Match Rifles

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RIFLE SHOOTING HISTORY was made one weekend last August when ten of Great Britain's finest shots took part in a long range match fired at two thousand one hundred yards. No, that's not a misprint. The range: 2100 yards. Five Scots and five English marksmen shot over this fantastic distance with bolt action rifles chambered for the .303 British service cartridge, at Barry on the Angus coast, next to the famous Carnoustie Golf Course. This was the longest range individual rille competition ever staged. Next longest was a similar match, shot at "only" 2,000 yards, fired for record at Gravesend, near London, in 1866—91 years earlier.

This long range shooting developed a special form of rifle which we in Great Britain call simply the Match Rifle. The primary object to Match Rifle shooting has always been to determine the best type of barrel-and-ammunition combination that could be devised in the light of existing knowledge and requirements of the times. In order to achieve highest accuracy, there have never been any restrictions on the position adopted by the firer, when shooting with a Match Rifle. The sport is somewhat like Bench Rest shooting in America, where accuracy

Ma{. Jack Crawford /above) uses teething ring to hold head up aiming at big bullseye (below).

Wolverine Daystate

Admiral Fitzroy Hutton is rigged fore-and-aft, clenches pipe in back position for careful aim. Rifle is short Mauser, barreled .303. Adjusting huge wind flag needed at long Barry ranges is wife of author.

under certain special conditions is the goal. In Bench Rest shooting, the rifle is supported by a wooden bench; in Match Rifle shooting, the firer is himself the rest! In the back position, the rifle is supported completely by the body of the shooter. This position explains the main feature of the Match Rifle, that the back sight is on the extreme heel of the butt stock. This allows the back position shooter to get his eye close to the aperture, and enables the longest possible sight base between backsight and foresight. Since 1905, telescope and optical sights have been allowed on Match Rifles. The distance between sights enables a single lens to be fitted in each, giving magnifications from about 2X to 5X.

Most Match Riflemen use a ring foresight with lens: some use cross hairs. A spirit level on the foresight assists the firer to avoid canting his rifle when firing in the back position. All adjustments, both for elevation and for wind, are made on the backsight; on the more modern types of sight (many sights still in use are 50 years old) quarter-minute elevation and half-minute windage clicks are usual.

These rifles fired in the great shoot at Barry were known in America at the time of the famous long range matches at Creedmoor, Long Island, between British and American teams in the latter part of the last century. The style has remained in vogue in Great Britain and today is fired at Bisley, at distances from 900 to 1200 yards.

However, in British circles from the middle of the last century onwards, rifles have been firfed at greater ranges than 1,200 yards, mainly in experimental tests of rifles and ammunition. In the 1850s, there was a 2.000 yards range at Jacobabad in India (now Pakistan). In 1857, some tests were carried out at 1.850 yards at the British Army's School of Musketry at Hythe. in Kent. In 1860, Horatio

Ross, godson of the great Lord Nelson and first Captain of the Scottish Eighth at Wimbledon, together with his son Edward Ross, first winner of the Queen's Prize in the same year, tested rifles at 1,800 yards. The first real competition at any of these great distances—and very great they were in those days of muzzle loaders and low velocity ammunition—was that run by the N.R.A. at 2,000 yards at Gravesend in 1865 and 1866. In the latter year, the target was 18 by 24 feel, and the winner hit it with 12 out of 20 shots.

At the time of the South African War (1898) considerable emphasis was placed on British Army rifle training at very long distances. Records exist also of collective shoots at 2,800 yards by the British Army in India on tarpaulins 50 yards square laid out horizontally as targets. It was not 'till 1910 that individuals competed with the rifle beyond 1,200 yards. In this year, Colonel John Hopton built a private 1,400 yard range on his property at Canonffrome in Herefordshire. It had one target 9 feet high by 10 feet wide, and he and his friends held annual Match Rifle shoots on it, excluding the War years, from then till his death in the 1930's, when the property was sold. During his last few years, the range was increased to 1,500 and the normal size Bisley long range target, 6 feet by 10 feet, was used and hit with effect.

The writer's father shot at Canonffrome on many occasions between the two World Wars, and always spoke in glowing terms of the enjoyment he got out of these shoots. Thus germinated the idea in the writer's mind of resurrecting ultra long range shooting when he came upon the range at Barry in 1955. For here was found the room to extend the existing 700 yards Army Range back almost ad infinitum. In our over-congested British Isles, it was indeed a unique find!

Wing Cmdr. Arthur Whitlock fires free-floating barrel Mauser from left shoulder, rests forend on right foot. Hooded sight shrouds lens which magnifies target 2X.

Barry Range was built at the end of the last century, and almost undoubtedly at the time was intended as a long range. For although no firing points were built beyond 700 yards, the telephone line was found to go back to 1,700 yards, with telephone boxes at every 100 yards distance. There were 28 target frames in the butts, large enough to take long range targets. No records have been traced, however, of it ever having been used as a long range.

The present 1,200 yards range at Cambridge cost about 500 Pounds to build between the Wars, and it would have cost over double that amount at the present time. The writer's problem at Barry was to build a range about twice that long, for nothing. It was an obvious case for scrounging, begging, borrowing, improvising, and if necessary stealing in order to get what was wanted!

The first requirement was a bulldozer. As luck would have it, there was a Territorial Army Engineer Unit in the neighborhood, and I managed to persuade the owner that range building would provide marvelous training for bulldozer drivers. We started first to build firing points at 900 and 1,000 yards, required for long range Service Rifle shoots; but just before completing the latter the bulldozer broke down, and that was the end of the bulldozer. It was several months before another one could be borrowed, but perseverance paid off and, finally, firing points about three feet high and 20 yards long had been built back to 1,700 yards. This was as far as we got in 1956, but it was just in

Author and Black Watch sergeant discuss big target markers needed on long range.

time to have an ultra-long range Match Rifie shoot in August of that year.

As with the bulldozer, so was wood for the targets supplied by the simple method of giving the Rangewarden a fairly fat tip and asking him to make them for us! This he willingly did. Four were made measuring 10 feet high by 14 feet wide, probably the largest canvas rifle targets ever built. The bull's-eye was made 4 feet 6 inches, the same size as the one on the large target at Canonffrome before the War, for comparative (Continued on page 50)

Rosemary and Capt. Crawford watch targets being scored while Canon Chas. Copland scratches his teeth nervously.

Masai kraal of thornbush keeps cats from getting native cattle.

Wildebeest fell to Keith's .333 OKH rifle, 300 grain soft nose bullet, and was used for leopard bait. Galu, native tracker with Elmer, approved maestro's skill, saying "Piga 'mizzuri," good shot.


Keith with skulls of wildebeest, Grant's and oryx, the leopard cape: two day's hunt in Africa.



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