Metallic silhouette shooting catching on


April 21, 2003, 07:10 PM
Metallic silhouette shooting catching on

The piercing intensity of concentration is evident in the rifleman's eye as he centers the target in his crosshairs. He holds steady and squeezes the trigger. There's the crack of the rifle and a loud "clink" as the bullet strikes steel and the small, black animal figure is knocked off the stand and cartwheels to the ground.

It's called metallic silhouettes, or silhuettas metallicas as this shooting sport was originally named when it was first developed in Mexico. The idea is to shoot at -- and hit -- steel cut-outs (silhouettes) in four different animal shapes -- galinnas (chickens), javelinas (pigs), gualotes (turkeys) and borregos (sheep, ram).

"It's a lot of fun," said David Junier, an avid .22 rimfire rifle silhouette shooter and president of the Rod and Gun Club of New Bedford. "It's very enjoyable. There's no recoil with .22's and very little noise. They're affordable and inexpensive to shoot so everybody can participate. It's a relaxed group of competitors and I like the camaraderie."

Metallic silhouette shooting originated around 1914 when Pancho Villa and his banditos settled a dispute over who was the better shot by tying steer to trees, backing away a distance and then taking turns shooting at them. Whoever killed his steer first was declared the winner. It caught on in Mexican culture and live animal shoots became popular events at fiestas where targets included goats, sheep and chickens.

Shortly after World War II, steel silhouettes were substituted for live animals and in 1948 the first silhuettas metallicas match was held in Mexico City. It was fun and word spread quickly. Soon, Americans were crossing the border to compete in the matches and eventually, they brought the sport back with them. The first American shoot was held in Arizona around 1967 and the rest is history.

Originally designed to be fired with centerfire rifles at distances of 200 to 500 meters (or yards), metallic silhouette shooting became so popular, it expanded to handguns (centerfire and rimfire), rimfire rifles, muzzleloaders and even air rifles. As each discipline came into being, the degree of difficulty and effective range of the firearms were considered and targets were either scaled down from the original life-size targets and/or set closer than the long range rifle distances. The thickness of the steel that the targets were cut from also varied, depending on the cartridges and ranges.

Within just a few years of being introduced into the United States, most shooting clubs across the country were hosting at least one type of silhouette shoot or another, depending on what the club's range facilities would allow.

No matter which event you shoot, the targets, which usually are painted black, are set in banks of five each with the smaller chickens at the closest distance, followed by the pigs, then turkeys, with the largest rams being the farthest. According to rules, shooters must fire one shot at each of their five targets in the bank, in sequence, from left to right and any targets hit out of
sequence are scored as misses.

After having two minutes to shoot a bank of five, a 'cease fire' is called and shooters walk out and reset their downed targets. Upon returning to the firing line, shooters rotate positions and shoot again. This rotation continues until they've all shot a bank of each of the four different targets for a total of 20 shots. Competitions often require the shooter to repeat the entire relay for a total of 40 shots and some tournaments can have 80 or 120 shot matches.

To be scored as a hit, targets must be knocked completely off their stands. On occasion, a shooter will get robbed of a point when a target is hit on an edge and only spun around or rocked without toppling over.

While shooting at standard paper targets is not considered a spectator sport, silhouette shooting is. It's an audio-visual event. From the firing line, non-shooters can't see where bullets hit on paper targets, but at a silhouette shoot, you can hear the bullet strike with a clank, clink or bong depending on where and how hard the target is hit -- and you see the targets tumble off their stands.

Last Sunday at the Rod and Gun Club of New Bedford, the sport of the day was .22 rimfire silhouettes, where rifle and pistol shooters honed their shooting skills. In .22 rifle silhouette matches, the targets are scaled down to one-fifth size and distances are one-fifth as long with chickens at 40 yards, pigs at 60 yards, turkeys at 77 and rams at 100.

This causes the sight picture to appear the same as with centerfire rifle targets at five times the distance and allows clubs with shorter ranges to have just as much fun, only on a scaled-down version. The .22 pistol targets are set the same as for .22 rifles, but with handguns being more difficult to hold steady and shoot accurately, the targets are a little larger.

The .22 rifle silhouette chickens, being smallest, lightest and closest to the shooter, receive the highest energy of the bullet fired, and often are sent flying long distances, somersaulting and spinning until they hit the ground. Not including the head, tail or base, the chicken's body is a mere oval target about 1½ inches wide by an inch high.

"It's challenging, and sometimes frustrating, but it makes you want to go again," said Wayne Junier, avid shooter, and son of David. "You compete against yourself. It's great practice and it's a lot more fun than punching paper."

The most popular silhouette rifle is the bolt action equipped with a telescopic sight, but shooters also compete with levers, pumps and semi-automatics, some with open sights. And of the four target shapes, shooters agree that the turkeys are most difficult to hit.

"They're all neck and legs," said the younger Junier. "The body area looks very small at 77 yards. They are hard to hit, but just remember the basics - concentrate, hold steady, control your breathing and squeeze the trigger. When you shoot a good round and the targets are ringing and falling, it's a good feeling of accomplishment and self satisfaction."

Pistol shooters are permitted to use a one or two-hand hold and may fire from almost any position, including prone, but can not rest the gun on anything. They can however, rest and support their shooting hand(s).

Rifle shooters must shoot offhand, from the standing position. "As the old expression goes, 'Stand on your hind legs and shoot like a man,'" mused Curt Kingsbury, a veteran chairman of the club's .22 silhouette committee.

When Kingsbury joined the club, some silhouette targets were found in storage, "but they hadn't been used in years," he said. Having had some experience in running rimfire and big bore silhouette shoots previously at the Southboro Rod and Gun Club, Kingsbury and his wife, Paula, started running the .22 silhouette shoots at the (New Bedford) club and they enjoyed a loyal following for 10 years.

There was a lapse of about a year, and now, co-chairmen Tom Carvalho and Frank Sciotto run the committee.

"It's not a super-structured shoot, said Carvalho. There's a good-natured bunch of shooters and it's a fun sport you can get into without a lot of equipment. You can keep it as simple as you like. Most everybody's got a .22 rifle or pistol and a box of shells. Or you can get as fancy as you want with custom silhouette guns."

"Right now, we're trying to regenerate the interest there was previously, so the shooting is informal and we only have two classes -- rifle or pistol. As the participation grows and we hold organized competitions with prizes and awards, we'll be dividing the rifle and pistol categories into separate classes for metallic sights, scopes, factory guns, unlimited, etc."

Silhouette shooting also has found its way into the club's blackpowder committee as past chairman Bill Frizado had a full-size set made to withstand the heavy lead balls fired from blackpowder rifles, which can be as large as .75 caliber (a lead ball that is ¾-inch in diameter).

The club, which is located on North Hixville Road in Dartmouth, holds .22 rimfire rifle and handgun shoots every second Sunday of the month from 9 a.m.-noon, or sometimes until 1 p.m. depending on the number of shooters. Registration is $4 with a $1 re-entry for members, or $5 registration and $2 re-entry for non-members.

Standard velocity .22 long rifle ammunition is required, with high-velocity ammo prohibited as it can cause damage to the targets, such as twisting the steel and breaking the joints where the targets are welded to their bases.

If you enjoyed reading about "Metallic silhouette shooting catching on" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
April 21, 2003, 11:40 PM
It's almost as much fun as shooting a rack of plates at a USPSA match.:D

If you enjoyed reading about "Metallic silhouette shooting catching on" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!