Modern shooting sports evolved from the use of arms for hunting and combat. Today, sport hunters lead conservation efforts and fuel a huge industry in shooting gear. A wide variety of competitions with rifles, shotguns, and pistols entertain shooters year-round. Some of the most skilled compete at the Olympic Games.
Shooting sports arose from the use of weapons and hunting implements. Long before gunpowder, hunters defended themselves and killed game from a distance. Rocks and spears gave way to boomerangs, arrows, darts, and bolts. “Chinese snow” appeared in fireworks a couple of centuries before English friar Roger Bacon described gunpowder in 1249. In 1327, England’s Edward II used guns to invade Scotland, but their performance didn’t match their novelty.
The first guns were heavy tubes that required two attendants. One held the tube while his partner lit a priming charge with a burning stick or rope. The first lock was a lever by which a smoldering wick was lowered to the touch-hole in the barrel. Such guns were called matchlocks. Sixteenth-century German gun designers replaced the wick with a spring-loaded jaw that held pyrite (flint) against a serrated bar. Pulling the bar across the pyrite showered sparks into a pan that held a trail of fine gunpowder leading to the touch-hole. Around 1515 in Nuremberg the bar was replaced by a spring-loaded sprocket wound with a spanner wrench. Pulling the trigger released the wheel to spin against a fixed shard of pyrite held against the wheel’s teeth. The subsequent flintlock featured a cock or hammer with a clamped flint that struck a steel plate above the pan. In 1806 Scotch clergyman Alexander John Forsythe became the first on record to ignite a spark inside the chamber of a gun. He used an explosive fulminate to generate sparks. In 1814, sea captain Joshua Shaw of Philadelphia upstaged a host of experimenters to produce a viable percussion cap.
Columbus reached the Americas while armed with a triggerless matchlock. Pilgrims carried long 75-caliber smoothbore flintlocks, although the superior accuracy of rifled bores had been proven as early as 1498 in Germany. Americans did come to favor the jaeger (hunter) rifle with a 61- to 76-centimeter barrel of 65 to 70 caliber. To conserve lead, frontier gunsmiths made jaegers with small bores. To shave weight, they trimmed the stock. The svelte “Kentucky rifle,” derived mostly from Pennsylvania-based German gunmakers, resulted. Undersize balls in greased patches speeded loading.
As the frontier edged west, the needs of hunters changed. Grizzly bears, bison, and elk were hard to kill with Kentucky rifles, whose barrels were also awkward in the saddle. Brothers Sam and Jake Hawken of St. Louis developed a shorter rifle with a half-stock and heavy 50-caliber soft-iron barrel with a slow rifling twist. Mid-nineteenth-century mountain men coveted their Hawkens.
In 1848, New York inventor Walter Hunt developed a repeating rifle with the charge in the base of his “rocket ball” bullets. Financier George Arrowsmith and mechanic Lewis Jennings made the rifle more reliable. In 1849 Arrowsmith sold this “Volitional” repeater for $100,000 to railroad magnate Courtland Palmer. With Palmer’s backing, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson developed a metallic cartridge for it. In 1855 a group of forty New York and New Haven investors bought out Smith, Wesson, and Palmer to form the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. Their first director, shirt salesman Oliver F. Winchester, hired B. Tyler Henry to reengineer both rifle and ammo. In 1860 Henry came up with a fifteen-shot repeater that would later impress Confederates as the “damned Yankee rifle you loaded on Sunday and fired all week.”
But the Henry lacked the punch needed by buffalo hunters, who favored Remington Rolling Block and Sharps 1874 dropping-block single-shots chambered for cigar-size cartridges. When the Sharps Rifle Company folded in 1880, the sustenance and market hunting was over. Human scavengers would glean more than three million tons of bison bones from the plains. The days of buffalo hunting were short and shameful.
