4-Time Canadian National Champion, Allan Harding, opens up about the world of competitive shooting

Younger brothers can be annoying. Occasionally, they can also nudge you in a new life-changing direction. Allan Harding’s younger brother, David, was a shooting enthusiast who had tried multiple times to get Allan out to the gun range while both were in high-school. “Trust me – I know you’ll like it!”, he repeated. It took an annoying younger-brother’s persistence to finally convince Allan to give it a try. In 1989, he visited his first gun range and discovered, “It was awesome!”. With that experience, Allan had taken the first step along a path that would eventually give Canada one of its greatest shooters.

Today, Allan Harding’s name is well-known to anyone in the professional shooting circuit. He’s competed in international competitions since 2012, is a four-time Canadian national champion marksman in competitive pistol, and has competed in the Pan Am and Commonwealth Games.

But reaching that elite level took years of work and an unwavering love of the sport.

Allan’s shooting experience began on a gun range using club rifles. It was enjoyable enough to motivate him to take the Shooting Federation of Canada’s RTS badge program. A few weeks later he earned his gold. But everything clicked into place when the coach at his local club suggested he try pistol shooting. He was hooked. Once he realized it was an Olympic sport, the question began to form in his mind: “How good can I get at this?”

The answer was, “As hard as I’m willing to work.”

Each air pistol competition came with a target of shots showing the groupings – a single hole. Allan realized the equipment was nearly perfect, so he started working on eliminating human error. Each time he missed the bullseye, he asked himself, “What could I have done better with that shot?” And with enough repetitions he started refining the tiny nuances.

The first rush

It took six years of pushing himself towards perfection before Allan’s unrelenting standards paid off. Shortly before aging out of the Junior category, he won his first nationals, a victory that remains one of the biggest rushes of his career. However, after achieving that initial success Allan was forced to put his budding shooting talent on hold. He couldn’t afford to go to Nationals and was struggling with the direction to take in life. Despite his obvious talent and love for shooting, Allan ended up leaving the sport for 12 years. 

Fortunately for Canada’s shooting community, Allan returned to competitive shooting in 2007, targeting his professional goals with the same focused accuracy he targets his shots. The last 14 years have been a string of personal bullseyes, including being a member of Team Canada’s shooting team and a 4-time National Champion competing on ISSF World Cup Series.

Acquiring Wisdom

More than 30 years after firing his first pistol, Allan can now leverage considerable experience and wisdom when discussing the mental and physical elements that make a successful competitive shooter. Like most athletes, Allan stresses the importance of focusing on a single event at a time – one shot, one pitch, one play.

“Even going to an ISSF World Cup, I can’t go into it thinking, ‘I will win this’. I go into each of the 60 competition shots making it the best shot I can, then moving on. If, at the end, I do it well enough, that’s awesome.”

On continually striving for improvement: “I never regret not winning. I regret not preparing enough, knowing that I could have put more time into training in a specific area. In Canada, I made it into Finals as a top contender many times and then got eliminated. That made me realize I needed to put more time into that part of the competition. Not just training to make Finals, but training to win.”

Using the Force

Unlike other sports where the body must move faster and respond to a wider range of variables, competitive shooting demands the opposite – the body must slow down and tune out external stimuli. According to Allan, the single most important physical factor to master is your cardio, the ability to manage your heart rate and keep it low.

“Breathing, combined with meditation and maintaining mental focus are the keys. International competitions have a lot of noise – music, announcers, spectators cheering. And pressure – you need to shoot a 10 or you’ll probably be the next one eliminated. Those are the moments you need to find a Zen-like calmness, an autopilot ‘flow’ where you tune out everything around you and focus on the one thing you can control… the shot.”

Competing on the world stage

As an acclaimed shooter whose skill has taken him to multiple countries, Allan can talk from experience on what it’s like to plan, travel, and participate in international competitions. What’s his favourite part? “Getting the chance to see a wide range of people from all walks of life who enjoy shooting. I’ve met lots of friends and traveled to countries I never thought I’d see, let alone competitively shoot in.” 

On the preparation for an international event: “Usually 2-3 months before an ISSF World Cup you decide which team members will be attending, organize hotels and flights. Competitors are importing and exporting firearms from country to country, so appropriate paperwork is crucial. Usually, you arrive a couple days early but still need to spend time at the range beforehand to check equipment, including everything from your trigger weight being correct to having enough flex/bend in your shoes (seriously… soles of athlete’s shoes must bend at least 22.5 degrees with a force of 15 newton-meters), plus lots of other things.”

Once the competition starts, the ability to access years of training and discipline is the difference between winning and losing. “In the qualification round, I don’t think much about what else is going on around me. There were times where I got into position, began shooting, finished 90 minutes later and then realized I had never sat down. It took about 5 minutes to ‘reconnect’ to my body and get my legs to move so I could take a seat.

“Once you make it into Finals, you’re aware of spectators cheering for the athletes. It’s difficult to tune out. In the 10m Olympic pistol event, you also only have 50 seconds to make each shot or it’s a miss.” 

Canada’s future shooters

Even when he’s not gripping a pistol, Allan continues to take aim at a different set of targets. He runs a youth target sports program at his local club and is on the Board of Directors with the Shooting Federation of Canada and BC Target Sports Association. With programs in the works for recreational shooters in their RTS program right through to the high performance program aimed at Olympic excellence, Allan is establishing the foundation for the next generation of Canadian shooters.

Those who have been lucky enough to see Allan Harding’s enthusiasm and talent close up will encounter few better mentors.

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