The following is a history of the National Rifle Association Marksmanship Qualification Program originally written by Denise Conni for NRA InSights (http://www.nrainsights.org). Please note, even though this program was initially motivated as a method to involve junior shooters, the NRA MQP is not for kids only! Adults are encouraged to participate as well!
The NRA first made an effort to promote shooting programs besides competition in the January 1903 issue of Shooting and Fishing, an NRA-published magazine. The following February Maj. James E. Bell made a strong request during an NRA Board of Directors meeting, encouraging rifle practice in schools and colleges. He firmly believed that education and training among school-aged boys, would reduce accidents and make for a well-trained soldier, if soldiers were needed. In April of 1903 the NRA executive board sent a letter to the presidents and faculty of New York schools. It explained the need for safety and marksmanship rifle training and asked for rifle practice for youth shooters. The schools then started with basic marksmanship and in the winter of 1904, New York City High Schools began rifle practice and hosted a competition.
George W. Wingate, NRA co-founder and president of the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) started a competition between four city schools in the New York area. PSAL started the program under the supervision of Wingate. The qualification course was pretty simple—score 40 out of 50 in one five-string course using a .22 rifle. With local boys qualifying too easily, Gen. Wingate adjusted the score to 42 out of 50 in the spring of 1905, and then to 44 out of 50 in the summer of 1906. Because the number of shooters grew and the program became more successful, the first NRA-sponsored schoolboy .22-rifle competition was held in Creedmoor, NY, on Jul. 26, 1906. The boys, in teams of five—from De Witt Clinton, The Boy’s School of Brooklyn, Curtis, Commercial, Manual Training, and Stuyvesant—used the sub-target machine while the boys from St. John’s Military School shot without it.
The course-of-fire was 100 yards standing, and 400 yards prone, five shots at each distance for a possible total score of 250. Even with the summertime heat, De Witt Clinton High School once again won the competition, this time with an individual average of 44 out of 50, and a total score of 220 out of 250.
The NRA received final approval from the executive board for funding the program in 1908 and offered the first NRA Schoolboy medals, which included the Collegiate Rifle Club, the School-Boy Rifle Club, and Junior Marksman indoor and outdoor. The program continued to grow through the mid 1900s. By 1914, 3,956 schoolboys were enrolled and affiliated with the NRA. A 200 yard outdoor course and reduced target 50 foot indoor course was offered. The indoor course was 10 shots standing and 10 shots prone at 50 feet, and the outdoor course was the same course-of-fire, except set at 200 yards.
Also in 1914, The Boy Scouts of America and the NRA completed a qualification course for the Scouts’ merit badge. The course-of-fire used a .22-caliber rifle, shot at 50 feet. The boys had to qualify with a score of 80 out of a possible 100 points, 10 shots with a possible of 38 out of 50 stand-ing, and 10 shots with a possible score of 42 out of 50 prone.
With the NRA’s junior club starting to grow, Winchester formed the Winchester Junior Rifle Corps (WJRC). Taking the lead from Wingate’s book, Why Should Boys Be Taught To Shoot, they believed in his principles and the way to train the junior shooter. The program began in 1918 and by 1925 had more than 135,000 memberships, and gave away over 55,000 medals for marksmanship. These medals included pro-marksman, marksman, sharpshooter, expert and distinguished rifleman.
The WJRC differed from the NRA’s junior rifle club in that the WJRC catered to both boys and girls and was not training them for potential military duty. According to Wingate, its goal was to“…encourage marksmanship among boys and girls not over 18 years of age, also to teach the safe handling of a rifle. [The program] combines all the fun of shooting with the encouragement of high skill marksmanship and good sportsmanship. It encourages the strong, normal boy and girl instinct for a rifle to find expression in a useful, character-building way.”Unfortunately, the WJRC fell victim to the Depression, and with Winchester’s financial difficulties, the WJRC struggled to survive. To help solve its financial woes, the NRA took over the program starting Jan. 1, 1926.
After the NRA took over the rifle program, the qualification course was then set. The course-of-fire was shot in strings of five shots at 10 targets. The Pro-Marksman skill level required a minimum of 20 bullseyes out of a possible 50, the Marksman level required a minimum of 25 bullseyes out of 50, Sharpshooter required 35 bullseyes with nine bars scoring a possible total of 250. The nine sharpshooter bars were shot in three different positions: prone, sitting and kneeling. The Expert level required a minimum of 40 bullseyes out of a possible 50, shooting five-shot strings at 10 targets. And finally, the highest skill level, the Distinguished Rifleman, required the shooter to hit a total of 400 bullseyes, 100 bulls in each position.
The merging of the NRA Junior Marksmanship Program and the Winchester Junior Rifle Corps program began to mold the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program into what it is today. If you are currently participating in the program, then you will recognize the levels through which a shooter progresses, even though they seem just a little different from the courses we shot in 2005. Not only that, but we have added courses over the years. The program now offers 11 different courses-of-fire ranging from Air Pistol to High Power Rifle, and in 2002 the Marksman 1st Class classification was added.
The real pity about the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program is that it continues to decline. In 1961 the NRA reported that with a membership of 418,000 total the Marksmanship Qualification Program had 374,112 participants.
Today, despite having over 4 million NRA members and financial support from Winchester again, there are less than 10,000 MQP participants total, youth and adult combined.