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!