Black Powder Silhouette

Black Powder Silhouette

One of the fastest growing shooting sports is Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette (BPCRS). In this sport, shooters use authentic or reproduction rifles to knock down four different steel silhouettes at four different ranges. The sport was organized in 1985 by shooters who recognized the great interest in the U.S. in the black powder cartridge rifles of the era preceding 1896. BPCRS harkens back to this time, a time of big-bore, single shot rifles, a time of long-range target shooting and buffalo hunting.

The Basics

In BPCRS, shooters must knock down steel silhouette chickens at 200 meters (656 ft.), pigs at 300 meters (984 ft.), turkeys at 385 meters (1,262 ft.) and rams at 500 meters (1,639 ft.). As in high-power rifle silhouette competitions, the chickens must be shot off-hand in the standing position. However, BPCRS differs in that the pigs, turkeys and rams may be shot in a prone or sitting position using a cross-stick rest. Ten shots are fired at each target, for a total of 40 shots per match. The challenge is in the equipment: only original or reproduction single shot rifles that shoot cartridges loaded with black powder or Pyrodex are allowed. Only original sights may be used – no scopes.


BPCRS was organized in 1985 at the NRA’s Whittington Center near Raton, New Mexico. There was great interest in the U.S. in black powder cartridge rifles of the era prior to 1896, and BPCRS was created to provide an outlet for this interest.

A total of 34 competitors attended the first BPCRS match. The following year, the number of shooters had increased to 50. Now satisfied that the game had potential, the NRA organized the first official National Championship in 1987, with 71 shooters in attendance. By 1996, the sport’s popularity had grown immensely. The championship that year drew 347 shooters, more than any silhouette national championship of any type that the NRA has ever hosted. Dozens of BPCRS clubs have sprung up around the country, which host their own shoots.

Participation isn’t the only thing that has increased in BPCRS – so has shooter proficiency. In 1985, shooters found it very difficult to hit the 200-meter chickens because of the required off-hand position. Today, 200-meter scores of 7 and 8 out of 10 are fairly common.

It’s not just the chickens that shooters are hitting more. The 1985 match was won by Ed Middleton of Kansas, whose two-day score was 32 hits out of 80 possible (40 percent). The 1998 National Championship was won by Steve Brooks of Montana, who hit 91 of 120 targets (75.8 percent), a new national record. In 13 years, proficiency among the top shooters has increased almost twofold.

BPCRS was aimed at traditional-minded shooters and organized in a way that would protect it from modernization. From the very beginning, NRA rules called for rifles to weigh no more than 12 pounds, 2 ounces, including sights. Stock measurements, such as width, length and depth of buttplate, and buttstock drop, were stringent. These rules were devised to keep the sport traditional and keep the focus on proficiency, and away from turning into an “arms race.”

The organizers have largely succeeded in keeping BPCRS traditional, as the sport remains much the same as it was in 1985.


BPCRS is limited to single shot, exposed-hammer, American rifles of the era preceding 1896. Cartridges are required to be from the black powder era, of any caliber, but only of American make. Black powder or Pyrodex are the only allowed propellants; duplex loads (loads partially containing smokeless powder) are not permitted.

Stocks and forearms must be natural wood, must emulate the stock designs of the pre-1896 era, and must be within a stringent set of measurements. Cheekpieces, pistol grips and crescent butts are permitted, but the latter must also meet specifications. Only cast bullets of plain base configuration are permitted. No Scheutzen-style rifles are allowed.

For each bank of five targets, the competitors are allowed 2-1/2 minutes to get off their five shots.


Rifles – Allowed is any pre-1896 single-shot rifle, original or replica, chambered for an American Black Powder Cartridge, with exposed hammer. The rifle can be military or commercial. Popular rifles include the Model 1874 Sharps, the Remington Rolling Block, and the Model 1885 High Wall. The total weight of the rifle, including sights, must be less than 12 lbs 2 oz.

Sights – No scopes are allowed. A tang-mounted, veneer-style peep sight is considered a necessity, as is a front sight taking interchangeable inserts. The most popular type of rear sight is the “Soule” style.

Ammunition – Cartridges must be loaded with plain base cast or swaged, paper patched or grease groove bullet. Only straight black powder or straight Pyrodex is allowed. Popular cartridges for BPCR competition include the .40-65 WCF, .40-70 Sharps Straight, .45-70 and .45-90 WCF.

Cross-Sticks – Cross-stick rests may be any length, but are limited to 1″ x 2″ in thickness and width, or 1 1/2 in diameter. The sticks must be hinged by bolt so they can pivot. Spikes are limited to 3″. One layer of padding is allowed on the sticks.

Costs – A good black powder cartridge rifle costs as little as $500 to as much as $4,000.