BPCR Competition

Is the steel chicken dead?

During the heyday of BPCR Silhouette, the competition was fierce and
the firing line at the NRA Whittington Center was packed to the gills!

Is the BPCR Silhouette dead? BPCR stands for Black Powder Cartridge Rifle and Silhouette is the game of shooting metallic targets at 200, 300, 385 and 500 meters. In the same order they are steel likenesses of chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams.

But — is the game dying? As far as the NRA sponsored National Championships, they seem to be on their last gasp.

Steel chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams dot this typical metallic silhouette range.


The competition was initiated in 1985 as an idea of some of the NRA’s Black Powder Committee members. In September an experimental match was held at the NRA’s Whittington Center outside of Raton, NM. More than 30 shooters from around the country got the word and made the trek to Raton. I was one. The next year another trial match was held. Attendance broke 50.

By this time the NRA powers-that-be decided BPCR Silhouette would be a viable sport and thus the very first National Championship was sanctioned. This time 71 competitors showed up. Ron Long of Denver and Steve Garbe of Montana tied for first place with scores of 60 out of 120 possible. Long won the shoot-off.

Enthusiasm was high. One reason was the sport was virtually gamer-proof. Only black powder could be used for propellant. (Along with Pyrodex, which few used.) Lead-alloy-bullets-only, sans any sort of metallic gas checks were allowed. Cartridges had to be ones introduced in America prior to 1895 and the same for rifles (replicas permitted). Furthermore, rifles had strict measurement and weight restrictions — 12 lbs., two oz. — plus hammers had to be the exposed type.

Word about this game spread quickly. Monthly matches began to spring up all around the nation, along with state and regional championships. Within a few years BPCR Silhouette nationals had even outgrown the range at Raton. The firing points and targets had to be expanded from 10 to 16. As might be expected, shooters got busy experimenting with bullets, powders, primers and even cartridge shapes in order to increase their shooting precision. After all, the body of a ram at 500 meters was only 12″ deep and to keep all bullets on the body of a turkey at 385 meters required a group no larger than 11″.

Twenty-five percent of BPCR Silhouette targets — chickens at 200 meters —
must be shot from the offhand position.

A Record Setting Run

In 1992, the long-run record on rams was 11. At the Nationals I ran it up to 14 but my score was soon bested. Lyman, RCBS and Redding/SAECO all came out with special BPCR bullets and numerous custom mold makers appeared on the scene. Powder companies even began to import black powder from Europe to rival our own single domestic brand — Goex.

Many of the early BPCR Silhouette competitors were already nearing senior-citizen age when the game started. Due to their aging eyesight the NRA instituted a scoped BPCR Silhouette game. Except for scope dimensions and styles, rules were kept the same so both iron and scoped matches could be fired together. The first year for scope awards was 1998 with a mere eight competitors. A few years later as participation in scoped matches increased, the NRA made the championships separate. Sixty-shot two-day events were shot for both iron sights and scopes. Total possible scope was 120.

Duke shooting one of his scoped BPCR Silhouette rifles.

Aging Eyes And Growing Pains

Iron sight BPCR Silhouette topped out in 2004 with 358 shooters. As happy as most shooters were about the popularity of the game, most admitted the range was getting crowded. Brad Rice of Denver won iron sight with 97 hits of 120 possible. As qualifying scopes became more available, scoped championships grew. The scoped Nationals topped out in 2012 with 120 competitors.

Then something happened. Some blame the NRA for bouncing the event around between early July and late August. This made it difficult for shooters to plan vacations. Others say it was because fuel prices made travel so expensive. Others blame the poor economy during the Obama years.

Regardless, attendance in BPCR Silhouette began to decline. By 2013 only 103 people showed up for iron sight and 99 for scope. For 2019 there were only 53 shooters for iron and 61 for scoped.

As far as monthly matches and/or state and regional championships, attendance is down but not so drastically. However, the nationals are hurting. Many of us fear with such low numbers the NRA will drop both BPCR Silhouette iron and scope National Championships. I’ve been to all since 1987 so I’m using my space here to urge readers who might be on the fence to jump off and attend these fine matches.

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