NRA Air Gun Competition
For additional information please call the NRA Rifle Dept. at (703) 267-1475 or email

Air guns, traditionally regarded as guns for beginners, have now made the transition to guns for everyone. Some types, such as the familiar BB gun, are excellent as a "first gun;" other types are designed and used by seasoned international competitors.

Whether they are used for recreation or sport, for field use or as an inexpensive training tool, air rifles and air pistols are an excellent way to enjoy shooting. In recent years, air guns have undergone dramatic improvements in reliability, durability and accuracy. Air guns offer flexibility - they can be safely fired by shooters of all ages and experience levels.

NRA has developed and sponsored a variety of coaches' schools, training clinics and qualification courses, and offers various levels of competitive events which include air rifle and air pistol. They are available to junior, collegiate and adult shooters.

This page provides general information for tournament competition for the following events: air rifle, air pistol, air silhouette, 10 meter running game target and BB gun. It will also discuss construction of air gun ranges from the very basic home range to setting up a portable range for schools, to designing and constructing a permanent air gun range. Air guns can be found in nearly every shooting program, and air gun programs have been adopted by many national organizations, including the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, National Association of Sports for Cerebral Palsy, U.S. Jaycees, Boy Scouts of America, Explorer Scouts, 4-H, and Police Athletic League.

Safety First
Gun safety is vital for any owner or user of a BB gun or pellet gun. Young shooters must be supervised by a knowledgeable adult whenever using the gun. Adults and children should carefully read and understand all instructions that come with their air gun, and understand the proper safe use of such guns.

AIR GUNS ARE NOT TOYS! Improper handling due to carelessness or ignorance can cause injury or even death. Young gun owners can have years of enjoyment with air guns if they are used properly and safely.

The NRA gun safety rules must be read and understood by all children and adults who will be using or supervising the use of BB guns and pellet guns. Although all the NRA safety rules are important, the most important are the first three rules. If these three rules are applied in every situation, there would be no more avoidable injuries involving air guns, or any guns for that matter.

Which Air Gun?
Many brands of air guns are available. There are three major types of air guns: Spring-piston, Pneumatic and CO2. All three systems are used in both air rifles and air pistols.

The spring-pistol air gun is powered by the compression of a mainspring when the gun is manually cocked. The compression spring is released when the trigger is pulled, driving the piston forward, thus building up air pressure that pushes the pellet out of the barrel. Spring-pistol guns are of three types: Break-barrel, Underlever and Sidelever. BB guns are also in this category.

Pneumatic pump guns are among the most popular and best known air guns. They are also the most affordable of the three types. Pneumatic guns use a multiple-pump system, with compressed air stored in the gun's reservoir. Pneumatic guns are either multipump or single stroke guns.

CO2 guns operate with carbon dioxide gas (CO2) contained in a cylinder. This air gun is the easiest to operate; it only needs to be cocked and the trigger pulled to release a regulated amount of gas which propels the pellet. Most cylinders have enough gas for 30-60 shots, and the larger cylinders have enough gas for 300-400 shots.

Velocity is important to air gun accuracy and pellet velocities can vary, depending on the type of air gun used. Single-pump precision match grade air guns deliver the most consistent muzzle velocity. The muzzle velocity of CO2 guns will vary with the pressure of the gas on the container. Consistent velocity is important when aiming at a 10 ring the size of a pin head (1mm), and precision air rifles and air pistols produce consistent velocities.

In shopping for an air gun, you should first decide upon its intended use, because prices and models vary widely, from Olympic-grade, precision air guns to lightweight target models, sporters and plinkers.

There are air guns of all prices and air guns for all ages. That's what is so great about this event! Everyone can shoot an air gun and enjoy the sport!

Air Gun Ammunition
There are two basic types of air gun ammunition; pellets and BBs. Pellets weigh much less than firearm projectiles, which makes the striking energy much less. They are molded from soft lead and most are hour-glass shaped which gives them increased stability in flight. They are designed for every air gun and come in a variety of head shapes. Pellets may be fired in either smoothbore or rifled barrels, unlike BBs which should be fired only through smoothbore barrels.

