The History of Shooting Sports
(Our own Jack Writer is mentioned in the Olympic Section.)
Source: 1995 USA Shooting Media Guide (unedited)
and The Washington Post
Formal target shoots involving the bow and arrow and the spear were first used as military training activities, but Homer’s "Iliad" indicates that Greeks also held archery contests to shoot pigeons on top of tall poles in honor of the gods. Indians, Persians, Slavs, Celts, and Germans engaged in similar activities.
By the tenth century, marksmanship evolved into a social and recreational sport. Regarded as the progenitor of great shooters, Swiss hero William Tell gained honor during the 14th century after successfully shooting an apple off his son’s head. A tyrannical Austrian bailiff forced Tell to use a crossbow to perform the legendary feat.
The First Shooting Clubs
The first shooting clubs were formed by German-speaking peoples in the 13th and 14th centuries. Membership was limited to men only. At first, bows and wheel-lock muskets were shot from the standing position, but by the 16th century, firearms with rifled barrels were used in public matches. Early club competitions were festive one-shot matches fired at elaborately painted wooden targets. Matches and shooting festivals for one or more clubs were routinely held on New Year’s Day, religious holidays, and other special occasions. Prizes of gold and money were frequently awarded.
Shooting Traditions in America
German and Swiss riflemakers in Pennsylvania began producing flintlock rifles suitable for use on the American frontier around 1710. Since protection from Indians and hunting for food were vital concerns, frontiersman soon began "shooting at a mark" to sharpen their skills. The mark was usually a knot on a tree or an "x" marked on a slab of wood.
The first forms of competition in this country were "rifle frolics" or "turkey shoots," with prizes being beef, turkey, or other food items. Matches were usually one shot affairs fired from a distance of 250-330 feet from either the standing or rest shooting positions. Between 1790 and 1800, the first match rifles were developed, featuring 38 to 40-inch barrels, double-set triggers, and target sights similar to those used on European target arms.
Target gun accuracy improved when riflemakers began using new percussion caps in 1825. Formal match shooting began shortly thereafter, and competitions in all parts of the country were well-attended by shooters and spectators. A match in Glendale Park, N.Y., in the 1880’s attracted more than 600 shooters and 30,000 spectators in one day alone. An 1898 shooting festival at that same location offered $25,000 in cash prizes.
Trap shooting with live pigeons began in the U.S. around 1825, with the first recorded match being in Cincinnati, Ohio, six years later. Americans led the way in developing 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. In a one-day exhibition, Bogardus once broke 5,681 glass balls before missing, while Oakley once shot 4,772 of 5,000 glass balls released from 15yard traps.
The first recorded pistol match was a duel in 1860 between two men shooting nine-inch china plates from 100 feet. The winner broke 11 out of 15. In 1865, W.F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody began shooting pistol exhibitions, which did much to promote the sport.
Skeetshooting originated between 1910 and 1915 as an attempt 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 present day half-circle, with targets thrown from high and low houses on either side of the field.
The Beginning of World Competition
The first World Shooting Championships were fired in 1897, when Lyon, France’s shooting club organized an international 300-meter rifle match to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Women’s events were first instituted at the 1958 Championships, and today World Championships for men and women in all disciplines are fired every four years. At the 1994 Championships in Milan 102 individual and team pistol, rifle, running target, and shotgun events will be contested.
The Emergence of National Federations and the UIT As shooting traditions devel0ped in the V.S. and overseas, many national federations were established in the mid to late 19th century. The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) 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. The NRA then assumed leadership and developmental responsibilities for pistol, rifle and, beginning in 1960, shotgun shooting in the U.S.
In 1907, eight nations established the International Shooting Union (UIT), recognized today as the world governing body for shooting. The U.S. joined the UIT in 1908. The organization is now based in Munich Germany, and has 148 member federations. Mexico’s Olegario Vazquez Rana currently serves as the UIT president. Wolfgang Schreiber edits the UIT Journal, published bimonthly in four languages. UIT Headquarters can be reached at 01149 89 53 10 12 (phone) or 011 49 89 5 30 94 81 (fax).
In 1978, the U.S. Olympic Committee selected the NRA as the sole national governing body for Olympic-style shooting in the United States. The NRA’s International Shooting Sports division has been designated to fulfill this responsibility from its headquarters office at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. However, organizations such as the Amateur Trapshooting Association(ATA), the Pacific International Trapshooting Association (PITA), and the National Skeetshooting Association (NSSA) actively govern and develop American-style trap and skeet shooting in this country.
The U.S. National Team/Development Team Program
Before 1979, there was no year-round U.S. Shooting Team. Athletes trained independently and met once a year to try out for major events such as the Olympics and World Championships. Once the world match was over, the team was disbanded until the following year.
