Targo! Gone But Not Forgotten

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A low fedora disguises the face of the shooter who has just missed his minute Targo target in this period ad from Mossberg.
A low fedora disguises the face of the shooter who has just missed his minute Targo target in this period ad from Mossberg.

History doesn't record who thought up Targo — a game of miniature skeet. However, Mossberg must take some of the responsibility, because they promoted the game and made guns for it.

Zing!” the ads said. “And out sails the target. Bang, goes the gun — a puff of powdery black appears against the sky as the pellets find their mark — and there’s the top-notch thrill for every shooter!” Thus in Fall 1940 did Mossberg introduce Targo, the latest craze in clay shooting.

Can’t You Feel the Excitement?

As a hopeless dub at the trap range, I find it difficult to hit a moving clay bird with a cylinder-bore 31/2-inch 10-gauge loaded with 2 ounces of cubed No. 9 shot over a spreader wad. I shudder at the thought of playing Targo, a game of mini-skeet, in which you tried to hit a 2 11/16-inch flying disc with a .22 shotshell. But for some clay shooters who couldn’t get enough of a good thing, Targo must have seemed a godsend.

History doesn’t record who thought up Targo, but Mossberg must take some of the responsibility. They promoted the game, marketed the Targo trap thrower and made the guns for it. The basic idea must have been inspired by that red-headed stepchild of American rimfire cartridges, the .22 shotshell.

Genesis

The lowly .22 shotshell has always pouted on the edge of respectability. Many shooters probably didn’t even notice it in the 1900 Sears, Roebuck Wish Book, where it made an early appearance. Almost lost in a snarl of cornets, gramophones, celluloid collars and buggy whips, it peeped up from the sporting-goods section, banished to a corner of the page reserved for pinfires and other losers, priced at $5.25 per thousand, Cash On Delivery.

We don’t know who invented it or why. It might have been developed for pest shooting or for use in shot-out rifles that wouldn’t shoot straight, anyway. Apparently, the Stevens No. 161/2 “Favorite” smoothbore was the first factory gun chambered for it.

At the time, Targo was just a glimmer in Mossberg’s eye.

The first .22 shotshell was based on the .22 Long case. A cardboard-over-powder wad separated the powder from the No. 12 shot — one size larger than dust — and a greased overshot wad was crimped in place at the neck. Those stubby rounds must not have cut the mustard, because manufacturers soon began offering the .22 shotshell in the elongated, pucker-crimped case we know today.

In shotgun terms, the .22 shotshell is a ridiculous 430-gauge, since it takes about that many .22-caliber roundballs to weigh 1 pound. The typical .22 shotshell contains 175 No. 12 pellets, give or take. (I know. I have counted them.) Each pellet has a diameter of only .005-inch, just about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Introduction

During the relative calm before the storm of World War II, Mossberg rolled out Targo. The game apparently wasn’t bound by an iron girdle of rules and regulations. The bird sailed away, and you tried to hit it. If you did, you won. If you didn’t, you were like most people.

Mossberg’s first Targo gun was the bolt-action smoothbore 42TR, which had an eight-shot detachable magazine, though a 15-shooter was available as an option. So as not to doom it to a lifetime of missed Targo birds, Mossberg also supplied the gun with the novel RA-1 Rifle Adapter, a 4-inch section of rifled barrel that screwed onto the 42TR’s muzzle. (And you thought that rifled choke tubes were something new!)

But there was more to Targo than the 42TR. To play the game as sanctioned by Mossberg, you needed the entire setup, and it was rolled out in high style. You could buy the 42TR separately, of course, but the serious Targo addict would want the cased kit. The Blue Book of Gun Values by S.P. Fjestad records fewer than a dozen cased Targo kits in existence today.

According to one of my correspondents, Bob of Skeetmaster, “The set came with rubber practice birds, some clays, a net, a clay carrier for your belt, the thrower and adapters (smoothbore and rifled). I assume the net was for the clays that you missed, preventing them from hitting the ground and breaking.” (By the way, Bob has collected a lot of Targo material but is still seeking a practice net. If anyone has one gathering dust, contact me at Gun List, and I’ll forward your info to Bob.)

The standard Targo kit included the Model 1A thrower, which attached to the barrel of the rifle and was operated by the shooter. That way, the Targophile could enjoy his solitary pleasure without the shame of being observed. The 1A could also be mounted on a pistol-shaped frame or used as a freestanding unit, which presumably would expose you to the ridicule of your trap operator.

Understandably, the pistol-mounted and free-standing throwers are rare today.

Mossberg pumped up Targo in a big way, offering six models aimed at the sport: the 26T and 320 TR single-shots, and the 42TR, 42T, B42T and 340TR bolt-action repeaters. Targo must have been fairly popular because it inspired several knockoffs, the most notable of which was Moskeeto. Moskeeto won a sort of official recognition when it was adopted by the Royal Canadian Air Force as a training aid during the war. Apparently, the thinking was that if you could hit a wafer-sized clay bird with a .22 shotgun, shooting down an ME-109 with a machine gun would seem easy.

The Idea Survives

Targo was discontinued by Mossberg in the mid-’60s, but the idea of mini-skeet wasn’t dead. A Gun Digest of that era reported that Remington, incredibly, was entertaining the notion of introducing a coin-operated mini-skeet game built around a special .310 shotshell. The idea was dead on arrival, however, a soon-forgotten victim of its improbability.

If you have an irresistible urge to play Targo, my advice is to seek professional help immediately.

However, the guns, launchers and even the tiny birds are available through the on-line gun-auction sites. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives classifies the Model 42TR Targo under Section II as “Firearms Classified As Curios Or Relics.”


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5 COMMENTS

  1. I have a targo trap mod #1 in the box included are thrower,do’s” and don’ts booklet,belt target carrier, five targets, target carrier booklet,No.1 targo parts list,No.1 targo trap instructions, one bag 6 screws, 1 envelope to request special brackets addressed to O.F. MOSSBERG & SONS INC. 131 ST. JOHN ST. NEW HAVEN, CONN. LOOKING FOR BEST OFFER. THANKS FOR LOOKING

    RICH

  2. Dan, I have one of the seven hardcased model 42tr targo rifles shipped by Mossberg. I believe it is complete as shipped. I also have 600 targets that were bought in the 40’s with this gun. I am interested in selling this if you know anyone interested. You can reach me at [email protected], Thankyou

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