Shooting is a sport combining nerves of steel with precision aiming at a target. The sport is open to all ages and has been contested at the Olympic Games since 1869. The sport of target shooting involves the use of air rifles and pistols, muzzle-loading rifles and pistols and cartridge rifles, both rimfire and centrefire. Competitors shoot at a fixed target consisting of ten concentric rings, with the innermost being the X ring worth 10 points. The targets in the rifle discipline are placed at a fixed distance away (anything from 10m to 1200yds) and shooters fire from the standing, kneeling and prone positions. Targets for pistol are placed at either 10m, 25m or 50m away and shooters use one hand to fire the pistol. Target shooting is largely conducted within clubs and is strictly controlled by firearms safety laws.
Target shooting is truly a sport for life. It teaches skills such as self-discipline, patience, perseverance, goal-setting, planning, organising, concentration, evaluation and decision-making, respect and goodwill. These skills, once learned, are a valuable personal resource that can be used throughout life.
It is an offence under section 21 of the Firearms Act of 1968 as amended, for anyone convicted of a criminal offence, to handle, possess, or shoot a firearm and ammunition (this includes Air Guns). If the sentence was for more than three years the prohibition is for life; if less than three years the prohibition is for 5 years (Note: it is the sentence, not the time served, which is the determining factor).
Smallbore target shooting covers a very large number of disciplines that can be broadly categorised by the type of gun (rifle or pistol) or by calibre (.22 rimfire or .177 airguns). Whether one is shooting .22 rifles, air rifles, .22 pistols or air pistols, there are quite a few different options available for competitions, with different courses of fire shot at various distances. Set out below is a summary of all the options.
The national governing body for all these smallbore disciplines is the National Small-bore Rifle Association (NSRA).
What can you shoot with?
- .177 Air Pistols
- .22 Pistols (Longarm Pistols)
- .177 Air Rifles
- .22 Target Rifles
- .177 Multi-shot Air Pistols
- .22 Multi-shot Rifles
- .177 Sporter Air Rifles
- .22 Lightweight Sport Rifles
.177 rifles and pistols are airguns firing pellets.
.22 rifles and pistols are usually firearms firing rimfire cartridges.
How far away are the targets?
- 6 yards
- 10 metres
- 15 yards
- 20 yards
- 25 yards
- 25 metres
- 50 yards
- 50 metres
- 100 yards
Variable distances from 7 to 55 yards for Field Target.
For Running Target it has to be shot whilst it is moving across a gap of 2 metres in 2.5 or 5 seconds.
How many shots have to be fired?
Depending on the discipline and course of fire; 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 120 shots (to score), plus sighting shots at the beginning.
How long does a shoot take?
60 seconds, 90 seconds, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 1hr 15mins, 1hr 45mins, 2hrs 15mins, or 3hrs 45mins, depending on the course of fire.
Rapid-fire Pistol involves firing six sets of 5 shots at 5 targets, two sets each in 8 seconds, 6 seconds and 4 seconds.
What position can you shoot in?
Prone (lying down), standing, kneeling or sitting (on the ground, at a table, or in a wheelchair).
The premier event is prone .22 rifle, and is what occurs in the Olympics (along with .22 pistol, 50m 3 position rifle, 10m 1.77 air rifle and pistol).
Where can you do it?
Mainly on a purpose-built range in a club (both indoors or outdoors), woodlands and fields for Field Target, but also air rifle can be done in places like school halls, Scout huts or village halls.
Shooters can compete as individuals, in pairs, or in teams of three, four, five, eight, ten or twenty.
Where does it happen?
- Shooting clubs
- Social clubs
- Village halls
- Cadet units
- Scout groups
- Regional centres
- National Shooting Centre at Bisley, Surrey
What competitions are there?
- Club competitions
- Inter-club leagues
- County championships
- Inter-county leagues
- Open meetings
- National postal championships
- Home Countries championship meetings
- British championship meetings
- International meetings
- International World Cup
- Commonwealth Games
- Olympic Games
Most competitions are in classes or divisions, so shooters compete against people at the same or similair levels.
Some matches are done by post; others are shot shoulder-to-shoulder, lasting for a couple of hours, a day, a weekend, or a whole week, with anything from a few dozen to 1,000 shooters gathering together.
What are the age limits?
There aren’t really any, it is more dependent upon size and physical ability of the individual.
Children can take up the sport as soon as they can understand the safety rules and how to aim.
There are Junior categories for under 14s, under 16s, under 18s and under 21s.
Veterans competitions are open to those over 60, over 65 or over 70.
Shooters can carry on for as long as they can get to the range; some are still enjoying it in their 90s.
How much does it cost?
If you use your club’s equipment, just the price of your pellets or ammunition, and membership subscriptions – probably around the cost of one pint or a cappuccino a week.
If you buy your own equipment and enter lots of competitions – as much as you want to spend.
Small-bore Target Shooting covers:
- 50-metre .22 Pistol
- Air Pistol
- Air Rifle
- Bell Target
- Bench-rest Pistol
- Bench-rest Rifle
- Field Target Airgun
- Lightweight Sport Rifle
- Prone Air Rifle (an additional option for disabled)
- Prone Rifle (short range and long range)
- Rapid-fire Pistol
- Running Target
- Sport Pistol (Air)
- Sporter Air Rifle (standing and three-positions)
- Three-position Rifle (3P)
How to get involved?
