Air gun competitive shooting has been part of the Paralympic Games since Toronto, Canada in 1976 and currently is being practiced in 59 countries. Shooting is a test of skill and mental discipline, in which competitors use pneumatic rifles and pistols to fire a series of shots at a paper target. Competitions at the Paralympic Games are open to all athletes with physical impairments.

There are two divisions of wheelchair and an “open” division for ambulatory competitors. Internationally, athletes compete in rifle and pistol events from distances of 10, 25 and 50 meters in men’s, women’s and mixed competitions. Currently, Adaptive Sports USA offers competitions for 10 meter rifle and pistol. Shooting utilizes a functional classification system, which enables athletes from different impairment classes to compete together either individually or in teams. More recently, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has recognized biathlon events for visually impaired athletes, utilizing electronic aiming and scoring systems. Following the modified rules of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), shooting sports are governed by the IPC and guided by the IPC Shooting Technical Committee. The adaptive rules take into account the differences that exist between competitive shooting for the able-bodied and competitive shooting for athletes with physical challenges.

Shooting Positions

The pistol is held with one hand. The athlete is standing unless injury has impacted balance, stability or strength in the lower extremities. For those athletes, a wheelchair or other seat may be used, but the athlete may not rest on a table or any other surface to assist in the shot.

Open and SH1 – The athlete will be seated and may rest both elbows and lean the torso against the bench or a table for stability (see IPC rules). Athletes may use a sling to support the weight of the rifle. SH2 – If the athlete is unable to support the rifle due to injury, the rifle will be supported by a spring stand (see IPC rules). The athlete will be seated and may rest both elbows and lean the torso against the table for stability. SH3 – In addition to being visually impaired, competitors may be allowed to have adaptations from any of the previous classifications, depending on other existing physical impairments.

Open – The athlete will be in the standing position (see ISSF rules). SH1 – Athletes will rest one elbow on their hip or ribcage to support the weight of the rifle. The athlete may be in the standing position or seated, if required, but may not rest any part of the body or arms against a bench, table, chair or wheelchair. SH2 – If the athlete is unable to support the rifle due to injury, the competitor may shoot from a stand, bench or table, and the rifle will be supported by a spring stand that meets IPC rules. The athlete may be standing up or seated (if needed), but may not rest any part of the body or arms against a bench, table, chair or wheelchair (see IPC rules).


The goal of competitive indoor air gun shooting is using technique, skill and concentration to place a series of shots into the solid center of a target. Competitors using air rifles or air pistols, shoot from a distance of 10 meters at targets held by target frames at a height of 1.4 meters. The target face is comprised of multiple targets, each with 10 concentric scoring rings. The rings are scored from one to 10, with the highest value given for the center ring or “bullseye”. The size of the target area depends on the use of a rifle or pistol and varies from a 10 ring size of .5 mm for rifles to an 8.5 mm center ring for pistols. For rifles the target face consists of 10 scoring targets (called “bulls”) and two practice targets, the shooter places one pellet in each bull by a pre-determined order. The pistol target face contains 4 targets and the competitor shoots 10 pellets in each of the scoring targets. Although competitions vary in format, internationally, some of the most exciting matches include qualification rounds followed by two shot, single elimination rounds.


Generally, men and women compete together but awards are allowed to be gender based. Pistol matches consist of both Open and SH1 Divisions, shooting 40 shots in a specified period of time, usually 60 minutes. Rifle matches include the participation of all three divisions, shooting from both the “standing” and “prone” positions and consisting of 20 shots from each position. Competitors accumulate a total score from both positions based on the point value of their shots. Although the format of the competition may vary with each venue, the new International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) rules recommend a qualification followed by an elimination round. The winner is the competitor who is one of eight highest scorers during the qualification round and shoots the higher scores during the single elimination match. Standard Match: (time limit 60 minutes)

  • Pistol (Open & SH1) – 40 shots
  • Rifle – Standing (Open, SH1 & SH2) – 20 shots

Elimination Match: (usually more exciting for spectators and experienced shooters and is shot from the “standing” position.) Qualification Round: 

  • Men—60 competition shots in 105 minutes
  • Women—40 shots in 75 minutes

Elimination Round: 

  • Eight finalists shoot 2, 3 shot series in 150 seconds each
  • 14 single shots are each fired on command with 50 seconds for each shot
  • Single eliminations start after the second single shot (first six shots in three shot series, then the next 2 single shots fired on command)
  • Shooters are eliminated one by one, after every two single shots, until the gold and silver medalists are decided from each division are decided
  • Ties between gold and silver are determined by single shots until a winner is determined


Rifles and pistols: Competitors use .177 caliber rifles and pistols that use compressed gas (air or CO2) to propel the pellet towards the target when the trigger is depressed. Each match grade rifle or pistol is designed to be customized for the individual shooter, providing multiple adjustments for comfort and balance. Although there are many types of air guns available, usually spring activated or single pump models are used for hunting and produce too much pellet velocity to be allowed in competitions where velocities are usually limited to less than 600 feet per second (fps). Consistent velocity is critical to air gun accuracy and pellet velocities can vary, depending on the type of air gun used. Precision match grade pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air guns deliver the most consistent muzzle velocity and usually produce muzzle velocities between 550 feet per second (fps) to 580 fps. PCP air guns utilize a refillable, pressurized canister to deliver several hundred consistent shots. Consistent velocity is important when aiming at a 10 ring the size of a pin head (1mm). Pellets: Air Rifles or Air Pistols use lead pellets that are somewhat “hour-glassed” shaped with a diameter of 4.5 mm or are .177 of an inch and weigh between 7 and 9 grains. There are a wide variety of pellets offered by manufacturers. The quality of the pellets is determined by the consistency of shape and weight of each pellet. Accessories: There is a wide range of shooting equipment designed to improve the shooter’s performance. From shooting jackets, gloves, tables, rests, etc., most accessories are designed to increase a shooter’s stability, improve accuracy and reduce fatigue during competitions.


There are four major shooting divisions based on the competitor’s classification.

  • The Open Divisions include ambulatory competitors with injuries such as traumatic brain injury, orthopedic injuries or PTSD.
  • Other permanent physical disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, amputations or stroke are included in the SH1 Division. Generally, these competitors have the physical ability of the upper torso to support the weight of the rifle or pistol.
  • The SH2 Division includes those competitors that cannot support the weight of the rifle and therefore require the aid of a specially designed, spring support stand. Additionally, SH2 shooters unable to load pellets into their air rifle, are allowed to have assistants who load the rifle for them before each shot. There is no SH2 Division for the air pistol competitions.
  • A new division of Paralympic shooters (SH3) are the visually impaired competitors that will soon be included in competitive events.