‘ATTENTION!” During the following seven-second pause, a line of college shooters silently raise their target pistols to a steady 45-degree angle, concentrating on the targets situated across a partially covered, grassy field. As soon as the signal lights turn green, the pistols go up, and each shooter, with gentle precision, sends off a series of five .22-caliber bullets in a matter of 10 seconds.
This is the “rapid fire” stage of standard pistol at the 25-meter range of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, Ga. — the home of the NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championships. Ranking among the top 10 teams in the country this year, Yale qualified for the 2011 championships. In standard pistol, one of the three events of intercollegiate pistol, Yale ended up placing seventh nationally, outscoring the U.S. Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academies and edging out MIT, the 2005 and 2007 NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Champion.
“Yale has a pistol team?” is the emphatic response usually heard when someone is informed about what, really, is one of Yale’s most secret — and oldest — societies. Yale’s history with shooting sports dates back to at least 1884 — just a few years after the first Game was played and the first issue of the Yale Daily News was printed. By the end of the 19th century, most colleges had pistol and rifle teams, and the rivalry between the Yale and Harvard teams is recorded as being as great as it was in football. But during the Vietnam War, these teams — then comprising ROTC cadets — were disbanded with the ROTC’s departure. While some continued to practice and compete in local matches, Yale’s competitive intercollegiate shooting program lay dormant for decades. But in the fall of 2008, current Yale Pistol & Rifle coach Rick Kamp FES ’87 — a competitive shooter and a certified NRA instructor — with the help of a handful of enterprising undergraduate and graduate students, revived the team and its proud heritage of intercollegiate competition.
Yale’s re-entry into competitive shooting — which includes a number of NCAA and Olympic events — has coincided with a resurgence of interest in the shooting sports at a number of other universities, including Harvard, Brown and Penn. Over the past few years, the Pistol & Rifle Team, as a club sport, has come to be competitive with the very best varsity programs in the country. Recognized for his help in this development, coach Kamp received the NRA’s 2011 Outstanding Service to Collegiate Shooting Sports award. Next year, while improving upon our performance in pistol, we also hope to enter NCAA smallbore rifle competition.
Shooting is all about mental focus under pressure. While there is certainly a physical component to competitive shooting, for the amateur shooter, after a few weeks of conditioning the physical aspect becomes negligible compared to the surprisingly profound mental requirements. Consequently, it is no surprise that Yalies are able to perform quite well, being able to transfer tried methods for coping with mental stress from academics to the shooting range. Since shooting is unique is this regard, it is one of the few sports in which women and men compete together as equals.
The Pistol & Rifle Team exists under the larger organization of the Pistol & Rifle Club. The club is dedicated to training interested members of the Yale community how to operate firearms safely. In the past few years, the club has introduced hundreds of responsible Elis to the world of firearms. In addition, anyone in the club with appropriate training is eligible to compete for Yale at regular, noncollegiate, local competitions in rifle and pistol against nearby gun clubs and police departments. We are proud to boast a remarkably heterogeneous membership, including as members undergraduates of all years and academic disciplines, graduate students from nearly all of Yale’s professional schools, faculty from various departments, and staff. With members hailing from all parts of the United States, nearly every continent, and filling out the spectrum of political and religious backgrounds, the club, by almost any measure, attracts a diverse, interesting crowd.
Above all, we are very serious in ensuring the safety of all involved. In this endeavor, we are arguably the safest club sport, with no reported injuries since our inception well over a century ago. That means we are safer than football, soccer or even ultimate Frisbee.
Colin Smith is a junior in Branford College and the president of the Pistol & Rifle Club.