By that time Winchester had discovered John Moses Browning, a frontier gun genius working from a crude shop in Ogden, Utah. Between 1883 and 1900, Browning would deliver forty-four designs to Winchester’s New Haven plant. The Model 1886 lever-action brought Browning $50,000 in 1885. The first successful gas-operated guns came from Browning, whose machine gun cycled 1,800 rounds in Colt’s test lab without malfunction. It weighed half as much as a Gatling. A fearsome succession of weapons followed. Hermann Goering would remark that if Germany had had Browning .50s, it might have defeated Britain’s RAF.
By 1900 three of every four guns used by American sportsmen were Winchesters of Browning design. Only Peter Paul Mauser, who developed the bolt-action rifle in Germany during the 1880s, has had such lasting impact on the design of modern sporting guns. His rifles would allow twentieth-century designers like Roy Weatherby to extend the reach of hunters, target shooters, and tactical marksmen.
The period between 1820 and 1900 was the most active in the history of firearms design. From flintlock to caplock, muzzle-loader to breech-loader, single-shot to repeater, firearms became more effective and reliable. They also determined the games that would entertain sportsmen and women.
While hunters established the rifle market on the western frontier, target shooting became popular in the East. German- and Swiss-style Schuetzenfests included beer, sauerbraten, and beautiful single-shot rifles. The first recorded Schuetzenfest occurred in New York the year after the Civil War ended. Most shooting was done at 183 meters, offhand. The rifles weighed from 5.5 to 7.3 kilograms, with 32- to 45-caliber bores and sophisticated aperture sights. Shortly after 1900, scopes were permitted in some events.
By that time, riflemen were competing in long-range matches shot prone with rifles resembling those used by buffalo hunters. In fact, Lewis L. Hepburn modified the Rolling Block as he began work for Remington on a rifle that would help beat the Irish sharpshooters who had won at Wimbledon in 1873. The Irish had subsequently challenged “any American team” to another contest. The team would comprise six men who would fire three rounds of fifteen shots, one round each at 732, 823, and 914 meters, onto targets 3.7 meters high and 1.8 meters wide, with 91-centimeter-square bull’s-eyes. The Sharps and Remington companies soon came up with prize funds and promised rifles for the event. An Amateur Rifle Club was formed to conduct tryouts. A fledgling National Rifle Association and the cities of New York and Brooklyn put up $5,000 each to build a rifle range on Long Island’s Creed’s Farm. Deeded to the NRA for $26,250 in 1872, it would be called Creedmoor.
Remington’s new target rifle, a .44-90 shooting 550-grain conical bullets, came off the line in March 1874. On September 26, a favored Irish team shooting muzzle-loaders bowed to the Americans and their new Remington and Sharps breech-loaders. The score was 934 to 93l. Matches held in 1875 and 1876 were won more decisively by the U.S. team. Remington Creedmoor rifles posted the highest scores.
Experiments to test and improve the inherent accuracy of rifles led, in mid-nineteenth century, to a sport that has since grown. Benchrest shooting started as a noncompetitive diversion for hobbyists in the northeastern United States. After the 1930s, when benchrest competition blossomed, participants took the science of rifle accuracy more seriously. Women participated too. Sharpshooter Mary Louise DeVito fired ten shots into a group of less than 20 centimeters at 914 meters, a world record during the Vietnam era. Shooters and rifles kept improving. In August 2003, Kyle Brown put ten shots into a 10.7-centimeter group at 914 meters.
Laurels in benchrest shooting go to competitors with the most accurate rifles and ammunition, and to those who can best read wind and mirage. In the past, however, accolades went to the most flamboyant shooters, many of whom were employed by traveling shows and gun and ammunition firms for exhibitions during the late nineteeth and early twentieth centuries. Annie Oakley was one of these talents.
Phoebe Ann Moses was born in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio, in 1860. She shot her first game, a squirrel, at age eight. Subsistence hunting refined her skills with a rifle. At a local rifle match, she beat visiting sharpshooter Frank Butler. She was only fifteen! A year later they married, and Annie joined his traveling show under the name of Annie Oakley. Later, she joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Sweet-tempered and petite, Annie became an instant star. The German crown prince, later Kaiser Wilhelm II, once asked her to shoot a cigarette from his lips. She obliged, remarking after World War I that a miss might have changed history. Her sharpshooting demonstrations included an exhibition in 1884 when she used a .22 rifle to shatter 943 glass balls out of 1,000 tossed.
