Origins of the sport

Pancho Villa The sport of metallic silhouette shooting, or silhuetas metallicas, had its origin around 1914 when the rebel leader and strategist Pancho Villa and his men were raiding villages and ranches in the northern state of Chikupehua, Mexico.

On one occasion, having put some distance between themselves and the pursuing Yankee cavalry, the banditos raided a well-stocked ranch in the north where they spent some fourteen days carousing.

Eventually a tequila-induced dispute arose between two of Villa's followers as to who was the better shot. Normally such an argument would have ended in a gunfight. A squad leader, Juan Martinez, decided instead on a shootout using two live steers as targets. The unfortunate animals were tethered to trees at a suitable distant point and the contest began. The contestants were permitted to shoot alternately until one of them succeeded in killing his steer and was judged the winner.

The idea caught on and soon chickens, sheep and goats were literally "roped in" to serve as targets. After the revolution, the Villistas returned to their farms and villas throughout Mexico, taking with them a new sport to be practiced at fiestas in the decades to come.

The practice of shooting at live animal targets continued and was refined with time, using rifles as well as handguns. All hits that drew blood were counted.

The post-WWII era

Shortly after the Second World War, metallic cutout silhouettes began to be substituted for live animals, both for humanitarian as well as practical reasons: there wasn't much chicken left after a direct hit with a high-powered rifle! Even so, the original sport of shooting live animals would continue in the outlying areas until the late 1950's, usually in conjunction with a fiesta.

In 1948, the first match using silhuetas metallicas took place in Mexico City. The gunners still shot turkeys, but metal ones now. The original feathered edition had its neck wrung prior to the contest, after which it was placed on ice and presented to the winner after the match.

The man who really got metallic silhouette shooting started in Mexico was Don Gonzalo Aguilar who was instrumental in staging the Silhuetas Metallicas Nacionales in Mexico City in 1952, four years after he had organized the first informal shoot. The targets were gallinas (chickens) at 200m, gualotes (turkeys) at 385m and borregos (sheep) at 500m. It was several years before the javelina (pig) target came into use.

By the early '60s the sport was well run and controlled, particularly in the north where Le Liga del Norte (the Northern League) had been formed. Soon many Americans were regularly making the pilgrimage across the Rio Grande to participate in the metallic silhouette shooting competitions and before long, the sport was popularized all over the world.