Attention Smallbore Rifle Shooters!
If you are a smallbore rifle shooter, you know that there have been some changes recently at the national level, specifically with regard to the national matches.
"Back in my day" the term "national matches" in the smallbore rifle world referred to the NRA Smallbore Rifle 3-P (three position) and Prone Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, which took place in the middle of July each year. My love for this match is well-documented. :)
Yes, USA Shooting, the Olympic Governing Body for smallbore and air rifle in the USA, had (and still does have) a national championship each year in June. The USASNC was traditionally a smaller, more serious affair than the national matches at Camp Perry. On the line with USA Shooting was a spot on the national team. With the exception of a few paper-only international matches, no such pressure existed at Camp Perry.
Camp Perry hosted more shooting (full matches of 120 shots on each day of 3-P and four days of prone shooting, for example) and more shooters than the USASNC, and all matches were coed. That all changed a few years ago when the smallbore national matches in 3-P and prone moved to Bristol, Indiana. Presumably this was done to make room at Camp Perry for a practice match a year in advance of the 2015 International Confederation of Fullbore Rifle Associations (ICFRA) world championships. Since this move to Indiana, the number of smallbore shooters attending the national matches has dropped, from about 330 competitors when I last attended in 2009 to 72 3-P and 87 prone shooters in 2017.
In 2015 it was announced that the NRA smallbore national matches are officially finished at Camp Perry. This news made me really sad to hear. Camp Perry holds so many memories for me. From getting post-match ice cream in Port Clinton to shopping on Commercial Row to standing on the stage in 2003 collecting the team national championship awards, Camp Perry holds a special place in my heart.
My dad, who helped get me started in smallbore rifle, spent many summers at Camp Perry shooting in highpower matches with his junior rifle teammates. When I moved to Cincinnati to take my first job after graduation, one of the shooters I connected with there had been attending the prone national matches since 1948. Because of the time we had both spent at Camp Perry, we could build a friendship through the shooting sports. Our collective time spent at Camp Perry served as the foundation for a friendship through the shooting sports. Now I fear those opportunities for connections through a shared Camp Perry experience are gone for many new smallbore shooters - though I hope not forever.
Enter the ASSA
There are other issues afoot besides a change of venue, including changes to the traditional match programs and targets. Though I am not aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes in the competitive smallbore community, social media allowed me to connect with other shooters who want to preserve and grow the sport of smallbore rifle shooting in the US. The American Smallbore Shooting Association (ASSA) was founded in 2016 "to promote, protect, and sustain the sport of conventional smallbore competition target shooting in the United States of America." (To be clear, "conventional" means American-style, coed shooting like what happened at Camp Perry and now takes place in Bristol. The alternative is "international" shooting, which is gender-segregated and adheres strictly to ISSF rules.)
The ASSA is hosting its own set of 3-P and prone smallbore national matches in Connecticut. According to a press release from ProneMatch.com, "This match will consists of a conventional 3-Position 3×40 championship with irons, scope and teams conducted over a 3 day period. At the conclusion of the 3-Position phase, the next 5 days will be the Prone championship using the traditional Critchfield 6400 course of fire." These are the traditional match programs as they were held at Camp Perry. I am interested to see how these matches turn out and grow over the years. Curiosity got to me, though - why start another organization? Do we really need the NRA, USA Shooting, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (headquartered at Camp Perry), and ASSA?
To learn more about the ASSA and their national matches, I asked ASSA President Mike Carter to answer some questions. Mike is primarily a prone shooter, with many state and national level shooting achievements under his belt.
1. Why was the ASSA founded, and when did it come to be?
The ASSA was founded to protect, support and sustain the sport of conventional smallbore rifle shooting as practiced in the USA. We formed this organization in 2016 out of discussions held at the 2016 National Championships in Bristol IN. The root of organization was based on the decision by the current governing body of conventional smallbore to move the National Championships from Camp Perry. There was a widely held perception the NRA was seeking to divest itself of the foundation shooting sports that were not growing the membership roles. Events at NRA since 2013 has done nothing to change that perception. We are hopeful they turn this around.
2. How does ASSA fit into the current set of organizations (CMP, NRA, USAS) that serve smallbore shooters? Will ASSA partner with any other organizations or stay independent?
ASSA does not seek to alter or replace the mission goals of the CMP, USAS, or NRA. It fully supports the mission of all 3 organizations that might be considered competitors. A partnership with USAS is unlikely because because their mission is to develop Olympians competing under the rules of the ISSF. A partnership with CMP is plausible due the fact they currently conduct rimfire sporter matches. CMP's natural progression for rimfire sporter would be to high power rifle, but it could also be a progression to conventional smallbore 3-P rifle and prone competition. A partnership with the NRA is unlikely, as long as they continue to run their National Smallbore Championships.
3. The ASSA is hosting a national championship this summer at the Blue Trail Range. Can you tell me a little about the match program?
The ASSA is hosting our National Championship at the Blue Trail Range in Wallingford CT. The Championship will be conducted in 2 phases. 3-Position conventional targets, 3 x 40 with iron sights. Team Day, and 3 x 40 with scopes. The second phase will be the prone championship conducted over 5 days. The traditional Critchfield course of fire will be used. 640 shots for record. 160 each day. 320 with irons sights and 320 with any sights. The purpose of this match was to give those who value tradition an opportunity to compete in a match using the same course of fire most of the national records were set with. Prone, Standing, Kneeling in 3-P. 50 Yards, 50 Meter, Dewar and finish at 100 yards when the conditions are the most challenging. It can be said the metric targets are better measurement of the marksman's skill. And the conventional targets are easier and less of a challenge. Well no one has shot a 1600-160X yet. So it's not that easy. But it is fun and places a different focus on the duration of the day's shooting. All of your shots might not be the closest to the center, but consistency will be rewarded.
4. Do you see the scope (no pun intended) of the ASSA's mission expanding to other disciplines, like air rifle?
The American Smallbore Shooting Association will keep a narrow focus on .22 rifle shooting. The organizers have a combined history of 170 years of competitive smallbore shooting experience. The 3PAR council and CMP is doing a great job of developing the air rifle sporter and precision and we would never attempt to tamper with that effort. High Power Rifle and Bullseye Pistol are not disciplines we are well versed in and not something we would expand too.
5. How does ASSA plan to engage the next generation of shooters?
To engage the next generation of shooters there has to be a sport for them to participate in. Competitive smallbore rifle shooting is a sport for one's entire life. We want to keep it active as a viable shooting sport for the future. If you learned to shoot with the smallbore rifle, and excelled in the sport as a high school or collegiate athlete, often times the participation ends with a diploma. And not until many years later when life gets out of the way do many shooters come back to a sport they loved. Eyesight fades over time and that is why the scope shooting is an integral part of this sport. It allows shooters who were great with iron sights to maintain that feeling of being able to score well in tough conditions, shoot many X's and be competitive for many years after their eyesight has faded.
If the ASSA's mission appeals to you, please check out their website and, even better, attend their national matches.