Skip to main content

Shooter's Showcase: The Hammerli Model 103 Free Pistol

Shooter's Showcase: The Hammerli Model 103 Free Pistol
The Hammerli Model 103 Free Pistol is the one modern firearm that can claim direct descent from the dueling pistols of the 18th century.

The annual parade of new products at the SHOT Show is now a deluge, so overwhelming that no one can possibly take in everything, much less evaluate it all. And anyway, in my lifetime with guns, there are still many old but fascinating artifacts I have not yet worked with. One such is the Hammerli free pistol.

The Olympic free pistol is the one modern firearm that can claim direct descent from the dueling pistols of the 18th century. Those were single-shot muzzleloaders, exquisitely crafted to deliver the ultimate in reliability, made in matched pairs, and fitted with hair triggers. Among others, the Manton brothers of London made dueling pistols, and this led indirectly to the English “best” shotgun.

Dueling survived on the Continent long after it declined in England. In Paris in 1812, Gastinne Renette set up an indoor shooting range to teach young men how to shoot, should they be challenged to a duel. Gastinne Renette survived as a dealer in fine sporting guns until 2003.

Through the late 19th century, competitive shooting with handguns became popular, and a whole generation of “gallery” guns was developed for indoor competition. When the Olympics were revived in 1896, shooting events were prominent.


The “free pistol” event was exactly as it sounds, competing with a pistol that was almost completely free of restrictions. Any barrel length, weight, trigger pull—the object was to produce the best score with no equipment limitations other than the use of open sights.


The greatest names in handguns produced pistols for these competitions, including Webley and Beretta. After 1945, the one that dominated was Hammerli of Switzerland. It became the name in target pistols.

Today, the Olympic free-pistol event consists of 60 shots at 50 meters (54.68 yards), with a two-hour time limit. The 10-ring is five centimeters (1.97 inches) in diameter, and the current record is 583/600. For this, competitors cheerfully pay $10 a box for 50 rounds of Eley Pistol Match ammunition, compared to $2.25 for standard stuff.

Having been intrigued by Hammerli free pistols since my teenage years, but never handled or shot one, when I came across a classic from 1960, I snapped it up. The urge to see how I could do, compared with Olympic masters, was irresistible.

In 1956, Hammerli introduced a new model: the 101. It was followed by the 102 and the deluxe Model 103. A modified design (104–107) replaced that family in 1961. Mine is a 103, and while it is an unapologetic target pistol, it retains the hallmarks of dueling-pistol craftsmanship: a lovely walnut stock with graceful Schnäbel, an 11-inch octagonal barrel, and the classic trigger bow that graces a London gun.


The Hammerli 103 was the only pistol included in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s “Design in Sport” exhibition, held in the early 1960s. The later Model 107, the deluxe member of the 104 family, was in the “Tools of Man” exhibit at Expo ’67, the Montreal World’s Fair.

Hammerli built these pistols using a scaled-down Martini-Henry action. The breechblock is operated by a lever inside the grip, and cocking is a separate action with a lever on the side. The trigger can be adjusted down to a fraction of an ounce. A lockable screw protrudes from the trigger face, and this is adjusted to suit finger length—vastly easier than moving the trigger itself.

The trend in competition pistols today is to purely high-tech functionalism. Who cares what it looks like? The score is what matters. The Hammerli 103, however, is a throwback to the original principles that guided the crafting of dueling pistols, and like an English shotgun, you can just sit back and admire it. When the time comes to burn powder, however, it is a tightly crafted machine. Not only can you win matches, but also you’ll look like a gentleman doing it.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While the 6mm-caliber cartridges that can be considered “great” are few in number, some have long and storied histories.12 Great 6mm Cartridges Ammo

12 Great 6mm Cartridges

Steve Gash - August 20, 2020

While the 6mm-caliber cartridges that can be considered “great” are few in number, some have...

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.Accuracy: It's All Relative How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

Improved bullet ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance and accuracy downrange without upping blast and recoil. Here's why.Improved Ballistics a Key to Accurate Long-Range Shooting How-To

Improved Ballistics a Key to Accurate Long-Range Shooting

Rick Jamison

Improved bullet ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance and accuracy downrange...

See More Trending Articles

More Handguns

The Springfield Hellcat is also available in the OSP (Optical Sight Pistol) version, which has the same open sights as the standard model but a 0.190-inch-deep mortise machined into the top of the slide is a snug fit for a micro red-dot sight. It comes with a removable steel plate that fills the mortise, giving the user the option of using the gun with or without a red-dot sight. Embedding the optic allows the open sights to be viewed without having to make them uncommonly tall.Springfield Hellcat OSP Review Handguns

Springfield Hellcat OSP Review

Layne Simpson - June 18, 2020

The Springfield Hellcat is also available in the OSP (Optical Sight Pistol) version, which has...

The painful part about Brian Lohman Manufacturing's new YMIR Model 1911 is that it carries a retail price of $6,999. Not many of us can afford to pay that much for a pistol, but if you think of this gun as being a piece of art, one that you can actually use and then pass down to an heir, then maybe the sting of its price is tolerable.Lohman YMIR 1911 Review Handguns

Lohman YMIR 1911 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - June 16, 2020

The painful part about Brian Lohman Manufacturing's new YMIR Model 1911 is that it carries a...

The Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum—a favorite of sixgun superstars—refuses to go out of style.Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum Review Handguns

Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum Review

Payton Miller - May 20, 2020

The Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum—a favorite of sixgun superstars—refuses to go...

The new .22 LR Ruger Lite Rack LCP II is an ideal rimfire trainer to the popular .380 ACP LCP II pocket pistol.Ruger Lite Rack LCP II Review Handguns

Ruger Lite Rack LCP II Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - June 01, 2020

The new .22 LR Ruger Lite Rack LCP II is an ideal rimfire trainer to the popular .380 ACP LCP...

See More Handguns

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now