Shooting Sports and Competition: Friend or Foe? - Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)

Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)

Shooting Sports and Competition: Friend or Foe?

After initial introductions, safety instructions, lessons, and live fire sessions at the range, your student (child) may need some additional help in moving along in their firearms education.

It is here that we usually introduce competition. That competition can be as simple as keeping track of hits and misses and competing against themselves, to comparing scores in a group, to using active targets, like “shooting trees” that have students trying to swing a target from one side to the other by hitting it with a fired shot. There is a unique aspect to that game in particular, as part of the strategy can be to shoot your competitors targets back over from your side to theirs.

Some targets are more fun to shoot than others.

In all the years that I have introduced youth to firearms and firearm safety, I have never had a negative experience with competition that was introduced at the proper time and in the proper way.

If you watch your child in their progress and shooting skill, you will be able to easily determine when they are ready to experience some form of competition. They will become more and more excited when they hit a bull’s-eye or knock over empty soda cans. If you were teaching a group, you will most likely see them start to compete with one another with comments such as, “I got two bull’s-eyes… How many did you get?”

Many people have concerns about introducing young children to competition, but, as stated above, I have not seen anything but positive results. Tweens have already experienced competition and competitive sports for several years.

Also important to remember is that shooting and firearms are the “great equalizer,” allowing students of small stature to easily out-perform shooters of large stature. Completely opposite the outcome if they were in a wrestling match!


The epitome of athletic achievement is the Olympiad. This sport is an Olympic event. Only two other sports attract more participating countries.

Generally speaking, if a young man or woman is not proficient in a sport by the time they enter high school, there is little or no chance that they will be permitted to participate in a school sport. Most coaches want established winners. This sport does not require previous experience. As a matter of fact, it is very possible for a person to start in this sport as a high school junior and compete on a national level before they enter college.

In some sports an athlete’s peak performance will ebb at 16 years of age, other sports at 20, and still others at 28 or even 30 years of age, but beyond the age of 30, an athlete is definitely “over the hill.” Not in this sport. This sport has had a national champion who was over 60 years old and also a 16-year-old, and every age in between.

There are girl’s sports and boy’s sports, but this sport is both.

There are indoor sports and outdoor sports. This sport is both.

There are winter sports and summer sports. This sport is both and is featured at winter and summer Olympics.

Football requires a team, while an individual can compete in track. This sport offers individual participation, team participation, or both at the same time.

Chances are, the high schools in your area do not offer one sport with a zero injury records. Serious injury is a part of most sports. This sport is the safest of all sports.

Sports arenas, courses, courts, gymnasiums and the like, use up a great deal of real estate and usually cost millions of dollars. This sport requires little more than a 50-foot long by 20-foot wide room.

This is among the most disciplined of all sports. Many students report a marked improvement in their ability to concentrate when they apply the principles of this sport to their academic pursuits.

“Purity” is a term used in sports to describe the degree of precision with which a physical function must be executed. This sport requires the highest degree of purity.

Sportsmanship: “quality and conduct of a person who accepts victory and defeat graciously.” In many sports it is not unusual to see one athlete physically attack another. To date there is no record of such behavior in this sport.

In most sports, physically handicapped people are treated like invalids (which, by the way, they resent). Not in this sport.

College scholarships are awarded in this sport. These scholarships can be won by both men and women on the same team.

In most sports, qualifying for a team is not a guarantee that one will get a chance to play. Coaches enter their best athletes and the rest sit on the bench. In this sport, everyone participates.

(by: R.A. Soldivera. Reprinted from 4 H Shooting-

Competition offers the opportunity, for a child who may have had no success in competitive sports up to this point, to experience a win without devaluing it in any way. What do I mean by that? I mean that they come by that win honestly. The holes in the paper don’t lie. The knocked over targets can’t be cheated, nothing takes away from the value of their win, because they earned it. You will find that this matters to all children, but especially so with boys.

Starting in the pre-teen and continuing into the teenage years, boys are constantly in competition with one another. They compete for grades. They may compete in athletic contests. They compete for the attention of their peers. They compete for the attention of girls. Thus, introducing another form of competition to them is a natural progression, something they eventually expect in everything.

