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Scopes in airgun competition

by B.B. Pelletier

We got this question about a week ago: “Do none of the NRA or other formal shooting competitions allow telescopic scopes? What about the shooting part in biathlon? If not, what kind of sight do they usually use? Is it similar to the sight on daisy 753?”

This is a good question that I have heard many times before, so today I want to take some time to answer it. I will be discussing only airgun competition. I believe the reader who asked the question didn’t want the answer limited to just NRA competition, which is quite a small minority of airgun competition, so I’m opening my answer to all airgun competition.

Competitions that do not permit scopes
All the formal bullseye competitions forbid the use of scopes at national and world levels. I compete in air pistol at the regional and national levels; and, although we follow most of the international rules, it is governed and run by the NRA, who hasn’t always made things easy for us. That deserves an explanation.

The National Rifle Association was created in 1871 to train American civilian men to shoot. The marksmanship performance of city-bred soldiers in the recent Civil War had been so poor that the leaders in the War Department felt it necessary to get the U.S. shooting again. Two years later, a fledgling U.S. team beat the world-champion Irish team at Creedmore, setting the stage for a long string of international shooting victories. By 1900, a top shooter was as respected as an NFL player is today.

But in the years following both World Wars, the NRA became more of a self-contained association than a training ground for international competition. They used different targets and different scoring systems, and it all worked against American shooters who found the world-class competition more stringent than their own. The NRA has recognized this problem and is now using most (but not yet all) of the international rules.

No scopes at all?
A biathlon competitor uses a special type of peep sight that has been made solely for that sport. Instead of shooting at a paper target for a high score, they shoot at a mechanical “paddle-type” target that registers either a hit or a miss. Close doesn’t count in this sport! Biathlon shooters also use a special five-shot repeater, the only one used in world-class airgun competition, because time is their enemy. Only the sport of running boar, which changed its name to running target when political correctness demanded it, uses scopes. That sport has fallen on hard times in recent years – not because of politics, but because the target systems needed to run it are so cumbersome and expensive.

Competitions that permit scopes
Field target not only permits scopes – it demands them! This is the toughest non-timed shooting competition I know of, and I include black powder cartridge silhouette in that list. I have seen SWAT-trained snipers fail to place in the top five at tough matches! The scopes used by the leaders range from 30-60x and are probably the finest scope sights in the world. In fact, field target is responsible for many of the recent innovations in scope technology.

Airgun silhouette is another sport where scopes are permitted. In fact there are classes for scopes or dot sights in the handgun component of this sport, which I must say is the most aggressive part. Handgun silhouette with air pistols has even brought back the Creedmore shooting position espoused by Elmer Keith in the ’40s and ’50s, though I doubt anyone recognizes it. This position is shot lying on your back, with the gun rested either at the side of one knee or between both knees.

One paper competition that permitted scopes
The sport of BRV, which was formerly called BR-50, was a sit-down, benchrest type of airgun target sport that demanded the use of a scope. This was a sport that looked deceptively easy until you tried it. The target was only 25 or 30 yards away, depending on the class you shot in, and your rifle was capable of hitting an aspirin at that range. AH – but not EVERY time, and THAT was what made it so tough! It was a sport of $2,000 rifles and $1,000 scopes, shot by older men with no perceptible heartbeat.

The rimfire version of this sport continues as RBA, but I do not find any recent references to it as an airgun competition. The founder of BRV died a few years ago, and a lot of the push for the sport went with him. If anyone has information on a benchrest airgun sport conducted at the national level, I would be grateful to read about it.

Let’s see – did I miss anything? Probably, and that’s what the comment section is for. So, the short answer to whether scopes are permitted in airgun competition might be – sometimes!

11 thoughts on “Scopes in airgun competition”

  1. I agree that BR50 is seemingly deceptively easy. 20 years ago, my first scope was a tiny 4x so since I can not hold steady for standing shots, I just shoot bench rested at 20 yards, the available space in my backyard. My targets were small medicine bottles lying on their side with the open mouths as targets. Reading up info on BR50 matches, and after shooting this way on my own for almost thirty years now, I would say it is not that tough at all, any day, wind or rain. But then BR50 competition uses a negative scoring rule and a much smaller target. Still, in my own experience, bench rest with a good hi-mag scope, this should be not too tough a challenge.

  2. Regarding scopes for Field Target: The best available today is probably the Leupold Competition 35X. The poor-man’s version of this is the Sightron 36X plus a Leupold 50′ adapter (this scope won’t focus closer than 13 yards without this addon lens). Both scopes are the very best optically and far brighter and sharper than any zoom scope I have ever used.

    Another popular scope is the Bushnell 8-32X Elite 4200 scope.



  3. O.k. so what scope would you suggest for a hand gun? I have been looking around and the common handgun scope suggested by Beeman and others is only 2x. I saw one by Tasco and another company both of which were much better, but they were almost $200. Yea, that isn’t much when you are comparing several hundred for a competition scope, but air rifle scopes are *much* cheaper. A BSA 3-9x runs around $30-$40 at a local Wal-mart. Any suggestions for a handgun scope say under $100?


  4. Michael,

    Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of choices in handgun scopes for airguns. Shooters simply aren’t demanding them like they do riflescopes. Red dots are selling well, but scopes – no.

    I have used a 2X scope on a .357 magnum and was able to hit smaller targets at 100 yards. Have you tried one? The greater the power, the harder it is to align the scope with the target – especially with a handgun.


  5. BB,
    I did put a rifle scope on my Marksman 2004 and found out just how accurate that gun can be! I hit a quarter inch circle at 30 yards! However, with the short eye relief, I had to return it. It was a BSA 3-9×20 and zero’ed easily and shot great. I felt foolish, however with my eye squished up to the lens.
    I now own a Smith&Wesson replica and it seems to be just as accurate up to 20 meters with open sights as my Marksman. I just may give the 2×20 a try. Do you have a recommendation between the variable scopes for airhandguns. I especially want to keep in mind that I just might purchase a P-1 in the future, and as a springer, it would need a very tough sight.


  6. We’re a group in Oregon that used to shoot under BR50 and now shoot under USBR (United States Benchrest). We shoot at 25 yards with a 1/8″ 10 ring at 25 yards). Yes, $2k guns and always searching for the most consistent .177 lot number from H&N. All matches are outside where humidity, temperature and breeze must be ‘read’ for an accurate shot.

  7. Michael,

    I have shot a red dot on the P1 and, yes, it does recoil! The dot sight actually peened the back of the front sight with the sliding under recoil.

    I have no experience whatsoever with variable pistol scopes, so you tell me.


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