of Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette
by Tom Berwick
Many of you may wonder how the discipline we know as
Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette came into existence and may not know how new the
discipline actually is among the shooting sports. This history borrows heavily from an
article written by Mike Venturino for the May, 1986 issue of Guns & Ammo. Thanks to
Mike for providing that article as a reference. Additions will be made as soon as I can
get input from Al Hill and from Greg Conner at the N.R.A.
May 1986: A new version of metallic silhouette competition was inaugurated September 14
& 15, 1985, at the NRA
Whittington Center near Raton, New Mexico. The new game is
called Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette, and is limited to single-shot,
exposed-hammer, American rifles of the era preceding 1896. Cartridges must be from the
black powder era, of any caliber, but only of American make. Propellant is limited to
either straight black powder or straight Pyrodex. No duplex loads using any amounts of
smokeless powder whatsoever are permitted at this shoot.
NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette
shooting was organized by shooters perceiving the vast interest in this country in the
cartridge rifles of the era from 1865 until roughly the turn of the century. This was the
time of long-range target shooting, buffalo hunting and the settling of the American West.
In short, it was the prime era of the big-bore, single-shot rifle.
Recognizing also that most forms of metallic
silhouette shooting have evolved into "arms races," the originators of this
sport have evolved a set of strict rules to preclude the inroads of space-age firearm
In brief, these are some of the rules. Rifles
are to military or hunting-style cartridge rifles of the era prior to 1896. Maximum rifle
weight is 12 pounds, 2 ounces. Rear sights can be of vernier, or the ladder-type typical
of the era, and either open or peep. No modern-style receiver, glass, or tube sight is
permitted. Stocks and forearms must be of natural wood and in keeping with the designs of
the stocks of the era. Measured from the centerline of the bore, drop at heel cannot
exceed 2-3/4 inches, drop at toe cannot exceed 7-1/4 inches, drop of comb is not to be
higher than 3/4 inch, and the butt shall not be longer than 5-1/4 inches, top to bottom.
Cheekpieces, pistol grips and crescent butts are permitted but the latter cannot be deeper
than 3/4 inch when measured from a straight line from points of the buttplate. No
Schuetzen-style rifles are permitted. Only cast bullets of plain base configuration can be
On registration prior to the matches, all
rifles were weighed, measured and certified by match officials. By these rules,
acceptable types of rifles can be, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
Ballard, Bullard, Maynard, Remington Hepburn, Remington Rolling Block, Sharps, Springfield
Trapdoor, Stevens No. 44, Whitney Rolling Block or Winchester Model 1885. Additionally,
modern-made replicas of any of those rifles regardless of country of manufacture are
permitted. That means that any of the new Sharps, the Navy Arms Rolling Block, or the Navy
Arms Model 1873 (formerly H&R) Trapdoor Springfields are welcome.
Course of fire remains the same as for NRA High
Power Silhouette. Each match consisted of 40 targets. They were 10 chickens at 200 meters,
10 javelinas at 300 meters, 10 turkeys at 385 meters and 10 rams at 500 meters. For each
bank of five targets the competitors were allowed 2-1/2 minutes to get off their five
shots. This short time limit prevented cleaning between shots, which is a practice often
favored by black powder cartridge shooters for best accuracy.
There was one important divergence from
standard NRA High Power Silhouette rules. Whereas in all other forms of rifle metallic
silhouette shooting all targets are fired offhand, in this new game only 200-meter
chickens are fired at offhand. All other targets can be shot from a sitting position using
a cross-stick rest. To keep matters fair all shooters must use the sticks furnished by the
This first NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle
Silhouette match was attended by 34 shooters from as far away as Illinois, Washington,
Montana and Nevada. Since this was the first match of its type, no shooter had an NRA
classification. Therefore, in the first day's shooting, competitors fired in whatever
class they had used in previous metallic silhouette shooting. These were B, A, AA or AAA.
If a shooter, and there were many, had never previously fired in an NRA-sanctioned
silhouette match, he then fired in the "Unclassified" group. After the first
day's shooting all entrants were reclassified according to their performance in the first
match. Incidentally, the NRA Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette classifications differ from
others. Scores of zero to 5 put a shooter in B class, 6 to 9 is A class, 10 to 17 is AA
class and 18 to 40 is AAA class. Interestingly, and as evidence to the toughness of this
new game, no shooter qualified for AAA class that first day.
Overall match winner for the first day was Bob Keplinger of
Reno, Nevada, with a score of 14. Bob fired a .40-70 caliber Shiloh Sharps.
Winner of the second day's match was Dennis Bruns, of
Canon City, Colorado, with a score of 23. His rifle was an original .45-70 Sharps.
Winner of the overall aggregate of matches one and two
was Ed Middleton. Coupled with his impressive score of 19 in the second day's shooting, Ed
scored 13 the first day. His total score of 32 won him the C. Sharps Arms custom .45-70
rifle and got his name inscribed in first place on the bronze trophy.
Of interest to many shooters is a survey taken by match officials of the guns and gear
used in this first NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette match. This survey revealed
that the most popular type in use was the Sharps, including both new ones and originals.
Next most popular were original Remington Rolling Blocks, and third were Trapdoor
Springfields, both originals and replicas. The most popular caliber in use was the
with a full 15 users. Other black powder calibers seen only in ones and twos were .40-70
Sharps, .40-90 Sharps, .40-65 Winchester, .45-100 Sharps and a .44-100 Remington. Users of
the various grades of Pyrodex, the black powder substitute, outnumbered users of black
powder by two to one.
This new form of metallic silhouette shooting is
unique and enjoyable. When firing at the 500-meter rams with such slow-moving bullets,
some shooters were seen to take their rifles from the cross sticks and say, "It's a
good shot." Only then would the ram fall and a distant metallic "clang" be
heard. Also, this may be the only shooting game wherein competitors ask for at least a
breath of crosswind.
NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette
shooting is aimed at traditional-minded shooters and organized in a manner so that it
cannot become modernized. With some luck and support from the shooting fraternity it will
grow as the other metallic shooting sports have.
by Mike Venturino
Little did Mike Venturino know when he wrote that last sentence how prophetic that would
become. The 1996 Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette match was the most heavily
attended silhouette match conducted by the NRA that year. There were 347 competitors
present and the anticipated turnout for 1997 is expected to exceed 400 shooters. Due to
the explosive growth of the discipline, shooters will be divided into 2 groups. An equal
contingent from each group will advance to the National Finals on Friday, August 15. There
has been some grousing about this format but we'll report on this page after the event to
see how well it worked, or didn't. Frankly, with the limitations of the range as to the
number of competitors that can be reasonably hosted, I believe the NRA is doing the best
By Tom Berwick
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Page last revised: October 05, 2005