GETTING STARTED IN SCHUETZEN
By Charlie Shaeff
As with all sports, the game we call Schuetzen requires the use of certain special equipment. At a recent bull session at a match at a range at Etna Green, it was the consensus of those involved that with the many new members joining ASSRA, an article about those items unique to the game would be in order. Currently, some of our shooters are using original or re barreled rifles from the period of our interest, others are using various reproductions of these designs, and a third group is using newly designed rifles which fit the criteria above. In all but a few specific matches, all of these are welcomed to shoot side by side...the choice is open. The shooter may well find that it will be possible to find someone already involved in the game to help him assemble the items needed to get started in the game or even loan some or all of the things that will be needed. If they are offered, by all means the new shooter should jump at the chance...if not read on.
A technique that developed fairly late in the "Golden Age" for target shooters is called breech seating, and most ASSRA competitors use this technique. The new shooter may wish to begin competition with "fixed" ammunition, i.e. sufficient ammunition which has been completely loaded beforehand with the bullet seated in the cartridge case. However, he probably will advance quickly to breech seating, so that will be discussed here. All of the ASSRA competitions specify plain base (no metallic gas checks) lead alloy bullets only. Most competitors cast their own bullets which are then lubricated and fired with little or no sizing. While this requires very precise casting using moulds specifically designed and matched for specific rifles, the payoff is in accurate shooting. Other competitors have experimented with swaged bullets and even "swast" bullets, those that have been cast and then swaged, but that practice is beyond the scope of this introduction. Bullets that are previously cast (of course) may also be lubed ahead of time using a pan luber, a lube and sizing press (usually adjusted to lube only) or by means of a lube pump. Using one of the hand held lube pumps they may also be lubed freshly at the range.
Once the bullet has been produced and lubricated, it is pushed into the throat of the chamber. It will be necessary to have some sort of breech seater, as simple as a case with a wooden or metal plug to push the bullet to the proper position as the breech is closed, to as complex as one of the cam-type mechanical seaters that are locked onto the action and gently place the bullet with the movement of a lever. Either way, the intent is to have the bullet squarely and smoothly seated in the lands and grooves of the chamber throat when the powder charge ignites and starts it on its way.
Next, the fired case is de-primed, re-primed using one of a variety of methods. The simplest method involves a punch and hammer to knock out the old primer and some sort of similar device to press in the new one. There are several mass produced devices available such as the hand held presses or tong tools offered by companies like Lee and Lyman, or the specific priming tools made by Lee, RCBS, and others. The most elegant and in many ways the most efficient method involves the use of a "re- and decapping tool" based on designs developed back to the 1890's by Hadley, Pope, Schoyen and others. These tools first punch out the old primer with one motion, then the shell is reversed and the new primer is inserted with a second motion of the tool. All of these methods may be seen being used at schuetzen matches around the country. There is no best or most acceptable method, the shooter can use whichever method is available.
Next, the chosen powder is measured (by weight or generally by volume) charge and placed in the case, it is either held in place by a wad or not at the shooter's discretion and inserted behind the bullet. If the shooter chooses to use wads, it will be necessary to have a supply of the proper size and consistency on hand and a way to insert them into place. Most competitors throw their actual charges at the bench by volume and the measuring device should be up to the job. Measures being used at the range are generally mounted securely to the bench so that each charge may be dispensed into its case in a very consistent manner. Finally the prepared case is inserted, the action is closed and the rifle is fired, then the whole process is repeated for the number of shots in that match.
It was long traditional among many shooters in this game to use the same case over and over again, with a single case frequently being used for the whole match or even for a whole season or more of shooting, but many competitors are now preparing as many as 50 or more matched shells which are primed and filled with the proper powder charge in advance, then capped with a wad for security while traveling. This practice allows noticeably faster loading and gives the shooter more time to concentrate on the actual shooting process. The choice is up to the individual shooter. If the new shooter starts by shooting fixed ammunition, he can observe other shooters doing breech seating and although he may not be quite so competitive at first, he is, after all learning, and will have ample opportunity to shoot and enjoy the matches. As skill and experience expand, the shooter will be able to purchase and learn to properly use the breech seating equipment.
An important consideration for the beginning shooter is caliber. During the heyday of Schuetzen at the turn of the century, .38-55 and .32-40 dominated the firing lines, and to a great extent do today as well. Both of these calibers were designed to hold a fairly large charge of black powder, but most of our modern competitors use smokeless, so there is a fairly significant group that has moved to smaller cartridges. A discussion of these is beyond the scope of this brochure, but for now it would be well to stick with the classics above, as well as perhaps the .30-30 class and the .32-20. Again, these will make it possible to get started, and as skill and experience progress, a different caliber may be tried. It should also be mentioned here that many shooters of reproduction single shots are going to .40 and .45 caliber rounds for their rifles, and there is certainly nothing wrong with them, but the larger rounds are much more difficult to shoot well over a long course of fire due to fatigue and flinch. If one is interested in one of the larger calibers, or already has an otherwise suitable rifle so chambered, they can come shoot it...some of our matches even have an over .40 event, and that doesn't mean age!
Other things that will be needed at schuetzen matches are a spotting scope or a good pair of binoculars to spot hits at the 100 and 200 yard ranges that will be shot, a rest for bench rest events and to rest the rifle on while loading, etc., eye and ear protection (mandatory at all ASSRA events) and some way to haul all of this stuff to the line to begin shooting. Most readers of this article, if experienced in other target shooting disciplines, already have a few other things like pen and note pad, throw rug for the bench, water bottle, wind flags, etc. that are brought along and many of us use them, so one should do what seems natural as long as it is safe. Oh yes, it is best to try and arrive early and plan to stay late. Not only will this give the new shooter a chance to get registered, acclimated and settled in to shoot, but also most people find that ASSRA is one of the most sociable bunch of shooters in any discipline, and you will be missing half of the fun if you rush in, shoot and then rush out without enjoying the camaraderie and the more often than not shared meal at one of the local eateries. When you arrive, look for the person in charge, the "Schuetzenmeister," introduce yourself and get instructions that will probably be somewhat different from range to range. The new shooter should watch the experienced shooters at his first few matches and see the variety of techniques that they use, then pick the ones that work for him and the rifle he has chosen. Consider this an invitation to one and all. Schuetzen has been described as a "kinder, gentler form of shooting" that allows its participants time to enjoy the range, the company of their fellow shooters, and just getting to go shooting. We'll be looking forward to seeing you.
A special thank you goes to former ASSRA President Charlie Dell without whose help in the early stages of writing this article would not have been possible.