column By: Steve Garbe | June, 18
While cruising one of the Internet forums dedicated to single shot rifles, I noticed an oft-repeated topic. A poster was bemoaning the fact that many of our “Schuetzen” matches were becoming largely benchrest competitions. A variety of reasons were given for this phenomenon, the main one being that a large portion of our current enthusiasts were of the age where offhand shooting was not an option, physically. Of course, there was the usual discussion about how we need to attract more young people to Schuetzen matches (assuming that they would be interested in offhand shooting) and the various ways that we could do that.
I’m not being critical of the discussion or the topic, but I do feel like it’s time that we as single-shot rifle enthusiasts admit to a few hard facts if we truly want to maintain or even grow our ranks.
First, our game requires a disposable income that many young people simply do not have. The pressures and obligations of starting out in life preclude this for many folks. This is something that was true in 1890 and is true today. Look at any old photo of Schuetzen shooters back in the day and you will see a lot of “Old Guys” and very few young faces.
Second, successful offhand shooting requires a substantial investment in commitment and time. This is in addition to a serious monetary investment. Many young people simply do not have the time or inclination to develop and maintain competitive offhand skills. There are exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking it is true. An excellent offhand rifleman is, and always will be, a bit of a rare bird.
Third, our sport, when talking of centerfire competitions, is fairly intimidating from the ammunition standpoint. Realistically, a new shooter who looks at the skill level required for casting bullets, loading ammunition, testing and sorting out a rifle, easily arrives at the conclusion that this is all too much bother. We can debate the reasons why this attitude is more prevalent now than it was 100 years ago, but the fact remains that many people see our sport as too complicated.
Fourth, what we are currently calling Schuetzen shooting is not what was done back in the day. “Schuetzen” meant offhand, not benchrest. I’m well aware of the reasons why benchrest shooting has crept into Schuetzen competition, but if we are to retain our connection to history then we must use the traditional definition of Schuetzen shooting. To dilute our Schuetzen competitions with benchrest shooting, especially with aggregate scoring, in my opinion, is a mistake.
So, given these facts, what can we as dedicated single-shot riflemen do to bring new shooters to our sport? As in many aspects of our game, the answer lies largely in history.
The first two facts have to simply be acknowledged and endured. Responsible adults are not going to spend money or time that they don’t have. The good news is that as time goes on, more money and leisure time has generally become available to many people. As that happens, that’s when we will see a new face at our matches and possibly that new face will be interested in becoming a proficient offhand shot.
The third fact can be addressed by the promotion of .22 rimfires in all the various matches, even at 200 yards. Rimfires make it much easier and cheaper for a new shooter to get started in competition. Once that new shooter is rubbing shoulders with those riflemen using centerfires, his interest is bound to be piqued. First, however, you have to get him to the match and a good .22 single shot makes this much more possible. Not worrying about casting and loading with the attendant extra cost is very attractive to the new shooter. Historically speaking, this was one of the reasons there was a serious increase in indoor gallery shooting back in Harry Pope’s day. It worked then and it will work now, if we truly want more new shooters.
Dealing with the fourth fact is merely a matter of definition along with a revival of sorts. Schuetzen matches should be offhand matches, by true definition. If we are to include benchrest shooting in a match, then those matches should be labeled as such. We have a historical precedence for our benchrest shooting and that is the National Rifle Club (NRC). The NRC was founded to promote “rest” shooting, as it was called back then, and we can use this old organization to address the increased interest in benchrest shooting. The NRC has been revived as an affiliated branch of the Wyoming Schuetzen Union and its rules and scoring methods, as well as records, are featured on its website at wyomingschuetzenunion.com.
Most importantly, by keeping our offhand and benchrest competitions “separate but connected” we can use the old scores and records set as yardsticks for our current shooting. The NRC provides us with a historical foundation for those interested primarily in benchrest competition, while also preserving a great old shooting organization. To me, this seems like a win-win situation. – Gut Ziel