Target Sprint: the next big thing in competitive shooting?
Target Sprint is perfect for those who like to add action to their shooting. Jasper Fellows finds out more
Shooting has disappeared from the Commonwealth Games. The increased cost of clays, cartridges, bullets and pellets have affected us all and Covid has wreaked havoc on game and competitive events alike. Fortunately, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) and British Shooting have a solution – a way to re-popularise shooting to make it more accessible. Enter Target Sprint.
What is Target Sprint?
Imagine a miniaturised version of biathlon, but without the snow. Competitors must run 400m, hit five targets at 10m, run another 400m, tackle another set of five targets, then race a final 400m to the finish line.
It sounds simple, and that’s the point, but there’s unlimited scope for innovation and variation. “That’s what’s so attractive about the sport, both to athletes and to the ISSF and British Shooting,” says Georgina Geikie.
As a pistol shooting Olympian and Commonwealth medallist, Georgina knows a thing or two about competitive shooting, which is why British Shooting has employed her as a pathway and community coordinator for Target Sprint.
“The brilliance of Target Sprint is that the courses can vary. Competitors must run no less than 400m, no more than 500m, but that could be on an athletics track, a cross-country course or a cobbled high street.”
But how about the guns? “Target Sprint always uses single shot .177 air rifles,” explains Georgina, “which makes it more interesting because competitors must have the dexterity to pick up and load each pellet while wrestling with a pounding heart. As for the targets, there will always be five, shot at 10m. Competitors have 15 pellets to use during each shooting round and any targets left standing incur a 15-second penalty.” (Read more on picking the perfect airgun pellet here.)
This format makes the sport cheap and easy to follow. “Exactly,” says Robert Shawyer, British Shooting’s Target Sprint development coach, team manager and member of the ISSF’s Target Sprint committee. “The logic behind the format was to make it spectator friendly. Sometimes shooting can be hard to follow, but with Target Sprint you have a precision shooting element, then you’ve got this first-past-the-post aspect, with an immediate result. The top races are over in less than five minutes.”
How to get involved
So, the sport is fun to follow as a spectator, but what if you want to take part? Well, that couldn’t be simpler.
“All you need is a Target Sprint safety certificate,” says Georgina. “You can download one from our website, fill it out with a range officer and you are ready. The form goes through some very basic questions to ensure the athlete understands the sport, while the range officer can ensure that they are competent when handling a rifle. There’s more information online and British Shooting will always help athletes find range officers.”
You don’t need a gun
When Georgina says all you need is a form, she means it. You don’t even need any gear. “Any event recognised by British Shooting will be able to offer air rifles to those competing,” she explains. “So you don’t even need your own gun, and our events carry an entrance fee of just £20.”
“Here in Wales,” says Robert, “you can try the sport for even less. Anyone who would like to have a go is welcome to visit the WTSF Target Sprint Regional Centre in Llandovery. We’ve set up a range in the rugby club and ask only for a nominal fee of £5 for a morning or afternoon session. Visitors can provide their own pellets or we can provide them for £5 per tin.
“We want to make it as accessible as possible for people to come and try Target Sprint. So, come along and borrow the kit, then buy your own once it feels appropriate. We’ve even had people competing for Britain using borrowed gear.”
Ready to compete
If you are looking to compete for your country, Target Sprint could be the place to start. “If you are keen, you could go from trying the sport to competing for GB in less than a year,” says Georgina. “It all starts with our National Series events. These are designed for the novice shooter and use 49.5mm targets. The National Series culminates in a final in September.
“Then there’s the Grand Prix. These events are open to all and are shot on international standard 35mm targets. Each year’s Grand Prix series ends with the British Championships, but your performance in the individual events is ranked and can count towards selection for Team GB.”
While Target Sprint may be a relatively new sport in the UK, we’ve already had huge success on the international stage, thanks, in part, to Robert’s daughter, Emily. She started on air pistols, which she still enjoys, but now, at just 20, she is already the Target Sprint British Super League Champion, an ISSF World Championship silver medallist, the Welsh Women’s Target Sprint Champion and GB’s first ever ISSF World Tour Target Sprint gold medallist. “I began shooting Target Sprint through a chance meeting with Georgina on a bus in Luxembourg in 2016,” she says.
“I was there to shoot a pistol event, she was talking about Target Sprint and asked if I liked running. I’d done a bit of athletics at school so thought I’d give it a go. Then, in 2017, the first Welsh Target Sprint event was held in Cardiff, so I took part. A few months later, I got the call to head over to Suhl, Germany, to compete at an ISSF Target Sprint event. It all happened very quickly.”
Before long, Emily wasn’t just competing on the world stage but winning. “Last year, Callum Jones and I went out to Dingolfing, Germany, to compete at an ISSF Grand Prix event. The competition out there was insane; Germany has a fantastic air rifle shooting scene with so many excellent shooters. It was probably the hardest I’ve ever raced, but I came out with the win. It was incredible. Callum also raced phenomenally and claimed gold in the Junior Men’s category.”
“This result was huge,” says Robert, as both coach and proud father. “In the past, we had struggled for silverware, so we changed a few things around from a coaching perspective. We took shooters who we knew had medal potential – and Callum and Emily pulled it off. These wins propelled us on to the world stage and really put British shooting on the map, though, of course, that can lead to more pressure. But it all comes back to accessibility and enjoyability. “
As a coach, I always tell my athletes that there’s no expectation for them to win medals. Medals, to me, are irrelevant. All the athletes must do is remember their training and enjoy themselves. The outcome might be a medal, but that’s the outcome, not the goal. It all comes down to enjoying your racing and enjoying your training, because if you enjoy yourself, you will perform better.”
“Enjoying your training is key,” adds Emily. “Of course, I love the international side of competing and I really enjoy pushing myself at events.
But I love training at home. I like coming home from a hard day at university and going for a run. I really enjoy heading on to the range and just having some time to myself to shoot, too. I find it great for my mental health.”
It would seem then, that opportunities abound for those who would like to try something new, those who want to take on the world and for those who simply want to better themselves. But what about those who want more than a good time, what about the business opportunities that the sport creates?
“Becoming a Target Sprint hub is open to any facility that would like to get involved,” says Georgina. “Becoming a hub is easy. You simply need somewhere where people can shoot 10m with a safe backdrop and a place where they can run 400m.”
“The ISSF and British Shooting have been very accommodating with these rules,” adds Robert. “You don’t need a perfect 400m athletics track, you could have two laps of 200m, or a zigzagging path through woodland. In fact, we encourage innovation. We want to see what kind of courses people can come up with and we want to help to set them up.
“British Shooting has network activators and I’m one of them. If anyone is interested in setting up a Target Sprint course, we would encourage them to reach out, and one of our activators will be happy to help. They may even be able to loan out equipment to get you started.
“From a business perspective, this could be huge. In Wales, we started with just four athletes, now we have up to 60 applying to attend each event. The difficulty now is finding room for them all.”
“Obviously, the entrance fees from events help venues with their bottom line,” adds Georgina.
“Target Sprint events can introduce those who haven’t had the opportunity to try shooting sports to the stands. A clay ground could host a have-a-go clay shoot alongside a Target Sprint event and get people hooked on the two sports at the same time. We want to use Target Sprint as a tool to open the doors to all shooting sports.
“For the individual, there’s the end game of competing on the world stage or simply enjoying a fun activity with friends. For business owners, there’s an opportunity to host events and welcome new clients. But, for the shooting community, this is our opportunity to bring the sports we love to the masses and invite them to take part.”
Visit Target Sprint to find an event you or to learn more visit.