schuetzen rifles

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The Marlin Ballard Breechloading Rifle,

Charles H. Ballard was a machinist who in 1861 invented his own designs of rifles that today are known for their accuracy and quality.  The Ballard rifle was perhaps the most famous target rifle of its day, a period in history between 1871 and 1917 when target shooting was a sport as popular as football or baseball today.  Ballard rifles had a reputation for being high quality firearms with unparalleled accuracy.  While there were dozens of models made, not to mention an uncountable number of custom models, most Marlin Ballard rifles use a rolling block type breechloading action.  Opening the breech is done by working a lever which serves as the trigger guard.  Most Marlin Ballards were also double trigger rifles, one being the main firing trigger, the other a set trigger which when activates makes the regular trigger a hair trigger.

Because of their quality, Marlin Ballards were used in all kinds of target shooting, whether offhand, prone, benchrest, long range, or short range.  Marlin Ballards also tended to popular for custom target rifles, such as German schuetzen rifles and Creedmore rifles. The last Marlin Ballard model was introduced in 1891. The sport of target shooting in Europe and North America lost most of its popularity with the outbreak of World War I, as the firearms industry discontinued most production of civilian arms, and instead focused on military production.  Likewise production of the Marlin Ballard ceased in 1917, when the United States entered the war.

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An Old Time Traditon- Schuetzen Rifles and Schuetzenfest

Schuetzen rifles were highly customized and ornate rifles created for one purpose—Schuetzenfest (shooting festival). Schuetzenfest is a centuries old German tradition in which marksmen and spectators would gather for a friendly competition of skill and marksmenship. Traditionally the competitors would have to fire 100 shots at 200 yards, off hand with a heavy rifle and no breaks in between shots. Schuetzen rifles can be of any make and model, and throughout history they evolved from blackpowder muzzleloaders to single shot breachloading rifles. Schuetzen rifles could be hand made from scratch by a local master gunsmith or could be a highly customized production rifles, of which Steven’s and Matini's were very popular. Most of these rifles were highly ornate, engraved, and decorated with German folk art. Some of the most spectacular versions can bring anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000  today depending on make and craftsmenship.

By far the largest Schuetzenfest occured in Hanover and featured 5,000 marksmen, 250 hotels and inns, 5 beer tents, and a parade with 10,000 participants. As German immigrants moved to the United States they brought their traditions with them, and Schuetzenfest could be found all over America, especially in the Cleveland area.

Unfortunatly the Schuetzenfest lost popularity in both America and Germany. In American Germanophobia during World War I often saw hostility and even outright bans of Schuetzenfest activities. In Germany Schuetzenfest lost popularity due to an end to civilian rifle production in order to bolster military arms production during World War I and World War II.

Today Schuetzenfest is making a comeback on in both Germany and the United States. Re-enactors and target shooters are banding together to bring back this historic festival. If you find a Schuetzenfest near you please attend, sit back, enjoy a lager, and help bring back this centuries old tradition.