Handgun silhouette is a pistol competition that started in the 1970s. It is derived from a Mexican target competition that started by shooting at live animals at various distances. Americans had a similar tradition with "turkey shoots". Both traditions have transitioned to inanimate targets, which are easier to score, and are more  uniform than live targets.
The targets used today are derived from the live targets. They are steel silhouettes of chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams. The targets are set on flat bases. They give a satisfying clang when hit. A hit counts for score if the target is knocked over.

There are four stages of five targets each. Each set of five targets are the same silhouette, shot at the same distance.  A match usually consists of 40-80 targets shot at with an equal number of rounds, one shot per target.

The distance to each set of targets and the size of the targets used depend on the category of pistol used in the competition.
There are several categories of firearms to compete in. They include Big Bore, Small bore, Field Pistol, and Air Pistol.

 - Big Bore consists of bottleneck and straight-wall center fire cartridges.

 - Small Bore consists of .22 LR Rimfire ammunition as manufactured.  

Field Pistol consists of straight-wall center fire pistol cartridges of standard manufacture with a maximum case length of 1.29 inches, the .32-20 cartridge (1.32 inches), the .270 REN, the .22 Hornet, .25-20, and the .22 LR and .22 WMR Rimfire as manufactured.

Air Pistols shall be .22 caliber or smaller.

Categories are further subdivided into separate competitions for production and unlimited handguns, standing and freestyle positions.   Targets come in full size, half size, 3/8 size, 1/5 size and 1/10 size. The targets are matched to the appropriate categories. The apparent size of the target is similar for each distance shot at.

Graphic showing the relative size of the targets in minutes of angle. One minute of angle is 1 inch at 100 yards, or 1.1 inches at 100 meters. Each increment on the scale is two minutes of angle. This sounds complicated, but in practice, it is not. It means that the targets will look about the same size to the shooter for all four ranges. Charts showing the targets used for each competition are available in the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) rule book. Handgun Silhouette is a fun sport to shoot and to watch. The targets give off a loud clang and usually fall over when hit.  Sometimes the targets are hit, spin around, but do not go over. That is counted as a miss.

by Dean Weingarten