July 31, 2013–So the Pastor was doing a sermon on the life of Jesus, and he asked what was the biggest festival of year.
One youngster raised his hand, and said, “The Schuetzenfest.”
“This actually happened at our church way back,” said Charles Feller, Secretary of the Gillespie County Schuetzen Bund and official spokesman for the old time German target shooting competition. “They really get serious about the shooting.”
As a relative newcomer who has only been in the Hill Country less than two generations, I believe nothing is more quintessential Fredericksburg than the shooting fest. While informal shooting competitions were part of pioneer life, the rules for Schuetzenfest were written down in 1892. Not much has changed over the 120-some years, although the weekend is no longer set by the date of the full moon.
It always was a family event, according to Feller, who competed for many years along with his sons, two of whom were Schuetzenkoenigs, or Shooting Kings. “It gets in your blood.”
Kings are named in both rimfire and centerfire categories. Rifles are built for Schuetzen competition, as they are too long and heavy to use for hunting. The butts rest on the shooter’s shoulder, with the barrel on a stepped stanchion for steadiness.
The level of accuracy required is unbelievable. Targets are 200 yards away. That’s the length of two football fields! They use open sights–no scopes–and aim at a 3-inch bulls eye. I couldn’t find–let along hit–my car from 200 yards away.
Shooters have 10 shots. Bulls-eyes count for 10 points; hitting the target at all gets 4 points, with different value rings in between. Amazingly, winners are always in the 96 to 98 point range out of a perfect 100 possible.
“One year our son had 97 points and we didn’t expect him to win, but he did,” Feller said.
Just as intriguing as the actual shooting is the ceremony surrounding it. The event opens on Saturday morning with planting of the club flags and the tapping of the keg of beer. Following a business meeting, the shooting starts at 1 p.m. and goes late in the day. On Sunday, the shooting resumes at 9 a.m. until around 5 p.m. Then the awards are bestowed, with a parade of the clubs, led by past Schuetzenkoenigs and this year’s winning team.
Highlight is the “Er Lebe Hoch” ceremony. It means “he lives high” and involves the newly-crowned king being tossed high in the air while the band plays anthems.
The fest is truly open to all. The oldest shooter was 90, the youngest on record was 8. Last year a young lady won for the first time, and one year the Schuetzenkoenig was only 10. Anyone can sign up to shoot, but you have to be able to stand on the ground (no booster boxes) and you have to be a member of one of the six shooting clubs in order to qualify for prizes and titles. This year they expect around 115 participants.
Guests are always welcome, and there is no admission or parking charge, you can come and go as you please, stay as long as you like, and circulate amongst the shooters. There are even refreshments for sale on the grounds, which this year is the Bear Creek Shooting Range at the intersection of Bear Creek Road and Center Point Road.
What is the secret to the event’s longevity?
“There is lots of camaraderie and lots of traditions out there,” Feller said. “I don’t want to say this is the only one like this, but ours is the most authentic as far as old German tradition is concerned.”
And for some, bigger than Christmas.