Bluff SchuetzenVerein Laser Shooting Range - Make: Community
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Bluff SchuetzenVerein Laser Shooting Range

By Gregory Walker

This project is a reimaging of an historic German-Texas Shooting Contest (SchuetzenFest). We designed and built replica target rifles that shoot laser pulses. We also built photodetector-based targets of authentic appearance.

Type: Education

State: Texas
Country: United States
Affiliation: Makerspace
Team Members:
Gavin Miculka - Historian
Sherry Chernenko - Carpenter
Jim Bob Salazar - Artist and Technician
John Curl - Technician
Jasmina Kocurek - Artist
Greg Walker - Electronics and Software


What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?

German immigrants established schuetzenverein, or marksmanship clubs, throughout the US in the late 19th century. One such club was established in the German-Texan settlement of Bluff, part of which is located on the present-day grounds of Kreische Brewery & Monument Hill State Historic Sites in La Grange, TX. While the Bluff Schuetzenverein became an important social organization for the local German Texan community, marksmanship competitions remained a central tradition. Sites staff and volunteers sought to interpret the history and traditions of the Bluff Schuetzenverein through safe, educational, and hands-on public programming. Site managers proposed we create a laser-based shooting range to bring these historic shooting competitions alive. I jumped at the chance to apply the latest Arduino technology to reinvent a traditional, landmark sport.

What is your project about and how does it work?

The Bluff Schuetzenverein Laser Shooting Range and its components are modeled off artifacts and historical records preserved by Kreische Brewery & Monument Hill State Historic Sites. Mock rifles were designed and constructed based on an 1894 schuetzen rifle. Shooting targets were inspired by historical accounts of those used at 19th-century Bluff Schuetzenverein competitions. Arduino technology was hidden within the mock rifle stock and behind the target, board to program the shooting range’s laser operation.

Participants were allowed ten laser shots before the rifle was reset using a magnet hidden inside a historically inspired cartridge box. The rifle technology also provided gunfire and reloading sound effects. Accurately shot laser pulses struck a photosensor located within the target. Direct hits to the target’s bullseye resulted in sound effects and recorded the participant’s score (up to 10) on a numbered and lighted LED strip. High scores were recorded on a leaderboard.

What did you learn by doing this project?

This is the largest Arduino-based project that I have attempted. I started by making simple prototype circuits with basic software functions. After showing these to the team, we would discuss changes and possibilities for future enhancements. Developing our ideas from a vague goal into an elaborate reality was exciting.

I gained a detailed understanding of the latest high-performance Arduino class processors. I was especially pleased to discover a library to play 10-bit audio, a website with free sound effects, and a program to convert audio files to Arduino source code. These sound effects and music greatly added to the appeal of the final project.

I underestimated how complex the project would become, and I also underestimated the effort required to build the circuits for four (4) guns and three (3) targets. By the end of the project, my soldering skills were much improved.

What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?

Shooting competitions were central to many events of the historic Bluff Schuetzenverein. In hosting the inaugural Bluff SchuetzenFest at Kreische Brewery & Monument Hill State Historic Sites in May 2022, it was difficult to imagine an event without highlighting this tradition in one way or another. Through the laser shooting range, SchuetzenFest attendees were able to step back in time to experience and learn about the community's history and traditions from the perspective of Bluff Schuetzenverein competitors. We look forward to setting up the laser shooting range at future events so that visitors can learn about more our community's German Texas heritage.

The project revealed and united the talents of many team members who worked collaboratively to produce an educational product for the community. The project allowed team members to learn more about local history and develop creative ways to share that history with our community and visitors.