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 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.
100 And Counting
by Denise Conni
NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program Coordinator
The need for a youth program first came to public attention in the January 1903 issue of Shooting and Fishing, the NRA’s official publication at the time. In it, J.D. Dillion cited a shooting accident as one reason parents should train their child in the use of a .22 rifle.
In February of that year, 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.
The president of the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) and co-founder of the NRA, Gen. George W. Wingate, started this competition between four city schools, De Witt Clinton High School, Morris High School, Bronx High School and The Boy’s School of Brooklyn. The four teams each consisted of eight boys, firing five-shot strings using a .22 rifle and a sub-target rifle machine—a marksmanship training device with more than 300 parts and a lofty 1904 price tag of over $200. De Witt Clinton High School took top honors with a score of 377 out of 400, and an individual average score of 431⁄2 out of 50. At the 1905 annual meetings, the NRA suggested implementing a practice course-of-fire for schoolboys. The students could qualify as a sharpshooter, a junior sharpshooter, marksman, and a junior marksman. Students under the age of 15 qualified as a junior marksman and junior sharpshooter.
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.
On Dec. 23, 1907, The Sportsman Show, in Grand Central Palace, NY, set aside an entire floor to hold the first indoor NRA-sponsored annual schoolboys’ rifle tournament. During the two weeks that the show was being held, 200 juniors qualified for Junior Marksman and received the medal during a presentation by Gen. James A. Drain. The cost to enter was 35 cents and included the entrance fee and cartridges. M. Wichers and A. Garcia of Curtis High School, and Charles Oder of Morris High School, were all winners during the competition. Top prizes were two .22-caliber rifles and a .22-caliber musket.
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. But they faced the same problems that we experience today—facility limitations. While setting up the rifle qualifications, the youth clubs only found ranges that offered 200 yards outdoors while others only had 50 feet indoors. The NRA decided the best way to make sure the .22-rifle program grew successfully, was to offer two different courses-of-fire, indoor and outdoor. 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.
While the NRA’s junior club was starting to grow, the Winchester Junior Rifle Corps (WJRC) was beginning to form. Its idea came from Gen. 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.
But, the WJRC was different 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 Gen. 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.
By May 15, 1926, the American Rifle-man had started a monthly section in the magazine called NRA News Junior Rifle Corps, written by H.H. Goebel. The program was in full swing, and the word was out.
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 NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program continues to grow. In 2004, there were more than 9,000 participants (youth and adult).
[Editor’s note: This is an Orwellian “increase” as Marksmanship Qualification Program tracked 374,112 participants in 1961.]
Approximately 200 NRA members qualified for Distinguished Expert, seven for Double Distinguished—including a 13-year-old girl—and four Triple Distinguished honors were awarded. These numbers include 18 women and 90 youth participants. For more information or to receive your free copy of the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program booklet visit http://mqp.nra.org or contact the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program Coordinator by calling (703) 267-1505.