Sunnyvale Rod & Gun Club - Rifle and Pistol Range
11998 Stevens Canyon Road
Cupertino, CA 95014
Both members and non-members are invited to join the league. No previous experience or classification are required.
$5 match fee per shooter. Shooters who are not members of SRGC must also pay the $25 range fee.
Email the match director at Silhouette.at.SRGC@gmail.com
Silhouette: Smallbore, Lever Action, and Air Rifle
This page introduces the sport of silhouette shooting at Sunnyvale Rod and Gun Club. It covers the following subjects:
Read the subjects that interest you, but don't stop there: Come on out and shoot! Words and pictures can't convey the fun of the real experience!
A silhouette is a steel profile of an animal (chicken, pig, turkey, or ram) standing on a pedestal. The object of the game is to knock as many silhouettes as possible off their pedestals, shooting one round at each silhouette. It is a very simple competition, with very simple scoring: You get 1 point for knocking an animal off its stand, 0 for anything else. Although silhouette is an easy game to learn, it is not an easy game to master. The animals are rather small and the distances are rather large; you must shoot offhand (standing); a moderate breeze can move a bullet or a pellet the width of an animal; your concentration becomes more difficult to hold as you knock down five in a row, six, .... These factors make silhouette an endless challenge.
This photograph shows smallbore animals (top two rungs) and air rifle animals below.
Silhouette shooting originated in Mexico in the late 1940s. It is now shot all over the world with everything from air pistols to black powder rifles. Silhouette sizes and distances vary according to the kind of rifle or pistol, but everything else is the same. For example, high-power rifle silhouettes are life-size, but they are shot at much longer distances than the scaled-down smallbore or air rifle silhouettes. Commands to load, fire, and cease fire are often given in Spanish, in part to honor the sport's heritage, and in part to distinguish the silhouette shooters' commands from those directed at other shooters sharing the range. (Non-Spanish speakers, don't worry; there are only three commands!)
At SRGC, we shoot four different types of silhouette: smallbore rifle, smallbore lever action rifle, pistol cartridge lever action rifle, and air rifle. Matches are typically 40 or 60 shots, rarely 80 shots, evenly divided between the 4 different animals. For smallbore , the animals are 40, 60, 77, and 100 meters away; for lever action, they are 40, 50, 77, and 100 meters away; for air rifle, they are 20, 30, 36, and 45 yards away. You shoot at the silhouettes in sets (banks) of five; you get 2-1/2 minutes per bank, which is usually plenty of time even for single-shot rifles.
Shooters are grouped into classes based on past performance so they can compete with others of similar ability. Your first match will determine your initial classification, after that you must shoot a score in the next class up 2 or 3 times in order to move up a class. Moving down is next to impossible, to prevent people from gaming the system. The precise scores for each class vary based on what discipline you're shooting but generally the classes and scores are as follows:
One of the appeals of silhouette shooting is the gear: There isn't much of it, and you can choose how much money to spend on it. A good-quality off-the-shelf hunting rifle will get you into the game, enabling you to acquire the fundamental skills of offhand shooting; it will shoot good scores if you do your part. If, later, you want to compete at the top level of the game, you can buy a fine-quality rifle.
For smallbore silhouette, you can use most any .22 rifle and standard velocity ammunition. (High velocity ammunition is prohibited because it can damage the targets.) In practice, most experienced silhouette shooters shoot bolt-action rifles with scopes of 16-24 power. However, there is no reason you should not come out with your 10/22 and low-power scope, or even iron sights if you can holdover at four different ranges. You'll see how much fun the game is, what the people are like, and what rifles and scopes the veteran shooters are using. If you ask politely, you'll probably be able to shoot any rifle that's there.
To get a little more technical, there are two smallbore rifle classes (for details, check out the official NRA Silhouette Rulebook):
Smallbore rifles: three Standard-class rifles on the left; three Hunter-class rifles on the right.
Lever Action Rifles
Despite the name, lever action is open to any tube-fed, non-bolt action rifle, so pump-action and semi-auto rifles are also allowed. Magnified sights (scopes) are not allowed; fortunately the targets for lever action are 2.5 times larger than they are for smallbore or air rifle. Front sights must be a bead or post. Most shooters find that either a receiver or tang mounted rear sight and a front sight with removable inserts work best, but plenty of people have gotten started with buckhorn style sights mounted on the barrel.
Smallbore lever action rifles must be chambered in .22lr.
Pistol cartridge lever action rifles must be chambered in a pistol cartridge such as 25-20, 32-20, 38 special, 357 Magnum, 38-40, 44’s, 44-40, 45 Colt, 45 Long Colt, .22 Magnum and .22 long rifle. Pistol cartridge ammunition must be loaded with round or flat nosed bullets. The pistol cartridge targets are the same size as the smallbore lever action targets, but they are thicker and therefore heavier. It is permissible to shoot the same rifle in both smallbore lever action and pistol cartridge lever action. Just know that you may hit some of the rams without knocking them over (known as 'ringing' them) which does not count for score.
For air rifle, you can shoot anything up through .22 caliber, though most people shoot .177 because a wider variety of accurate rifles and pellets are available for this caliber than for .20 or .22. But feel free to shoot what you've got. There are three air rifle classes:
Note: From time to time you will be asked to make your rifle safe. This means laying it down on the bench with the muzzle pointing downrange, the breech open, the chamber empty, and the magazine removed or empty. If your air rifle has a magazine, think about how you will demonstrate to the range officer that it is empty or removed.
Most people need a scope to shoot silhouette well because the animals are small and there are four distances to shoot at. 16 to 24 power is adequate. Beginners will want to start with a lower power because it makes your wobble (motion of the cross hairs across the target) less apparent and therefore less unnerving. Look for these features in a scope:
Popular scope brands include:
Both .22s and air rifles are highly individualistic about ammunition. Even two rifles with consecutive serial numbers may not shoot the same ammo well. More expensive ammunition is not always more accurate in a given rifle. The most important thing is to find ammo that works in your rifle and fits in your budget. Often, the best thing to do is to decide roughly what you're comfortable spending and test 3-4 offerings at that price point. We have found the following to seem to work well in many rifles:
For air rifle, some .177 pellets that usually work well are:
Domed pellets definitely work better than other shapes because they hold their velocity better at the longer ranges.
One unique thing about silhouette is that it does not allow much of the the purpose built clothing and accessories that are found in other precision shooting sports. Shooting specific pats, jackets, shoes and slings are all prohibited. You must wear eye and ear protection. Here are some additional items you may find useful:
If you want to make the most of your first silhouette match, it's helpful to do the following beforehand:
1. If you are not a member, join the NRA, which is the governing body for SRGC silhouette shooting. Once you are a member, you can pay a $15 annual fee here to have your scores recorded and receive your classification.
2. Find out which ammunition your rifle shoots most accurately and is consistent with your budget.
3. Establish your scope elevation and focus settings for the silhouette distances:
To test ammo and determine your scope settings, you need the calmest possible weather. Even slight breezes will displace a bullet, and especially a pellet, an inch at 50 yards, making it impossible to know whether your rifle doesn't like the ammo or the wind is pushing it around. Early morning and evening are the best times to test, at least in summer. 8PM on Tuesday (SRGC is open until 9 on Tuesday) is often dead calm. (Alternatively, you can do as one air rifle shooter in Southern California has done, and build your own wind-proof 50-yard range from 2' steel pipe!)
At SRGC, the .22 and air rifle positions are on the right side of the range office (positions 21 and higher). To test ammo, set up a multiple-bull target at 50 yards. Choose bulls that are easy to center in your scope; most people can see white rings easier than black ones; some people prefer to align the crosshairs on grid intersections. (Sample Target) Rest your rifle on blocks and sandbags (or on a rifle rest if you have one) to maximize your steadiness. Shoot one five-shot group per bull, holding the rifle as consistently as possible across the shots. Five groups should give you a good idea of an ammunition's performance in your rifle. After changing to a different brand, the first group you shoot with the new ammo may be comparatively poor; if it is, ignore it. If your rifle will consistently shoot 1/2" groups (measured center-to-center, or edge-to-edge and subtracting one caliber diameter) you've found an ammo your rifle likes. But 1" groups are OK if they are consistent. When you've got the right ammo, you can be confident that the animals you miss are your fault, not your equipment's. That's important for observing and correcting your mistakes and also for concentrating on the fundamentals when you shoot. If you want to test .22 ammo more meticulously, test the ammo that groups best at 50 at 100 yards to find out which is really best. Note that 100 yard testing requires dead calm conditions and good benchrest shooting skills. Measuring group size can be done by hand or by using a smartphone app (Ballistic-X or similar).
