Overview of Smallbore Target Shooting Organisation & Competitions
(plus further introductory information on competitive aspects of the sport for newcomers)
As an introduction to those new to the sport (and perhaps some not-so-new), it might be of interest firstly to describe how the sport of smallbore target shooting is organised in Scotland and the UK.
At the top of the organisational pyramid in the UK is the National Smallbore Rifle Association (NSRA), which is the governing body for all forms of smallbore target shooting in Britain (.22 rifle and air rifle & pistol plus, er, match crossbow shooting) and under whose rules and regulations almost all competitions here are run. At the base of the pyramid are the clubs and their members, and clubs as a rule must affiliate to the NSRA in order to operate at all. In the middle are County Associations which the clubs also affiliate to and are in turn themselves affiliated to the NSRA. Our local Association is the Lothian & Borders Target Shooting Association (LBTSA). All of these bodies and others provide competitions for their clubs and individual members. These competitions are the lifeblood of the sport in this country.
Another layer exists in the form of a body called Scottish Target Shooting (STS for short). It was formed in 2016 and was an amalgamation of the Scottish Smallbore Rifle Association (smallbore rifle and air rifle), the Scottish Pistol Association (pistol and air pistol) and the Scottish Rifle Association (fullbore rifle) all of which had been in existence for many years. STS came into being after a lot of discussion among these shooting bodies themselves and also the Scottish Government (in the form of SportScotland) who wanted to deal with only one shooting body regarding grant aid to the shooting sports in Scotland. Unfortunately the Scottish Clay Target Association declined to join STS, so that objective has not been fully achieved. Both individuals and clubs can affiliate to STS, and equipment insurance is available for individuals on paying a higher subscription. The original and prime purpose of each of the four previous ‘standalone’ organisations was to arrange the selection of the members of Scotland’s shooting team for the Commonwealth Games every four years, and that role has now been taken on by STS with input from the groups within it which organise the different shooting disciplines.
Regarding smallbore shooting, STS continues to organise the same competitions that the Scottish Smallbore Rifle Association (SSRA) used to run, so there is very little change on that front as it continues to provide a comprehensive set of annual competitions, both in the winter and summer seasons for individuals (mainly) and clubs. STS (now) also runs training squads at several levels for each discipline and selects teams to represent Scotland for national and international matches up to and including the Commonwealth Games from pools of shooters of known quality. All the other Home Countries have similar organisations to the previous SSRA, SPA and SRA but none of them have amalgamated into a single body as in Scotland.
Target shooting competitions in the UK come in two distinct types: “Shoulder-to-Shoulder” and “Postal”. There are competitions for both individuals and teams within both types. (Unless otherwise stated, all competitions described below are for indoor prone shooting.)
As the name implies, these matches take place between teams or individuals on the same range so that competitors shoot together and the results are known immediately. Team league matches are shot both home and away. In the Edinburgh and Lothians area there are two S-S leagues run over the winter season by two different organisations. The Lothian & Borders Target Shooting Association (LBTSA) runs one for club teams of four, each team member shooting two targets, i.e. twenty shots, in each match. The Lothians and Peeblesshire HG Rifle Clubs Association (L&PHGRCA – a bit of a mouthful, so it’s generally known as ‘the L&P’ or ‘the Home Guard’ because the ‘HG’ in the title refers to the origins of the organisation, but is now is now a redundant and deprecated term) also run one along similar lines, but the teams of four shoot two separate matches of one target for each team member on every match occasion.
These matches are social occasions as well as competitive events and normally the teams sit down together at the end of the match (while the captains start scoring the targets) for a blether over a cup of tea and a sandwich or whatever the home team has provided for the post-match sustenance. Matches usually start about 7.45 and go on to 9.30 or so. Depending on the number of teams in each division, there would be about ten or twelve matches per season per team. Clubs should encourages their members of whatever ability to take part in one or other (or both) of these leagues as it is a very good way of seeing other clubs, gain wider experience, particularly in match situations, and meeting shooters in other clubs who may do things in interesting and different ways. It also helps everyone in the local shooting community to get to know each other. Everybody should do it for at least one season. Most people who take part in these matches say it improves their shooting as nothing concentrates the mind more than shooting right beside your opponents and, importantly, not letting your team down.
