SI Vault
Paul R. Walker
January 31, 1955
The recent International Shooting Union matches at Caracas, Venezuela, proved again that U.S. shooters had better get up off their bellies
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January 31, 1955

How Russia Outshoots Us

The recent International Shooting Union matches at Caracas, Venezuela, proved again that U.S. shooters had better get up off their bellies

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In a memorable article last Oct. 25, SI warned that Russia is threatening American supremacy in track and field events to the point where she might outclass the U.S. team in the 1956 Olympics. It is time to call attention to the fact that the Russians have already won world leadership in another sports field no less important, in the opinion of a great many sportsmen, than the track and field athletics which we hold so dear. Last fall, in the 36th world championships of the International Shooting Union at Caracas, Venezuela, Soviet shooters proved that they were the best in the world with a rifle, and possibly the best with a pistol as well.

The ISU holds its championships every two years. In Europe they are considered more important than the Olympics. If it is prestige the Russians are after, they got it at Caracas. We sent our best shots there, and we were outclassed by the Soviet team. And, in lesser degree, so was everyone else. It is true that with two or three exceptions the matches were quite different from those commonly shot in the U.S. But they were the kind of matches that determine world, as well as Olympic, championships.

For example, the most important rifle match in the world is shot at 300 meters—328 yards. The course of fire is more than 80 years old. It calls for 40 shots standing, 40 kneeling and 40 prone. The 120 shots must be fired in six and a half hours. Like the other ISU matches it is both an individual and a team match.


Until the Russians took over at Caracas, the world record for this famous course was 1,124. Anatoli Bogdanov, the highest scorer at the 1952 Olympics, shot 1,133 at the ISU meet, breaking the 17-year-old record by nine points. His teammate, Vassily Borisov, who is always close behind him, shot 1,132. Every one of Russia's five-man team shot a higher score than has ever been shot in competition by a citizen of the U.S. Our team took fifth place, behind the Russians, the Swiss, the Swedes and the Finns.

The guns used in the 300-meter course are called "free" rifles because there is so little restriction on them. The rifle must not weigh more than 19 pounds and the cartridge must not use a bullet larger than nine millimeters (.35 caliber) in diameter. As a practical matter these restrictions are meaningless, since no one wants a rifle heavier or of larger caliber than the rules permit. The only restriction that matters is the one requiring iron sights; the telescopic sight is not permitted.

The kind of rifle developed under these rules is strange to most American rifle shooters and is not made in this country. So far no American arms company makes a rifle barrel heavy enough for 300-meter shooting. Four members of our five-man team at Caracas—August Westergaard, Robert Sandager, Verle Wright and Allan Luke—shot rifles imported from Europe.

Perhaps the most striking feature of a free rifle is the stock. This commonly has a steep pistol grip so the hand is close to the trigger, and a hole in the stock for the thumb. The pronged buttplate is adjustable up and down for the three different shooting positions. The trigger is very light. And most free rifles are fitted with a black webbing strap that is stretched from the front to the rear sight just above the barrel. This is to deflect heat waves rising from a hot barrel so they will not interfere with the shooter's picture of his front sight and the bull's-eye.

Another match, common to the ISU championships and the Olympics, is similar to the 300-meter match except that it is shot at 50 meters with .22 rifles on a reduced target. Like the 300-meter match it calls for 40 shots standing, kneeling and prone. The rifles are of the same general design as those made for 300-meter shooting although they run a little lighter—13 or 14 pounds instead of 16 or 17.

Once more Bogdanov was the winner with a world-record score. He shot 1,174—10 points higher than the old record. And once more Borisov was right behind him with a score of 1,172. Russia won the team match in this event. We took sixth place.

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