Biathlon rifles are something special, basically custom-made. “In biathlon, the rifle adapts to the shooter and not the shooter to the rifle,” claims former Slovenian national team member and coach Boštjan Lekan. A special feature of the rifle is the butt, which is made of softwood, mostly linden or chestnut.
Somehow, young biathletes use various national team rifles up to the age of 18 and when their physical growth is complete, they get a wooden custom-made part. “There have also been attempts in the other direction, but the wood absorbs the shot. Carbon is too hard and is used only for individual parts of the riffle, even hardwoods are not suitable for biathlon rifle butts. Only softwood allows soft shooting. Hardwood butts are intended for those who will use the weapon for 20 years or more, e.g. hunters,” says Lekan.
The rifle butt is the one that differs the most among individual shooters, as it is adapted to the length of the arms, the size of the palm, the shape of the cheekbone … “You also have to pay attention to how the rifle is positioned to the shoulder. Since the athletes have different shoulder rings, there are also different sizes of suspenders. A lot of progress has been made here, because we used to use ropes that were poorly lined, and today, with all the modern equipment, sometimes you don’t even know you’re carrying a rifle.”
In the hunt for success in a race, details are very important. Lekan reminds that when using a rifle, it can be very important already if a competitor loses two or three kilograms, which can cause changes in the support in the shooting position, so they must closely monitor the situation with the coach and shorten the belt if necessary.
Modern rifles have several novelties and special features, with changing of measuring devices depending on light, fog, wind or even snow. But the rifle itself is not everything. “In the first place, it’s really a weapon, and then it takes practice to get a proper sense of sight, breathing, and pulling the trigger properly.”
Biathlon rifles weigh at least 3.5 kilograms. With small-calibre ammunition, biathletes shoot targets at a distance of 50 meters. The diameter of the target in the prone shooting is 4.5 cm and in the standing 11.5 cm.