Individual S-S competitions are rarer and are usually the final stage of individual championships where the first stages are shot postally. Locally, the LBTSA and L&P Associations both run a two-stage Championship, and other organisations also do the same, for example the NSRA and STS. More on these later.
Postal matches are all shot on the team or individual competitor’s home range, and in their/his/her own time during what’s known as a ‘match period’, which will end on a particular date (usually a Monday). Leagues and individual competitions are run to strict timetables through the season. Depending on the competition, each round can be weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The early stages of Individual championships usually just have a fixed last date for shooting so shooters can shoot their targets on their own range any time up to that date. There are other team competitions where all the team members must shoot on the same day on their own range. When all the cards (“card” is an alternative term for “target” and references the very stiff, specialised type of paper they are made from, technically known as ‘board’ in the paper-making industry, just to confuse things even more) are shot for any particular round, the Club’s Match Secretary or designated official will collect the shot targets and post them to the central organiser who will score the targets from all the participants in the competition and issue the results. Thus a team from Wick can shoot against a team from Penzance very easily. This is the way most of the competitive shooting is carried out in this country.
Some postal competitions are run in an alternative way using what’s called ‘local scoring’. Here, a designated club official will score the cards shot in that club and send only the scores to the central organiser for the collation and publishing of the results instead of the actual targets. This saves the clubs money on postage, and in fact most if not all locally-scored leagues allow for the scores to be emailed in, this reducing costs further. There are both pros and cons for this style of organisation and, although the cost-saving aspects are obvious and generally accepted, not everyone agrees that the scoring by different people in different clubs has sufficient consistency to be a reliable way of determining the results of matches. Some scorers are ‘better’ than others. The NSRA run Scoring Courses for those interested in the techniques, but even such accredited scorers are not infallible.
There are team leagues, spilt into divisions based on the average scores of the members of each team, and others for individuals. There are both ‘Open’ and ‘Classified’ competitions. Open means they are open to anybody, regardless of average or skill level. In Classified competitions, each individual has to declare their average when their entry is made and the organiser arranges all the entries into that order and allocates each one to a Class. Classes are normally designated A (for the top class), then B, C etc. Class D is usually the lowest class and is commonly for those averaging below 90 per card. Some competitions have a ‘super-A class’ called Class X, and some go down to E or even F class. Mainly it’s just A to D though. Whatever your class, however, you can be sure that you will be shooting against other competitors of a similar skill level, and the degree of competitiveness is just the same whether it’s in the top class or the bottom class. It’s much the same for team competitions: if you are in the club’s ‘C’ team in a league, for example, then that team will be shooting in a division against other teams with similar capabilities.
At the start of each league or championship, the organiser will send out stickers to the club along with the programme or timetable giving the dates that each round must be shot by, and a club official will stick the stickers onto fresh targets, mark them up with the shooter’s name and the last date for shooting (‘ldfs’) and issue them to the individual shooters. It’s then up to each shooter to keep track of the targets he/she has to shoot, and take note of the dates they have to be shot by. The league timetables for teams requires all team members to shoot their cards by a fixed date, and it is considered very poor form for any team member not to shoot their card by each due date, resulting in the team’s set of cards having to be sent in with less than the full complement. The match will almost certainly be lost and the other team members will just have wasted their time and ammunition. If you volunteer to be in a team, you are committing yourself to shooting in it regularly for the full programme. If you know you are not going to be able to shoot a particular round you must tell someone as far in advance as possible so that a reserve can be arranged.
Here’s a description of all (or at least most of) the competitions available to shooters in this area, split by the organisations that run them:
Shoulder-to-Shoulder league: Teams of four, twenty shots per match. Anything from 8 to 12 matches per season from October to March, shooting matches both home and away. There are either one or two divisions, with the number of teams varying from year to year. In 2016-17 there weren’t enough teams to run two divisions so a concurrent handicap competition was introduced to give the lower-average teams something to shoot for.
