Will Biathlon Shooting Events Come to North Idaho?

Kris Jensen competes in a Biathlon Shooting Event on cross-country skis. Photo courtesy Kris Jensen.

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Story by Sandpoint PR Contributing Editor, Mark Knapp.

A lot of people watched the WINTER OLYMPICS and are asking questions about the Biathlon competition in Sochi. In a Biathlon, competitors get their heart beats racing by skiing across the countryside from one location to another and then stopping to engage targets out as far as 165 feet!

One of my friends asked me about the unique features of the .22 caliber rifles that the competitors use. I went to law school at Gonzaga with Kris Jensen. Jensen is a Biathlon competitor so I asked him about which rifle he shoots. It is an Izshmash 7-4. Izmash was at the Shot Show this year and, judging by their presence in Las Vegas, the armory that produced the AK-47 and many other Russian firearms, is invading the U.S. gun market in a big way.

There are two makers of biathlon guns, Anschutz, the German Biathlon rifle is about $3500.00- just for an entry level version without most of the accessories. The Izshmash entry level version is about $1500.00. All the guns used in competition have been modified extensively to lower the weight, custom fit the shooter and make the gun shoot more accurately. The rules of Biathlon are that triggers be within a certain pull weight, overall weight must be over a certain amount and lengths are also specified within certain parameters. Ammunition is standard .22 caliber.

The bolt action on the Anschutz is finger pull back and thumb press forward. The Izshmash action is also finger back and thumb forward but requires the thumb to come out on the side of the bolt, which is a little slower because your hand moves a little more between shots. This German YouTube video shows some good views of the Biathlon rifles that show the bolt action movement with finger back and thumb forward.

Jensen grew up in Wenatchee in a family that hunted a lot. Jensen had two other brothers that were also athletic. Over the years he enjoyed Nordic skate skiing more and more. His family had a cabin in the Methow Valley where he was cross-country skiing a lot during the winter. Skiing and shooting were a natural fit. Jensen is the President of the Methow Valley Biathlon board. The team is coached by a volunteer, Winthrop veterinarian Betsy Devin-Smith.

The participants are mostly high school kids but there is a Masters division that holds regular races during the winter season. There is also a club that uses facilities at Stevens Pass.

Jensen helps support the team and takes the pressure off the coach by administering the website and helping with logistics.

Methow Valley Biathlon has two main fundraiser events each year. They are called TRY BIATHLON. The club invites recreational skiers to come try the sport of biathlon. If you want to give Biathlon competition a shot or just get more information, you can go to http://methowvalleynordic.com/event/try-biathlon/.

Range size really depends on the site. Shooting distance is 50m (165feet). A range typically has ten lanes, so that’s about 100 feet wide making the total shooting footprint about 16,500 square feet. Jensen estimates that with proper backdrop and good side shields you could squeeze it onto one acre (43,560 ft2). An enterprising entrepreneur or local government working with Idaho business leaders can create such a venue in North Idaho with a minimum of expense and use the range year around for action matches, high power and bull’s eye shooting the rest of the year.

The backdrop in the pictures is USFS land with a steep hillside. We have been advocating for additional shooting venues in North Idaho and there are already things happening behind the scenes that promise to be exciting! Olympic shooting trials can bring in a huge amount of international coverage and tourism. Thus, despite the suggestion that one acre may be sufficient, several acres may be more favorable to North Idaho’s plans for economic development.

If some investors want to get really ambitious, North Idaho can even become the birthplace of a new sport in which participants shoot rifle, pistol and shot gun from skis. Biathlon started as a military discipline with high power rifles. In 1978, eighteen years after Biathlon became an Olympic event, athletic officials bowed to European ways by going to standard velocity, more politically correct .22 caliber ammunition. Prior to 1978, the American team used Winchester Model 70s in .243 Winchester!

In the summer time, North Idaho can turn the Nordic skiing trails into motocross trails and really crank up some high speed shooting action!

Reposted with permission of Sandpoint PR.

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