Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

The History of Shooting Sports… in 5-Bullets

Posted on September 03, 2014 by Martin Banks

Firearms have been around since 1260, but were nothing more than a barrel, charged with a measure of black powder.  The first firearms where weapons of war, but once the technology could be refined into smaller, more accurate devices, they were primarily used for hunting.

One of the biggest problems with firearm precision had to do with the construction of the barrel and the shape of the round blasting from the muzzle.

• It Took 600 Years for Shooting Sports to Immerge


It wasn’t until firearm manufacturers began to implement ‘rifling’ in mass production, rather than the conventional ‘smooth bore,’ that these devices were considered precision instruments.  The US Civil War (1861-65) was the first instance of large-scale implementation of the supremely accurate ‘gain twist’ rifling for military applications. Also before then, the round itself acted more like an unpredictable knuckleball, because it was nothing more than a lead sphere.  The musket ball design had to change to the more aerodynamic ‘bullet’ shape that we know today.

The first shooting sports required a firearm that was accurate enough to be used for competition, and gain twist rifling provided a way for that to happen.

• The First Shooting Sports Began in the US

The NRA (National Rifle Association) was not originally an American organization, but instead, the first of its kind was started in the United Kingdom in 1860.  It was needed for the purpose of raising funds towards the Volunteer Rifle Corps.


11 years later, Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate created their own brand of the NRA in the US.  Because ‘poor marksmanship’ was one major issue for Federal troops in the Civil War, they wanted to create an organization which scientifically addressed the problem.  The first NRA rifle matches were held on a piece of land, called Creed Farm in New York.  The range itself was called Creedmore, and was where the first National Matches began.

• Shooting Sports Were Created by the Army for Civilian Marksmanship

The advisory board for the Secretary of the Army began the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP), and they did so in 1903, patterned after the US NRA.  Essentially, it was created to provide civilians with skills in marksmanship to ease the learning curve in the event of another war.  Naturally, once the NBPRP joined National Matches, the popularity of shooting sports exploded.

• The US National Matches Were Likely a Result of Modern Olympic Shooting Matches


Pierre de Coubertin, often a participant in many of these US National Matches, was a pistol champion, and that is one reason why many historians suspect that shooting sports are a part of the modern Olympic Games.  In fact, there were even 5 shooting events in the 1896 Olympics.

However, because of technological and social advances, these events had to make changes over the years, such as altering the targets from resembling silhouettes of animals and people to a simple circular design.

• ‘Tactical’ and ‘Cowboy’ Shooting Sports Are Barely 30 Years Old

3-Gun matches are by far the most popular variant of shooting sport in the US, and competitors use a combination of a tactical rifle, a handgun and a shotgun.  Since 2008, tactical weapon purchases, such as the most common 3-gun rifle, the AR-15, have skyrocketed.  This new interest in tactical guns and their parts has largely fueled 3-gun match popularity in recent years.

ar 15

While ‘cowboy’ trick shooting has been around since the 1860’s, the sport itself was started 80 years later.  These events are more festive in nature, as competitors come outfitted in 19th century dress, gear and guns.  Mostly, competitions involve cowboy-action (single-action) revolvers, lever-action rifles and coach guns.

There’s been a new interest in shooting sports by women. Part two of this article will talk all about that. Stay tuned!

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