Team Postal league: Divisions of six teams of four, ten shots per round per team member over ten fortnightly rounds. Runs from October to March. There are usually five or six divisions.
Individual league: Three monthly rounds with a total of ten cards (three, three then four per month). The entry is split into divisions of six and there are generally about 10-12 divisions. Runs from January to March.
Individual Championships: There is an Open competition as well as two ‘Inexpert’ classes for those with lower averages, shot postally. There are also Ladies, Veterans and Junior Championships. The top sixteen overall in the Open category go through to a shoulder-to-shoulder final, which takes the form of a knock-out competition to decide the winner. The first stage has to be shot by mid-February and the final is in early April.
Choose-Your-Own-Handicap: This is for club teams of four shooting in a knockout format. Each team member assumes a handicap and the score he/she shoots is adjusted according to that handicap to give the team total. The first rounds are shot postally, and the final is held shoulder-to-shoulder at a neutral range. The handicapping system means that anyone in the club can participate on a level playing field, and it’s quite a fun comp. The first round is shot in December.
“World Cup”: This is a competition for individuals and is unclassified. It’s run along the lines of the football World Cup, i.e. there is a (postal) qualifying stage which is run in randomly-selected groups, with the two or three top placers in each group going through to a shoulder-to-shoulder final, which has two further stages – a seeded group stage followed by a knock-out stage. The final takes place in early March and the competition attracts entrants from all over the UK.
Shoulder-to-Shoulder league: Teams of four, ten shots per match, two matches at a time. Approx 12 matches per season from October to March.
Start Of Season: This is a classified, postal competition for individuals run at the start of the season when many leagues and other competitions haven’t got into their stride yet, and provides an early opportunity to shoot match cards. There are four classes and is an ideal comp for those new to competitive shooting to start out with at the beginning of what might be their first season of shooting match cards. There is one stage of three targets for each competitor. Runs from September to November.
Championships: This is a two-stage competition. The first stage of the Open is two cards and the top six qualify for the shoulder-to-shoulder final, which is of six cards. There are also classes for Inexperts, Ladies and Juniors run alongside the first stage, which is shot in February.
Scottish Southern Counties Association:
The SSCA merged with the Lothian Smallbore Shooting Association to form LBTSA in 2020. Most if not all the competitions it ran were duplicates of LBTSA competitions and are at time of writing no longer being run. One which will continue though is its annual ‘Field Day’ which is the name given to its outdoor competition, usually held at Lauder in July. This consists of competitions at 50 metres and 100 yards plus a Championship.
STS (Scottish Target Shooting):
The STS consists of separate ‘Activity Management Groups’ (AMGs) which organise competitions in the separate shooting disciplines. These are Air, Clay, Fullbore, Gallery Rifle, Pistol and Smallbore. The following competitions are run by the Smallbore and Air AMGs:
Smallbore Team Postal league: Teams of four in divisions of six teams, ten shots per round over ten fortnightly rounds. Runs from October to March. Open to affiliated clubs only, although team members need not be members of the Association. There are usually five divisions.
Medal & Salvers: This is the name given to the Scottish Smallbore Indoor Championship run by the Smallbore AMG as the main prize is a (real) silver medal, with salvers for the subsidiary prizes. It is run in four classes over two stages, both postal, with three cards in each stage. There are also competitions for Juniors and Veterans run concurrently. The top ten in each class or category go the final stage. Each class and category winner receives a silver-plated salver. Entry is restricted to STS members.
Speedway: The Speedway is the Scottish Short Range Prone Matchplay Championship, and is shot in two stages. The first stage is postal, and consists of 5 cards, with the entry split into those in classes A&B and those in classes C&D. The top sixteen shooters qualify for the A&B final, and the top eight for the C&D version. These finals are both shot shoulder to shoulder in March. The format of the final follows that of a traditional motor-bike speedway competition, where the competitors compete against each other in groups of four at a time, rotating after each 20 shots so that each combination only meets once. Points are allocated to the first, second and third placers in each group, and it is the points total that determines the winner. Entry is restricted to STS members.
