Marksmen society gets ready for the future

Marksmen clubs, with their centuries-old traditions, are faced with the daunting challenge of maintaining their customs and the sport of shooting – often regarded as unfashionable and unpalatable by young people in particular – in a modern-day world.

Photo: Diplomingeniør Olaf Wiechers, arkitekt

Some clubs try in vain to drum up enthusiasm for shooting among young people. But an increasing number of clubs have managed to polish up their dusty image with new ideas, creative approaches and sheer courage and have thus set themselves up for the future.

The best example of this is the Schützengesellschaft (SG) Gersfeld marksmen society, founded in 1813 in the Fulda district in eastern Hesse.

Their unique selling point: a Western town

Confronted with a lack of public interest in their club’s annual marksmen festival since the mid-1990s, club members had to come up with something and eventually hit upon an excellent idea. Because there had been already a muzzle loader and a Western shooting section and the site had had some Western-style buildings since the 1980s, they shifted the focus to Country and Western music and a campfire atmosphere, linked with Western-style shooting. From that moment on, the classic festival with a large tent and car scooter was a thing of the past.

Because the Western theme was so well received, SG Gersfeld continued to develop the idea and is now proud of their own Western town with a saloon, cantina (barbecue and snack bar) and cocktail bar. Likewise, the SG’s original replica ceremonial cannon also makes a profound impression.

Initially ridiculed by many sceptics, the Western town is today the club’s unique selling point and attracts numerous visitors independently of the marksmen festival. The rustic saloon, built entirely of wood, is a popular location for birthday parties and is also a favourite with guests of the hotel opposite.

Plenty of space for training and competitions

And SG Gersfeld, which has around 160 members between the ages of 25 and 80, has a lot more to offer besides the Western town. The club has eight stands for long guns (rifles) and is approved for all calibres up to 7,000 joules of energy, i.e. for any ammunition for handguns approved for hunting, sport and the military. In addition, there are more than 15 stands for short weapons (pistols and revolvers), also approved for all calibres up to 7,000 joules of energy. There is also another stand featuring eight lanes for shooting with compressed air and CO2 weapons (air rifles and air pistols).

In addition to the club’s training activities, SG Gersfeld also hosts team competitions and championships for the various associations. SG Gersfeld itself is a member of the German Marksmen Association, the largest shooting sports association in Germany with about one million members, and is home to a group of the Federation of German Sport Shooters, which focuses on shooting with large-calibre weapons. Both associations hold competitions on the modern shooting range.

Since the mid-1990s, SG Gersfeld’s shooting range has also been approved for the large-calibre rifles used in Western shooting. These are the impressive Winchester weapons known from the old Western films. Shooting with these weapons is also an official discipline in the German Marksmen Association and the Federation of German Sport Shooters. The markspeople of SG Gersfeld also train with military service weapons. These are historical rifles that were used by armies until 1963.

Modern shooting range with rebound-proof ceiling and wall coverings

The shooting range, which was designed according to the Shooting Range Regulation of the Federal Ministry of the Interior of 2012, is technically up-to-date after a comprehensive refurbishment and has now also been equipped with a photovoltaic system on the new roof, which is about 1,500 square metres in size.

The renovation works, which included a new ventilation system, wall/ceiling panels, paving work, the construction of new bullet traps (36 tonnes of Hardox 500 steel in total), assembly of the target pulley systems, floor covering work, woodwork, installation of doors, plastering, painting and electrical work, lasted several years and were mostly carried out by the club members themselves, who personally contributed some 5,000 hours.

In the long guns stand, the pulley systems for the target discs were attached to the ceiling during the refurbishment. At the same time, ten rotation systems for short guns were installed so that the range can now be used for both long and short gun shooting.

Of immense importance are the rebound-proof panels which cover the floors, walls and ceilings of the shooting range – this was achieved by the Troldtekt acoustic panels. Not only do the panels optimally insulate the sound and retain the heat in the premises, but they also reflect the light evenly and slow down projectiles to keep them from becoming a danger to the markspeople.

Another advantage of the panels is that they are easy to assemble and easy to replace in the event of bullet damage. Last but not least, the panels satisfy the most stringent fire protection requirements and are made of certified wood – a pure, natural material – and cement from Danish raw material sources. In January 2021, the shooting range was inspected and accepted by the shooting range expert and the regulatory authority in Fulda.

Secure bullet trap meets the highest demands

The somewhat outdated sand bullet trap system was removed from all stands and replaced by a steel lamella bullet trap. The collection of bullets and protection against injuries from rebounding bullets are essential features of the shooting range.

While sand successfully captures the bullets, the resulting dust is harmful to the lungs. For this reason, SG Gersfeld has opted for a bullet trap with steel slats during the refurbishment. In order to contain the lead dust, which is produced when lead bullets explode, 6 mm thick rubber mats are additionally installed in front of the slats. The rubber mats offer the benefit that the bullet hole closes again, so that no lead dust can escape. The lead residue, which must be removed according to stringent safety measures, can then be sold as raw material. The same is true for the cartridge casings, which are mostly made of brass.