Adolph Toepperwein
All Time Rifle Champ (An Excerpt)

By Charles Askins, Jr.
American Rifleman, June 1950

...A short time later-in 1894 to be exact-a long hungry six-foot Texan came drifting up out of Mexico. He had been down there with a circus for almost a year putting on rifle and pistol shooting exhibitions. Without fanfare or publicity the six-footer broke 955 out of 1,000 clay discs, 2 1/4 inches in diameter. This was in no way a record unless the mere fact that the shooting at clay discs constituted the establishment of a record. It is probably more worthy of note for the fact that this Texan went on to become the greatest shooter the world has ever known.

His name was Toepperwein. His father who was the greatest Schuetzen marksman about San Antonio had christened him Adolph. From his modest beginning on the clay discs, "Ad" Toepperwein went on not only to establish shooting records which have bettered all of those fired by his contemporaries, but records so unbelievably high as to stand for all time.

Far from being solely interested in smashing more glass balls than the next fellow, Toepperwein had a hundred tricks of shooting legerdemain up his sleeve, tricks so remarkably difficult and so beautifully coordinated and executed that many of them have never been duplicated by any gunner. For fifty three years this brilliant Texan toured the country putting on his gunning shows and inspiring countless millions of young Americans to emulate him...

A short while after his preliminary attempt on the clay discs, "Top" tried again and this time he pulverized 987, followed,in a short time by 989. Then by way of a little diversion he cracked down on 1500 regulation clay birds and hit all of them. This was with a .22 automatic rifle, the first 1,000 targets being thrown at 30 feet rise, the last .500 at 40 feet rise.

The same year Top switched from discs and clay birds to wooden blocks, 1 1/2 inches by 1 3/4 inches in size. Of 5,000 of these fired upon at the Harvard Gun Club, San Antonio, the rising young Texan marksman missed only 46. He had one long run of 1165 without an error. The next year at the World's Fair, St. Louis, he raised this long run to 3507. This time instead of shooting at blocks he was firing at clay discs. The discs were the same size as the blocks but a more difficult target due to their instability in flight.

It was evident Toepperwein had the 60,000 target records of Carver and Bartlett in mind, for in 1907 he shot at 20,000 wooden blocks, sawed 2 1/2 inches in size. During a four-day grind he came out with a bare ten blocks missed out of the total number. He had one long run of 8840 targets without a miss. This was only a warm up for what was to come later. During December of the same year, Top moved into the San Antonio Fair Grounds with a wagonload of .22-caliber fodder, a mountain of wooden blocks (sawed this time to 2 1/4 inches in size) and a busy crew of carpenters who had no other job than to saw more wooden squares. In addition to ammunition, blocks, and sawmen, Top had two official scorers, two judges, and two timekeepers.

Obviously some shooting was going to be done. And it was! When the show wound up some ten days later the ammunition had all been,consumed, the blocks were fit for nothing except kindling, the carpenters had blisters on their hands and Toepperwein and his assistants were completely exhausted. However, a shooting record had been hung up which has stood this almost halfcentury and which is likely to remain in all its pristine glory the next half century.

The announced intention of gunner Toepperwein was to fire at 5,000 thrown blocks each day for a ten-day period. Why Top did not plan to fire at 60,000 targets as Carver and Bartlett had done is not known. However, as it turned out, and as the shooting progressed, he not only shot at sixty thousand targets but a considerable number in excess of that. The weather was cold and wet, it was December and even in sunny San Antonio it can be very disagreeable at this time of the year. Despite the elements, Toepperwein ran far ahead of his daily quota of 5,000 targets and after the completion of the second day's firing, it was decided to shoot just as long as ammunition and targets held out.

Although he had begun with three assistants who had no other job than to toss the tiny blocks into the air for some seven hours daily, these worthies soon suffered from such severely aching arms that Toepperwein was compelled to send out a hasty SOS for new and fresh throwers. These were rapidly recruited and in their enthusiasm quite often heaved the little blocks like baseballs, all of which put an additional burden on the tiring marksman. The throwers weren't the, only people who were suffering from well-developed Charlie horses. When you consider that the rifle which Toepperwein was using weighed about 5 1/4 pounds and he had to raise it some six to eight thousand times daily, it can instantly be appreciated that in addition to being a test of marksmanship this marathon was a full-blown weight-lifting contest as well.

Toepperwein, in relating the details of this grind these many years later, recollects that he finally got so he could get his arms up to shoulder height but once he had laboriously raised them to this height he could not get them down again. And once he had slowly and painfully gotten them to hang normally at his sides, he could not persuade them to rise again. At night he saw flying wooden blocks during his dreams and the monotonous voices of his judges calling "Hit, hit . . .," droned in his ears awake and asleep.

Supplied with 50,000 rounds of ammunition-which, if you will remember, was the amount originally intended to be expended, and which was a lot of cartridges in those days and furnished with sufficient lumber for 50,000 blocks, a frantic scramble began when the ammo was exhausted and it was apparent our gunner was going to establish a long distance record,. All the hardware emporiums and sporting goods stores in San Antonio and environs were scraped for available .22 fodder. The supply of blocks became exhausted and Toepperwein commenced on the larger pieces. As these fragments were burst asunder he salvaged what was left of the splinters and shot at them.

At the end of ten days our shooting Texan had fired 72,500 shots at as many wooden blocks. His ammunition was all gone, his supply of wooden targets consumed, his assistants were markedly worn down, and Toepperwein was far from the chipper young hombre who had begun so eagerly and confidently a week and a half before. But of the 72,500 winging pieces of wood which had been fired upon only nine were missed!

The longest run without a miss had been 14,500 targets. This score stands today as a record not only in number of targets fired upon but in number hit, and for the long run string without a miss.

During most of his shooting years, Ad Toepperwein's wife `Plinky' was his constant companion on the range. An exhibition shooter of remarkable ability, Plinky like her husband set records which stood for many years.

One of her feats was the establishment of a record for the greatest number of shots fired in an unbroken run over regulation traps. The exhibition took place over the traps at the Montgomery (Ala.) Country Club. `Plinky' shot at 2,000 targets, breaking 1,952, or 97.6 percent. The actual time consumed was three hours and 15 minutes; total time, five hours and 20 minutes, which included time taken up in cooling the gun barrel and unpacking targets. Mrs. Toepperwein used but one gun; she broke 975 out of her first 1,000 targets, and 977 of the last 1,000. The targets were thrown the regulation distance from one automatic trap. The score was shot in strings of 25, from five positions, under the same conditions governing all tournaments. In her first 100 she scored 96; and broke 484 out of the first 500, making a run of 111 straight. In the second 500 she broke 491, and made a run of 280, losing a sharp right quarterer which was dusted hard. In the third 500 she scored 488, her longest run being 139. In the last 500 she broke 489, and ran 106 straight. She finished strongly, dropping but two targets in the last 100. The fact that she scored more targets in the last 1,000 than in the first, was evidence of her wonderful grit and endurance.

Today (1950) Ad Toepperwein, sole survivor of the fabulous 'shooting Toepperweins,' lives quietly in San Antonio. He is eighty years old. His beloved Plinky, veteran and gunning partner of his years of exhibition shooting, died in 1945. Failing eyesight has taken its toll, and Top no longer attempts the feats of old. His interest in shooting, however, has never waned. At his shooting lodge outside San Antonio his friends gather weekly for open-house shooting sessions where they blaze away at the myriad targets which Top has provided. Ad Toepperwein, greatest of them all, still can't stay away from the smell of burning powder!