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Schuetzen shooting has its roots in Europe. While not exclusively Germanic, the tradition was primarily embraced by German-speaking people. Tradition has it that centuries ago an eagle swooped down to carry off a baby. A passing hunter shot the eagle, thus saving the baby from certain death. The hunter was thereafter highly regarded, and an annual celebration honoring shooting ability evolved.
In Europe the format for determining shooting ability differs in two basic ways. In one, an effigy eagle (adler) or bird (vogel) is constructed of wood. In the contest, it is shot to pieces by the shooters, who queue up and shoot one at a time. The shooter downing various designated pieces, such as the wing, foot, or head, is awarded prize money. The shooter downing the last piece is declared king (k”nig).
Another type of contest utilizes a wooden target board about two feet on each side. The board is painted with a scene that reflects the supplier's fancy, and the themes of the paintings are predictably as endless as the number of suppliers. The sponsor of the target is usually last year's winner, but the sponsor might be a head of state or town. Some targets were done by professionals, others by amateurs. Targets of this size might be contested for at distances of 200 meters (220 yards). A fine illustrated book by Anne Braun titled Historical Targets (London: Royden Publishing Co., 1981) will supply much more detail.
The underlying desire of these matches was to honor and encourage marksmanship in the local townsmen as a means of defending the community against aggression. In the often war-like Europe, recurring painting themes were wishes for peace and prosperity, as well as invocations that God change things for the good.
Schuetzen shooting involved not only the whole community, but also surrounding communities as well. The king was often involved, at least to the extent of being a sponsor. There were parades, feasts, coronation ceremonies, dances, and other celebrations. Incidentally, note that schuetzen shooting has been practiced for over 400 years; it is obvious that the implements have changed. Originally, bows and crossbows were used.
A schuetzen rifle cannot be rigidly defined. However, features commonly found are heavy barrels, adjustable sights, set triggers, deeply curved or hooked buttplates, ornate stocks with sufficient drop for offhand shooting, and intricate trigger guards to support the trigger hand. Caliber and barrel twist reflect the needs of the competition. Large-bore roundball rifles were no doubt desired by those shooting the eagle or bird; smaller bore, elongated-bullet rifles were better suited to the longer distances of 200-meter shooting. An article by this author in the April 1982 issue of Muzzle Blasts, ``Schuetzen Rifle Shooting,'' gives some details about contemporary muzzleloading schuetzen shooting. Ned H. Roberts' The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle and Walter Cline's The Muzzle-Loading Rifle: Then and Now are classic works that tell something of the sport in earlier times within this country.
Immigrants from Europe to the United States brought the schuetzen heritage with them. Many small U.S. towns settled originally by Teutonic peoples had one or more schuetzen clubs, though they hardly were large enough to support a ball field. The Cincinnati, Ohio, area had seven. Periodically, national schuetzenfests were held in the United States and the prizes were of great value. This was because of the broad-based support from society at the time and the value placed on great marksmanship.
Most, but not all, of these clubs and their traditions were driven out of existence in the anti-German hysteria of World War One. An account of a schuetzen group disbanded by anti-German activity, ``The Deutsch Schuetzen Gesellschaft of Covington, Kentucky,'' was in the March 1984 issue of Muzzle Blasts. Schuetzen matches are still held in several parts of the U.S. However, besides the NMLRA matches mentioned below, the author knows of no other muzzleloading schuetzen matches.
The NMLRA Schuetzen Program has existed since 1975, and it has expanded over the years. It now features several different formats. The NMLRA National Shoots feature aggregates of offhand matches at 100 and 200 yards. These are matches shot at paper targets. In addition, there have been matches at painted targets and birds (adler or vogel).
The first vogel or eagle match was held in June 1994 (see the January 1995 Muzzle Blasts for details), and was repeated in 1995. In this match, the effigy bird or eagle is shot to pieces. The match was met with much enthusiasm and it may well become a permanent part of our shooting program. In reviewing the January 1995 write-up on the vogel match, the writer feels that it is time to offer the reader who does not participate in the NMLRA Schuetzen Program some perspective on it.
For many years there was only the Red Farris Match to attract those of us interested in schuetzen-style shooting. It was a roundball, any metallic sight match that allowed use of the hip-rest offhand position as well as the arm-extended one. These were the only concessions to a schuetzen shooter. In 1968 a request was made to the NMLRA Match Committee for a schuetzen match in which elongated bullets might be used.
In response to the request, a new NMLRA match was created in 1975. It called for five shots at 200 yards on the 200-yard target, which has a 10 ring and which has a lowest ring count to 6. This was the real start of the schuetzen program at the NMLRA.
The match has been won using roundball. Indeed, the early record was set with a flintlock Kentucky longrifle of .45 caliber that was aimed over the top of the target frame and some three feet into the wind. This record score of 43X stood for some years. It remains possible for a competitor to use a roundball in this match; however, the wind must be consistent or calm to be competitive. These are conditions not often found on the Walter Cline National Range in Friendship, Indiana.
Picket bullets made their appearance early on in schuetzen competition, and later bullets grooved for lubricants and paper-patched elongated bullets were used. Some very interesting rifles made their way on the range. Some were original and others newly made. Many muzzleloading rifle-makers of the time were frustrated by would-be customers who wanted to order a schuetzen rifle. The number of rifle makers who understand what is required for a schuetzen rifle remains relatively small.
After a few years, John Grant proposed that the number of shots per target be doubled to 10 and that two new 10-shot matches be added: one at 100 yards, the other at 200 yards. Both new matches were for the 25-ring German target. John further proposed that, together with the original match, these three become an aggregate. The basic NMLRA Schuetzen Program as we know it today was born. The Schuetzen Aggregate was introduced to both the spring and fall shoot programs at Friendship and at the first Winter National Shoot in Phoenix.