In his book, “Boys Adrift,” Dr. Leonard Sax delves a great deal into the scientific literature and behavioral studies and also draws on more than twenty years of clinical experience as an MD PhD Psychiatrist to explain why many of today’s boys and young men are failing in school and disengaged at home. He shows how social, cultural and biological factors have created an environment that is literally toxic to boys. He also presents several practical solutions, sharing strategies which educators have found effective in re-engaging these boys at school, as well as handy tips for parents about everything from homework to videogames to medication.

One of the main components of that re-engagement is competition.

John Tauer, professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minn., studies competition and also is head coach of the men’s basketball team. He says, “You don’t get away from competition unless you go to a system where everybody gets to do what they want whenever they want.”

“The combination of cooperation and competition result in greater satisfaction and often in higher scores as well. Kids prefer the combination of competition and cooperation. It’s a significant increase in enjoyment. One of the biggest culprits in psychology is wanting kids to feel good all the time; trying to avoid competition is making it bigger than it needs to be.”

In addition, and according to numerous studies about competition both in sports and in the classroom, the data is almost unanimous that competition increases focus, increases participation and, most importantly, increases both learning and results.

So, how can you introduce competition to your introductory program for your child and make sure it is done the right way? That is, in the way that the child responds to and improves?

The following are some tips and games that we have had great success with in both structured in non-structured programs.


This works very well if you are on a range that only allows you to shoot paper targets. (We recommend some initial shooting experiences outside of a structured range where you will have some more flexibility.)

For a standard, 50-foot, .22-caliber scored target, the bull’s-eye is worth 10 with concentric rings moving outward from 9 to 1. Any hit outside of the scored rings scores a zero.

“Shooting for score” works well if you are at a range that only allows you to shoot paper targets.

The youth takes five shots at the target after which the hits are scored. High score wins. You can vary this game by having multiple children shoot from different positions, and even mix up those positions while they are all shooting. For example, shooter number one shoots from the prone position. Shooter number two shoots from the standing position. Shooter number three shoots from the sitting position. You can then have winners per round, winners per position and winners overall. An ancillary benefit to this is that there are multiple chances for each child to experience a win/success.

Variations on this game can be shooting reactive targets where, for example, knocking over one of the targets equals a score. Best out of five wins. You can introduce timing into this game as well, allowing shots to be taken only over a certain time period.

You should always keep a close watch over students in order to ensure that everybody is still engaged and, most importantly, that everyone is still having fun.

Remember - fun equals participation. Fun participation equals enjoyment and excitement and desire. Enjoyment, excitement and desire equals a lifelong love of shooting and shooting sports.


Best used with a “scoreable” target system, this competition allows for only a single shot at the same target. You may define the shooting position or, as a variation, allow the child to choose whatever position is most comfortable for them. The rule remains the same, though - one shot. The closest shot to the bull’s-eye wins.

Sometimes the only competition that a young shooter needs is themselves. Shooting for and keeping track of score and progress often encourages them to perform better.

Many times in this competition your students will be at a more advanced level and shots will be very close and difficult to score. The simple solution to this is to increase the distance. If shooters are still keeping it so close that you have to have multiple shoot-offs or extended measuring times to determine a winner, increase the distance again.

A variation on this game is to use a shaken soda can at 100 yards (or further if necessary).

The way to make this game last longer and more fun is to not explain the theory of “walking” your shots into a target. They will eventually figure it out, and you may even have the shooters spotting for one another - calling their shots left, low, right, high, etc.

The first one to explode their can wins.

A windy day can make this game a great deal of fun.


I like these types of targets, as they introduce variety and challenge to the game.

A shooting tree has a number of targets vertically along a post. The targets swing from left to right or right to left depending on how they are set at the beginning of the game. The object of the game is to get all of your targets shot and hit so that they swing over to your opponents side.

This game introduces two variables, however, in that there is a time limit for the game, you can implement an ammunition (i.e., number of shots) limit to the game, and you can shoot targets that have been knocked to your side back over to your opponents side. As soon as all targets are on one side, a victor is declared. If time runs out, whoever has the least targets on their side is declared the winner.