Leagues: Individual and some team leagues are run for prone and 3P over the winter months by the Smallbore AMG and the Air AMG runs air rifle and pistol leagues. Divisions are ranked on the basis of recent average scores. Entry is restricted to STS members.
Grand Prix series: A series of meetings are held in various locations for air rifle and air pistol during the winter season and for smallbore rifle (prone & 3P) in the summer. The top placers gain ‘Grand Prix’ points and there is an award for the overall champion at the end of the series. These meetings all use Megalink electronic targets, which have to be lugged around to the different ranges and set up and dismantled by a dedicated band of helpers. Entry is open to all.
There are similar Grand Prix meetings for air rifle and air pistol run by the Air AMG.
Championships: Championships for individuals run under strict ISSF rules are run each year by STS for 10m Air Rifle and Air Pistol, and also for 50m smallbore rifle in Prone and 3-Positions. These meetings attract competitors from around the UK, and are also shot using the Megalink electronic targets. The 50m events are held at the Denwood range in Aberdeen and the 10m events are held in (usually) a gymnasium hired for the occasion and specially kitted out with the targetry etc, which could be anywhere. In recent years it has been in Edinburgh and is a joint rifle and pistol event.
National League: Teams of five in divisions of six, ten shots per round over ten fortnightly rounds. Runs from October to March. Nationally, this is a very popular league, with over 40 divisions. There is a separate league for women only (teams of three). All competitors must be individual members of the NSRA.
Team Knock-outs: the NSRA run four team knock-out competitions for clubs, one each with different team sizes. The ‘News of the World’ (perhaps the most prestigious) for teams of six, the ‘Burroughes & Watts’ for teams of four, the ‘Mackworth Pryde’ for teams of eight and not least the ‘Scottish Cup’, for teams of six from clubs in Scotland. Each KO round is run postally, and the members of each team must shoot their cards on the same day within the fixed time period for each round.
Scottish and British Championships: These are three-stage postal competitions for individuals, and are classified. The winner of Class A of the British wins the ‘News of the World’ trophy (a different one), and the Scottish champion wins the ‘Daily Record’ bowl. There are subsidiary Junior, Ladies and Veterans competitions run concurrently with each. All entrants must be individual members of the NSRA.
In addition the NSRA runs leagues for teams representing Counties. There are leagues for Main teams of 20, Reserves teams of 10, Women’s teams of 5 and Junior (under 21) teams of 4 as well as for air rifle and air pistol.
Air Rifle & Pistol:
Air weapons shooting is carried out at 10 metres. There are only two ranges with the facilities for shooting these in Lothian (Balerno & Currie and Watsonians). There is just as much variety and potential for competition shooting in these disciplines as there is for smallbore rifle. Unfortunately not round here, though. Various organisations, including the STS and NSRA, run leagues and championships for air shooters, although the leagues run by the Cumbria & Northumbria Target Shooting Association are also popular throughout the UK (but mainly England).
Shooting smallbore rifles outdoors is a whole different ballgame. The first requirement is an approved outdoor range, of which, sad to say, there are none in the Edinburgh area. The nearest one is run by Alloa & District RC and is located near Clackmannan. The standard distances are 50 yards, 50 metres and 100 yards. The aiming-marks and scoring rings are all proportional in size so what you aim at looks exactly the same through the sights whatever the distance. The season runs from April to September.
Every year the NSRA runs two big championship meetings (both of which are Classified) which are open to all. One is at Bisley in Surrey and the other is in Scotland, where a big range of approximately 120 firing points is temporarily built in different parts of the country each year. Also, many bodies such as the NSRA, STS and County Associations run outdoor leagues and championships.
The biggest differences between indoor and outdoor shooting are (a) the weather has to be contended with (wind, mainly, but occasionally rain, heat and cold) and (b) the quality of equipment and particularly ammunition become more significant. Most outdoor ranges have covered firing points so keeping dry while shooting is not really an issue, but it does tend to get the targets wet which can make scoring difficult, and wet targets are easy to tear if not handled carefully. All the major championships in the world are held outdoors at 50 metres (e.g. Olympics, Commonwealth games, continental championships etc). If you aspire to any national or international success in this sport you must shoot outdoors.