If Annie had an equal, it was Ad Topperwein, born in 1869 near New Braunfels, Texas. With a .22 Winchester 1890 pump rifle, young Ad began shooting aerial targets and wound up shooting for a circus. In 1894, he used a rifle to break 955 of 1,000 clay 5.7-centimeter disks tossed in the air. Dissatisfied with the score, he repeated twice, shattering 987 and 989. Standard clay shotgun targets proved too easy; he broke 1,500 straight, the first 1,000 from 9.1 meters, the last 500 from 12.2 meters. Ad was also a showman. Holding a Model 63 with the ejection port up, he’d fire a cartridge, then shoot the ejected case in the air. He could riddle five tossed cans before any hit the ground. He drew Indian-head caricatures in tin with up to 450 bullets fired at a shot a second. After shooting at a washer tossed aloft, he’d tell onlookers the bullet went through the middle. Challenged by the audience, Ad would stick a postage stamp over the hole, toss the washer again and perforate the stamp. Topperwein began working for Winchester, where he met, wed, and teamed with Elizabeth Servaty. To audiences, she became “Plinky,” a fine shot in her own right. In 1916 she blasted 1,952 of 2,000 clay targets with a Model 12 shotgun.
Topperwein’s exploits drew exciting competition, culminating with the remarkable performance by Remington salesman Tom Frye when he shot 100,004 out of 100,010 5.7 x 5.7-centimeter airborne blocks with Nylon 66 autoloaders. Frye missed two of his first 43,725 targets.
Other exhibition shooters entertained American audiences during the first half of the twentieth century, but such events dwindled after World War II. Herb Parsons, the last gun wizard to shoot for Winchester, recorded his stunts on film during the 1950s. Tom Knapp, who now shoots for Benelli, upstaged Parsons’s feat of hand-tossing seven clay targets at once and breaking them all with seven shots from a Winchester pump. Knapp emphasizes that the autoloading Benelli he used to hit nine clays might have helped Parsons too.
What Is Competitive Shooting?
There are three main categories of target shooting: (1) rifle and (2) pistol shooting, and (3) shotgunning.
Rifle and Pistol Shooting
The most common rifle competition now practiced in the United States is conducted by clubs affiliated with the National Rifle Association, which has published rulebooks governing all of its sanctioned shooting events. The “black bull’s-eye” matches developed for riflemen accommodate a range of shooters and equipment. A BB gun match limits competitors to smoothbore air- or gas-powered guns firing .177 steel balls. Iron sights only are permitted. Firing distance: 5 meters. A three-position match comprises ten shots each in prone, kneeling, and offhand; four-position matches add ten shots in a sitting position. Precision air rifle competitions are three-position events using iron sights at 10 meters with air- or gas-powered rifles. Sporter air rifle events mandate lighter-weight rifles. They can include four-position matches and optical sights.
Several courses of fire exist for .22 rimfires, including three- and four-position matches, prone matches, and team events. Some are fired at 15 meters on indoor ranges, others outdoors at longer yardage. Some specify iron sights; others allow scopes. A two-day prone match comprises 160 record shots each day at 46 meters, 50 meters, and 92 meters. The first day is shot with iron sights, the second with a scope.
High-power (centerfire) rifle matches require longer ranges. The National Match Course includes 183-meter offhand and rapid-fire sitting stages, plus prone stages at 274 and 549 meters, all with iron sights. Service rifle and open categories level the playing field and encourage practice with military rifles. International rules for rifles, targets, and courses of fire are generally more stringent than NRA rules. One Olympic event is free rifle, consisting of 40 shots prone, 40 offhand, and 40 kneeling at 300 meters with an iron-sighted centerfire target rifle. All bull’s-eye rifle competition (NRA and international) is by the clock, though the deadline for each shot comes much more quickly in timed and rapid-fire events. At 105 minutes, the standing stage of free rifle gives marksmen more than 2 1/2 minutes for each record round.
