He tells how his name came to adorn 80 percent of the air rifles and .22 rifles at the world’s greatest shooting event, and divulges what’s coming up from his German gun firm.
Observers at the recently completed Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games had no trouble recognizing which brand of air rifles, standard rifles, and free rifles dominated the choices of almost all athletes in the long-gun disciplines: Anschutz. Shooter surveys at the Olympics show that as many as 85 percents of the competitors used Anschutz products in the five men’s and women’s rifle events. No other company in the segments of ammunition, boots, coats, or glasses holds a similar edge. But why? Other big names in Olympic rifle making—Walther and Feinwerkbau, to name two—make what appear to be comparable products.
To find out how Anschutz has created such loyalty among the world’s top shooters, we pulled up a chair during the Atlanta Olympic Games and spoke with Dieter Anschutz. Dieter Anschutz, 66, is the company’s owner and is the great grandson of Julius Gottfried Anschutz, who founded the original Anschutz factory in Zella Mehlis, Germany, in 1856. Dieter’s father, Max Anschutz, and uncle, Rudolf Anschutz, refounded the company in Ulm, West Germany, in 1950, to escape the control of the East Germans, who controlled the Zella Mehlis region after World War II.
The company began building its competitive niche when Anschutz rifles swept the 50-meter prone event in the 1960 Rome Olympics. Then, in the 1962 World Championship at Cairo, Karl Wenk of Germany took the 50-meter prone, and kneeling events and Gary Anderson of the United States won the standing and three position events with Anschutz rifles.
Soon after that eight out of ten world-class competitive shooters began using Anschutz’s Super Match rifles, a trend that has continued through the current free-rifle model, the highly regarded 2013.
Performance Shooter: The thing we’re most curious about is why you’re so dominant?
Anschutz: The shooters select the rifles they think they can win with. And the rifles they trust. When we came out with our first [model] 54, the first big match we had with this gun was in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. We won all the prone. We won all the position events. That started it.
Performance Shooter: Is it true that athletes began to trust Anschutz rifles because of the company, and you, in particular, paid personal attention to their needs?
Anschutz: There may be a little bit to that. But a shooter wants to shoot tens. And when he’s able to shoot a gun, but he doesn’t hit the ten, he doesn’t like it. You can do an advertisement or anything else, but if the rifle can’t shoot tens, then the top shooters will not use it.
Performance Shooter: Do you think the biggest advantage regarding raw accuracy is in your barrel, your action, your trigger?
Anschutz: Everything. There are so many little things built into this rifle to bring the right performance. And we are always leading new development. One time, I learned it was necessary to have an adjustable cheek piece. We were the first ones to have an adjustable cheek piece.
Performance Shooter: You also have the reputation for finding shooting talent and getting your gun in promising young shooters’ hands.
Anschutz: I’ll tell you a story about Gary Anderson. Anderson was a young fellow when I met him at a shooting range. He was a nice guy, and he didn’t have any money. I sent him a rifle. I was astonished when I came in 1962 to the world championships. Anderson won two gold medals in the three-position standing and the total, and his total was a new world record.
Performance Shooter: Now, the modifications to Anderson’s rifle—like the under-stock left-hand bolt extension—he did those.
Anschutz: No. I did those. And he won many medals.
Performance Shooter: You said that development was so important. How do you stay ahead?
Anschutz: It happens when I speak with shooters. Shooters will come to me and say, “Will you try this or this?” And when we think maybe he’s right, then we try that. This new gun that you see here is the first one in the world that will be ready for the new rules for women’s three-position shooting. I heard about the rule changes for next year’s competitions for the ladies and built a prototype to fit the new weight limit. I looked at the shape of the free rifle and built a smaller rifle that will weigh less than 6.5 kilos. The new stock will allow the ladies to use the same barreled action they have in their standard rifles—the ones they have now—so they don’t have to spend so much more money. They essentially will be able to replace the stock. This is change the ladies have wanted for 10 or 15 years. They want to be able to use a hook butt plate like the men, even though they are already shooting scores with standard rifles that are as good as the men’s scores. But the way we are making this change will allow each lady to decide when she wants to change. The smaller women, like the Japanese, may want to stay with the lighter standard rifles longer than, the bigger women, like the Americans and the Germans. We want to let them shoot what they want. I think this rifle will be a favorite among the women very soon.
