SciTech

Intense thought for precision riflery

Credit: Yue Yin/ Credit: Yue Yin/

“But, if you make it to the Junior Olympics for riflery there’s an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar at the training center.”
I’ve been around the sport of precision riflery since the age of ten, when my sister first convinced me to join the sport in pursuit of the all-you-can-eat ice cream bar found at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

When the words rifle, gun, and shooting are heard together more often than not they are associated with negative images — I’d like to explain how the sport of precision riflery actually works. Precision riflery is a sport that is run on a national scale by organizations like USA Shooting (the governing Olympic organization in the United States) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association in every state of the United States — these organizations help run matches for junior and collegiate competitors all the way through senior level members. Disciplines differ for competitors, though, as one can compete in air rifle or small-bore rifle.

On a junior member level, participants compete in year-round matches that culminate in the Junior Olympic Regional Competitions in December. If shooters do well they can go to the Junior Olympics.
Frequently in the sport, collegiate-age contenders move on to the Olympics through qualifications. This year the United States sent fourteen people to the Olympics for air gun, small-bore, and shotgun.

In particular, 19-year-old Virginia Thrasher, a first-year at West Virginia University, won gold in air rifle. Standard indoor precision riflery matches for juniors consist of using .22 caliber long barrel rifles to shoot at targets 50 feet away. Competitors stand behind a designated firing line where a match director (referee) dictates timing and position for the match. There are three positions in the sport: prone, standing, and kneeling. In prone position the competitor lays on a mat on the ground, on their elbows and has the rifle attached using a sling to his upper arm. In standing position, the competitor is upright and at a right angle to the firing line and holds the gun at shoulder height. In kneeling position, the competitor sits on one ankle and props the other knee up, using it to support the weight of the rifle as it points down range.
Additionally, a sitting position may be added during particular outdoor matches or unique indoor matches.

In a basic three-position match each competitor shoots prone, standing, and kneeling once for twenty shots and then changes position. Variations of the positions can occur, though. For example, long outdoor prone matches are very common among new shooters as well as popular among seniors. On the Olympic level, the gold medal winner scores in the upper 590 range to win overall. This year, Thrasher scored a 599 out of 600, winning gold for America.

“What’s most attractive of rifle is the mental side of the sport,” said Thrasher in an NBC Olympics article. “Anyone can go and hit a 10, it’s not that hard. To go and shoot 10 after 10 after 10 in a big event is very hard. You have to have a mastery of the mental side, controlling your emotions, following your process and not thinking of the outcome.” Equipment for the sport is also very important. Participants wear heavy, stiff suits that restrict motion because when concentrating on a target 50 feet away, limiting movement is the key to accuracy. With a center of the bullseye the size of a period in 12-point font, everything counts. Additionally, specialized hats, gloves, and shooting shoes are worn.

Some athletes learn to slow their heart rates down the point where they can take shots in between beats so that when looking through their sites their heart rate does not make their site picture change.
Precision riflery is a sport that requires intense concentration and training, but is professionally recognized on a global scale.