Spurred by the Amateur Sports Act, the NRA created its International Competitions Committee (ICC) to pursue and govern the interests of Olympic-style shooters in 1978. The following year, an ICC ad-hoc subcommittee produced a 40-page report mandating the establishment of national teams/development teams in each Olympic discipline, a national coaching staff, year-round training programs, and a headquarters training site for Olympic shooting sports.
Much debate ensued over where to locate the USST’s permanent national training facility. Among the leading options were National Gun Club in San Antonio, Maricopa County Ranges in Phoenix, and the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs was ultimately chosen because of the proximity of other Olympic member organizations, plus the U.S. Olympic Committee’s offer for free room and board for athletes in training.
The first airgun team training sessions in Colorado Springs were held in the fall of 1979 on a range that once served as the Ent Air Force Base commissary. Running target shooter Fritz Allen became the USST’s first OTC resident, and within two years he was joined by five other rifle and running target shooters.
By 1985, the USST had constructed its $2.7 million U.S. Olympic Shooting Center. The resident program has grown from one to 23 athletes, and matches and training sessions for the national team/ development team are now conducted yearround in Colorado Springs.
The History of Olympic Shooting
In 1896, French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin orchestrated the first modern Olympic Games with nine sports in Athens, Greece. As a former French pistol champion, de Coubertin supported the inclusion of four pistol and two high-power rifle events on the Olympic program.
Since then, shooting events have been a part of all but the 1904 Games in St. Louis and the 1928 Games in Amsterdam. Individual and team events were fired until 1948, when team contests were eliminated by the UIT.
The number of Olympic shooting events has ranged from a low of two at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, to a high of 21 events in Antwerp in 1920. Fifteen rifle, pistol, running target, and shotgun matches will be contested at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Participation has grown steadily through the years. While only four nations competed in shooting events in 1896, 83 countries met on the firing lines in Barcelona in 1992. In fact, shooting traditionally attracts the third largest number of participating nations of any sport at the Olympic Games.
Among the leading U.S. marksmen in early Olympic competitions were pistol shooter Alfred Lane and rifle star Morris Fisher. Each man captured five gold medals in individual and team events in 1912 and 1920.
Domination by the former Soviet Union and other eastern European nations began in 1952 with their development of rigorous, scientifically-based training systems. Their dynasty was broken, however, in the mid 1960s by the most powerful U.S. rifle team in history: Gary Anderson, Lanny Bassham, Jack Foster, Margaret Thompson Murdock, Lones Wigger Jr., and Jack Writer. Their coach was Colonel Bill Pullum, who later became instrumental in forming today’s national team/development team concept.
With 44 Olympic gold medals to their credit, American shooters rank third highest in the all-time gold medal count for U.S. Olympic sports. Only 13 shooters in history have won two gold medals in individual Olympic competition, and four of them are Americans: Gary Anderson (1964, 1968), Morris Fisher (1920, 1924), Alfred Lane (1912), and Lones Wigger Jr. (1964, 1972).
Women in Olympic Shooting
Margaret Thompson Murdock’s silver three-position victory at the ‘76 Games made her the first markswoman in history to win an Olympic medal. The event was open, meaning that men and women competed against each other.
Murdock’s success predated the institution of three separate women’s events at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles: women’s air rifle, women’s three-position rifle, and sport pistol. With her standout performance in women’s air rifle that year, American Pat Spurgin became the first markswoman in history to capture an Olympic gold. Ruby Fox (pistol) and Wanda Jewell (rifle) also won medals for the U.S. that year.
The number of female competitors has increased dramatically since 1984, and women’s participation is now growing at twice the rate of men’s. Separate men’s and women’s air pistol events were added to the 1988 Games in Seoul. And for the first time in history an all-women’s shotgun event, double trap, will join the Olympic program in 1996.
The U.S. International Shooting Hall of Fame
Few people know it, but American shooters have won more Olympic gold medals than athletes in all sports but track and field and swimming. The U.S. International Shooting Hall of Fame is designed to give the athletes whence built this powerful dynasty the recognition they deserve.
"These are the people whose really left their mark in shooting history, the people who knew how to win and did it consistently," said USST Director Lones Wigger. "Hall of Fame membership is the greatest tribute we can give today for yesterday’s achievements."
Pre- and post-1948 inductees are considered annually by the NRA’s International Competitions Committee and living Hall of Famers. Shooters are eligible for the Hall five years after their final international competition.
Selection requires a favorable vote on 75 percent of the ballots. In each category, if no nominee receives 75 percent of the ballot, then the top vote-getter was admitted to the Hall of Fame.
New inductees are announced annually at the SHOT Show. Since its establishment in 1991, the Hall of Fame has welcomed nine greats: pistol shooters Joe Benner, Alfred Lane (deceased), and Bill McMillan; plus rifle shooters Gary Anderson, Morris Fisher (deceased), Margaret Thompson Murdock, Carl Osburn (deceased), Dr.Walter Stokes, and Lones Wigger Jr.