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Collegiate Shooting 101

Collegiate Shooting 101

College athletics accommodate just about every sport under the sun, from behemoths like Football to niche games like Quidditch. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that collegiate shooting exists. In fact, it’s been around for decades and is even seeing a sharp increase in popularity

But competitive shooting is not a single event and several disciplines are shot at the college level. There are nearly 300 colleges and universities in the United States that offer shooting programs to their students. If you’re new the shooting sports on the collegiate level, here's your 101-level course to get you up to speed.

There are three general disciplines you can compete in at the collegiate level: rifle, pistol and shotgun.

Rifle competitions feature the smallbore and air rifle disciplines; pistol competitions include free pistol, standard pistol, open air pistol, women’s air pistol and women’s sport pistol; and shotgun encompasses five stand, sporting clays, and both the International and American variants of trap and skeet.

Students can become involved with firearms at the collegiate level in several ways:

Educational Courses: The most important aspect of marksmanship is safety. Many schools offer educational courses on firearm safety and marksmanship for credit hours, typically as a physical education course or a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) class.

Varsity Teams: Collegiate-level varsity teams are regulated by associations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and receive their funding directly from the school. This is the highest level of collegiate competition and teams utilize selective participation to include only the most talented athletes. If you want to compete with the best, you're going to have to try out for the team or hope a recruiter notices your skills.

Club Teams: Club sports participate in organized competition against other schools but aren't sanctioned by a collegiate athletic association like the NCAA. They're usually student-run and student-funded and are one of the easiest ways to get involved in the shooting sports due to their availability to students and inclusive nature.

ROTC: ROTC is a collegiate-level officer training program for the United States military services. While some ROTC programs only provide marksmanship training, others do arrange competitions against fellow programs. 


NCAA Rifle Championships
The NCAA only recognizes collegiate rifle competition at the varsity level. In order to be eligible for the NCAA Rifle Championships, an individual or team must represent an NCAA affiliated school and the institution must recognize rifle as a championship sport. After a season of smallbore and air rifle competition, athletes attend an NCAA qualifier where scores are compiled and the top 48 shooters and top eight teams are invited compete for the rifle national championship. The NCAA Rifle Championships are hosted by a rotating schedule of NCAA affiliated schools.

ACUI Clay Target Championships 
ACUI hosts an annual Clay Target Championships at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas. The event is open to any collegiate shotgun team and is the only national tournament where shooters compete in six different clay target games: American Trap, International Trap, American Skeet, International Skeet, Sporting Clays and Five Stand. 

NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championships 
The NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championships were created to accommodate rifle programs excluded by the NCAA Rifle Championships. Any collegiate varsity team, club, ROTC program, or individual may qualify to compete in the matches by participating in registered indoor matches called collegiate sectionals. The NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championships are hosted by the United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) at Fort Benning, Georgia, and like its NCAA counterpart, the overall champion is determined through the results of a smallbore championship and air rifle championship.

NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championships
Like the NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championships, the NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championship is open to any varsity team, club, ROTC program, or individual who competes in a collegiate sectional. It is also hosted by the USAMU at Fort Benning. The event hosts championship matches in standard pistol, air pistol, free pistol, women’s sport pistol, and women’s air pistol, which are then combined to determine the overall champions.


As with other major collegiate sports, the collegiate shooting sports recognize their most outstanding athletes annually by selecting rosters for All-American teams. The National Rifle Association has presented collegiate shooting's rifle, pistol, and shotgun All-American awards since 1936 and announces each sport's All-American teams at their respective championships. Receiving an NRA All-American award is one of the highest honors a collegiate shooter can achieve and is a hallmark of consistent and exemplary performance by an amateur athlete. Selection criteria for an All-American includes their match performance and personal recommendations from coaches.

Though the NRA All-American Rifle certificates are presented at the NCAA Rifle Championships, the NRA awards special NRA All-Star certificates to the top shooters among the participants of the NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championships.

2013 NRA All American Rifle First Team

Do you have what it takes to compete in the Collegiate shooting sports? Stay tuned to find out how you can join a shooting team or create a shooting club at your school.

Learn more about the 2016 NCAA Rifle Championships, NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championship, NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championship, and ACUI Clay Target Championships here.

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