Shooting is a great sport to get involved in, but obviously due to the nature of the sport – safety is your top priority when starting out. Therefore it is recommended you receive proper instruction in an organised setting.
The most important element in the sport of shooting is safety. There are also tight controls on firearms, shooting seasons, and what is considered a legitimate target. These are strictly controlled by law.
Anyone shooting in an organised setting will receive proper instruction and be more thoroughly aware of their responsibilities, making the sport a very safe one. The law ensures that young people only have access to firearms on a progressive basis as they grow in age, maturity and responsibility, overseen by the police and other adults.
Before you start using your firearm, you need to know how to stay safe, here is a list of essential safety tips:
- Never point a gun at anybody, always treat a firearm as if it is loaded.
- Never touch anybody else's firearm without their permission.
- Secure firearms for safe storage and transportation. Keep your gun locked up in a cabinet out of sight, and transport your gun safely by locking it in the boot or place it in the back of a car under a cover like travel rugs or coats.
- Keep your ammunition safe and secure. Firearms ammunition must be kept locked in a separate container to the gun.
- Read the owners manual of your firearm. Know how to safely load, unload, use the safety catch and choose the correct ammunition for your gun.
- Before you use your gun, keep it in its case until you are ready to use it. Open the gun as you take it out of the container and insert a safety flag into the breech where applicable, that way it can immediately be seen to be unloaded and the barrel clear.
- Inspect your firearm for clear barrels and safe operating condition before shooting.
- Keep your finger away from the trigger until ready to shoot.
- Always wear ear and eye protection.
- Always wash your hands after handling firearms and ammunition.
- Thoroughly clean your firearm after use.
What is a Firearm Certificate?
For many smallbore target rifle shooters a time will come when they want to own their own rifle. The reasons for this could be club kit becoming unavailable, the hassle of sharing kit becomes too much or simply the desire to own a new rifle. Unlike the rest of the shooting kit, a rifle cannot be purchased without an official firearms licence and this involves a formal application process that is managed by the police.
Firearm ownership in the United Kingdom is controlled by extensive legislation with severe penalties for anyone who is caught operating outside of the law. To preserve the integrity of rifle shooting as a sport it is important for individuals to ensure they are aware of the law and keep up to date with changes as they happen. It is for this reason that a comprehensive description of applying for a firearms licence is not included in this website, instead a general overview of the basic process is given. Before applying the reader should check with their local police firearms unit for the current requirements.
A person must be aged 17 years or older to be granted a firearm certificate in their own name. A firearm certificate may be granted to a person aged between 14 and 17 years of age (if they meet the required criterea), but they may not themselves purchase any guns or ammunition. No person under 14 may be granted a firearm certificate, or use firearms other than on an approved range or shooting gallery.
Do you need a Firearm Certificate?
The first question to ask yourself is 'do I really need a Firearms Certifiate (FAC)?'. If you are starting out at smallbore target rifle shooting you may not need to rush out and buy a rifle straight away, your local club probably has a number of rifles which are available for use by club members and 'first timers' which you can use without possessing your own FAC. This provides an easy way for you to try out the sport without the need to go through the FAC process.
If you are only planning on using standard Air Rifles or Air Pistols, then you will not require a Firearms Certificate.
If, however, you wish to own your own rifle and buy ammunition, you must (by law) have applied for and been granted a Firearms Certificate (FAC) by the police firearms department in your local area.
Applying for an FAC is a process controlled by the police force in your local area. There are a number of criteria that need to be met before HM government will legally allow you to possess a firearm. The full Firearms Act is a quite a lot to take in and so a brief outline of the basic requirements is given below. More information can also be found in our section on Firearms Certificates here.
The best advice to any new FAC applicant is to ask existing club members for advice, and speak to the police firearms department in your area before filling out the application form. The information provided here is an overview designed to give people a basic idea of what to do if they want to apply for an FAC and is not a comprehensive guide to successfully applying for an FAC.
1) Demonstrate Requirement for an FAC
You need to show that you have a reasonable reason to own and use a rifle. Being a full member of a registered rifle club is a suitable reason, but this must be proved with a letter of confirmation signed by a registered club secretary. Most clubs will also require you to be a probational member for a set period of time before they will allow you to become a full member. By law it is a minimum of 3 months, but some clubs operate a 6 month minimum period. Once you are a full member of a rifle club you may apply for your FAC.
2) Provide References
The Firearms Act requires an applicant, for the grant or renewal of a firearm certificate, to supply the names and addresses of two people who have agreed to act as referees. There are a lot of conditions around who can and cannot be a referee, details of which can be found on the FAC application form. The referees will be asked to complete a questionnaire about you and return it directly to the police (so that you cannot see what they have written).
3) Storage of Your Rifle
If you are applying for an FAC the general purpose of it is so that you can purchase your own rifle and ammunition. The rifle and ammunition that you own needs to be stored in a secure location (Click here for more information about storing your rifle).
There are very many different competitions that shooters can enter once they feel competent enough; from very simple club and national competitions right up to Olympic standard. The great thing about the sport is that you can choose your own level of competition and compete against others of similar skill. In fact you compete against yourself every time by trying to improve your last score and aim eventually move up to a higher grade.