A warning for this game… You now have two children shooting, loading and concentrating on several different things at the same time. It is very important to maintain focus and attention on both students so that no safety rules are violated. If you experience any type of malfunction or jam, the game is paused, guns are unloaded and cleared, and the game is begun again. You may have some complaints at first, but safe is always better than sorry. A brief explanation that takes into consideration the child’s new love of competition and desire to win should alleviate any concerns.

Besides, the consequence of this is that they get to shoot more!


When shooting a .22-caliber rifle or air rifle, you will have the benefit of a stationary target and the child being confined to a shooting line. If you are introducing a youth first to the shotgun, or any of the common shotgun games, there are several things that you should take into consideration.

The first recommendation is to always let children first shoot a shotgun at a stationary target. The reason for this is twofold. First, it lets the child experience the mechanics and dynamics of the shotgun and recoil without having to also concentrate on moving the barrel with a moving target. It also will give them success and a completed sight picture, one of the key images you want their eyes and brain to comprehend… the “breaking” of the clay target.

After shooting several stationary targets, they should be ready in this or a successive shooting session to shoot at a flying target.

All shots for a new shooter on flying targets should be taken from a position of “slow, straight away.”

Not only will the child experience a greater degree of success by having a relatively easier target to shoot at, there will be less of a chance of a safety violation or accidents when the barrel is pointed straight down range rather than swinging across an arc.

I use a trap whose spring can be adjusted to a low setting and whose angle and degree of motion can be easily adjusted with the turn of a few screws.

We have a very brief conversation on the movement of the barrel to and across the clay and when to pull the trigger, as well as a quick safety reminder of what to do if they are unprepared or if there is any type of misfire or malfunction of the firearm.

After several sessions with success, you will be able to move the child on to more complicated shots such as quartering away, crossing left to right, incoming, etc.

Shotgunning and shotgun competition sports are a very exciting event for children to participate in. While shooting with a hand trap in an open field can make for a great deal of fun, your local range likely offers one of the following shotgun games for a small fee.

All are scored games, which will introduce competition upon participation.


Often referred to simply as “trap,” trapshooting is one of and the most common of the three major competitive clay target shotgun sports.

Participants stand at one of several stations behind a “house” from which the clay target his throne. The participant fires five shots from each station on the line for a total of 25 shots per round.

After each series of five shots, in succession among the participants, the shooter rotates to the next station. By doing so, the participant experiences differences in the angle and elevation of shots from not only the position of the target thrower, but from their position behind the target at the different stations as well.

Many kids enjoy trapshooting, and with the growing participation in the Scholastic Clay Target Program, it can even be a varsity-level sport!

Trapshooting has become rather popular, especially with the introduction of the scholastic clay target program - a program that promotes gun safety, personal responsibility and sportsmanship for both primary and secondary school students (usually ages 10 to 18). More and more high schools are offering trap shooting through the scholastic clay target program as a varsity-level sport, with sponsorship by state athletic associations, as well as credentials to earn varsity letters while in school. There are many colleges now that offer shooting scholarships and shotgun competition at the local, regional and even national level.


I am not a big fan of skeet shooting for beginning shooters, due to the many different variables. As your shooter advances and proves proficient with all safety rules and other clay games, skeet can be a fun introduction, though.

In skeet shooting, the shooter shoots at 25 targets that are shot from eight different positions on a semi-circle that is a little more than 20 yards across. Targets are thrown from two different stations - a “high” house on the left side of the course and a “low” house on the right side of the course.

While all clay target shooting is meant as a simulation of hunting different birds, skeet was the first to use so many different angles.

At certain stations the shooter will shoot a single bird from each house, and at others will need to shoot doubles - targets both thrown at the same time. In skeet, the variation is only from where you stand at the different positions on the course. Each clay target is thrown to the exact same point on every throw. They do not vary unless affected by outside forces such as wind or rain.


Sporting clays is the shooting sport that most closely mimics actual, hunting shot situations. Locations, angles, size of target, direction and even obstacles all change with each station. Some courses even mix in different colored targets as “non-targets”- i.e. the shooter is penalized if they shoot at and break it.

Sporting clays is an excellent sport to introduce youngsters who wish to hunt to the different variables, safety issues, and even safe handling of a shotgun before they are actually brought into the field.

