Air Rifle Silhouette Shooting
The Bayou Airgun Club hosts NRA sanctioned air rifle silhouette matches on the second Saturday of most months. The range opens for practice at around 8AM and matches start between 9 and 9:30AM. There are three different classes that can be fired for competition. Sporter air rifle which is your spring powered airguns such as break barrel rifles and under lever rifles such as the TX200 and HW97. Target class air rifles which are unmodified (except for sights/scope) ten meter Olympic class rifles that typically shoot in the 500 to 600 fps range. Old FWB 300s are very common as well as modern target guns built by Feinwerkbau, Anschutz and Steyrs are used by a lot of shooters. The third class is Open class. Any air rifle weighing less than 16 lbs. is allowed with few conditions. Air rifles that are deemed powerful enough to damage the targets can be banned from the match by the match director. Any air rifle legal to compete in field target matches can be used in the open air rifle class providing it makes the 16 lb. weight limit. Many open class rifles exhibit many of the same shooting characteristics of PCP field target rifles. Many are modified and souped up 10m target guns like the AZ Steyrs that many shooters use in field target. There are other rules and restrictions, but the above hits on the main differences in the classes. Target or sporter guns can be used in open class which allows shooters with a target gun and a sporter gun to compete in all three classes. An open class PCP gun on the other hand may only be legal for open class.
Rifle silhouette of any kind as a rule is one of the most demanding and challenging of the rifle target sports. First of all, all shots are taken from the offhand (standing) position. Secondly, there are no artificial shooting aids allowed, not even a glove on the shooters hand that supports the rifle. And thirdly, the targets are very small for the distance that they are placed at to shoot. As an example, the air rifle chicken is shot at 20 yards. The body of the air rifle chicken is about the size of a nickel at just under ¾” diameter circle. If that sounds easy, come on out and give it a try. I would estimate that the average field target shooter or a shooter from most other rifle disciplines will shoot A or AA class scores. This means that the average shooter will hit probably anywhere from less than half to maybe as much as 60 percent of the targets in a match their first time trying rifle silhouette shooting. Shooters coming to the sport from 10m air rifle usually do much better as they have a lot of practice shooting from the offhand position already. The offhand position is not difficult to become proficient at doing; it just requires a lot of practice and time.
There are 5 classifications based on skill level in rifle silhouette. The NRA sets the standards for the classification of shooters for each different type of rifle used in the sport. The classes are B, A, AA, AAA and Master class. B is the lowest ranking class and where many beginners start out. Master is the highest class where the best shooters end up. The first time a shooter shoots a silhouette match with a type of rifle they compete as an unclassified shooter. The shooter will be classified based on the score shot in that first match. The classification system makes for a more level playing field where shooters only compete against other shooters in their same class. AA shooters only compete against other AA shooters and so on. This makes every shooter in a large match competitive within their class. Large matches give awards or prizes for each class as well as an overall match winner award. The beauty of this system of classifications based on skill level is that a shooter competes against other shooters of similar skill levels throughout their silhouette shooting career and will always be competitive and have a chance at winning in their class.
There is a lot more to the game that what is said here. The silhouette community is a close knit group of shooters many of whom travel across the country and sometimes internationally to compete at the larger regional and national matches. The largest division based on the number of shooters competing is in the smallbore silhouette classes and maybe the cowboy classes. Looking at a current NRA silhouette rifle scorebook, there are more than a dozen different divisions of rifles that can be competed with. Depending on what is most popular in your area, you may shoot just two different divisions or you may shoot them all. In the South Louisiana region there are several clubs hosting matches. Within two and a half hours of Baton Rouge there are 5 smallbore silhouette rifle matches each month during the warmer months and one air rifle match. Most folks serious about shooting silhouettes usually shoot the two smallbore classes or the smallbore cowboy class. That does not mean that you can’t compete in just the air rifle classes if that is what you want to do. Jerry Webster in Arizona has put together a website that has about as much information on rifle silhouette shooting as is out on the web. The website can be found at: http://members.cox.net/riflesilhouette/ . Another good source of information is the Steelchickens forum at: http://www.steelchickens.com/ .
If you want to take up a rifle shooting sport that will be sure to provide you with many years of all the challenge you want and which you will probably never master completely, (very few shooters have ever shot a perfect 40/40 in a match…EVER) then one of the rifle silhouette disciplines may be what you are looking for. While it is difficult to do well, the average shooter can make continuous progress as he moves up through the classes to master class. The challenge and satisfaction of becoming a master class rifle silhouette shooter can be very addictive. The most important thing for a rifle silhouette shooter besides having an accurate rifle and a decent scope is having lots of ammo to practice with, because practice is the only thing that will keep you moving up through the classes as your skills improve. This is one sport where you can’t buy higher scores with better and better equipment beyond a point. On the firing line it is just you and your rifle. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, or much more difficult than that. If you are one of those shooters that needs to be competitive at the highest levels within your first several years of competition, then this sport is probably not for you. But, if you want to be part of a community of shooters that love a challenge and shoot for the pure enjoyment of it competing mostly against yourself as you continuously strive to beat your previous personal best, then consider looking into a rifle silhouette sport. Check on the web, ask on steelchickens or inquire at local gun shops or ranges to see if there are matches in your area and go shoot. Most matches will be very accommodating to a shooter interested in trying the sport. I will in most cases loan my equipment to a new shooter wanting to try the game so that they will get a chance to see if it is something that they would like to pursue. That is the only way to get a feel for what it is like to shoot rifle silhouettes. My first impression at the first match I shot was that the targets must be too small for the distances they were placed at. I thought this must be wrong. There is no way that this can be right. But, they were the right targets in the right place. I qualified in A class at that match and have slowly worked my way up to master class. It has taken me about 4 years to do, but it just shows that the average guy can do it with a little practice and self discipline.
If you think you might like to try a match, find out where one is. Try to contact the match director ahead of time and tell him you would like to shoot a match if you can and he will probably tell you to come and shoot and maybe even provide you with a rifle or loan you one to shoot the match with. My guess is that if you are courteous and polite, you will be well received and have a lot of help and advice that will help your first experience be a positive one. If not, then go on the steelchickens forum and tell the community about it. My bet is on you having a good time with the folks at the match, hit a few animals that will make your day, and you will probably think that there is no way that these animals are at the right distance, they must be set way farther than they should be, this is crazy. That is where I started. - Joe DuBoulay