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Nothing new under the sunThe Zimmerstutzen

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.

36 thoughts on “Nothing new under the sunThe Zimmerstutzen”

  1. Is the gun louder that a Co2 pistol? I guess it would also lead quickly and mostly be hard to clean beacuse of a small bore. The primers back then were fouling and I think the really old ones contained mercury.


    I’ll try to get the Marksman.

  2. If I am not mistaken their was a little pistol back in the 60 or earlier that use to shoot in this mannor and to find one that hasent rusted to the point of inoperablity is a rarity indeed. I have also heard that they are concidered a firearms. Thus further licences are required.
    Thanks for the info bb
    Your knowlage is always apreciated.


  3. “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”

    ..they should study hard, do the homework or they end in Iraq..

  4. Chase,

    I think you are remembering the Whamo Kruger, documented on this blog as the stupidest airgun ever, though the air part I have yet to figure out. It is true that in most places it is technicly considered a firearm,, but you are more likely to slip on the rounds that fell to the floor in front of you that kill, maim, hurt, or mildly irritate anything living. I knew someone that got one for his son when it was new, and now considers it a bigger waste than gum, fancy shampoo, and cheap motorcycle tires. To go after someone for not obtaining a firearms license for this pistol is the eqivalent to ticketing someone for an improperly parked Tonka.

    Good health to you B.B.


  5. BB. It’s about that time and I find my mind once again looking into the Beeman P1 for a short body squirrel pistol.

    Is there any difference AT ALL between the Weibrauch 45LP.

    Thanks I appreciate you oppinion as always and a 75.00 difference is substantial to me.

  6. Quick question B.B.

    In the Remington Genesis review, you said that you got best results with the Beeman Kodiaks. I was wondering if you meant the match pellets or the normal ones. And if the match ones are what you meant, would the normal ones work as well because the match pellets won’t be in stock for another week.


  7. While the idea of primer powered ammo would not be NEW I think there would be a lot of room for a new idea in the field which WORKED WELL. The X-Ring rubber bullets are pretty cool but you don’t want all that dust in your house. Maybe something like a stainless Kruger which you could wash, redesigned for accuracy and to capture more of the blast of the cap, shooting nonmetallic ammo like airsoft balls so it’s not a firearm, but fast enough to put a hole in target paper @ 10M.

  8. Previous post,
    I think you would have to start by not using the paper strip type of cap, give it a cleaning kit in the box, and I agree with the non-metallic round. More for veloctiy than legality, though. Maybe port two caps to the breech? Even with six caps I doubt you could knock a can over, but it might be indoor entertainment, and safer than the Marksman dart pistol.
    Of course, this already would be made if there actually was a fair market for it. Meaning I’ll probably tinker one together this winter…


  9. .357,
    the reasoning behind using childrens’ caps is that they are fit for indoor use. They are powered by potassium chlorate and red phosphorus. That’s also why the Krugers rusted so easy. The PMC “Green” component primers are on the weak side. I think modern percussion caps have lead styphnate too.

  10. In the late ’90s I bought a kit that allowed me to shoot airgun pellets out of specially made cartridges for my S&W 44 mag revolver. They worked as advertised but I stopped using them for two reasons:
    1) the primers (shotgun primers, as I recall) weren’t all that easy to install, and caused severe fouling
    2) I had an extensive number of accurate airguns at the time, which didn’t require separate actions for loading primers or cleaning the gun afterwards. (For cleaning fun, I had my black powder pistols and rifle!) I noticed also that regular use of my Crosman 357-SIX made me a much improved shooter when I used my .44 mag. –Joe

  11. That 357-SIX…here’s a tip: Shoot when the sun is behind you and really low in the sky (just before sundown). Use shiny new pellets and they will reflect the sun from their cavities. They act like tracers, allowing you to see where your shots are going (actually, this should work with any airgun firing brand-new target pellets). This is especially useful for fast draw practice with tin cans or shatterBlast targets. [To avoid perforated legs and feet, get in the habit of keeping your finger OFF the trigger until the gun is coming level with the target. When firing single-action, assuming you have a gun capable of this, bring your non-firing hand around as you bring the gun up and pull the hammer back with the thumb of that hand, firing as the gun comes on-target. You can also “fan” a single-action-capable gun without special modification, as long as you pull the trigger AFTER your non-shooting hand “fans” the hammer back. This takes a bit of practice to make certain the hammer is cocked each time. It’s also harder on the gun, so do it in moderation.] –Joe

  12. comicfan93,

    Tech Force is a trademark – not a single airgun manufacturer. It’s like Beeman, who sources rifles from Germany, England, Spain and China, but they all have the Beeman name.

    Tell me the model of Tech Force pistol you are interested in.


  13. The reference to the Crosman 357-6 was interesting. Is this the revolver that Pyramyd lists as the Crosmaan 356GW? If so, would you recommend adding it to my collection, which includes the 1377 and the 2240, which I really like after modifications.

    Bill D

  14. Can anyone tell me what the “Western Haig” was ? It supposedly shot .17 cal ammo (I suppose BB’s or pellets) using some system other than spring or air, as I (badly) recall the ad’s. They used to be in the back of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, for about $3.00. This was in the ’60’s and I was a kid, so I never had that sort of money, but always wanted one.

  15. The Western Haig is a plastic revolver-looking single-shot .12-caliber gun that uses toy caps to propel a number 6 shot or a .12-caliber steel BB (Daisy made them). It was sold by the same people who owned Wamo (later Whamo and also written as Wham-O). They also made a .12 caliber Kruger pistol that worked the same way (it looked like a Luger) and a BB-firing gun that also worked this way. See it here:


    I’m not aware of a Haig in BB (not .177, but BB, a smaller caliber), but they may have existed. I’m researching these guns for articles all the time. Do you know for certain there was a BB-caliber Haig?


  16. My interest in the Haig is that I used to see the ads as a kid and always wanted one. 40 odd years later still have never seen one or a decent picture. I’d probably still buy one just to be able to say I finaly got it.

  17. Bob,

    As it happens, I have the same interest as you.

    I am currently working on a huge article for Shotgun News on Wamo, who also made the Haig, as it turns out. I will be happy to comply with your request, because I have so much information available, and I’m itching to get started writing.

    This week in the blog.


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