Regardless of how long you’ve been involved with shooting sports – and yes, shooting is a sport! – one thing is for sure, there’s truly something for everyone. If competition is your jam, there are some popular ways to compete with your gun – whether you prefer your shotgun, your rifle, your pistol, or all three.

Here we look at the most popular shooting sports so you can pick what suits you best.

Table of Contents

3-Gun Competition
Steel Challenge
NRL Hunter
Tactical Games
CMP Matches
Sniper Shoots

3-Gun Competition


Dave Smith in 3-Gun competition
Dave Smith competes in a 3-Gun match. (Photo: Jacki Billings/

As the name implies, you’ll be competing with three guns: a shotgun, a rifle, and a pistol. 3-Gun is one of the fastest growing shooting sports in the country! 

To compete, you’ll need a modern sporting rifle (a rifle built on the AR platform). Most competitors prefer a short-barreled .223 for maneuvering easily around stages and obstacles. Your shotgun can be a pump-action or semi-auto that shoots shotshells as well as slugs. Most competitors opt for a 9mm pistol

Matches usually involve the shooter moving through several courses and transitioning to each of the three guns while shooting from multiple positions. The fastest and most accurate shooter wins. There are multiple divisions depending on your level of expertise. 



IDPA competition
An IDPA shooter takes aim during a stage. (Photo: Don Summers/

IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association. IDPA matches are designed to simulate real-life defensive scenarios and encounters. The organization was founded in 1996 by shooters seeking to hone their defensive pistol skills. 

Courses of fire are designed so you can use your EDC (everyday carry) pistol, service pistol, or any pistol you’re comfortable with. The main goal is to test the ability and skill of the competitor on a course that includes barricades, obstacles and multiple shooting positions designed to simulate walls, windows, buildings, and other real-life scenarios. 



Shooter in USPSA competition
A competitor shoots around a barrier during a USPSA match. (Photo: USPSA)

The United States Practical Shooting Association is the largest practical shooting organization in the United States. A fast, fun and dynamic shooting experience for all ages and skill levels. Because of the variety of levels, USPSA is a great place to try your hand at practical shooting. There are divisions for every skill level and gun type. 

Courses of fire include paper and steel targets and are designed for speed and accuracy. Range safety officers (RSOs) follow the shooters through the course of fire, ensuring safe practices. USPSA is easy to get started in and only requires basic equipment. With chapters in all 50 states, you’ll be sure to find one near you!

RELATED: USPSA vs. IDPA vs. 3-Gun: What’s the Difference?

Steel Challenge


Taylor Abney with Walther Q5 Match SF Black Tie
Competitive shooter Taylor Abney with the Walther Q5 Match SF Black Tie. (Photo: Ben Philippi/

“Drag racing with guns” is how USPSA describes Steel Challenge. Simply put, you stand and shoot five targets, and repeat five times. Your best four of those five times count for the competition. 

Three target types make up each course: an 18x24-inch rectangle, 12-inch circle, and 10-inch circle. Three shapes, five targets, and a clock. Different courses increase in difficulty as you move up in the ranks but there’s really something for everyone in Steel Challenge. 



Jeff Wood shooting Surgeon Rifles Scalpel in.300 Win Mag
PRS matches simulate long-range precision rifle engagements, shooting guns like this Surgeon Rifles Scalpel in .300 Win Mag. (Photo: Jeff Wood/

Rifle shooters, this one’s for you! The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) was formed to simulate military, law enforcement and hunting scenarios with practical applications and course of fire. 

On courses designed to test ability and accuracy, shooters are required to correct for environmental factors effectively and quickly solve problems built into the course of fire. Each course of fire at a PRS match will be practical and simulate long-range precision rifle engagements. 

NRL Hunter


NRL Hunter competition
NRL Hunter has been increasing in popularity over the past few years. (Photo: Taylor Abney/

Designed to simulate hunting, NRL Hunter will help you hone your rifle and hunting skills while having fun and competing. As to gear, you’ll need what you’d take on a hunt: a backpack, shooting bag, binoculars/spotting scope, rangefinder, sling, and your usual hunting attire. 

Although technically named “The SIG Sauer Hunting Games,” this series allows most popular manufacturers of rifles, not just SIG Sauer rifles. There are multiple divisions for men, women, and juniors to compete and hone their hunting and rifleman skills in a safe and supportive environment. It’s perfect as an off-season hobby to prepare you for your next hunt.



John “Skinny” Clarke shows off his single-action shooting skills with a pair of old stainless steel Ruger Vaqueros chambered in .38/.357. (Photo: Don Summers/ 

Grab your cowboy hat, because the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) will transport you back to the Old West! There are detailed requirements as to the gear you’ll need, including two single-action revolvers, one lever-action (pistol caliber) rifle, and a shotgun that’s either a side-by-side or pump action

Shooters compete under Old West-style aliases, so put your thinking cap on and get creative with your new name. You’ll also need to dress in period costume to truly transport you back in time to the 1800s. Divisions are available for all skill levels and are open to everyone. 