Often described as “golf with a shotgun,” sporting clays courses take up a great deal more land space than either trap or skeet ranges do, and are usually at least 30 to 40 acres in size.

The typical sporting clays course consists of 10 to 15 different stations, with each station having a different presentation of the shot situation. Many have names that allude to what they are trying to mimic. “Springing teal” is two clays thrown straight up into the air from a hidden trap. “Flushing grouse” are usually thrown out at an obscure angle and shot through gaps in a wooded area of the course. There are even special clay targets designed to be rolled along the ground to simulate a bounding rabbit.

Targets are thrown as singles, true pairs (where two clays are thrown at the same time); following pairs (where one bird is thrown followed by a one- or two-second delay and then another clay is thrown); and report pairs, where the second clay is thrown immediately after shooting the first.

Courses are scored on either 50 or 100 targets.

Sporting clays also takes up a great deal more time for a round, given the number of shots and the distance the shooter must travel between stations to complete the course.



Competitive marksmanship is a large part of the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s mission. It is their belief that competition reinforces firearms safety and enables competitors to further develop their marksmanship skills and in many cases, even earn recognition for doing so (including things like Olympic medals and college scholarships). On their website you will find news and descriptions of upcoming matches, how to enter them and more information on course of fire and what you can expect from your participation.

If you are new to competitive shooting, the Civilian Marksmanship Program and its affiliated clubs and organizations continually sponsor clinics and workshops to help get you/your child up to speed. The CMP highly recommends participating in the CMP - USAMU Small Arms Firing School for pistol and/or rifle during the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. By completing one of their one- or two-day schools, you will learn the fundamentals of firearms safety and marksmanship, as well as have an introduction to one of the largest firearm competitions in the world.

Visit their site at


This is a good program if your child is of elementary through high school age and wants to learn shotgun or handgun shooting, or maybe they are just curious about something that some of their friends have talked about… shooting guns! The Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) and Scholastic Pistol Program (SPP) provide a safe, supervised environment to participate in shooting directly with their peers. The organization holds local, regional, state and national level competitions in trap, skeet and pistol.

Visit their site at


This is another excellent program through the NRA that encourages “self-competition” via scored targets that are sent in and then given rank accordingly through several designated skill levels, “Pro-Marksman” through “Distinguished Expert.”

Relevant introductory qualifications are available in handgun, hunter marksmanship, muzzleloader, trap, skeet, and sporting clays, recreational clay target shooting, tactical rifle, high power rifle, 4-position rifle, rimfire rifle, smallbore rifle and air rifle qualification. Advanced shooting qualifications are also available.

The following is from NRA’s Website,

From a young shooter’s first BB gun to sophisticated air rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, pistols and rifles, the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program offers family fun and enjoyment that can last a lifetime.

Qualification shooting is an informal, year-round recreational shooting activity that provides incentive awards for developing and improving marksmanship skills. It’s a drill. We set the standards; you meet the challenge! Progression is self-paced and scores are challenging but attainable. Performance is measured against established par scores and any shooter who meets or exceeds those scores is entitled to the corresponding recognition awards for that rating. It’s an honor system!

Shooters acquire the large discipline patch at the onset of the program and as each rating is earned, they are entitled to all of the corresponding awards for the rating. Each rating level has a skill rocker, medal and certificate award that recognizes and highlights the achievement.

The courses of fire in the qualification program are designed to take shooters from beginning skill levels (Pro-Marksman, Marksman) through intermediate levels (Marksman 1st Class, Sharpshooter, Expert) up to a nationally recognized skill level -- Distinguished Expert -- the pinnacle of the program. By the time a shooter completes the Distinguished Expert rating, he or she has attained a proficiency level paralleling that of a competitively classified Sharpshooter.

Qualification shooting can be conducted anywhere -- on public ranges, at your favorite club range, even on your own home range. BB and pellet gun shooters will find air gun qualification courses especially suited for informal home air gun ranges and family learning environments. Parents can shoot side by side with their children or start a neighborhood air gun shooting sports program for their children and their friends.

As you can see, competition can be a key factor in the introduction of youth to firearms, but it must be done properly to ensure that your sessions remain fun for the child and are done in a manner that enhances their learning of guns, rules and safety.