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All about Summer Biathlon

Tue, Jul  21, 2009 - By Mike Muha

I've been curious about summer biathlon - something we could actually pull off in Michigan? - and decided to do a little investigating. I've grabbed relevent information from across the web; what I found is below....

The combination of running and rifle marksmanship is a spin-off of the winter Olympic version of cross-country skiing and shooting. In the past, virtually all summer Biathletes were winter crossovers looking for a way to stay in shape during the off-season. This is no longer true. People of all sizes and ages, who are not interested in just skiing, are participating in summer biathlon. With events taking place in New Mexico, Georgia, and California, it is clear that summer biathlon isn't just for skiers. A new sport has emerged.

In Summer Biathlon, the standard US Biathlon Association race distance is 5 kilometers. The rifles are .22 caliber and the standard shooting distance is 50 meters. Summer Biathlon races use the same format as the Winter Olympic sport, except that running is substituted for cross-country skiing.

Competitors, starting in waves of 2 or 3 per minute, begin by running a loop that brings them to the shooting range. They lay down, pick up the rifle, shoot 5 shots at the metal knock-down targets, walk to the end of the range, and continue the running.

They run another loop and come back to the range. This time it is five shots from the standing position. The race ends with a dash to the finish. Scoring is based on the competitors' total time, which includes the number of 100 meter penalty loops run for each miss.

Running a penalty loop at a summer biathlon

Duncan Douglas runs a penalty loop at the US Summer Biathlon National Championships held at Mt Van Hovenburgh Biathlon venue in Lake Placid earlier this month

Unlike winter biathlon, rifles are left in the shooting range on a rack. Competitors pick up rifles as they enter, and leave them as they exit the range area.

Typicaly, there are “Sport” and “Match” classes. Sport is designed for novices/beginners/youth and shoot at the larger targets and run/walk shorter distances. The Match class is for more experienced biathletes. Novice (sport class) participants will usually be allowed to shoot from 25 meters and experienced (match class) racers usually shoot at 50 meters.

The summer biathlon series at Pemigewassett Valley Fish and Game Club follows a slightly different format. There are 5 parts to the match for the Match Classes:

Part 1 – run 800m shoot 5 shots prone, run penalty loops.
Part 2 – run 800m shoot 5 shots prone, run penalty loops.
Part 3 – run 800m shoot 5 shots standing, run penalty loops.
Part 4 – run 800m shoot 5 shots standing, run penalty loops.
Part 5 – run 800m

Minnesota has a summer air-rifle biathlon for kids 5-13. The kids run distances from 400 meters to 2 x 600 meters. There are also youth biathlons that make use of paintball guns.

Targets seem to be the biggest obstacle to putting on a biathlon in Michigan - you have to construct targets. Here are a couple targets. According to, the targets you see in most races are either 3.5" metal knockdown targets - plates on hinges that are cheaply constructed but still in use by some clubs for novice events, or the standard winter targets, which can be set for 4.5 cm for prone shooting, or 11.5 cm for standing.

Summer biathlon can use standard winter targets

Summer biathlon can use standard winter targets...


Summer biathlon targets

...or 3.5" homemade targets

Of course, major venues have the cadillac of targets. Take, for example, the Mt Van Hovenburgh Biathlon venue in Lake Placid:

Lake Placid biathlon range


I have been unable to find plans for building your own targets, although there are pictures of ones already constructed.

For any biathlon race the biggest items are the targets,rifles and ammunition. assuming you have targets, the Washington Biathlon Association ("What it takes to put on a biathlon race") says targets have to be lubricated and painted after every race or race weekend. They have to be hauled into place, aligned, assembled and function tested.  Even then, some fail during a race. One biathlon target and its essential equipment weigh in at nearly 200 pounds.

Rifles and ammunition are the next big issue to resolve.  Pool rifles have to be cleaned and lubricated and most importantly sighted in on race day.  Organizers are mostly concerned with pool use rifles, but ammunition in personally owned rifles has to be checked as do the trigger pull must be tested.  The targets as well as the rules, which tie directly to event insurance, specify the type of .22 LR (long rifle) ammo that can be used.  Anything with high velocity or a jacketed bullet is not only forbidden, it will damage the targets.

After rifles and targets comes course marking equipment, hazard warning signs, and equipment to “keep score”.  All of it has to be put in place, the course and penalty loop has to be well marked and the racers have to understand where they have to go.  Summer courses require clearing, often mowing and then marking, usually on race day or if lucky, the evening before.

I'd be curious how the annual biathlon was run on the day after the North American Vasa way back when. Where did the rifles come from and what were used for targets. I always thought putting on the Michigan Cup Sprints was complicated; a summer biathlon looks even more complicated!