Three-positional shooting is carried out in the positions of prone, standing and kneeling. Prone is where you lie on your front. Standing, is, well, just standing. In this position, there are no artificial supports allowed for the rifle and it is held up by the supporting arm resting on the side of the chest. It’s not easy. In Kneeling, a sling is allowed in order to help support the rifle. Here, the supporting arm’s elbow rests on a knee, and the shooter basically sits on the the other leg’s ankle, which may be supported by a cylindrical pad (called a ‘kneeling roll’) underneath it. 3P is an extremely demanding part of the shooting sport. It takes about three hours of almost continuous shooting for the competitors to shoot the full international course of 40 shots each in kneeling, prone and standing, in that order. Each position requires its own set of special skills and the whole event is a test of concentration and stamina as much as anything. The top athletes train very hard at this. And yes, competitive shooters are called athletes these days.
3P can be shot indoors, but only on ranges officially approved to be safe for the purpose. Only two ranges are so approved in Lothian (Edinburgh University/EU Alumni and Watsonians).
The International Shooting Sports Federation is the governing body for target rifle shooting in the world. Its rules vary from those of the NSRA and they govern all the major championships such as the Olympics, Continental championships, World Cups and the Commonwealth Games, plus many more. It has a huge influence on the conduct of shooting world-wide. Most nations of the world use these rules for their domestic shooting, but Great Britain is one of the few which has its own set of shooting rules (set by the NSRA for smallbore and air shooting, at least). The others are mainly Commonwealth countries and other ex-colonies such as the USA. GB virtually invented the sport of target shooting in the late 19th century, but as in so many other sports with their origins in this country, the worldwide governance has been taken out of its hands. The ISSF HQ is in Munich but its official languages is English, so I suppose we still have some influence.
Fullbore shooting is shot with rifles of calibres of 7.62 mm or 6.5 mm. It is never shot indoors, but always on outdoor ranges of from 200 yards to 1,200 yards. Although there are many common principles, it is a different sport to smallbore rifle shooting. There are not many fullbore ranges in Scotland but there is one at Castlelaw in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh. It belongs to the Army, but the local fullbore club (the East of Scotland Rifle Club) has regular summertime access to it. The most famous of all ranges is at Bisley in Surrey, which is a huge range complex run by the National Rifle Association (NRA). If you wish to know more, check out their website (see below).
You may be aware that ownership of cartridge pistols by the general public is banned in this country. Well, not quite. It is still legal in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, but in fact the mainland ban isn’t quite complete either, as a particular type of .22 target pistol has been approved for general use. It’s called a ‘long arm’ pistol and gets round the ban by being defined as a sort of cut-down rifle. It’s academic for anyone in Lothian though, as there are no ranges approved for pistol shooting. Here’s more on cartridge pistol shooting.
If you are new to this sport and are reading this, then you might already have been ‘hooked’. You’ll have discovered that it is a precision sport that requires concentration and great self-discipline, both physical and mental. If you have ambitions to progress up the skill-ladder and perhaps one day represent your County, then Scotland and then perhaps eventually Great Britain, then the only way, as in any other sport, is to devote time and effort to training. On the other hand, if you only want to socialise with like-minded people and shoot as a hobby at a local club then you will be joining the vast majority of shooters in the country who take part in their sport just for recreational purposes and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, shooting ‘practice’ targets all the time will get a bit boring, and your club can give you the opportunity to shoot in any competitions you want so that you can join your clubmates in a team or to test yourself against others in an individual league. If you do take part then you will achieve enjoyment from participating in its activities and competing against others in your own and other clubs.
I hope this document has given an insight into what is available for you to participate in and also a wider appreciation of the shooting scene in this country.
Here are some websites you might like to look at (all will open in a new tab):
|Balerno & Currie RC|
|SSRA||Yes, its site still exists. Contains archives and a page of links to a vast number of other shooting bodies.|
|LBTSA||You’re looking at it right now.|
|Edinkillie||Shooting equipment supplier, for everything new and shiny.|
|Shooting Discussion Forum||Registration required – free & easy.|