Schuetzen targets and the rifles that shoot them
(A brief history of Schuetzen Rifle target shooting & its local relationship to the upcoming “Headquarters” Cowboy Action Shooting Match at Victoria Fish & Game Protective Association)
Schuetzen Rifle shooting began in Europe in the 1600’s as a regional competition between marksmen of the day, who would gather to shoot their finest quality muzzle loading target rifles at elaborately hand painted targets. Typically, the subjects of these targets were depictions of game animals, soldiers, or fantasy scenes generated at the whimsy of the artist, and they were shot at varying distances by the participants. The “Schuetzen Master” for the event would determine the distance the target would be placed, and an aiming point on the painted target, and at that point the competitors would then attempt to place their single carefully aimed shot closest to the designated spot on the target to be declared the winner. Traditionally, the winning shooter would claim the target itself as the trophy, but was often also awarded an elaborate shooting medal which could be worn on his jacket to indicate shooting prowess. These medals were often linked together to form a “chain” of shooting medals, worn by the shooters at local and regional shooting club matches and social events. A Schuetzen “King” was crowned each year, and it was his duty to organize the events, both shooting and social, on behalf of the local and regional shooting clubs and their members. This tradition continues today, and with this article you’ll find some photos of original, vintage Shuetzen targets displayed at a Shuetzen target shooting club in Germany that was established in the early 1600’s and still actively continues today!
When German and Bavarian immigrants came to America, they continued the tradition of Schuetzen Rifle shooting, particularly on the East coast of the United States, and it was a very popular pastime of shooters in the period running from the 1880’s up until the First World War. There were famous American gunsmiths that specialized in producing the most accurate, custom built Shuetzen target rifles of the turn of the past century, and these included Harry M. Pope, A. O. Zischang, George C. Schoyen, A. W. Peterson, A. O. Neidner, and Milton Farrow. Although the earliest Schuetzen target rifles were all muzzle loading rifles, as time passed excellent accuracy was found to be possible with carefully hand loaded black powder cartridge rifles, typically chambered in .32-40 and .38-55 calibres. (There were also a host of proprietary cartridges too numerous to list that were developed for this style of target shooting, as many “rifle cranks” were building their own guns, moulds, and dies in their own custom “wildcat” cartridges for the popular Shuetzen events.)
Schuetzen rifles are typically built on single shot actions of one type or another, generally a Martini style, or falling block style action, but many later German made Schuetzen rifles were based on the Mauser model 1871 single shot bolt action rifle, such as the example pictured with this article. I am priviledged to be the current owner of this fine rifle, chambered for the now obsolete 9.5x47 Rimmed Schuetzen target rifle cartridge, which is a virtual ballistic twin to the popular American .38-55 cartridge. Although difficult to determine exactly when it was produced, the proof marks on it indicate that it was already in use as a finished firearm when the new proof laws of 1891 came into effect in Germany. It was then mandatory to have the gun “proofed” for safety before it could be used further, and this gun has those required proofs under the action.
Loading and shooting Schuetzen rifles to obtain the ultimate in accuracy is a tedious and time consuming process, and you begin by carefully hand casting a perfectly formed bullet alloyed of lead and tin, lubing it with varying combinations of tallow, beeswax, steam cylinder oil, sperm whale oil, graphite, Japan wax, bayberry wax, Vaseline, cosmoline, and paraffin. (Most riflemen of the day had their own preference and closely guarded their personal bullet lubricant recipes.) At the shooting match, a pre-cast and carefully lubricated bullet was selected, and gently inserted through the muzzle of the rifle using a specially fitted “false muzzle” to pre-engrave the rifling onto it. It was then pressed down the bore until it was seated just ahead of the loaded cartridge case placed in the chamber of the rifle. One single cartridge case was used for the entire match, to ensure consistency of volume, and it was loaded with a priming charge of bulk smokeless powder over the primer, and then the case was filled to its mouth with a suitable charge by volume of black powder. A cork or felt wad was then pressed into the mouth of the case to hold the charge firmly in place. When the charged case was seated in the chamber, directly behind the pre-engraved bullet, the rifleman was then ready to stand up, offhand, and fire this perfect combination of bullet and cartridge into the target 200 yards away.
Shuetzen matches in America were a slightly different format to the traditional European versions, and did not use the painted game scene targets, but a standard black bull target, and a typical match consisted of 5 or 10 shots fired at the 200 yard target. Score and group size determined the winner of the day in the American version of the game.
Here in Victoria, the tradition of proper German Shuetzen Rifle competition, using a historically accurate, painted Schuetzen target, and a single scoring shot closest to the designated aiming mark, continues thanks to our friend and out of town Victoria Fish & Game member Holger “The Raven” Dittberner, who hails from Hamburg, Germany. Holger brought us an old style, traditional painted Schuetzen target to be used in one of the rifle events of the Annual Headquarters Cowboy Action Shooting Match held in 2004, and has continued to do so for each of our Annual Headquarters matches to date. Included with this article you’ll find pictures of previous year’s targets and winners, and a picture of this year’s Schuetzen target that will be shot at the Annual Headquarters Rifle Match on July 21st and 22nd this year.
We heartily invite one and all to come out to the Victoria Fish and Game Protective Association range at 700 Holker Place on the Malahat just above Goldstream Park and the South End Shawnigan Lake turnoff, to attend the Victoria Frontier Shootists Headquarters Match for 2007 and see the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting in person. The 3 gun stages are shot on Saturday and the rifle events are shot on the Sunday. We hope that you’ll come to watch this year’s competitors trying to fire that one perfect rifle shot into this year’s traditional Shuetzen target. We’re always more than happy to share information on our shooting sports with visiting spectators, and time permitting after the match we’d be happy to offer you some basic coaching and a few sample shots from our variety of match rifles. We hope to see you there!
Al “Reverend Al” Page