History of the Sport

Silhouette Shooting - History of the Sport

The sport of metallic silhouette shooting, or silhuettas metallicas, had its origin around 1914 when the rebel leader and strategist Pancho Villa and his men were raiding villages and ranches in the northern state of Chikupehua, Mexico.

On one occasion, having put some distance between themselves and the pursuing Yankee cavalry, the banditos raided a well-stocked ranch in the north where they spend some fourteen days carousing. Eventually a dispute arose between two of Villa’s followers as to who was the better shot. Normally such an argument would have ended in a gunfight.  A squad leader, Juan Martinez, decided instead on a shootout using two live steers as targets. The unfortunate animals were tethered to trees at a suitable distant point and the contest began. The contestants were permitted to shoot alternately until one of them succeeded in killing his steer and was judged the winner.

The idea caught on and soon chickens, sheep and goats were literally “roped in” to serve as targets. After the revolution, the Villistas returned to their farms and villas throughout Mexico, taking with them a new sport to be practiced at fiestas in the decades to come.

The practice of shooting at live animal targets continued and was refined with time, using rifles as well as handguns. All hits that drew blood were counted.

Shortly after the Second World War, metallic cutout silhouettes began to be substituted for live animals - and this in the absence of a modern animal rightist movement, too! Even so, the original sport of shooting live animals would continue in the outlying areas until the late 1950’s, usually in conjunction with a fiesta.

In 1948, the first match using silhuetas metallicas took place in Mexico City. The gunners still shot turkeys, but metal ones now. The original feathered edition had its neck wrung prior to the contest, after which it was placed on ice and presented to the winner after the match.

The man who really got metallic silhouette shooting started in Mexico was Don Gongalo Qguilar who was instrumental in staging the Silhuetas Metallicas Nacionales in Mexico

City in 1952, four years after he had organized the first informal shoot. The targets were gallinas (chickens) at 200m, gualotes (turkeys) at 385m and borregos (sheep) at 500m. It was several years before the javelina (pig) target came into use.

By the early ‘60s the sport was well run and controlled, particularly in the north where Le Liga del Norte (the Northern League) had been formed. Soon many Americans were regularly making the pilgrimage across the Rio Grande to participate in the metallic silhouette shooting competitions and before long, the sport was introduced into the RSA.



The first rifle shoots were held around 1967 in the Arizona border towns of Nogales, Bisbee and Douglas. Riflemen brought the sport from Mexico to Arizona and 1972 were holding matches on a regular basis. One year later, in 1973, the National Rifle Association (NRA) entered the scene and sponsored the first rifle silhouette championships held north of the border in November of that year.



At the time there was no interest in metallic silhouette shooting with handguns. It was another two years before the first National Handgun Metallic Silhouette Championships took place at the Three Points range near Tuscon, Arizona, in September 1975, sponsored by the Club de Auto Mag.

The course on the first day was basically the one which is still in use today, with 10 shots fired by each shooter in two series of five at chickens (50m), pigs (100m), turkeys (150m) and rams (200m). Permitted handguns were .357 Magnums or heavier with factory or hand loaded ammunition – any barrel length and metal sight combination was permitted.

Most of the hardware on the line was strictly production:  Smith & Wesson’s, Ruger''s and obviously Auto Mags through the involvement and sponsorship of Lee Jurras. For decades the handgun enthusiast has been pressed to justify his ownership of heavy handguns. Silhouette shooting provides the big bore shooter with the opportunity to put his magnum to worthwhile use.


South Africa

Locally the sport was put on an organized footing early in 1982 with the formation of the South African Metallic Silhouette Shooting Association (SAMSSA) under the chairmanship of Tony Harrison.         

Clubs were formed all over the country, catering for both handguns and rifles in small bore and big bore disciplines.

Today the sport is governed by five provincial bodies affiliated to SAMSSA, making participation possible for a wide variety of firearm owners.


World Shooting

SAMSSA is a founder member of the International Metallic Silhouette Shooting Association (IMSSU), one of the two bodies governing metallic silhouette shooting worldwide, that was formed in 1992. IMSSU represents metallic silhouette shooting in 17 member countries, and many thousands of member shooters. The first World Championship was held near Grasse, France in 1994. The second World Championship took place in 1996 on local ground (Stellenbosch), while Finland hosted the third World Shoot (near Sipoo) in 1998. The 4th World Championships was held in 2000 in Brisbane, Australia.


Africa Shooting

The first All Africa Championship took place at the Cleveland Shooting Center outside Harare, Zimbabwe during June 1997. On a special meeting held after the shoot, it was decided to form the Africa Metallic Silhouette Shooting Association and to present a shoot on a regular basis every two years.