Silhouette Rifle Shooting

Instant gratification is the best way to describe this fast-paced sport. Shooters fire at banks of steel plates resembling the life-sized outlines of chickens (set at a distance of 200 meters), pigs (at 300 meters), turkeys (at 385) and sheep (at 500). A shooter is given 2.5 minutes to fire one round at each of the five targets in a bank. Unlike shooting at paper targets, when the metallic targets are hit, a distinct audible "clang" is heard as the target topples from its stand. Misses produce a telling visible cloud of dust.

Originally developed in Mexico (where it was known as "Siluetas Metalicas"), it was brought across the border as a hunter's game by Southwestern riflemen in the 1960s. True silhouette shooting today applies to the high-power game generally shot with a centerfire bolt-action rifle of 6mm or larger caliber. However, the term "silhouette" is used, loosely, to include all shooting using metal targets shaped like game animals. 

Courses of Fire 

The sport dramatically increased in popularity during the early 1970's when the NRA incorporated it into its competition event schedule and now includes four main classes: 

  • NRA High Power Rifleuses higher caliber ammunition and guns 
  • NRA Smallbore Rifle--using .22 rimfire guns fired at one-fifth scale targets at distances from 40 to 100 meters 
  • NRA Air Rifle fired at 1/10 size targets at 20 to 54 yards 
  • NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle--uses pre-1896 American manufactured single shot hunting or military style rifles with an exposed hammer.

    Equipment Rifle - Silhouette Rifle Shooting

    Since it is well-known that the 6mm bullet will not knock the sheep target off its stand reliably, the most popular rifles in use in this sport are chambered for .308 and 30/06 cartridges. The most popular black powder cartridge used is .45-70. The maximum allowable weight of the rifle, including sights, is 10 pounds and 2 ounces. Trigger pulls must be of 2 pounds in weight or more. In the Hunter Class Silhouette events, factory-original only hunting style rifles weighing no more than 9 pounds for centerfire, and 7.5 pounds for rimfire, are used. Smallbore Rifle Silhouette shooting is a miniaturized version of the high power contest with rifles being chambered for the .22 caliber rimfire, short or long rifle cartridges only. 

    One of the best aspects of this sport is that use of a specially built rifle is not required for success. Many beginners start out with a favorite hunting rifle equipped with a 4-power scope, so costs can be less than for other types of competitions. Scopes are allowed in most events and some competitors use optics with magnification settings of 12-power or more. All shooting is from the off-hand position with steadying accessories such as adjustable or hooked butt plates, palm rests, padded shooting jackets, and slings being disallowed. Air rifle shooters usually face these targets at ranges of 20, 30, 36, and 45 yards, respectively.

    Further Information 

    NRA Silhouette Department
    Phone:  (703) 267-1474

    NRA Rules and Guidance book:
    Rifle Silhouette Rules (catalog #CH 16820 - $2.50)
    NRA Bookstore Phone (800) 336-7402

    (Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation)