by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Background
  • What is schuetzen shooting?
  • Ruger Number 3 schuetzen
  • Breech seater
  • Hand rest
  • Scope fixed
  • Range time
  • What this means

I’m writing this report for German blog reader Stephan and for all of the readers who don’t know what schuetzen rifles are. Today our superstars come from film, music or team sports. In 1900, they were all shooters — schuetzen shooters, to be precise. The sport of offhand target shooting took off worldwide when breechloading rifles came onto the scene around the 1870s, and offhand target shooting became the sport of kings. Names like Pope, Hudson, Neidner and Farrow were on every kid’s lips in those days, and prizes that totaled $25,000 were awarded at matches at a time when the average annual family income was under $500.

Background

I read about the famous U.S./Irish match at Creedmore as a child, but it wasn’t until I was I was in my late 60s that I realized how close the favored Irish team came to winning! That was long-range shooting — not schuetzen shooting — but it all blended together. I wanted a schuetzen rifle of my own!

When I got my Ballard, I thought of it as my schuetzen, and I tried to make it into one — but that rifle lacks many of the important features that make up a schuetzen rifle. They are:

Ballard
My Ballard from 1886 is not a schuetzen.

  1. A fine single-shot action
  2. A stock made for offhand shooting with a butt hook stock
  3. A hand rest for the off hand
  4. A marvelous trigger
  5. A heavy barrel to help with stability
  6. Either fine vernier match sights or a special long target scope sight
  7. An accurate rifle cartridge that shoots a lead bullet with little recoil
  8. A cartridge that can be reloaded on the firing line

My Ballard is a single-shot and has the right cartridge, sights and barrel — but nothing else. A vintage schuetzen chambered for an American cartridge (which are the most accurate calibers) costs $2,500 and up these days. A new schuetzen costs about the same — with the Stevens 44-1/2 action made by CPA being the frontrunner — both in 1900 and today. And the gun is just the beginning. You also need the scope or sights, the bullet mold, the powder measure and all the loading tools needed to support the rifle — easily another $1,000 to $1,500 worth of stuff. Where have we seen that before? PCPs, perhaps?

So when I found a schuetzen in 32-40 (perhaps the number one schuetzen caliber of the last century and a half) at a price I could afford, I overlooked the modern Ruger Number 3 action it was made from. It had everything else I needed, and I could afford it.

What is schuetzen shooting?

A classic schuetzen match is shot offhand at 220 yards or 20 rods. There are other distances, but 200-220 yards is the principal one. The match is shot offhand at a target that has 25 scoring rings. There are variations of this match for shooters who don’t want to stand and shoot offhand. One allows you to rest your barrel (only) on a beam to support the weight of the rifle, because these rifles weigh 12 lbs. at a minimum. Another is a benchrest version of the match where some of the smallest groups ever shot were made. Harry Pope’s 10 shots in 0.2 inches at 200 yards is probably the most notable, but that target was lost. So, the world record is one that was shot at 200 yards by C.W. Rowland in 1901, with 10 shots in a group that can be covered by a quarter.

That’s enough history. Let me tell you about my rifle.

Ruger Number 3 schuetzen

My rifle is a classic schuetzen that was built on a Ruger Number 3 single-shot action. The stock is custom made in the schuetzen form, and the trigger has been lightened to break crisply at 2 lbs. That’s as light as a Ruger Number 3 trigger can be taken safely. There are no aftermarket triggers for the rifle, and getting the pull that light requires gunsmithing skill.

Ruger schuetzen
The Ruger Number 3 made a nice base for a modern schuetzen rifle.

The barrel is a Douglas heavy barrel that’s 28 inches long. It helps bring the overall weight of the rifle up to 12 lbs., 12 oz. The caliber is 32-40, and the 1:15 twist is ideal for the 165-grain lead bullet I shoot.

Breech seater

There is a stud on the left side of the action that serves as an anchor for the mechanical breech seater. When the rifle is loaded, a bullet is pushed into the bore and the pressed into the rifling by levering it with the breech seater. A loaded cartridge without a bullet is then loaded behind it. There’s approximately 1/16-inch separation between the end of the cartridge case and the base of the bullet. This type of seating was invented by Dr. W.G. Hudson, who was one of the main champions of early schuetzen matches. He developed special bullets with wider bases that completely fill the rifling grooves when they’re pressed into the barrel.

Breech seating stud
That stud on the left side of the receiver was added as an anchor for the breech seating tool.

Breech seating tool
The flat plate on the left hooks over the stud on the receiver, then the lead bullet is pushed gently into the rifling by the brass case that has a solid brass bar in its center.

Hand rest

Schuetzen rifles typically have hand rests to go with their hooked buttplates. The person who made this rifle made both the custom breech seater and the hand rest. The hand rest was made from an antique drill brace.

Shooting

When I first received the rifle, I headed to the range — hoping it was as good as I imagined. It was not! The scope was mounted out of line with the bore; so, the rifle shot several feet to the right and the front scope base was so low that the rifle shot several feet low at 50 yards. Sounds like a lot of airguns, doesn’t it?

My “groups” were bullets that landed a couple feet from the aim point and 5-6 inches apart. This was not the experience I’d envisioned for a schuetzen.

Scope fixed

My shooting buddy, Otho, swapped the front scope base for a higher one, and he remounted the base to align the scope with the bore. This was done with a precision scope alignment fixture, so things were on the money this time.

scope jig
Otho reinstalled the front scope base using a precision barrel drilling fixture.

Range time

The next time I went to the range was last Friday. This time, I had a scope that was aligned, and I’d researched the powder load so I knew what was right. My results were much better.

schuetzen target 1
The first 50-yard target after all the fixes. There are 5 bullets in that one hole below the dime, with a total of 9 shots on this target.

schuetzen target 2
The second 50-yard target. The cloverleaf has 4 bullets in it, with a total of 8 shots on this target.

What this means

I took a custom rifle about which I had no information and did some research and testing and got it shooting where I wanted it. There are still many steps to be refined. When I get the loading down the way I want it, I plan to video the whole process so you can see what it looks like.

This is the same process as learning about a new airgun. You read about it, study what’s been written and then conduct your own testing until you learn the gun. It does take time, but I think it’s the best part of airgunning.