Getting Scope Settings
Once you've selected an ammunition, you need to get your scope settings for that ammo. With known settings, you'll be able to quickly adjust the scope as you change from chickens to pigs, pigs to turkeys, and so on. Just like ammo testing, it's best to do this on a calm day. To determine scope settings at Sunnyvale Rod and Gun Club, staple a multi-bull target to a target stand, and position it at the distance of one animal (most people start at chickens).
Portable Target Base
Make sure your rifle is level. Adjust your parallax to focus on the target. Shoot a 5 round group. You can then either measure the vertical and horizontal distances from the bull to the center of the group and adjust your scope accordingly. Alternatively, you can aim the rifle at the bull and, without moving the rifle at all, adjust your windage and elevation until the crosshair is centered on the group. Shoot another 5 shot group at a clean bull and repeat until the group is centered on the bull. Write down your elevation, windage, and parallax settings. Some people write them in a notebook; others write them on a piece of tape directly on the rifle or scope. Move the target to the next animal and repeat the process. If your scope allows you to do so, you may find it helpful to 'zero' your elevation on chickens.
NOTE: Every time you shoot, you hold the rifle a little differently and therefore change the point of impact. Some scopes are affected by temperature variations. It's always a good idea to arrive early at a match so you can check your settings and adjust them to the current conditions.
You shoot silhouette from the offhand position. This means that you shoot standing and you support the rifle entirely with your body. No part of your body except your feet can touch anything. You cannot wear stiffening shoes or clothing. Silhouette's roots are in hunting, and becoming a better silhouette shooter can make you shoot better in the field as well.
Note: at the SRGC smallbore matches, there's a special "varmint" class that shoots sitting, with the rifle rested on sandbags. This is a great way for beginners to get acquainted with the game; if your rifle is set up properly, you will definitely knock over a bunch of animals from this position.
You can shoot offhand hunter-style, with your support hand forward and cupping the forend However, you will notice that most good shooters use a target shooting position:
Offhand position: rear view
Offhand position: side view
The above photos show Tim Kurreck, an SRGC member and national champion. The idea of this stance, which will probably seem very odd and uncomfortable at first, is to make the support side of your body like a post on which the rifle rests. The post is composed of bones, not muscle, because bones are much steadier. To make the support side of your body like a post, thrust your hip toward the target and try to plant your support elbow on the pelvis (above your hip joint and even with your navel). If you're doing it right, the support side of your body will be relaxed and you will feel the weight of the rifle on your pelvis. To aim, use the large muscles of your midsection, not the small muscles of your arm or shoulder. Note: not everyone's body proportions permit resting the elbow on the pelvis; if your elbow doesn't reach that low, hold it and your upper arm firmly against the side of your chest.
Here's what to expect in your first silhouette match at SRGC. When you arrive between 8 and 8:30AM, you'll help set up the targets, sign in for the match and at the range office, choose the animal you want to start with (pigs are easiest, turkeys are hardest), pay an entry fee, and then practice for half an hour or so. Cost is $5 per shooter. If you are not an SRGC member, you must also pay the standard range fee of $25, which entitles you to shoot all day. Use the practice time to verify or adjust your sight settings, then shoot some animals to warm up and get accustomed to the conditions. If you have a count-down timer, set it to 2 minutes and 45 seconds. The small bore match usually starts around 9 and ends between 12-1. The air rifle match starts around 6:30PM and ends before 9. Both proceed as follows.
Four banks of chickens for shooter 1 (left) and shooter 2 (right) in an 80-shot match. Shoot banks in this order: bottom left, top left, bottom right, top right. Pigs, turkeys and rams are in the distance.
Occasionally, for various reasons, you may not have five animals to shoot at. In such a case, you make your final shot at an animal left standing in a prior bank. It should be one of your animals unless there are none, in which case it can be one of your relay partner's animals. Before shooting an animal in another bank, let your partner know which you intend to hit, and ask for permission if you must shoot at one of your partner's animals.
When the match is over, hand your score sheet to the match director. After scores are announced, the range may remain open for practice or a shootoff if there's a tie. When the match is finished, help gather the targets, put away the target stands, and begin thinking about how you're going to shoot better next time
Click the links below to download PDF outlines of the smallbore silhouette targets. These targets include a one-inch ruler. Measure it after printing to verify that your printer is set up right.
Thanks to Rachel Thomas for creating the targets.
Call Us at 408-873-8255
Physical Address: 11998 Stevens Canyon Road, Cupertino, CA 95014
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2903, Cupertino, CA 95015