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 target pistol as a starting point around the 15th century.

Even in those days, people needed to practice their shooting skills. From the need to practise to the need to compete: the art of target shooting eventually evolved.

In Europe during the early 1500’s, the use of matchlock and later the wheellock pistols were introduced, the hand held pistols became popular with both the military- and civilian shooters. Both systems were however rather clumsy and unreliable. After many trials and years of innovation a lighter and slightly more reliable handheld pistol was introduced: the flintlock.

These flintlock pistols were prone to many problems as well, especially when compared to modern weapons. Misfires were common. The flint had to be properly maintained, as a dull or poorly napped piece of flint would not make as much of a spark and would dramatically increase the misfire rate. Moisture was a problem, since moisture on the frizzen or damp powder would prevent the weapon from firing. This meant that flintlock weapons could not be used in rainy or damp weather. Most flintlock pistols were smoothbore pistols and had a relatively short range. It only became more effective with the introduction when an early form of rifling was introduced. These same flintlock pistols were also used in duels, where the honour of ‘Gentlemen’ were settled.

Early pistols were mostly made for military and civilian use. The military pistols had to be rugged, well build and easy to use. It had a simple single purpose whereas the civilian pistols were used for personal protection, hunting as well as target shooting purposes. The civilians pistols were usually better built and had a more elaborately finish. These early models used different firing mechanisms, from the Wheelock, to the flintlock to the percussion to the introduction of cartridges.