Rimfire shooting is experiencing a resurgence that’s probably not too surprising. The rising price of ammo makes shooting .22s much more economical than shooting larger calibers, and an upsurge in family-friendly shooting venues is bringing new, younger shooters into the sport.
Several years ago, Ruger Firearms designed a program that allows aficionados of the .22 to compete with one another.
“We put together an action program, where participants are shooting at steel targets,” said Ken Jorgensen, Shooting Sports Coordinator for Ruger. “It’s all on the clock so it’s a timed shoot. You get a beep and then you shoot five to seven targets, with the last one being the stop plate. You shoot five times and then throw out your lowest score.”
onceRuger Rimfire Challenge events caught on across the country, with a number of ranges hosting shoots. Manufacturers joined Ruger to support the program, including Champion Targets, ATK Ammunition, Sierra Bullets and quite a few others.
While that was going on, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) also was moving in the same direction.
“For a number of years, our board has wanted us to implement a rimfire program to introduce and welcome new shooters to competitive shooting in a family-friendly environment,” said Zach Snow, Manager, Shooting Promotions, at NSSF. “As a result of Ruger having already planted that seed, we felt that it was in our best interest to approach Ruger to see where they intended to take the program.”
Ultimately, that’s what happened. Last winter Ruger’s successful Rimfire Challenge became an NSSF program and moved forward with a new level of support.
“We have a consultant, Tim Norris, who has been involved with the program from the beginning,” Snow said. “We’re able to put more resources into the program and take it to the next level. We’re still focusing on the main goals that Ruger had when they implemented the program, which are right in line with our goals. Those goals are to welcome new shooters into a low-pressure, family-friendly competitive shooting environment where they can learn the basics about how to be proficient, have fun, be safe and further their skill set. We hope the program will lead people into other organized shooting sport activities.”
The program is a great introduction to the shooting sports for new shooters, Snow said.
“It’s also a program that ranges can use on a regular basis to keep their shooter base engaged,” he said. “Many times we see experienced shooters serving as teachers and ambassadors and helping new shooters improve their accuracy and times. This program is a great parallel to First Shots, and could serve as a First Shots, Second Round event.”
If you would like to participate in the Rimfire Challenge program but don’t have steel targets, don’t worry; the NSSF is going to make it easier for you to get them.
“We have some grant programs coming up,” Snow said. “We’re announcing a partnership with Action Target that will include 30 steel target grants, each of which consists of 12 steel targets, which will enable ranges to set up two different stages. In addition to that, for NSSF member ranges, both MGM Targets and Action Target are going to provide special discount pricing for ranges that need additional targets in order to set up more stages.”
Don’t let the fear that you won’t be able to find enough .22 ammunition keep you from getting involved in the Rimfire Challenge program.
“We’re looking at some partnerships to provide ranges and match directors with the resources to get ammo that is specifically earmarked for these events,” Snow said.
NSSF also has other resources in development.
“We’re working on educational videos geared toward both prospective host ranges and individual shooters,” Snow said. “The NSSF Rimfire Challenge website at www.nssf.org/rimfire also has lots of information for the shooter and for the host range.”
Alpha Training Academy
Robert Carlile is owner of Alpha Training Academy in Pryor, Okla., and match director for the Oklahoma Rimfire Challenge. He ran the first Oklahoma state match three years ago when it still was a Ruger event.
“Our range is 100 percent steel,” he said. “When we plan our Rimfire Challenge event, we design stages that we feel will challenge experienced shooters and reward new shooters.”
Once NSSF approves the date of the event and the stages are designed, Carlile said, the next step is to get sponsorships for the prize table.
“One of the neat things about the Rimfire Challenge is that the prize table is distributed by random draw,” he said. “That’s in the rules, so the best shooter gets a plaque for being the best shooter, but everyone has an equal opportunity to get the best prizes.” Since the entry fee is only $50, Carlile said, shooters usually go home with prizes valued at more than it cost them to enter the match.
