A staggering number of shooters, 2297 in pistol and 2278 in rifle, have entered the 60th National Shooting Championship which is being held at the Balewadi Sports Complex shooting range here. Without doubt, the likes of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore — who won the double trap silver medal at 2004 Athens — and Abhinav Bindra — who won the 10m air rifle gold medal at 2008 Beijing — have been chiefly instrumental to popularise the sport and also instil confidence that the shooters possess the skill and temperament to match up with the best in the world and win medals in the Asian and Olympics Games.

The likes of Samresh Jung, Anjali Bhagwat, Suma Shirur, Tejaswini Sawant, Gagan Narang, Vijay Kumar, Jitu Rai, Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Rahi Sarnobat and many more have won medals at various Asian and world tournaments and have proved their mettle in the Commonwealth Games and the ISSF World Championships.

There has been a humungous increase in the number of participants — men, women and junior— at the nationals and other zonal tournaments and the Secretary General of the National Rifle Shooting Association of India (NRAI), D.V. Seetharama Rao, attributes the rising popularity of the sport to many reasons, notably the easy availability of firearms and ammunition.

"The question being asked is why it has taken decades to touch the high number of entries. The reason is, earlier, shooting was an exclusive sport. There were a lot of restrictions on the availability of equipment needed for the peculiar sport, like sophisticated firearms which are specially made for target shooting, and ammunition which is a dissipating asset, unlike in other games where the sports equipment can be used over a period of days. It (ammunition) has to be of high precision and high quality."

"That’s available to all now. Thanks to the government of India and Sports Authority of India (SAI), the rules have been liberalised for shooters who achieve the minimum qualifying score; to import firearms and 15000 cartridges free of duty of any kind. So people and clubs and the NRAI have been able to import arms and ammunition in large quantity. We also have good ranges now; there is awareness of the shooting sport, especially after Bindra made his mark in the world at the Beijing Olympics," said Rao, who has been associated with the sport as a shotgun shooter and administrator for nearly two decades. He is the President of the Tamil Nadu Shooting Association.

Records indicate a rise in interest for the sport in States like Maharashtra (409 entries in rifle and 341 in pistol), Haryana (191 in rifle and 318 in pistol), Uttar Pradesh (243 in rifle and 412 in pistol), Punjab (156 in rifle and 148 in pistol), Rajasthan (143 in rifle and 140 in pistol), Uttarakhand (63 in rifle and 166 in pistol) and Gujarat (113 in rifle an 95 in pistol). Delhi, which has the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range at Tughlabad and which will play host to two ISSF World Championships next year, has 82 sent entries in rifle and 94 in pistol.

The Secretary of the Punjab Shooting Association, Rajiv Bhatia said entries from the State have increased because of the incentives given by the State for all sports.

"Apart from cash, sportspersons in the State get admission to professional courses. The Haryana government offers attractive cash incentives and jobs."

Anjali Bhagwat said that the outlook among the youth has changed and that they learn shooting, not necessarily to take part in competitions. "I am very happy that shooting sport has picked up and become popular in the country. Every day I get calls from 10 to 15 parents. Few of them have joined my academy not to pursue shooting professionally, but because they feel it is a good diversion and it will improve their focus in academics or whatever they do in life. When we started, we had weird ideas like how it will help us and where it will take us. But, now it has become prestigious; one looks at fitness, focus and IQ levels. It’s a professional attitude now and shooters get support from sports NGO’s OGQ and Laksya."

The 10m pistol event received a record 1485 entries in the men’s, junior, youth and civilian and the 10m rifle event had 1085 entries. "For anyone to start, the initial investment is around Rs. 50,000 and plus you also need a good jacket and pair of boots. You also need a very good optical equipment, depending on the eyesight. That’s a bit expensive. India’s economy is booming and that’s the reason we have more entries, but the flip side of it is that there should be more entries because of India’s population,’’ said Rao.