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  • Competition Shooting 101 - Rifle Sports

    4 min read

    There are many different kinds of rifle sports, including Smallbore, 3-Gun, High Power, Silhouette, and Precision Rifle. With so many choices, it is easy to find a rifle match that fits your passion.

    If you'd like to start competing with your rifle, but you're not sure where to start, take a look at this guide to some of the most popular types of rifle sports.

    Smallbore Rifle Matches

    Smallbore rifle competitions have a long history in the United States.  They were first established in the early 1900s when Savage Arms and Winchester developed specialized .22 caliber rifles for shooting competition.  Many people trying to enter the world of smallbore rifle competition believe they have to purchase an expensive, specialized rifle, but in reality, most small bore competitions have a place for any kind of smallbore or .22 rifle.  In fact, it is best to start small and work your way up to more expensive equipment if this type of competition appeals to you.

    To shoot a smallbore match, you'll need a rifle with quality sights and ammunition, a shooting mat for shooting prone, a spotting scope, a shooting coat, and gloves. 

    smallbore rifle target 100 yardsThe distances for most matches are shot at 50 feet, 50 yards or 100 yards.  The round count can vary as well.  A simple match might consist of shooting only 30 rounds total, 10 rounds standing, 10 rounds kneeling and 10 rounds prone, but some matches can have rounds counts of over 1000. Most matches utilize the National Rifle Association Small Bore Rifle Rules book to administer their matches.  This book is a great tool to help beginners get started in the world of smallbore rifle competition.

    High Power Rifle Matches

    There are two basic types of high power rifle matches, the prone only match and the multi-position, multi-distance, known as “Across-the-Course” competition.  These matches are arguably the most popular of the rifle only competitions.  Just as with the smallbore rifle matches, many believe that investing a lot of money into equipment is necessary to compete, but that isn’t true.  Beginners can start off with the basics and work their way up to more expensive equipment only if they desire.  Many local clubs are so excited to welcome new shooters that they have equipment available to loan for a match. 

    According to rules and guidelines created by the National Rifle Association, Across the Course high power rifle match courses of fire build on four basic building blocks:

    1. Slow Fire, standing - 10 rounds at 200 yards in 10 minutes. 
      2. Rapid Fire, sitting or kneeling - 10 rounds at 200 yards in 60 seconds. 
      3. Rapid Fire, 10 rounds prone - 300 yards in 70 seconds. 
      4. Slow Fire, 10 rounds prone - 500 or 600 yards in 10 minutes.

    Silhouette Rifle Matches

    Silhouette rifle matches, first recognized by the National Rifle Association as an official shooting discipline in 1973, might feel like arcade shooting.  Participants shoot at steel silhouettes rather than paper targets.   These matches are pretty consistent in that shooters have a total of forty targets to shoot in a particular order.  The animal silhouettes in order are 10 chickens, 10 pigs, 10 turkeys, and 10 rams.  The steel silhouette target must fall in order to count and each fallen target earns 1 point.  Shooters are not limited to either small bore or high power, but there are multiple shooting disciplines within the sport.  While all shooters must take aim at the same targets, the size and shooting distance vary based on the type of firearm the shooter uses. 

    Practical Rifle Matches

    Long Range Precision Rifle is one of the newest rifle sports and it's quickly becoming popular.  With precision rifle competitions, you'll shoot a wide range of mainly steel targets at different distances - sometimes past 1,000 yards.  To compete in this sport, you'll need a rifle that can shoot accurately out to at least 1,000 yards.  While you can shoot precision rifle matches with an AR-15, most competitors use bolt guns that are chambered in .308, 6mm or 6.5 Creedmore, or 6XC.  If you're interested in shooting this type of sport and want to test it out, look for .22 long-range precision matches, where the style of shooting is similar, but only rifles chambered in .22 are allowed to compete.

    2-Gun and 3-Gun matches include the use two or three different guns - a pistol, rifle, and shotgun for 3-Gun and a rifle and pistol for 2-Gun.  These types of matches involve shooting courses of fire (also known as stages) where you will engage paper and steel targets.  To shoot this type of match, you'll need an AR-15 chambered in .223/5.56.  While you can start out with basic equipment (you, your guns, your ammo, and your gear belt), it's a good idea to have a chamber flag for your rifle (and shotgun) as many competitions require it.


    These are just some examples of the types of rifle competitions that welcome both beginners and juniors.  A local range match is a great place for beginners to get started without breaking the bank to see if a rifle only match is something they would enjoy.  As with most firearms competitions, the hardest step is the one shooters take to get started.  But all types of matches provide a great way to have fun while practicing shooting fundamentals.  So just get out there and shoot!

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