Short history

Target shooting has its roots during the introduction of the earliest arms – perhaps even before that – when taking into account the use of bows and arrows. My interest however, will be on the actual introduction and history of these handheld single shot target pistols.

      Fig. Shooting at large targets. Around 1818-20 (Germany)

The German word for target pistol is ‘Scheibenpistole’, which is also known as the ‘free pistol’ discipline at the ISSF, Olympic, and World Championships and we use the terms interchangeably.

The 50-meters free-pistol discipline is considered by many to be the ‘Queen of all target shooting’ disciplines, as it requires the utmost concentration as well as physical and psychological control when competing.

The words ‘free pistol’ came about as the 50-meters shooting discipline does not have many rules governing the pistol specifications. The only few being that the pistol must use .22 Long Rifle ammunition, may only be loaded with one round at a time and have conventional open sights. It must also be operated by one hand and not supported by any other part of the shooter’s body. The specialized pistols they used and the history of them play an important part in the cultural heritage of pistol shooting.

On this website I made a distinction between the more modern semi-automatic-operated sporting pistols which were generally made for the 25-meter range and the fine classic examples of single-shot target pistols or free pistols, which were made for the 50-meter range. The latter will be our focus on this website.


The free pistol is the most accurate of any sporting or match pistol. We say the most accurate, but this is only true in the hands of an experienced shooter, as they are not only very accurate but delicately made for target-shooting purposes only. The free pistol became very popular during the golden era of target shooting between the 1870’s till the late 1930’s. It became a national past-time for both men and women, especially in European German speaking countries like Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. These pistols evolved from the flintlock to the percussion system and eventually became single-shot rear-loading cartridge pistols.

Many makers used different breech systems during the evolution of the free pistol while some artists made a living embellishing them. The more expensive free pistols were hand-fitted to the customer’s specifications, and nearly all the pistol parts were made by third-party suppliers who were highly experienced craftsmen and quite often excellent marksmen themselves. Some of the nicest and rarest examples are to be found across international borders, although the Germans have made it a large part of their cultural inheritance. The free pistol or Scheibenpistol is still being used and enjoyed in competitions to date.

I hope that many shooters and collectors appreciate them and keep enjoying Scheibenpistols as much as I do – Welcome to my website – Arjan van Baggum

                                           Fig. Swiss Olympic team (1912)