Bull’s-eye shooting has little to offer spectators. But metallic silhouette matches entertain. In 1967 Roy Dunlap and fellow shooters at Nogales, Arizona, imported this sport from Mexico. Original course of fire: 10 shots each at steel gallinas (chickens) at 200 meters, guajalotes (turkeys), at 385 and borregos (sheep) at 500. Dunlap added a bank of javelinas (pigs), to be shot at 300 meters. On April 12, 1969, the first American metallic silhouette match unfolded at the Tucson rifle range. An entry fee of 30 pesos, or $2.40, included all the pit-barbecued beef you could eat. Matches that followed were for centerfire rifles only, with an increased maximum weight of 4.6 kilograms to accommodate scope sights. Still, all shots had to be taken offhand (standing), without a sling or artificial support.
The [National Rifle Association][ http://www.nra.org/default.aspx] has developed metallic silhouette courses for black-powder cartridge rifle, long-range pistol, short-range pistol, small-bore (rimfire) rifle, even air rifle and air pistol. Target sizes and distances vary. In centerfire and rimfire rifle matches, competitors fire 40, 60, 80, or 120 shots in five-round strings, with no sighting shots.
Approximately 17,230,000 shooters fire at paper targets each year in the United States, including 10,966,000 handgunners. Traditional bull’s-eye pistol matches call for one-handed shooting, typically with autoloading guns that can be reloaded easily for ten-shot strings. The National Match Course includes a ten-shot, slow-fire string at 46 meters, plus five-shot timed-fire (20-second) and five-shot rapid-fire (10-second) strings, both at 23 meters. There are gallery events for indoor shooting, and matches for certain types of handguns (rimfire or centerfire, pistol or revolver). Most but not all matches specify iron sights. International rules apply to additional courses: rapid fire, center fire, sport pistol match, standard pistol, air pistol, and free pistol. The latter, like the free rifle event, showcases superaccurate equipment fired very deliberately. The distance in this case is 50 meters.
A practical extension of bull’s-eye shooting is police combat shooting. The target is black-on-white, as in bull’s-eye shooting, but it is shaped like a human torso. Prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing positions are all included in police combat. Shooters hold guns with both hands, as they would in a real emergency. In some matches, shooters use small “backup” guns. In others, caliber designations apply.
A notch up in excitement from police combat is action pistol, another series of contests emphasizing speed and precision in real-world shooting scenarios. The Los Alamitos Pistol Match includes five stages, for a total of forty-two shots at 6, 9, and 23 meters. The same distances apply to moving target, twenty-four shots. During barricade events, shooters fire from behind simulated wall corners at 9, 14, 23, and 32 meters, six shots each in five, six, seven, and eight seconds. Shooters feel the same urgency in the falling plate event, as they fire at 20-centimeter round metal disks. In some courses, competitors must use their weak hand; in others, timing starts with a holstered gun. Action pistol events have spawned a cottage industry in “race guns” tuned and modified for superior speed and accuracy. The events are telegenic and carry substantial purses. Competitors earn national recognition and endorsement packages in high-profile championships like the Bianchi Cup.
Cowboy action shooting was developed in 1979 by Harper Criegh, Bill Hahn, and Gordon Davis, who formed the [Single Action Shooting Society,][ http://www.sassnet.com/] the sport's organizing body. Matches feature various competitions using handguns, rifles and shotguns most typical of the American West from 1860 to 1900. The emphasis is on speed and accuracy. Shooting scenarios have a Wild West theme, born from actual incidents, movie scenes, or match designers' imaginations. Participants enjoy dressing up in clothing of the Old West era, and each must have a pseudonym or "handle," adding a historical and theatrical flavor to the sport.
Hitting targets in the air with a cloud of pellets from a smoothbore gun was recorded as early as 1793 in England’s Sporting Magazine. Live pigeons were placed in shallow cavities in the ground and “trapped” there with old hats. At the gunner’s signal, a jerk on the line attached to a hat released the pigeon.
The first formal trap shoot in the United States occurred in Cincinnati in 1831. The passenger pigeon, a wild bird but then plentiful and easy to catch, was the target of choice. By 1850, live pigeon shooting had drawn lots of interest—but also complaints from people who objected to wholesale killing. Also, wild pigeons had become scarce. States began outlawing the sport. Then, in 1866, Charles Portlock of Boston improved on a sling device or trap used in England to throw glass balls. The balls flew and broke inconsistently; nonetheless, the sport grew. Captain Adam Borgardus, market hunter and exhibition shooter, devised a better trap. George Ligowsky of Cincinnati developed a clay disk that flew flatter and faster. In 1880 he demonstrated the target at a live bird shoot on Coney Island. A year later his improved trap gave the disks even more appeal. An Englishman named McCaskey soon made them easier to break by substituting river silt and pitch for the ground clay and water used by Ligowsky. Limestone later replaced the silt. “Clay pigeons” or “clay birds,” as they’re known today, are still made of limestone and pitch.
Initially, trap shooters using the new disks participated in teams of six, one man behind each of five trap houses and an “extra” that rotated out after position number five. In 1885, W. G. Sargent of Joplin, Missouri, changed the game to incorporate three traps. Two years later, five shooters were shooting from five stations behind one trap. So the game remains.
In American or ATA ([Amateur Trapshooting Association] http://www1.shootata.com/atahome.cfm]) Trap, the clay bird leaves the trap at about 65 kilometers per hour, its direction determined by the trap arm, which pivots in a 44-degree arc. The target typically sails 46 meters if not hit; most hits occur at around 32. Regulations call for the shooting pad or line to be 15 meters behind the trap. In handicap events, the starting distance is 25 meters. A round of ATA Trap consists of twenty-five shots, five from each of five stations. Birds visibly broken, even of only chipped, count as hits. Experts commonly break twenty-five.
Doubles trap challenges shooters by lofting two birds at once. However, unlike singles trap, the doubles routine puts targets on known paths. International double trap is different still: an Olympic sport that incorporates three traps with birds traveling 16 kilometers per hour faster than in ATA events. International trap for single targets, an Olympic event since 1900, places competitors 16 meters behind a row of fifteen traps in a bunker. Extreme angles and speeds of up to 177 kilometers per hour make these targets devilishly difficult.
Skeet, a game not invented until about 1920, uses the same disks, about 10 centimeters in diameter. They streak from two traps, one in a “high house,” one in a “low house,” at either end of an arc-shaped firing line comprising seven stations. A final station, number eight, lies between the houses. Targets emerge on fixed flight paths, but jet across the line of fire instead of away from it. Various angles are provided by the array of firing points. On four stations, shooters must also take doubles. As in trap, a round of skeet is twenty-five shots.
Charles Davies of Andover, Massachusetts, apparently came up with the first skeet field because trap shooting wasn’t giving him practice for the steep angles he encountered when hunting birds. A young friend of Davies, Bill Foster, published an article on the novel game in the February 1926 issues of both National Sportsman and Hunting and Fishing magazines. He asked that readers name the event, offering a $100 prize to the winning suggestion. Mrs. Gertrude Hurlbutt of Dayton, Montana, came up with skeet, an old Scandinavian word for “shoot.”
Unlike trap targets that quickly test the reach of a shooter’s gun, skeet targets fly close. Neither a heavy charge of shot nor a tight choke, the constriction at barrel’s end that squeezes a shot column together as it exits is necessary. Skeet includes games for 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge guns, even .410s.
International skeet is more difficult than American skeet for several reasons. First, shooters must start with the gun-butt at hip level. Second, the targets zoom by at 89 kilometers per hour, not 65, and they go farther. Also, there can be up to three seconds’ delay for target release after the shooter calls for the bird—an impediment to timing. Finally, the six easiest targets in American skeet do not appear at all on the International skeet card; they’re replaced by doubles at the difficult middle stations.
