10 Interesting Facts About The History Of The Shooting Sports

posted on November 22, 2017

Shooting has a long history as a sport. Most sports, in fact, began as things people did to fight wars or to survive. The javelin throw, boxing, wrestling, fencing, archery, running, many team sports, horseback riding and shooting are all sports that began as military or survival skills.

Here are 10 facts about the history of the shooting sports, going back to ancient times.

10)  The first target shooting was done with slings and bows and arrows. Inscriptions on ancient Egyptian tombs show target shooting and shooting lessons in which bows and arrows were used. The medals awarded at the 38th World Shooting Championships in 1962 showed a 3,000-year-old Egyptian target shooting scene (pictured at top).

Sketch of William Tell
Sketch of William Tell by Ernst Stückelberg.

9)  The first target shooting with shoulder arms was done with crossbows during the Middle Ages. Shooting clubs were first organized among the German peoples in the 12th century. Crossbows were used in one-shot competitions using specially painted wooden targets. William Tell, here of the Swiss legend, became famous because of his skill with a crossbow. By the 16th century, firearms with rifled barrels were used in shooting competitions.

8)  Shooting got its start as a sport in America when frontiersmen came together. Early Americans, with their Pennsylvania and Kentucky flintlock rifles would “shoot at a mark,” which was usually an X carved in a slab of wood. These “rifle frolics” or “turkey shoots” often had prizes of beef, turkey or other food items.

7)  The most popular era of shooting in the United States was during the late 1800s. Offhand (standing position) schuetzen rifle matches attracted hundreds of shooters and thousands of spectators. Two of the greatest shooters of that time were Dr. Walter Hudson and Harry Pope, also a famous gunsmith.

Annie Oakley’s Parker Brothers double-barreled shotgun
Annie Oakley’s Parker Brothers double-barreled shotgun. From the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum.

6)  Trap shooting began in the U.S. in 1825. The first informal matches used live pigeons. The U.S. developed artificial targets for trap competition—first glass balls containing feathers, then clay targets. Among the greatest of the 19th century trapshooters were Adam Bogardus, Ira Paine, and Annie Oakley. Once at an exhibition match Bogardus shot 5,681 glass balls before he missed. Additionally, Oakley once shot an impressive 4,772 of 5,000 glass balls released from 15-yard traps.

5)  Skeet shooting originated in the early 1900s. The sport is meant to simulate upland game shooting. At first, competitors fired “around the clock” using a complete circle of shooting stations. This format was later modified to the half-circle still used today. Clay birds are thrown from high and low houses located on either side of the field.

4)  Many national shooting federations were established during the 19th century. The National Rifle Association of America was founded in 1871 by Colonel William Church and Captain George Wingate of the New York National Guard. The U.S. Revolver Association, founded in 1900, actually selected, trained, and financed Olympic pistol teams through the 1936 Games. Subsequently, the NRA assumed leadership and developmental responsibilities for pistol, rifle and, beginning in 1960, shotgun shooting. In 1994, USA Shooting became the U.S. national governing body for Olympic competition.

Pierre de Coubertin
Pierre de Coubertin is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games. He ensured shooting was included on the first Olympic program.
3)  In 1896, French pistol champion Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the first modern Olympic Games. The first games had nine sports including shooting. Included on the program were four pistol and two high power rifle events. Since then, shooting events have been included every year at the Olympics except for the 1904 and 1928 Games. Individual and team events were also included until they were eliminated in 1948.

2)  U. S. shooters were among the world’s best rifle shooters in the 20th century. In the 1920s, Morris Fisher won two Olympic gold medals and Walter Stokes won seven world championships. After 1960, Gary Anderson won two Olympic gold medals and seven world championships. Lones Wigger won two Olympic gold medals and set 12 individual world records. Other 20th century championship shooters include Lanny Bassham, John Foster, Margaret Murdock, John Writer, Pat Spurgin, Wanda Jewell, Bob Foth, Launi Meili, and Nancy Johnson.

Kim Rhode
Kim Rhode shooting her Beretta DT11 shotgun.
1)  The U.S. continues to excel in International and Olympic shooting in the 21st century. In 2004, Matt Emmons won the gold medal in 50 meter rifle prone. Shotgunner Kim Rhode won her first gold medal in double trap 1996, and now has a total of six Olympic medals. At the 2016 Rio Games, Rhode won the bronze in skeet. In 2012, Jamie Lynn Gray (now Corkish) won the gold medal in 3-position rifle. At the same London games, Vincent Hancock picked up a gold medal of his own in the skeet competition. Most recently, collegiate rifle shooter Ginny Thrasher had a memorable win at the 2016 Rio Games, with a gold medal winning performance in the 10 meter air rifle event.

Find out more about the history of the shooting sports:


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