Selecting the Perfect Rifle

Choosing a rifle that compliments the age, experience, and size of your colorguard can be complicated business. Where do you start? What options are available? What if your group has a unique variety of spinners? What if the school board doesn’t approve of the equipment?

When I first began spinning rifle I was in 7th grade marching band. The rifles we had at our disposal were old, chipped, and about 34” long. I have always been short, and in middle school, most of my friends towered over me. Handling a small rifle came easily in middle school as the size complimented my short stature. But the rifle was light as air, making our tosses sloppy. We were only a parade band, so it wasn’t the biggest deal. When I got to high school though, I was blown away by the talent I saw our seniors carry with their equipment. I longed to spin the big rifles, and ordered one immediately. But my program spun 39” weapons.

The rifle was almost as tall as I was and impossibly heavy. I felt clunky. Out of control of my equipment. Frustrated. The piece of wood I could so easily spin in middle school all of a sudden became next to impossible. When The Cavaliers rehearsed at our school that summer, I was overcome with jealousy because they spun and tossed so effortlessly. I wanted that. With a lot of hard work and practice, I eventually gained the strength to toss quads with more ease, although it never fully felt “effortless.” The rifle was just too big for a shorty like me, I thought.

By my senior year I was tossing 5’s with ease and 6’s with effort, but the road to that success was paved with a myriad struggles and frustration, both internal and external: I had grown stronger, but some of my teammates, who were fine with the triples they were given, did not. As a result, our rifle line was adequate, but never spectacular. We had incredibly knowledgeable coaches, but equipment that, to some extent, hindered our ability to grown.

As a coach now, I take care to pay attention to the size and experience of my rifle line, and train smart. A student under 5’ tall will naturally have more difficulty spinning something almost their height. Is it impossible? No. But it can setback the level of success a group can achieve. Some programs can successfully place 39” rifles in the hands of their members. Some cannot. When choosing a rifle perfect for your line, it is important to account for the age/stature of your group, their level of experience, and the space they take up on the field. This is not to say that every year you need to change the style of rifle used, but adapting your decision to your “average” rifle line will be the best decision in the long run.

Jared Littleton is a tech for the Avon Cadet guard and an instructor at the Music for All Summer Symposium. He weighed in with some tips and principles when introducing rifle into your ensemble. He focuses specifically on cadet aged members. With his collaboration, we were able to create a series of considerations for selecting the perfect rifle or “non-traditional twirling prop” for your group:

How old/tall is your group?

  • Cadet and middle school groups are typically shorter than high school and varsity teams. Further, they are not yet physically developed enough to handle the weight of a longer rifle. Littleton expresses the importance of setting the foundation for a young, physically developing colorguard. He states that: It is very important to teach the kids at a young level how to spin the equipment with the right muscles. Technique varies per program but teaching them how to use the right muscles is very important. The skills will always develop over time but as long as they are doing it the right way, once they get to the high school level, the foundation is solid.
  • Consider the heights of your rifle line when selecting sizes. A 39” may be perfect for your varsity colorguard, but your middle school cadet guard may be only slightly taller than their rifles. Drum corps and world class winter guards for the most part spin 39” rifles, and many high school groups today have opted to spin the hybrid 37.5”, which serves as an effective in-between as students either transition from middle to high school, or begin spinning rifle for the first time.

How experienced is your group?

  • A brand new rifle line may not be strong enough yet to control a longer, heavier rifle. Remember that younger students don’t have the same physical strength as older students, making the weight of the rifle a bit cumbersome. However, given the proper time, training, and work ethic, students will rise to the expectation. A shorter rifle is easier to control on tosses and catches and will serve as a wise starter. A longer rifle has more to control and clean. A more experienced group may be ready to graduate to a longer 37.5” or 39” rifle. If you have a new but naturally strong group, a longer rifle may be a positive challenge.
  • Typically, rifle training is an opportunity given to students who are veterans of a colorguard program. Littleton explains that “having vets who have spent a season with [an ensemble] means their muscle development is a little further along. They also understand [the] lingo and the effort it takes to grow as a performer especially on a new piece of equipment.”

How big is your rifle line?

  • A small rifle line takes up less space on the field and floor. You may want a longer rifle that commands a slightly larger presence. However, if your rifle line is larger, or if you have an entire ensemble spinning rifle, you can use smaller weapons without compromising presence and effect.

What are you looking for in a strap?

  • The leather strap stretches with time and use, making it malleable while still maintaining some tautness over time. The web strapping can be automatically adjusted to the desired looseness, but won’t have the flexibility of the leather strap. Don’t want a strap at all? You don’t need one!

How much care and prep will you want your group to put on their rifles?

  • DSI’s Elite rifle collection includes a variety of sizes and accessory options. It is easy to customize our rifles to fit the needs of your group. Our Elite 2, 3, 4, and 5 are made of solid wood and requires taping to reinforce naturally weak areas. To maintain a clean appearance, tape will need to be replaced too keep it looking fresh. However, the Elite Pro series is made out of single-piece molded, high-density polyethylene, which is stress crack and impact resistant. You will not need to tape these rifles, but clean-up with a rag will keep it looking show ready.

Help! My school doesn’t support weapons as a part of our pageantry!

  • Aside from the Elite series, DSI also offers hybrid “spinning props” that handle like rifles, but don’t look like them. The Arc 1 has a new unique and modern design that includes a more contoured shape and a rounded end, creating a feeling of familiarity to spinners with traditional rifle training.

Choosing a rifle to compliment your group doesn’t have to be a pain. But it does require knowledge of what will be best for your guard. DSI offers rifles that will fit your needs and are customizable. At the end of the day, there is no “bad” choice, but an ineffective choice could be the difference between an adequate guard and a spectacular one.

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