RELATED: Stylin' with SASS Shooter "Skinny"



Uberti Model 1873 lever-action rifle in .45 Colt
“Grandslam Ronbo” is ready to rumble with a Uberti Model 1873 rifle in .45 Colt, which he uses regularly to shoot lever-action rifle silhouette matches. (Photo: Ben Philippi/

Bullseye is known as the “granddaddy of all popular handgun competition” in the United States. An NRA-sanctioned match requires you to shoot identical 90-shot courses of fire. Three guns are allowed, with the following criteria: a .22 rimfire pistol or revolver, a centerfire pistol or revolver of .32 caliber or larger, and a .45-caliber pistol or revolver. 

Today, most competitors use two guns for the match: a .22 rimfire semi-automatic pistol and a 1911-style .45 ACP pistol. This combination fits the requirements above and saves money from an additional match-grade pistol. Each standard 90-shot course consists of 30 slow-fire shots, 30 timed-fire, and 30 rapid-fire. 

RELATED: Review – KelTec’s CP33 .22 LR Rimfire Pistol Packs a Punch

Tactical Games


Tactical Games competition
Tactical Games events blend Army training and private security skills into an elite test for the shooting athlete. (Photo: Noah Alkinburgh/

Created to provide a platform to test the skills of “tactical athletes,” the Tactical Games will test your tactical readiness, regardless of your background. This fast and fun competition simulates scenarios that will test your skills and your gear in a realistic and stressful – yet safe – tactical environment. Participants range from military, law enforcement, and competitive shooters, to everyday gun-loving civilians. 

Required equipment includes: a belt, a minimum of five rifle and five pistol magazines, five rifle and five pistol magazine pouches, hearing protection, a plate carrier (weighing 15 pounds for men or 12 pounds for women), an active retention holster, a pistol appropriate for your division, a slinged rifle (no muzzle break or compensator allowed). 

Multiple divisions ensure you’ll be competing against others with a similar skill set, so if you ever wanted to test yourself, here’s your shot. 

CMP Matches


Woman with rifle at CMP match
The Civilian Marksmanship Program provides a way for young shooters to acquire and compete with vintage and modern military surplus firearms. (Photo: CMP) 

The mission of the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) is to promote marksmanship through firearms training, safety, and competitions, with an emphasis on youth. With lineage going back to Theodore Roosevelt, its roots were to increase the proficiency and skill of our military, through competition. 

Today’s CMP programs are funded by the sale of surplus M1 Garand rifles and other surplus vintage military firearms and accessories that have been in service throughout the world. Rifles are sold to qualified individuals who compete using the Garand, Springfield, and other vintage and modern military (GSSM) rifle and pistols in matches throughout the U.S. It’s a win-win! 



Two people shooting trap
Trap is fun and engaging for shooters of any age who can hold a shotgun. (Photo: Don Summers/

Trapshooting is a form of clay target shooting that simulates the flight path of a bird. It requires a high degree of accuracy to aim, track, fire and hit the 4.25-inch clay disc travelling approximately 42 mph. 

In trap, you rotate through five stations along with your competitors, each station offering a different flight path for the clay target. Shotguns are generally 12 gauge or 20 gauge. It’s a great sport for kids, seniors and anyone in between who can wield a shotgun.

RELATED: Trap Guns for Every Budget



Aiming a pump-action shotgun
Any shotgun that can fire at least two shots can be used for skeet, where competitors shoot clays as they move through an eight-station course in small groups. (Photo: Don Summers/

Skeet is another form of sporting clays. In this game, there are eight stations from which to shoot. A variety of clays fly from two trap houses: the “low house” and the “high house.” The competition has multiple divisions and is shot in squads of up to five shooters. 

Any shotgun that can fire at least two shots can be used to shoot skeet. It’s another game that’s perfect for any shooter, young or old, and women compete equally with men.


Modern American Rimfire Series founder Dave Luu demonstrates a reverse kneeling position for better stabilization during competitive precision shooting. (Photo: Don Summers/

The Modern American Rimfire Series (MARS) uses .22 LR rifles, preferably with detachable magazines. You’ll find yourself shooting through and around various barriers, as well as from standing and prone positions – similar to PRS matches described above – but with .22 LR rifles. 

Some basic equipment is recommended, including a shooting bag, sling, bipod, etc., to help you transition through the various stages. Divisions for MARS competitions include bolt action, semi-automatic action, and junior (15 and under), as well as the categories of Senior (55 and up), Ladies, and MIL/LEO (active duty/currently employed). MARS touts its matches as very beginner-friendly!

Sniper shoots


Highly trained military marksmen compete in teams of two in the Army Sniper Association's matches. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Army Sniper Association promotes competition among active duty service members. Highly trained marksmen, snipers have been an invaluable asset to our military since before the Revolutionary War. 

Sniper shoots consist of teams of two snipers – one shooter and one spotter, who traverse through a rigorous and physically demanding course of fire, engaging targets hundreds of yards out. Teams are assessed on their sniper skills, including long-range marksmanship, observation, recon, and the ability to move about while staying concealed and unseen.

revolver barrel loading graphic