Pellet quality is second in importance only to the overall quality of the air gun itself. In competition, the .177 caliber is considered standard. This is true in all types of competition, from the BB gun through the Olympic-grade air rifles and pistols.

There are four basic types of pellets: wadcutter, used for paper target competition; pointed, designed for field use, producing more kinetic energy for penetration; hollow point, used for silhouette competition and field use; and round nose, considered for any use needing knock down power. The spherical BB is the most familiar air gun ammunition and is made from either steel or lead.

Other Equipment and Accessories
The type of air gun competition a shooter is interested in will determine how much equipment is necessary. According to NRA rules, a BB gun shooter only needs a BB gun and BBs. A sweatshirt is optional.

In 10-meter air rifle and air pistol competition, accessories can be a major part of the shooter's equipment list, and could include a cloth or leather shooting jacket, kneeling roll, padded glove, sling, shooting mat, shooting shoes, shooting glasses, and the list goes on. All these things aren't completely necessary to be a competitive shooter, but they can help as the shooter improves.

Air Gun Targets
The NRA has licensed a number of companies to print official NRA targets. Air gun targets may be purchased from these companies for use in competition and qualification. Click here to view the "NRA Target Manufacturer's List"

Of the many different targets available, the most commonly used in competition are the air rifle, 10 meter (AR-5) target; air pistol, 10 meter (B40) target; BB gun, 5 meter (AR-4) target and; running target, 10 meter (AR-6) target. The AR-5 and B 40 targets replace the old air rifle (AR-1) and air pistol (B-32) targets. The RB-10 running target will remain in print and will be used for national competition events and novelty shooting activities. Many qualification targets are available for distances of 15 feet, 5 meters, 25 feet, 10 meters - both for air rifles and air pistols, including BB rifles and BB pistols.

Another exciting target is the ever-popular metal silhouette sized for air guns and fired at reduced distances. Air silhouette has brought many "big bore" shooters to practice and even compete on these small targets.

Building a Home Air Gun Range
Possibly the best reason for air gun shooting is the ease of setting up a range. Air gun ranges can be constructed for easy set-up and take-down, or they can be built as a permanent structure. Most air gun classes are conducted in school rooms or at club houses and use cardboard boxes stuffed with paper as backstops. No matter how limited the budget, anyone with a fair amount of open space can set up an air gun range right at home or school.

A simple and inexpensive pellet trap can be constructed from a cardboard box stuffed with newspapers or old phone books. The simplest and fastest way to set up an air gun range is to use inexpensive, portable metal pellet traps. These are safe and will stop pellets and collect them in the trap.

A more expensive way to build a range is to use target carriers. These can be mounted for permanent use or as a temporary range set up, and can be easily taken down and stored until the next class or practice. Any range, regardless of location and construction, is only as safe as the manner in which it is used. Range safety must always be stressed, regardless of whether the range is to be used for air guns or firearms. Eye protection should always be used by anyone in the vicinity of a shooting range. Ear protection may be worn but is not a safety requisite for air gun shooting.

How to Start Shooting in Air Gun Competition
An individual interested in any level of air gun competition, from intraclub matches through the Olympics, should find a tournament near home and watch. This will allow the chance to see how a tournament is operated and see the equipment of each shooter. Most tournaments are conducted on the "local level", meaning NRA affiliated clubs are the sponsors and conduct the match themselves.

After the match may be the best time to ask questions to the shooters and the match sponsors about air gun competition and possibly even joining the club. Most clubs are pleased to see newcomers in the sport and will help get them started in the right direction.

The NRA can send you a list of tournaments fired around the country. These are available to all competitors upon request. There are so many types of matches that there should be no trouble getting started. NRA sanctions all tournaments from the local club level to state championships, sectional and regional championships and National Championships.