Airgun competition: Which sports exist?
by B.B. Pelletier
I'm writing this post to clear up some confusion about airgun competition. Airgun competition is not as formalized as firearm competition, and there is a great deal that we still lack in the way of competitive sports. Today, we'll see what's there and what's not.
At the top: 10-meter
Ten-meter target shooting began to formalize in Europe in the late 1950s. No doubt, there was some incentive because of a lack of firearms ranges. By the late 1960s, air rifle and air pistol were both world-class competitions, though they did not get added to the Olympics until 1984 and 1988, respectively. Today, the governing body is the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).
Ten meters is 32.808 ft., so we say 33 ft. Both air rifle and air pistol competition are held at this distance. The targets are small enough to make the short distance a real challenge, and the guns that compete have to be first-rate in every respect. Velocities are held below 600 f.p.s. for the rifles, while the pistols usually shoot just above the 500 f.p.s. mark. The pellets used are diabolo wadcutters and competitors buy them by the tens of thousands to maintain lot consistency. Precharged pneumatics dominate in both categories, though a few single-stroke pneumatics are still competing. CO2 and spring guns no longer compete beyond the regional level.
Beside the 10-meter target guns, there are a number of five-shot semiautomatic pistols and a few rifles that can be used for sport pistol. There are also several five-shot semiauto and flip-bolt rifles that are excellent biathlon trainers. The sport of running target (which used to be running boar - and running stag before that) is still hanging on by the skin of its teeth.
International BB Gun Championship Match
Since 1965, Daisy and the U.S. Jaycees have held the annual International BB Gun Championship Match as the culmination of a youth shooting education program. To date, over seven million kids have been taught to shoot. Daisy even created a special BB gun, the 499 Avanti Champion, for this competition. While the title says international, the focus is on U.S. kids who have participated in the Daisy/U.S. Jaycee Shooting Education Program.
Far down from the world level of competition, airgun silhouette is the next most popular formal airgun competition. Although there is a rifle component, handgun silhouette is by far the more popular component of the sport. That's due to the promotional efforts of the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA). The pistols used for this sport are largely 10-meter pistols and their derivatives.
Field target is a wonderful proving ground for sporting air rifles, optics and pellets, but it is not a world-class sport. That's not to say world competitions are not held, because they are. However, there's no governing body that controls the rules at the world level. The countries involved have to negotiate the rules every time a world-level match is held. In the U.S., the American Airgun Field Target Association (AAFTA) is the governing body. This sport refines marksmanship to a degree never seen in any other shooting sport. I have seen local SWAT team snipers who could not keep pace with the leaders of a match. I'm not trying to denigrate professional snipers - just to point out that the best field target competitors are the finest rifle marksmen anywhere.
Airgun sports we lack
There is no formal action pistol sport, similar to those conducted by the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). This is sad because there are a number of air pistols that could compete if there were. There is also no air shotgun sport. That's not as difficult to understand, since air shotguns are not very capable. Even the best of them cannot hold a candle to the lowly .410 shotgun. If there were capable guns, the shotgun sports are the crown jewels of all the shooting sports.
There is no airgun component of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS). Granted, the required airguns are also lacking to a large extent at this time. If a sport were available and had participation, the guns would be there quickly. This is an extremely popular firearm sport and hobby because of the clothing and the roll-playing that goes with it, but perhaps airguns are too quiet and clean to break into CAS.
Last of all, there is no real formal benchrest sport for airguns. Despite the thousands of airgun shooters who shoot only from a bench, there has never been a popular, widespread organized benchrest following. BR-50 and BRV never really caught on, though they did have a small, loyal following among airgunners as long as they lasted.
Airguns have plenty of room to grow
What airgunning needs is a sport that is interesting to as many people as possible. It must be simple, yet very intriguing. The 10-meter sports have a huge following worldwide, but they are for individuals. They lack the social attraction of CAS, the excitement of action pistol shooting and the broad appeal of International Clays. What we need is a new sport that shooters find compelling on several levels.
A final shot
In 1898, a national shooting festival was held on Long Island. Prize money of $25,000 was awarded for the various matches, plus other prizes, cups, medals and premiums were given in each of the categories. The nine-day event had a total budget of $200,000. That was in 1898. The winners of that competition were as celebrated in their day as top professional sports stars are today. More than a century has passed and money has inflated many times, yet you cannot find that level of competition, even ignoring inflation, anywhere in the airgun world in 2006.