NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry.
Our mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry.
It's mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
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Shooting Sports to Try: Metallic Silhouette Shooting

Have a gun? Almost any gun? Pistol, revolver, smallbore rifle, hunting rifle, lever-action, blackpowder rifle or even an airgun? Then you might find metallic silhouette competition is the game for you.

How The Game is Played

In this fun and challenging sport, rifle and pistol shooters take aim at a variety of steel chicken, pig, turkey and ram silhouettes set in rows at varying distances, under timed fire. Targets are generally set in rows—“banks”—of five targets. Chickens form the closest bank, with banks of pigs, turkeys and finally rams at other distances behind.

Shooting positions for the various firearms and targets range from prone with shooting sticks (blackpowder cartridge rifles) to standing and shooting offhand and freestyle shooting. Target distances also have a wide variety, the nearest being 10 yards for the front-most rack of air pistol chicken targets, the farthest 500 meters for the bank of ram targets at which blackpowder cartridge and high power competitors shoot.

Once a match is under way, you’ll hear the “plinks” of smallbore rounds or the heavy, thudding “gong” of centerfire and blackpowder cartridge bullets echoing back the hits of successfully struck targets. Targets must be shot in order from left to right, and targets must be knocked off their stands to count for score.

History of the Sport

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Photo Courtesy Chip Lohman/NRA Publications

The sport of metallic silhouette shooting evolved from siluetas metalicas, an informal shooting contest with a colorful history that datesback to the early twentieth century in Mexico. Professional shooters Jeff Cooper, Ray Chapman and others brought the sport of metallic silhouette shooting to the Southwest U.S. in the 1960s. By the 1970s, the sport was quite popular in the region, enough so that the NRA sponsored its first rifle silhouette match in 1973. Today the NRA continues to support and sanction metallic silhouette competitions. The international organization for the sport is the International Metallic Silhouette Shooting Union (IMSSU), and the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) governs the sport for handguns only here in the U.S., with its matches being similar to the NRA competitions for handguns. Shooting under NRA guidelines, competitors can compete in the following ways:

  • High Power Rifle (centerfire 6mm or larger)
  • High Power Hunting Rifle (centerfire 6mm or larger)
  • High Power Semi-Automatic Military Rifle
  • Cowboy Lever Action (.25-caliber or larger)
  • Pistol Cartridge Cowboy Lever Action
  • Smallbore Cowboy Rifle (any pump, lever-action, or semi-auto .22-caliber rifle with a tubular magazine)
  • Smallbore Rifle (.22-caliber rimfire)
  • Smallbore Hunting Rifle (.22-caliber rimfire)
  • Long Range Pistol (centerfire)
  • Hunter’s Pistol (centerfire)
  • Smallbore Hunter’s Pistol (.22-caliber rimfire)
  • Air Rifle
  • Air Pistol
  • Blackpowder Cartridge Rifle

Shooters new to the sport will discover a warm welcome and lots of help on the line from the veteran shooters. Today’s modern metallic silhouette competitions also include accommodations for those with physical challenges. In fact, both the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association and the NRA have committees that work to meet the needs of physically challenged shooters at these events. The NRA sanctioned matches are open to junior shooters as young as 14.

RiflePerhaps the best thing about metallic silhouette, aside from the new family of shooters you’ll meet and the satisfaction you get every time you hear that “gong” in the distance and watch a steel pig or turkey tumble off its stand, is that it’s not typically expensive to shoot. With just about every type of rifle and handgun accommodated, about the only equipment you’ll need are ammunition and eye and ear protection. Just one other piece of equipment is required, and that’s an EIC—empty chamber indicator—a stick-and-flag tool that competitors insert into their guns’ open chambers, which easily communicates to others that those guns are unloaded and have their actions in the open position. Many rifle shooters have a partner using a spotting scope next to them to help them “walk in” shots on longer targets; more experienced shooters will often offer to share their scopes or serve as spotters when new competitors join the line. Some shooting divisions permit optics on the firearms, but there are plenty that also use just iron sights.

With so little equipment needed, metallic silhouette shooting is an ideal sport for First Shot readers looking to expand their horizons. It’s great fun, there are all levels of matches from fun shoots to national and international competitions, clubs and teams to join and shoot with, and it’s a perfect sport for mastering technique basics like trigger control, stance and breathing, while also refining accuracy. For more information on where you can find metallic silhouette matches and the rules for shooting in competition, click any of the following links:

NRA Metallic Silhouette Rifle Rules







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