or average shooter than IPSC.
IPSC (USPSA) — an action pistol sport in which the competitor must try to blend accuracy, power, and speed. Most shooting takes place at close range, and stages may involve multiple targets, moving targets, targets that react when hit, penalty carrying targets, partially covered targets, obstacles, movement, competitive tactics, and any other difficulty the course designer can dream up. Some matches even contain surprise stages where no one knows in advance what to expect.
Modern Pentathlon ? Also an Olympic sport, Modern Pentathlon requires competitors to master running, swimming, horseback riding, epee fencing, and 10 meter air pistol.
PPC (Police Pistol Combat) — more common years ago before IPSC and IDPA really got going, PPC is an old law-enforcement game but informal matches are generally open to the public as well. Participants typically shoot handguns (traditionally revolvers) at human-shaped silhouette targets at distances which range from 4 yards out to 25 yards or more. There are strict time limits. Not a lot of shooter movement is involved, which makes PPC a good choice for people who want to practice self-defense type shooting without having to work around the run-n-gun style stages common to other action pistol games. Because of PPC’s origins, all stages are revolver-friendly.
Sportsman’s Team Challenge — get a group of buddies together, practice a bit, and sign up for a team competition. This one uses two or three team members and has six different events for pistol, rifle, and shotgun. The targets are falling steel for the pistol and rifle stages, and moving clays for shotgun.
- Many other games also provide for cooperative team efforts. In many competitions, all you need to do is declare that you and your friend(s) are a “team” and enter the team category as well as your own individual category. If in doubt, ask one of the match coordinators if teams are allowed.
Three gun / Multigun — a sport which is as fast-moving and requires as much strategic planning as the action pistol games. The only real difference is that the competitors use more guns. Participants bring rifles, pistols, and shotguns to the range and compete with all three, including transitioning between the three as often as needed. There is no official parent organization for most three gun matches, although the USPSA has begun to sponsor many three gun competitions and offers a national three gun championship every year.
10 Meter Air Pistol — Participants have a set amount of time to fire 60 (men) or 45 (women) shots offhand with a single-shot air pistol. An Olympic sport somewhat similar to NRA Bullseye competitions.
10 Meter Air Rifle ? Similar to air pistol, competitors fire at targets that are much smaller than those used for air pistol. This is also an Olympic event.
10 Meter Running Target ? An event with much history and popularity in Europe, running target involves shooting an air rifle at a horizontally moving target that is only visible for a short period of time.
25 Meter Centerfire Pistol? The rules are exactly the same as for 25 Meter Women’s Pistol, except that the shooter must use a pistol chambered for a round with a caliber ranging from .30-.38. Most competitors use pistols that are chambered for .32 S&W Long. Many of the .22 LR target pistols on the market also have optional conversion kits for shooting centerfire.
25 Meter Rapid Fire Pistol ? From a static standing position, a competitor must raise the pistol and fire five shots on five separate targets under time constraints of eight, six, and four seconds. Pistols are chambered in .22 LR and fired from the offhand position. Also an Olympic sport.
25 Meter Standard Pistol? Extremely similar to the .22 LR course of fire shot in NRA Bullseye. The shooter fires a total of four strings consisting of five shots each in a trio of events. Slow Fire allows 2-1/2 minutes for each five shot string. Timed Fire allows 20 seconds for each string, and Rapid Fire allows 10 seconds for each string. Unlike NRA Bullseye, scopes are not allowed.
25 Meter Women’s Pistol? An Olympic sport only open to women, 30 shots are fired in a precision slow-fire segment, and 30 shots are fired in a duel (pronounced dew-el) section. The duel course of fire involves five-shot strings shot on a turning target. When the target turns to face the competitor, she has three seconds to raise the pistol and fire a single shot. The target then faces away for seven seconds before offering the shooter another three seconds. While this is only a women’s sport in the Olympics, many club-level competitions allow both male and females to enter.
.50 BMG Rifle Competition? For the owners of the biggest thundersticks available. Shot at distances of 1,000 yards with scoped rifles.