“When people check in I give them a shooters’ packet that contains score sheets and stage descriptions, and information about all the sponsors,” he said. “Then the shooters are free to go; they just have to shoot the stages in the time allotted. Sometime between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. they have to shoot six stages of the match. It’s their responsibility to go to each stage and get that stage shot sometime within that eight-hour period.”
Carlile said that at many matches, shooters work in squads, but he prefers to let people shoot individually.
“A lot of people travel to this event,” he said. “They can come in and shoot and then go have lunch, or even leave for the day if they want.”
Holding the Oklahoma Rimfire Challenge has greatly increased the visibility of Alpha Training Academy, Carlile said.
“We usually run 100-plus competitors,” he said. “Through that, I get exposure as a range and training facility to a customer base. What the shooters get is a good time. For $50 people can come and shoot a quality match in a safe environment and participate as a family in an event that there’s not a lot of opportunity to do anywhere else. This event is about the shooters, and about getting new people involved in the sport.”
Cavern Cove Range
Jeff Blackwell is Match Director at Cavern Cove Range in Woodville, Ala. He said Cavern Cove Range started doing Ruger Rimfire Challenge events in 2011 and is continuing with the program now that it’s under the auspices of NSSF.
Cavern Cove Range began as a Cowboy Action Shooting range, Blackwell said.
“For us, the rimfire event began as a way for the cowboys to warm up the day before their Sunday match,” he said. “We run up to seven different kinds of matches each month, so we handle a lot of shooting disciplines, including USPSA, International Defensive Pistol and Speed Steel. We also run a monthly 2-gun rimfire match, and during the summer months we do a nighttime rimfire pistol match that’s a lot of fun.”
One of the reasons the range got involved in the Rimfire Challenge program, Blackwell said, was to increase participation in other events.
“We wanted to let people know we’re here and that we put on all these events,” he said.
When NSSF took over the Rimfire Challenge, Blackwell said, he talked with Zach Snow and Tim Norris about holding the statewide Alabama Rimfire Challenge the same way they did when Ruger was running it.
“Then we set up the tasks that we needed to do, such as advertising, getting sponsorships and setting up the stages,” he said. “For the first time this year, we’re also doing rimfire side matches.”
Blackwell explained that the side matches are smaller matches that are fun “warm ups” for the state match.
“We run them the day before the state match,” he said. “We’re going to have a long-distance rimfire pistol match, and a rimfire rifle match. They’re fun, and we’ll offer a prize table for them as well as for the state match.”
One big task related to the Alabama Rimfire Challenge, Blackwell said, is getting the word out about the event.
“A lot of it is word of mouth,” he said. “People started calling me in January, wanting to know when our match is in June.”
Cavern Cove doesn’t rely just on word of mouth, however; Blackwell makes an active advertising effort.
“We send out flyers to all the other ranges we know of,” he said.
He reaches out as far as Nashville, Birmingham, northern Georgia and Alabama.
“We’ve had shooters drive from all over the Southeast to shoot this match,” Blackwell said. “We’re expecting about 150 shooters this year; I’m hoping for 175. We’re set up to accommodate eight squads of shooters at one time, so we expect it all to flow very well.”
Cavern Cove Range uses electronic scoring as well as a carbon-copy score card for the Alabama Rimfire Challenge.
“I even have a network guy so that after each squad leaves each stage, we’re able to sync the scores in a master database,” Blackwell said. “We have a wireless network so we’re able to do that across the range.”
Having an annual state Rimfire Challenge has had a marked effect on the range’s business, Blackwell said.
“Once people come in to the Rimfire Challenge, they see the other matches that go on here,” he said. “Then they come in not only for our rimfire events, but for our centerfire matches, 3 Gun matches, Cowboy Action—all our events.”
The Rimfire Challenge has a ripple effect, Blackwell said.
“Of course, you get the immediate effect of an influx of money into the range,” he said. “That means we can buy new target systems and do maintenance on the range. But then you see the ripple effects. For example, we’ve introduced new shooters to rimfire and then maybe centerfire and other disciplines as well. And they have friends. So you’ll see second- and third-degree effects of the match throughout the year, and it’s not just here. Ranges throughout the Southeast will benefit because we do the Alabama Rimfire Challenge here.”