Performance Shooter: So this gun is the only prototype? The only gun like it in existence.
Anschutz: This is the only one. It is two weeks old.
Performance Shooter: That’s a pretty short development time.
Anschutz: We used the same things we already have in our other guns. We know how to build adjustable butt plates. We just made the stock thinner and shallower to fit the women shooters better.
Performance Shooter: Another thing we’ve noticed here at the Olympics is the widespread use of your new rear sight, which is adjustable for cant.
Anschutz: Yes. It is a trendy item. It is very, very precision. You don’t need a sight so precise. But you have to make the shooters sure that when they correct, it is there.
Performance Shooter: We’ve shot a number of your guns over the last year, and they’ve all shot many different types of ammunition well. What’s the critical dimension in your guns that make them so accurate: the chamber tightness. The length? What is it?
Anschutz: It is so many different things. We make our guns shoot a broad section of ammunition well, but every gun is different. Fiocchi, Eley Tenex, Lapua, Federal all have slightly different tolerances, even inside the same lots of ammunition. It is very difficult to do this, but we do several special things I don’t want to tell you because when you write a book about this, then everyone would know our secrets. Besides, it is not so much the dimensions that make the guns shoot. It is our control of the manufacturing process. Anyone can find our what our chamber measurements are by making a chamber casting. It is our ability to monitor the manufacturing of those tolerances that is difficult.
Performance Shooter: What’s the limitation on accuracy in these guns? If your guns could shoot the best possible ammo for them, what kind of accuracy could a customer expect?
Anschutz: At 50 meters, if you can get a spread of 7 millimeters from the centers of the widest shots in a group, that’s what shooters at this level must have. Certain guns with certain bullets can sometimes get 6 millimeters.
Performance Shooter: Is there a single thing that competitors don’t know about your guns that can help them shoot better? What do you see shooters using your guns doing that is wrong and that they should correct?
Anschutz: When you want to have success with our weapons, you must treat them like your girlfriend, your wife, or both. Very nicely. Take care of it. You look at good shooters, &
After shooting, they clean their guns. Then you can be sure you will have a long life on your rifle. The minimum is that after each time you shoot, clean the bore with a suitable solvent and lightly oil the bore. Also, before you go to a match, check the sights to make sure they are focusing accurately. They must also be lightly oiled to work properly.
Performance Shooter: What else are you working on?
Anschutz: We are working on a free pistol for the airgun matches. We are also working on a compressed-air air rifle to replace the hand-charged model. It’s easier for the shooter and even more precision. Also, it’s easier to regulate the air pressure in a cylinder than it is with the pneumatic type or a CO2 type.
Performance Shooter: Do you think electronic triggers will become more prominent?
Anschutz: We had an electronic trigger that was very nice and refined, but it was slower than a mechanical trigger.
Performance Shooter: Slower?
Anschutz: Yes, slower. In a mechanical trigger, you can lap the metal surfaces to make them smooth and fast. If the sear is set correctly, there is only the slightest bit of metal holding the firing pin. In an electronic trigger, you must make magnets release the sear, which is slower.
Performance Shooter: What about electronic ignition?
Anschutz: We also had that, but there were reliability problems.
Performance Shooter: Do you think that autoloaders could work in the international competitions if the rules were changed to accommodate them?
Anschutz: If the rules were changed to allow magazines, we might be able to build a gun as accurate as our bolt guns except for the feeding problems. It would be difficult for the shooter to get the magazine feeding as consistent as hand feeding.