by B.B. Pelletier

I had to laugh a month ago when I read the online story of a Colorado gun dealer who is trying to patent his “idea” for propelling a lead pellet with a firearm primer. This idea dates clear back to the 1840s, when the first parlor rifles were created. The percussion cap was about two decades old when several somebodys in Europe (and America) got the bright idea that an exploding cap had enough power to propel a small lead ball at a reasonable velocity. Thus was born the parlor rifle.

Soon after its creation, the rimfire cartridge was invented. Before too much more time passed, someone else in Belgium or France discovered that a rimfire priming charge would drive a tiny lead bullet hard enough for some close-range (50 feet) target practice. We call these rifles Flobert, after the inexpensive breechloading action they often used, and most of us pay no attention to the slightly older idea of using a separate percussion cap.

The Zimmerstutzen is born!
The Swiss, however, did pay attention. They shot their big target rifles outdoors when the weather permitted and bemoaned the long winters when it did not. So, when the percussion cap idea came along, they quickly adapted it to a similar rifle they could shoot indoors when the frost was on the pumpkin. To reduce friction, they used short, rifled barrels that were located about 8″ from the muzzle of the gun. The firing pin that exploded the cap was long – reaching many inches from the action out to this short barrel. Thus, the first room rifle (Zimmerstutzen) was created. As the years passed, the designs grew more sophisticated and fancy until, by 1910, they had reached their zenith. These rifles could group their tiny lead balls in one small hole at 15 meters.

This Zimmerstutzen from about 1910 was made during the golden age of these target rifles. It’s as accurate as a 10-meter target air rifle of the 1980s, only this one came 70 years earlier!

Not well understood
Though a Zimmerstutzen is clearly a firearm, it isn’t well understood as such – even by gun dealers. When one becomes available here in the U.S., it’s classified as an airgun half the time. The lead balls they shoot range in graduated sizes from 4mm to 5mm, and at least 21 sizes are known to exist. The 4.3mm rifle shown here fires a fixed cartridge that drives its 7.4-grain lead ball at around 1,000 f.p.s. Because it is a round ball, it isn’t as disturbed by transonic velocities as diabolo pellets, though I must observe that the best five-shot groups I ever got from a rested gun measured in the 0.07″ range for five shots. That’s no better than a modern target-grade air pistol or rifle.

Separate and fixed ammo
Toward the start of the 20th century, Zimmerstutzen ammo was joined into a self-contained rimfire cartridge, such as the one shown below. There were advocates for that as well as supporters of separate ammo, with the results that a full century later it still comes both ways.

A 4.3mm fixed Zimmerstutzen round looks small next to a .22 long rifle cartridge.

A crime against history!
Too many Zimmerstutens have had their bores reamed out and relined with a .22 rimfire liner so they can shoot shorts. That takes an $800-$1,000 rifle and reduces it to a $200 junker! The people who do this usually can’t find the right ammunition for their guns (it’s often very hard to find it in the U.S.), or they just want a .22. The latter excuse is similar to putting a dump bed on a BMW sports car so you can haul manure!

A BIG problem!
Zimmerstutzens are wonderful, historic target rifles whose very nature allies them with airguns. Many advanced airgun collectors also collect them. But they do bring one very big problem to the table. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a clue: airguns that use primers to power the pellets have the same problem.

Guess all you like. I will show you the other side of this story on Monday.