Reentry matches were added to the program to give those who shot only the Schuetzen Program something to do all week. They also provide a vehicle for practice. Only the reentry matches may be fired using rifles fitted with any sight (telescope included); the aggregate must be fired with metallic sights. This is a concession to those of us who can no longer see the target over metallic sights, but who want to remain active as offhand schuetzen shooters.
In 1983, in honor of the NMLRA bicentennial year, Carol and Andy Schiffer painted a large ``50'' on a round board and the first annual painted target shoot was born. This is contested only at the National Championship Shoot. To qualify, the competitor must have purchased the Schuetzen Offhand Aggregate. Only one shot is allowed per competitor; no sighters are permitted, but a fouling shot may be fired into the hill. It is usually shot in the same order as the contestant's placed in the aggregate.
The Koenig (or King) Match, which is contested at the close of shooting on the last Saturday of the National Championship Shoot, combines real drama and spectator appeal. Not a little amusement is also evident. The target is exhibited before the shooting begins and the maker designates the target point from which the shooting rank is determined. This point is made known to the shooters before shooting. The competitors shoot offhand 200 yards from the target, and the one who places a bullet closest to the point designated by the maker is declared the winner or Schuetzen Koenig (King) for the year. Along with this honor comes the responsibility for supplying the next year's target.
In the fall of 1991 Helmut Mohr donated a painted target to be shot at the National Fall Shoot. This was in honor of the 700th anniversary (yes, you read that correctly, 700 years) of his hometown of Mayen-Hausen, Germany. This was a one-time-only event at the fall shoot, and the same firing procedure was used as for the other painted targets.
In 1994 Rod England and his son Adam furnished to the association an effigy eagle that was to be shot down a piece at a time. This event was repeated in 1995 utilizing a bird made by the 1994 winner, Russ Combs. The winner in 1995 was Dana Forslund, with Roy Gatlin and Jack Stoner runners up.
The NMLRA Schuetzen Program matured over the years, and better equipment appeared on the firing line. Roundball gave way to picket bullet, which in turn gave way to the elongated bullet. It may look like the participants could not read their history books and had to reinvent the wheel. In actuality we used what we could get (find and afford), and it happened to parallel the original evolution of materials. Rifles, equipment, and loading techniques were shared because, even if the shooter could afford these things, they were not readily available.
As time and circumstances permitted, most all competitors acquired their own rifles and equipment; there was no longer any need to share them. From time to time, muskets and long-range bulleted rifles like the Whitworth were tried with varying degrees of success. While accuracy was seldom a problem, these efforts usually foundered on the shoals of excessive recoil.
Equipment has settled on a rifle of .38 caliber weighing 10 to 12 pounds, with a rifling twist rate of one turn in 16 to 18 inches and firing a bullet of 250 to 300 grains. Powder charges seldom exceed 55 grains. Sights are the traditional peep rear and open or globe front sight. While click adjustable sights are allowed, they are not felt by this writer to be in the tradition of the original matches. The are a definite advantage over the original equipment.
During the 1994 National Championship Shoot, the NMLRA Museum at Friendship, Indiana, featured a one-time showing of original schuetzen muzzleloading rifles. This collection of equipment likely represented the largest number of fine original muzzleloading schuetzen rifles in one place on these shores during our lifetimes. This exhibit was organized by Donna and Roy Gatlin along with Rod England. It was obviously done with the help of many owners, most of whom did not wish to be known. To those who appreciate the rarity and quality of such rifles, this was a stunning event!
Helmut Mohr has presented the NMLRA with a beautiful silver honor chain (Erha Kette) for use in honoring the participants in these programs. The honoree's name and date will be engraved thereon and the k”nig can be photographed with it around his or her neck. Helmut has visited the NMLRA matches many times and has proved to be a formidable competitor as well as builder of competitive rifles for schuetzen shooting.
In recent years, a roundball schuetzen program has been contemplated to augment the current matches, which are designed primarily for elongated bullets. There is much tradition to suggest we do this. Most of the antique schuetzen rifles were made for roundballs, the main difference being rifling twist rate. There are those of us who have such rifles and would use them if the match or matches were made available. A roundball schuetzen rifle of large caliber would be ideal for the eagle match, which is a relatively short-range match that would concede advantages to a large-diameter roundball.
The schuetzen program has a relatively small but dedicated following at the NMLRA Nationals. Pretty much the same people keep coming back year after year. To take nothing away from the traditional roundball competitions, more sophisticated equipment and technique is required. Wind deflection at 200 yards is not twice that of 100 yards, it is four times as great.
Miss Carol, my wife, upon reviewing a draft of this article, remarked that I'd touched all the bases but one: how much fun it is. She is right! It is difficult to convey the satisfaction of participating in a program that requires out-of-the-ordinary skills and equipment; a program that is rooted in the traditions both of Europe and of the earlier years in the United States; and that has an international flavor due to multinational participation.
If our infrequent(?), boisterous enthusiasm has escaped being called down by a long-suffering range officer, it might be because he or she was invited to take a shot from time to time. It might just also be that the official knows a good thing when he or she sees (and hears) it.
If you manage to hang around this bunch of schuetzen enthusiasts and look interested enough, you may be invited to take a shot or two or even shoot a match. Time permitting, and sometimes even without time permitting, participants will share their ``secrets'' with you. But keep in mind that we bear no responsibility to irate spouses if you get hooked. After all, most of us have already been down that path and have (thus far) survived. And furthermore, there are some secrets you just don't share!
1996 Eagle Match