50 Meter Free Pistol? Nothing but pure accuracy. A single-shot, iron-sighted .22 LR pistol, 50 meters, and a target about the size of those used in 10 Meter Air Pistol. Competitors have a set amount of time to complete a course of fire. The pistols are free only insofar as there are very few rules governing their configuration.
50 Meter 3 Position Rifle? The shooter fires 40 shots of record in each of three positions: prone, standing, and kneeling. An excellent sport for learning rifle shooting. Also a men’s sport in the Olympics. .22 LR guns are used.
50 Meter Prone Rifle? In the prone position, the competitor fires 60 shots with a .22 rifle. This is an Olympic event.
Benchrest — this one involves funky-looking rifles designed to be shot from a rest rather than from field positions. The competition places a premium on good equipment, and the firearms are often heavily modified by participants. Participants usually create their own handloaded ammunition which is custom-matched to the firearms they use.
Bullseye Pistol — another really challenging target sport. If you want to learn precision pistol shooting, this is your game. The competitor fires six strings of five shots in a trio of events:
- Slow Fire- each string allows a maximum time limit of five minutes for five shots at 50 yards (for an outdoor match) or 25 yards for an indoor match.
- Timed Fire ? each string has a maximum time limit for five shots at 25 yards.
- Rapid Fire ? each five-shot string has a time limit of ten seconds fired at 25 yards.
Bullseye matches require participants to shoot the same courses of fire three times over: once with a .22 caliber pistol, once with anything larger than a .32 caliber pistol, and once with a .45-caliber pistol. Many shooters opt to use their .45 for both centerfire events, however.
F-Class Long-Distance Rifle Shooting? Generally shot at distances of 1,000 yards, F-Class has been called “Belly Benchrest.” Competitors shoot scoped bolt-action rifles in the prone position. There are generally two recognized classifications: F-Class Open, which has few restrictions on caliber and configuration, and F-Class Target Rifle which is limited to rifles chambered in .223 and .308.
High Power — A rifle sport which requires competitors to shoot centerfire rifles accurately over distances of 200, 300 and 600 yards. Positions include standing, sitting, and prone. The rifles are generally broken down into the categories of Service Rifle and National Match Rifle. Service rifles must conform to certain specifications and must be in an external configuration very similar to those issued in the military. The AR15, M1A, M1 Garand and Springfield rifles are all popular choices for this kind of shooting. National Match rifles do not have nearly as many rules to abide by, and are available in a number of interesting configurations. Scopes are not allowed. The rules are deceptively simple; attaining a competitive score is not.
Progressive Position Air Pistol? A sport developed specifically for kids. It allows children who may not yet possess the dexterity or strength to fire an unsupported air pistol with a single hand to learn the basics of marksmanship and competition by progressing through a number of shooting positions, starting with a benched two-handed position. As skill and strength develop, the shooter is moved towards developing into using the traditional offhand stance. An excellent way to introduce a young one to competitive shooting.
Smallbore Rifle — using .22-caliber rifles, the game is to shoot quarter-sized targets at 25 yards distance, from four basic rifle positions (prone, sitting, kneeling, and off-hand/standing). Accuracy demands are very stringent, and competition targets usually feature 10 separate bullseyes on each target so that scorers have an easier time determining where each shot fell.
- There are lots of variations on this basic accuracy game, with different rules and courses of fire.
- This is still a common sport at the high school level in many rural areas, and some colleges offer scholarships to the best players.
- The NRA Junior Marksmanship program moves youngsters through various levels of smallbore rifle competition.
Skeet — a formalized shotgun contest. Shooters fire a total of 25 rounds from 8 different locations arranged around a semi-circle (well, okay — technically there are 7 positions around the semi-circle, and an 8th one which is halfway across the semi-circle between stations 1 & 7). Each location is called a “stand” or a “station.” Formal competitions usually divide shooters based upon the shotgun gauge being used.
