Shooting, also known as sport shooting has been a competitive sport in a variety of forms since the mid-1800s. Competitions that involved pursuits such big game hunting, target shooting, and the hunting of a wide variety of birds were all contested in various parts of the world. The first prominent organization created to advance the interest of serious sport shooters and marksmen was the National Rifle Association, formed in the United States in 1871.

Throughout its history as a competitive sport, shooting has encompassed many different types of firearms. "Gun" is a term used interchangeably with firearm. At its most basic, a firearm is any barreled device capable of discharging a projectile. By the time of the first modern Olympics in 1896, competitive shooting was conducted in separate divisions for three types of firearms; rifles, pistols, and shotguns. A rifle is a long barreled firearm that has spiral grooves machined along the interior of the barrel; the spiral grooves, or rifling, create a rotary motion when the bullet is fired. The spin imparted to the bullet by the rifling tends to produce a more accurate shot. A rifle is typically discharged from the shoulder position of the shooter. A pistol is small firearm designed to be held and discharged from a single hand of the shooter. Both pistols and rifles may be powered by the force of conventional gunpowder contained in the cartridge that contains the bullet to be fired. The explosive force of the gunpowder is initiated when the trigger on the firearm is pulled by the shooter. Other types of both pistols and rifles are powered by systems that employ either compressed air mechanisms or pressurized gases.

A shotgun has a long barrel, one typically shorter and thicker than that of a rifle. The inside of the shotgun barrel is smooth, as the projectiles discharged are not a single object, as with a rifle bullet, but are numerous tiny projectiles, referred to as "shot". Shotguns are not as accurate as either rifles or pistols, but are an effective device in covering a wider area with the discharged ammunition.

The International Sport Shooting Federation, ISSF, is the governing body for shooting competitions through out the world. There are 17 different categories of shooting recognized at the Olympic games, seven open to women and 10 restricted to male competitors. Until 1996, a number of shooting categories at the Olympics were designated as mixed events, open to competitors of either gender. In addition to the various types of rifle and pistol shooting where the marksman attempts to shoot at a distant target, there are two general classes of moving target competitions involving trap and skeet. The trap is a device that propels specially constructed clay targets into the air at a specified distance from the shooter. In Olympic competition, the shooter must attempt to shoot 125 of the targets, from a total of five different shooting positions. In the event called double trap, two clay targets are released simultaneously at differing angles, requiring the shooter to make successive shots on the targets.

Skeet is also an event involving shot guns. The shooters assume a series of positions during the competitions, attempting to strike the targets, sometime referred to as "clay pigeons" after they are propelled into the air.

Shooting also is an important element of a winter sports discipline, the biathlon, where the competitors complete a series of laps on a cross country ski course, with intervals in which the athletes are required to shoot at set targets with a rifle from both prone and standing positions. The combination of endurance, strength, and precise marksmanship, accomplished while the athlete attempts to steady their body from the rigors of skiing, make the biathlon one of the most difficult Winter Olympic sports.

As with many sports where muscle power is not a prerequisite, shooting appears deceptively simple.

Female athletes shooting air pistols as part of 2000 Olympic Games (pentathlon).
The ability to steady hand and mind to deliver a sequence of shots requires well-developed powers of concentration and emotional control. Elite shooters spend considerable training time developing skills in visualization, where they direct their mental powers to the entire sequence of a successful shot, as an aid in coordinating their physical and mental efforts.

The greater the level of physical fitness possessed by a competitive shooter, the more likely they are to achieve competitive success. Many shooters attempt to fire at a target between heartbeats, when the body is at its most stable. The more fit the athlete, generally, the lower the heart rate. A lower heart rate will provide the shooter with a greater window within which to deliver the shot. The breathing exercises that are often performed by shooters during competition to relax the body have a more pronounced effect on a body that has both a fit cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory system.

Shooting has known its share of performance enhancing drug concerns. The best known of the drugs used by shooters to relax themselves and potentially slow their heart rate are alcohol and beta blockers, both banned substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List. Beta block-ers are drugs used to treat a number of cardiovascular conditions; they have the effect of slowing heart rate and reducing blood pressure, an advantage in shooting.

SEE ALSO Motor Control; Skiing, Nordic (cross-country skiing); Visualization in sport.