Rifle & Muzzle Loading Shooting

Rifle & Muzzle Loading Shooting


Rifles are so called because they have rifled barrels. This means that the inside of the barrel has a series of shallow spiral grooves cut in it from breech to muzzle. When a bullet is fired through the barrel it engages with the grooves and is forced to rotate about its long axis. When it leaves the barrel it is spinning at an enormous rate (50,000 rpm is possible). This rotation gyroscopically stabilises the bullet so that it flies true to the target. The building of highly accurate target rifles, both full and small-bore, is a highly complex and technical subject, but the common features of successful rifles are:

  • A heavy, large diameter barrel precisely made and finished
  • A stiff, rigid and accurately fitted action (the bit that opens and shuts the breech)
  • An ergonomic stock, (the bit the shooter holds)
  • A sensitive, light, but predictable trigger pull

A look at any modern small-bore prone rifle or any full-bore target rifle will demonstrate these features.

The most popular rifle type is the bolt action, either as a single shot, or as a magazine-fed repeater. In this type of rifle, lifting the bolt handle and pulling it back opens the breech (the loading end of the barrel), allowing a cartridge to be fed in to the chamber. Pushing the bolt forward and down locks the breech and cocks the action. Pulling the trigger releases the firing pin, which strikes the cartridge primer, detonating it and igniting the powder charge, the rapid combustion of which generates high-pressure gasses, which propel the bullet down the barrel. Rimfire cartridges only have a tiny powder charge, so the muzzle velocity (the speed of the bullet as it exits the barrel) is around 1,000 feet per second. A high velocity centre-fire round can have a muzzle velocity higher than 3,000 feet a second.

Gallery rifles are really an anachronism: they are not specifically made for target shooting, but they can perform well in the role. Their real market is the US hunting scene, where they are popular as woodland (that is short range) hunting weapons.
Because these are magazine fed guns, they are a good replacement for pistols, and have directly replaced pistols in competitions that require multiple shots against a time limit. These guns fire centre-fire pistol cartridges such as the .38 Special, or the .44 Special or Magnum, which can be highly accurate in pistols, but are limited to short ranges.


Muzzle loaders:

These can be rifles or pistols; muzzle-loading pistols also have rifled barrels, just like a rifle. They can either be single-shot or multi-shot revolvers. They can be percussion, flintlock, wheel-lock or even matchlock. These last two are a bit specialist and rarely seen. As the gun is loaded with loose gunpowder and ball bullet, the powder has to be ignited in some way, either from the flash of a percussion cap or from the sparks generated by flint striking steel in the flintlock. The single shot muzzle-loading pistol is typified by the eighteenth century duelling pistol. These can be superbly accurate, particularly in percussion form. Very popular also, are modern reproductions of percussion revolvers by Colt, Remington, Rogers and Spencer etc.


Rifle Shooting Targets:

Small-bore and gallery rifle: these are shot against paper targets, usually ten shots per target. The target is divided into 10 scoring zones. If a shot breaks the line dividing the zones, usually the higher score is awarded, this is called 'gauging in'. In small-bore prone shooting, the target is so small, that ten individual targets are printed on the card, and one shot is fired at each. If a shot touches a dividing line, the lower score is awarded. This is called 'gauging out'.
The shooter can see where his shots are falling by using a spotting scope: at ranges up to 100 yards, it is possible to see individual shot holes.

Full-bore: NRA targets have 5 scoring zones, scoring from 1 to 5 points. Inside the bull (5 points) is a smaller 'V' bull zone, which is used to decide ties, (or in some competitions, can be scored as a 6).
Usually, NRA courses of fire use 15 scoring shots, with 2 sighter shots allowed. The maximum score possible is 75 points with 15 V bulls.
Because it is impossible to see the shot holes at full-bore shooting distances, markers are employed to mark the target. The marker is stationed beneath the target in the butts. When a shot goes through, he/she pulls the target down, and inserts a coloured spotting disk in the shot hole. At the same time any previous shot holes are patched out, and the indicator board is placed on the bottom of the target, indicating the score for the shot. Then the target is pushed back up, and through the spotting scope, the shooter can see the position and numerical value of the shot. Scoring is by inward gauging. The target is usually shared by three shooters, each taking it in turn to fire at the target. In competition, each shooter in the squad scores for his neighbour, or an independent score keeper is used. The actual target is never retrieved.

Scoring an NRA Target

What is a MOA?


NRA Range Commands

Always use the following format: "Firing point to butt. Target Number (X): Message Number (Y)".

Message No. & Message Meaning

  1. Firing about to commence.
  2. No Spotting Disc visible.
  3. Spotting Disc unmistakably disagrees with signalled value. Check that spotting disc shows LAST shot and signals its correct value. RCO is to view the target before passing the message.*
  4. A shot has been fired but no signal has been made. Examine target carefully and signal the shot if found or a miss.*
  5. Firer has challenged for a higher value for his shot. Examine the whole target and signal the correct value.*
  6. Radio the number of hits as Score Board figures are not clear. (Service Rifle and Cadets only).
  7. A miss has been signalled but firer challenged for a scoring shot. Re-examine the target carefully and signal the shot if found or a miss.*
  8. Firer has challenged his score. Re-examine the target and show the correct number and value of the shots.*
  9. Marking/Shooting appears to be unduly slow. Butt/Range Conducting Officer to check and correct where necessary.
  10. Stand easy. Half-mast target.
  11. It is suspected that the wrong shot hole has been patched out. Butt Officer is to consult marker and confirm correct value. (This message only sent after message 4 or 7).*
  12. Stand easy. Lower target, patch out and put target back up.
  13. Blow off shots are about to be fired (Match rifle only). Ensure that all targets are fully lowered until Message 1 is given.
  14. It is suspected that there is a second shot on the target: inspect the target and indicate any further shot found in addition to the shot presently shown.*

* The result must also be confirmed by radio.

(From the NRA Handbook)

Messages 1 & 4 are the most commonly used.