- The targets are called “clays,” “clay pigeons,” or “birds.” They are clay discs, somewhat frisbee-shaped but only a hand’s width across.
- When two birds are flown at once, they are called a double. Each round involves a certain number of doubles, and some variations of this game involve only doubles.
- One type of skeet game is called Olympic Skeet, because it is an Olympic sport. But there are lots of skeet competitions at the local, regional, and national level which are not in any way connected to the Olympic event.
Sporting Clays — often described as “golf with a shotgun,” sporting clays is probably a more challenging game than skeet although it is very similar to that game in a lot of ways. The clays are launched at different velocities from more locations than in skeet, and the course of fire was designed to mimic bird hunting as closely as possible. Participants typically fire from 14 different stations, with varying numbers of birds being thrown for each station. The total number of shots fired by each competitor usually equals 50 or 100 depending upon the exact game variant being played. The shotguns used can be semi-automatics, pumps, over/unders, or side-by-sides, but if you use a semi-automatic your gun should be equipped with a shell catcher.
Trap — another game which uses clay pigeons. In some versions of this game, the end of the trap (out of which the birds fly) may be set to move back and forth, so that it is impossible to know at what angle the birds will be ejected. Other versions require the trap be fixed in place so that the birds appear to be flying straight away from the shooter on some stations. The shotguns used can be semi-automatics, pumps, over/unders, or side-by-sides, but if you use a semi-automatic your gun should be equipped with a shell catcher. Firing distances vary according to the exact version being played, but the usual distances are from 16 to 27 yards. There are five shooting stations. Shooters usually fire once at each of 25 targets in each round of competition.
- There are many different regional and national variations of the basic game.
- Some well-known versions include Single Trap, American Trap, Double Trap, Nordic Trap, and Olympic Trap. Wobble Trap is another version which is even more challenging than most other forms of the game.
Interesting Target Games
Bowling Pin — the game is to knock bowling pins off a table. Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised how difficult it can be. There are a lot of variations on this game, which can be played with nearly any type of firearm. The fun usually starts when a pin goes over but not off the table — lots of hilarity for the watchers and plenty of frustration for the competitors.
Silhouette — the game is to shoot metal plates. The gimmick is that the plates are shaped like various animals: a chicken, a ram, a turkey, a pig. The plates are shot from extreme distances. There are lots of variations on the basic game.
- Handgun Silhouette matches are sponsored by the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA), by the NRA, and by many local clubs.
- Smallbore Silhouette matches use .22 caliber rifles. They are sponsored by local clubs and by the NRA. In smallbore silhouette, the metal targets are positioned at 40, 60, 77, and 100 meters. Due to the irregular target shapes, this competition is a lot more difficult than it appears at first glance.
- Highpower Silhouette matches use centerfire rifles and are sponsored by local clubs and by the NRA.
Steel — most of them look somewhat like dinner plates, but they’re made out of metal and you knock them over. Sometimes called “falling steel” because when you hit them, they fall down (d’oh!)
- Steel comes in many shapes other than the familiar round one: stars, triangles, and squares are also common, as well as vaguely humanoid silhouettes.
- Steel matches are available in pistol, shotgun, and rifle variants.
- Some steel matches include swinging or rotating targets.
Other Games and Sports
Black Powder — this one’s a natural for antique buffs, but there are plenty of modern black powder firearms too.
- Black powder divisions and game variants are available within many of the shooting sports.
Hunting — it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s a lot of joy to be found by spending days in the woods, getting in tune with the natural world and learning its rhythms well enough to play the same game every animal plays.
Paralympic Shooting Sports? The Paralympics are open to athletes with physical disabilities. Many of the Paralympic shooting events are similar to those shot in the Olympic games, but with the rules and classifications designed to accommodate the needs of these competitors.
Plinking — it’s not a competition, but it sure can be fun to just settle in for a pleasant summer afternoon on the range enjoying the sunshine, visiting with a friend while sending rounds downrange. For ultimate plinking satisfaction, pick up some reactive targets and watch the grins begin.