The loud bang comes last

It’s Sunday morning at the Tell Haßloch shooting range and Walter Massing is dressed in a sports marksman outfit. He is using a ramrod to stuff black powder, a linen patch, and a lead ball into a historic muzzle-loader with a fuse mechanism. Seeing a gun like this in action is quite a sight, and the sports marksman seizes the opportunity to explain the origin of the expression ‘Lunte riechen,’ (‘to smell a fuse,’ the German equivalent of ‘to smell a rat’). “When the fuse burns, it gives off a distinctive smell before the loud bang.”

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Shooting is a national
sport in Rüsselsheim.

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When not training as a sports marksman, Walter Massing works in prototype construction at the Rüsselsheim Engineering Center of Global Propulsion Systems. He shares a very special fascination for precision, speed, and technology with his fellow workers Thomas Lache, Key Account Manager in Aftersales, and Andreas Dindorf, Director of Regulations and Certification. The three Opel employees devote their free time to shooting with historical muzzle-loaders, using them the same way they were used in sports competitions from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. And with success. This year, Massing and his colleagues will once again be representing the Tell 1910 Hassloch Gun Club at the German championship, where they aim to win the team evaluation with flintlocks for the third year in a row.

 

In the crosshairs Andreas Dindorf holds a target for the 50- and 100-meter distances. As of last year, he holds the German record in the flintlock discipline with a score of 147 out of 150 rings.


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Leading lights in sports marksmanship Opel employees Thomas Lache, Walter Massing, and Andreas Dindorf (left to right).


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Fully loaded Thomas Lache loads with a ramrod, the most recognizable feature of a muzzle-loader. He uses special glasses to ensure the clearest possible view of the target.

An eccentric hobby? Not in the Opel town of Rüsselsheim. Here it’s considered a national sport. Adam Opel himself was a member of one of the local gun clubs, the SV 1862 Rüsselsheim; even today, a lot of Opel employees are active ‘1862ers.’ Whereas the Tell 1910 Hassloch Gun Club won the German championship in the ‘percussion’ discipline in 2009, their neighbors from SV 1862 won the title the following year. “It was the first time that two clubs from the same city won the German championship,” says Thomas Lache proudly.

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Physical fitness is every bit as important as a steady hand.

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Shooting with a flintlock that weighs around seven kilograms is a real art form, Andreas Dindorf reports. Physical fitness is every bit as important as a steady hand. “To begin with, the loading operation requires a keen sense for the right quantity and the right amount of pressure. Aiming places high demands on your endurance and your ability to concentrate.” And after the shot is fired, a lot of time and care has to be put into cleaning the gun before it can be loaded for the next shot. That’s why shooters in national championships are given 40 minutes to take their 15 competition shots.

 


Shooting a muzzle-loader

A muzzle-loader is a primitive form of firearm. The propellant charge and projectile are stuffed down the barrel via the muzzle. The rear end of the barrel is permanently closed except for a small touch hole. A spark or flame passes through the hole by means of a fuse (matchlock), flint (flintlock), or percussion cap (percussion gun), thereby priming the propellant charge. Thomas Lache and Andreas Dindorf compete at a national level as muzzle-loader sports marksmen in the flintlock and percussion disciplines. Walter Massing also competes at an international level in the matchlock discipline. All three will be competing in the team evaluation for the flintlock discipline at the German championship in July – as defending champions.

 
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Here’s how the trigger mechanism on a flintlock works: A metallic surface is struck by the flint, which is attached to the hammer. This creates a hot metal filling, which ignites the loose priming charge. The spark then travels along a priming channel and reaches the main charge in the barrel after a slight delay.


When wind and weather act up during competitions, marksmen find themselves under time pressure, reports Walter Massing. One time, during a German competition for flintlocks, he was left with only six minutes to take five shots. “Somehow I managed to load and shoot at lightning speed – and hit 49 of 50 possible rings.” Achievements like this are what have made Massing into a living legend in German shooting sports. It would take pages to list all of his titles and awards.

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“We shoot with original firearms or faithful replicas.”

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To reach the top level, the main thing is practice. “We shoot with original firearms or faithful replicas,” explains Thomas Lache. Since March, the three expert marksmen have spent almost every weekend traveling, because you can only set records at warmer times of the year when shooting with historical firearms. For example, last July Andreas Dindorf beat the German flintlock record by a single ring, hitting 147 of 150.

 

Golden boy Walter Massing has won countless national and international titles and holds several world records. He has been a member of Germany’s national muzzle-loader team since 1993.


TÜV-tested Prior to competition, the guns are tested and given an inspection sticker.

The German championship in Pforzheim is coming in July. Another highpoint in the season is the European championship in Grenada, Spain, which Massing hopes to qualify for in May of this year. “At 57 it will be hard to achieve top results,” he says. “I’m really curious myself to see how long I can stay at this level.” But his buddies at the gun club are optimistic. “Walter has one advantage: He no longer has to prove anything to anyone.”

 

 

April 2017

Text: Eric Scherer, Photos: Alex Heimann