A game of more value to hunters than trap or skeet is sporting clays. Originating in England, it came to the United States in the early twentieth century and has become exceedingly popular since 1989, when the [National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA)][ http://www.mynsca.com/] was founded. Sporting clays courses are all unique, usually laid out to include field, woodland, and, where convenient, marsh. Traps are installed to throw targets at tough angles, into the sun and through thick vegetation where gunners get only a small window for the shot. “Rabbits” add variety. They’re special clay disks made to launch on edge and to scoot along the ground, bouncing unpredictably. Doubles are part of sporting clays. A “true pair” means a simultaneous toss. A “report pair” gives you the second bird at the sound of your first shot. A “following pair” puts one bird up at your call and the second target aloft at the pleasure of the trap operator. A round of sporting clays uses up fifty shot shells. Scores on most courses are much lower than on trap and skeet fields. About 5,393,000 shotgunners fired at clay targets in organized U.S. events during 2002.
Competition at the Top
The first World Shooting Championships occurred in Lyons, France, in 1897, when a local club organized a 300-meter rifle event on its twenty-fifth anniversary. Women began to compete formally in 1958. Now, world championships for men and women are held every four years.
French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin arranged the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, a year before the historic Lyons match. A former French pistol champion, de Coubertin urged the inclusion of shooting as one of the nine featured sports. In 1907, l’Union des Federations et Associations Nationals de Tir was established. Its successor, the UIT (Union International de Tir or International Shooting Union), imposes competition rules. It is headquartered in Munich.
The number of Olympic shooting events has varied from two (in 1932) to twenty-one (in 1920). Individual and team events were slated until 1948, when UIT eliminated team matches. Women from the United States began winning in 1976, with Margaret Murdock’s silver in three-position rifle. Eight years later in Los Angeles, the Olympic Games included three shooting events for women: air rifle, three-position rifle, and sport pistol. Since the first Olympics, men and women shooting for the United States have won ninety medals. Of the top U.S. Olympic performers of all time, three are shooters. Only track and field and swimming have garnered more medals for the United States than the shooting sports. In 2004, the Athens Olympics scheduled seventeen rifle, pistol, and shotgun events, in which 390 men and women competed. Ages ranged from fifteen to fifty.
The Grand American World Trapshooting Championships, hosted by the Amateur Trapshooting Association, is perhaps the premier shooting event in the world. Only the modern marathon has more participants in a single day of competition. It debuted at the Interstate Park in Queens, New York, in 1900, moved to Chicago, St. Louis, and Columbus before settling in Vandalia, Ohio, in 1923. In 2006, however, the Grand will once again move, this time to the World Shooting Complex in Sparta, Illinois. Among the tens of thousands of shooters who have participated have been celebrities such as John Philip Sousa and Roy Rogers. Annie Oakley competed only once, at age sixty-five, breaking ninety-seven of one hundred clays. She passed away the following year.
The Grand hosts seven thousand competitors annually. The facility at Vandalia features one hundred trap fields set side by side, where 5 million traps are thrown and more than a million dollars in prize money is awarded.
The National Sporting Clays Championship, hosted by the National Sporting Clays Association, attracts more than one thousand competitors annually to the San Antonio, Texas, event.
The [National Skeet Shooting Association][ http://www.mynssa.com/about.shtml] hosts the World Skeet Shooting Championship annually in San Antonio, at its National Shooting Complex, the world’s largest skeet shooting facility.
The NRA National Outdoor Rifle and Pistol Championships is an annual event at Camp Perry, Ohio, during July and August. Here, the national championships in pistol, small-bore rifle three-position, small-bore rifle prone, high-power rifle, and high-power long range are established. Each of these categories encompasses a variety of individual and team championship events.
