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April 2010 cover image 12 Hooked!

Schuetzen Verein

German shooting clubs continue Old World family traditions.

By John Goodspeed

Texting friends and giggling about boys and clothes, Jordan Flugrath and Maci Holmes seem like typical 12-year-olds — until bullets zing through targets three feet from where they are sitting. Safe inside the thick-walled target house, they reach for long sticks with round tips to show marksmen 100 yards away where the bullets have hit.

“Jordan, show me again how to do it,” says Maci, who is pointing for only her second time.

“They all shoot in the 20s, so just point to the three,” says Jordan, in her second year as a pointer. The bullet hole is two rings shy of a bull’s-eye, Jordan explains. “This is fun. I can’t wait until I get to shoot,” she says.

Photo by John Goodspeed

When she does, it will be a shot like the ones fired way back on July 4, 1849, in a tradition born in the founding of the oldest continuously operating shooting club in the United States: the New Braunfels Schuet-zen Verein.

Before sailing to the New World, German settlers bought shares in the club to guarantee membership, according to an 1846 document on one of the walls of the clubhouse. The club’s roots date back to late medieval times, when jousting, archery and shooting contests across Europe honed the skills of citizens ready to defend their towns.

The New Braunfels Schuetzen Verein was founded four years after the town was founded by German immigrants who traveled by wagon train from Indianola and built a fort to protect against Indians and bandits. Before long, the shooting club evolved into something more. Matches became celebrated social events, allowing families a break from the hardscrabble pioneer life.

While times are easier today, socializing is still as important as the competition. “Everybody treats you like you’re a part of the family,” says Jimmie Meckel, fifth-generation Texan and a member since 1974. “My children grew up here pointing targets, and one of these days my grandchildren may be marking targets.”

Photo by John Goodspeed

In the late 1800s, the Mountain Valley Shooting Club was on his great-grandfather’s ranch near Sattler, named for William Sattler _ whose memory is honored with the New Braunfels club’s Sattler Offhand Medal, awarded each year to the winner of a special match for iron sights. The Mountain Valley Shooting Club was one of dozens in the area, more than 200 across Texas and hundreds more wherever German immigrants settled across America. Now there are fewer than 20 in Texas and only a handful in the New Braunfels area _ the Boerne, Vogel’s Valley, Alamo and Fredericksburg Schuetzen Vereins.

With a growing rank of about 40 active shooters among 100 members across Texas, the New Braunfels club survives and thrives through a combination of factors. Foremost is the dedication to keep alive an organization that has persevered through droughts, epidemics and wars. For example, while most members fought during the Civil War, a handful gathered on the club’s anniversary each year from 1861 to 1865. Lead and powder were so scarce they shot only two or three times each, according to a club history written for the 1949 centennial. The Spanish-American War and World War I also slowed activities.

During World War II, the club conducted a rifle school for young men with ammunition supplied by the War Production Board. After the war, German faded as the primary language at the club as the American work force became more mobile. Descendants of the German settlers left, and people of other nationalities moved to New Braunfels. The societal changes doomed other clubs.

“We are the guys currently taking the club on, and we’ll pass it on to the next guys. The only reason we have this club is because of those who came before us,” says Scott McCash, the club president.

Photo by John Goodspeed

Another reason for the club’s longevity is its willingness to change. Women were allowed to shoot in 1949, the centennial year of the club. Although some members walked out in anger, most enjoyed shooting alongside women.

Hilda Rahe, wife of longtime member Don Rahe, was the first Koenigin, or Queen. The title follows the tradition of the person shooting closest to the center of the target being named the Koenig, or King, at a match on July 4. Until 2000, though, the Queen was not automatically a board member like the King was.

“Now any woman who pays dues is a voting member and can serve on the board,” says Gay Wimberley, who won the Queen match 11 times and has served as secretary and treasurer. She joined in 1973, one year after her husband, Bill Wimberley, who has served several terms as president. A restriction on age also was eliminated in 2000 so youngsters could begin competing when their parents think they are ready _ under close supervision, of course.

Three generations of Wimberleys are members _ daughter Lou Ann Wimberley, 34; son Charlie Wimberley, 41; and Charlie’s children, Taylor, 16, and Bailee, 11, a target pointer.

“It feels like the passing of a torch, a bloodline of schuetzen vereiners,” Taylor says. “My father did it. My grandfather did it. I grew up with the whole family enjoying it, so it’s bred into me. I have so many great memories of sharing this with my grandpa and my dad that, when I have kids of my own, I want them to have that experience, too.”

For Taylor’s father, Charlie, a pointer by age 9, family and tradition are more important than the competition. “I feel honored to be a part of this organization because of its history,” Charlie says. “When I meet people and we end up talking about the club, they usually are pretty impressed that we are the oldest continually active shooting club in the United States.”

Charlie’s fiancée, Shawn Norman, joined, too. At her third shoot as a guest, she scored a 247 out of a possible 250. She learned the intricate details of how to stand, aim and carefully squeeze the trigger from Charlie, who learned from his father, who learned from such old-timers as Don Rahe, a pointer in the early 1920s, who learned from his father in a continuous string of knowledge and passion dating back to the founding of the club.

The rifles used have followed the evolution of firearms, from muzzleloaders to metallic cartridges. Firearms at most matches today are chambered in .22 long rifle, and range from a few modern bolt actions to highly modified rifles built around single-shot Marlin Ballard falling block actions from the late 1800s.

“Most of the rifles I shoot were manufactured over 100 years ago. It’s like having a living history in your hands,” McCash says. “I’m just the current caretaker of it. It’s had several owners before me, and hopefully it will have several others when I’m gone.”

Some are finely engraved and kept in safes, such as Jim Cain’s original German schuetzen verein rifle, given by a representative of the Kaiser as a gift to a man on his 21st birthday in 1895.

The competition includes several categories for rifles with scopes and iron sights shot offhand and standing from a rest, on a board with stairstep cutouts for shooters of various heights.

The Rahes — both now deceased — left money in their will that the club used to buy 10 acres where the range is today, about five miles west of Loop 337 just off Texas Highway 46. At the gate stands a Texas Historical Commission marker erected in 2009 during the club’s 160th year.

During its long history, the club was forced to move five times because of New Braunfels’ growth, but members plan to stay a long time in their current location, a 2,400-square-foot clubhouse built with sweat equity and mostly donated materials four years ago. It’s the first time club members have enjoyed indoor toilets, much less a full kitchen and air conditioning. The facility — decorated with plaques, trophies and photos dating back to the 1800s — goes beyond potluck meals and barbecues at practice shoots and prize matches. It also serves as a gathering place for Super Bowl parties, anniversaries and birthdays.

Jessica McLean celebrated her Sweet 16 party there in 2008. Shooting since she was old enough to hold a gun, the daughter of board member Marshall McLean and treasurer Jean McLean became an active member at age 13.

“It’s not about the competition. It’s about the camaraderie between the adults and the kids, the relationships you build,” Jessica says. “They treat me like a younger version of an adult, and adults usually don’t treat kids like that.”

At a practice shoot, Boogie Vivroux, still a deadeye at 75, scored for Jessica, then asked her to score for him.

“You don’t get people so far removed in age getting along so well at many other places,” Vivroux says. “This is something I’m going to support all the way through life, even if I have to drive down here for two days to shoot.”

The original German pioneers and founders of the New Braunfels Schuetzen Verein, who rode horses to the club, would not comprehend automobiles, Jessica’s modern slang or Jordan’s texting on a cell phone. But, no doubt, they would appreciate the passion for continuing their legacy.

 

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