Where To Start

We receive many questions on how to get started in a particular competition shooting program. The following pages will answer most questions, but if you have other questions, please write, call, or email the Competitive Shooting Division.

This is not intended to cover all aspects of all shooting programs. It is intended to cover the basics only. The following information applies to all NRA competitive shooting programs.

If you're interested in trying competitive shooting, please go to www.shootingsportsusa.com to view our free digital magazine, Shooting Sports USA. The "Coming Events" section of this magazine lists NRA sanctioned tournaments for several months following the publication date. Find a tournament conducted near you, contact the listed sponsor and request a program. Attend first as a spectator; this will let you see how it works and talk to the sponsor and competitors. Be sure you don't disturb the competitors during the match - between relays is a good time to talk to them.

You will see a variety of equipment and accessories. Every competitor has his own opinion as to what is best. This may sound confusing, but remember, you're there to gather information.

If there is a club in your area, attend one or more of their practice sessions. This will serve the same purpose as attending a tournament except a practice session is not always conducted under match conditions. However, this will give you a better opportunity to talk about equipment.

An excellent way for a new shooter to start in competitive shooting is a league. Although NRA rules are used, a league is generally informal. Usually a handicap system is used so all individuals or teams have an equal chance of winning. A Sanctioned League Handbook and application to have a sanctioned is available at no cost from the NRA Competitive Shooting Division.

Should you decide that competitive shooting is for you, you may wish to join a local club. Ask three questions of your prospective club leaders:

  • Does the club have a range or access to a range?
  • Does the club have the type(s) of shooting program(s) you're interested in?
  • Is the membership open?

If you can answer "Yes" to all three questions, then you have found a good starting place. Most shooting activities are sponsored by local gun clubs.

Eye and Ear Protection

These should be the first accessories you purchase. If you normally wear glasses and they have hardened lenses, you are covered for eye protection. If not, you should get shooting glasses designed for that purpose. Ear plugs or muffs are necessary also. Some shooters wear both.


You don't need to have the best, most expensive equipment available to compete effectively. There are many good values in used equipment. If others know you are "in the market," you will hear of good deals. Although the question of which is best is asked often, there is no answer. As you will find, each competitor has his or her favorite brands and models. A reliable gun dealer is helpful in proper firearm selection. A used firearm for a beginner is not a bad idea, especially if the dealer can certify the condition of the firearm and/or guarantee it.

NRA Rule Book

You will see many references to the NRA Rule Book. We strongly recommend you get the appropriate book and read it. You don't need to memorize it, but all competitors should be familiar with it. A general understanding will prevent many problems. Rule Books may be purchased from the NRA Sales Department or by clicking here.

NRA Classification System

Many new shooters do not enter competitions because they feel they are not good enough and would not win anything. This is true to some extent as with most sports, the first time does not prove productive as far as awards are concerned. The NRA Classification System, developed to provide an equitable distribution of awards, places all shooters in a particular class: Marksman, Sharpshooter, Expert, Master, or High Master, depending on their average. Tournament sponsors award prizes in each class and in some tournaments, depending on the number entered, second and third place. Complete information on the NRA Classification System is in Section 19 of the NRA Rule Books.

Tournament Entry

When entering a tournament you will be required to fill out a Registration/Entry Card (also known as an "SR-1 card" for Conventional Pistol and Smallbore Rifle events, or an "SR-7 card" for Black Powder events). Provided by the tournament sponsor, this card gives the sponsor the information needed to place you in your proper class and category. Part of this card is sent by the sponsor to NRA at the end of the tournament with your scores so they can be posted to the NRA Classification System maintained at NRA Headquarters.

It is very important that you put your NRA membership ID number (if you are an NRA member) on the card. This will assure that your scores are posted properly and quickly. It is also very important that you use your name in the same way all of the time, to avoid confusion. For example, if initials are used, such as "J.D. Smith", then continue to use initials, rather than sometimes using "Joe Smith." Also, always use your name and address on record with NRA when entering a tournament.

If you are not an NRA member and wish to become one (and therefore able to shoot in an NRA Registered tournament), you may join the NRA at any NRA Sanctioned tournament. For competition purposes you will be considered an NRA member after completing the forms and paying the dues to the tournament sponsor. However, all other NRA membership services and benefits will begin approximately one month after signing up at a tournament.

Other Activities

Competitive shooting is a great hobby you can pursue on weekends, with maybe a practice session during the week. The Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program allows you to use the practice session and matches to earn attractive awards by meeting or beating "par" scores.