Olympic shooting in the United States got a boost in 1978 with passage of the Amateur Sports Act and establishment of national teams, national development teams, coaching staffs, and training sites and programs. In 1995 the United States Olympic Committee assembled [USA Shooting,][ http://www.usashooting.com/usashooting.cfm] a nonprofit corporation, to be the national governing body for shooting events. Its mission: prepare athletes for the Olympic Games and promote the shooting sports at the local level. USA Shooting is headquartered at the Olympic Training Center, a sophisticated complex in Colorado Springs with 101 firing points and three 10-meter running-target ranges indoors. It is the largest indoor shooting facility in the western hemisphere. Outdoors are four trap and skeet fields. The 41-hectare Olympic Training Center hosts competitions as well as training camps, coaching seminars, and visiting athletes.
The Amateur Trapshooting Association, headquartered in Vandalia, Ohio, governs that sport’s rules and regulations and seeks ways to further enhance the sport and increase participation. It oversees more than six thousand registered shoots each year conducted by more than one thousand affiliated gun clubs.
The National Skeet Shooting Association, founded in the early 1930s, is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. The nonprofit NSSA, owned and operated by its approximately twenty thousand members, is the largest organization in the world dedicated solely to the sport. It is dedicated to the development of the sport at all levels of competition and meaningful fellowship within its membership.
The National Sporting Clays Association was founded in March 1989 and serves as the official premier sporting clays association, dedicated to the development of the sport at all levels of participation. It, too, is based in San Antonio, Texas, a hotbed of competitive clay-bird shooting. With a total of seventeen thousand members, NSCA clubs host numerous tournaments for the serious competitor and the casual shooter.
Despite the importance of those governing bodies, the two most influential organizations in the shooting sports are the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
A group of National Guard officers began the NRA in 1871 to emphasize better marksmanship in support of national defense. Civil War hero General Ambrose E. Burnside was chosen as the NRA’s first president. Money from the NRA and the New York state government secured a 28-hectare tract on Long Island, New York, called Creed’s Farm. Renamed Creedmoor, it was soon developed as a shooting facility. The first matches there commenced 21 July 1873. The NRA’s first annual matches were held October 8 of that year. The 1874 contest between Ireland and the United States made Creedmoor a legendary place.
For financial reasons, the NRA deeded Creedmoor to New York state in 1890, and later moved the national matches to Sea Girt, New Jersey. In 1903 Congress approved a National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice. Subsequently, surplus arms were transferred to state militias to encourage shooting at the local level. When Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent shooter, became U.S. president, the NRA had an ally in its drive to bridge state boundaries. By 1905, it had introduced a rifle shooting program to public schools. Meanwhile, crowding at Sea Girt forced construction of a new range near the shore of Lake Erie. Just before the 1907 matches were held there, the facility was dedicated as Camp Perry, after the commodore who triumphed over the British on Lake Erie in the War of 1812. In 1994 the NRA moved its headquarters to Fairfax, Virginia. By 2000, the NRA’s membership had reached 4.3 million.
In 1961, the [National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)][ http://www.nssf.org/] was established as a trade association for the hunting and recreational shooting sports industry. Now headquartered in Newtown, Connecticut, the NSSF promotes participation and safety in firearms use. Among the shooting sports it promotes are scholastic rifle and shotgun programs. The rifle program tests speed and accuracy. The shotgunning programs include trap, skeet, and sporting clays. These programs teach young people through high school age firearms safety and shooting fundamentals while bringing them through intrasquad practices leading to state and national competitions.
The NSSF has also embraced novice shooters through STEP OUTSIDE, a program that reaches out to experienced sportsmen to introduce and mentor newcomers to the sport. The foundation owns and sponsors the annual Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show), which brings together all facets of the shooting sports industry. The NSSF has partnered with federal agencies and state and local law enforcement agencies to distribute free firearms safety kits, including gun locks, and to encourage safe firearms storage.
The foundation, through its range division, the National Association of Shooting Ranges, has helped upgrade and standardize environmental and professional practices to maintain the physical and fiscal health of the facilities that host the shooting sports in the United States.
Written by Wayne van Zwoll for the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport (2005), edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing Group. © Berkshire Publishing Group, www.berkshirepublishing.com.
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