Our Rifles

Playthings in Peace — Weapons in War

Now comes again the ancient propaganda, spread by a vicious few, of international disarmament and everlasting peace. This pernicious doctrine, as old as nations themselves, and now proclaimed anew on the one hand by those who are educationally or mentally defective and on the other by seekers of gain who are knaves, is dangerous to all nations and especially menacing to the strength, the safety, and even the existence of our own United States.

Books may be filled with the pros and cons. Committees, jurists and international delegates may spend weeks and months in contemplation and argument. After all has been said everything may be rejected as not fundamental except a few-basic facts. These are the basic facts:

Belligerent human nature has not changed since

Creation. Until human nature becomes divine, and on this earth it never will, certain causes will result in strife between individuals. Until nations become composed of other than just human beings certain causes must result in war. There never will be any value in written-upon-paper l international agreements not to fight. There - is no problem of everlasting peace.

But there is a very real problem of how to be strong in peacc; not too strong but just strong enough; not for the purpose of being aggressive but for the sake of being always capable of self-defence and yet a little more. Such a safe condition can be secured In this way:

1st, short-term compulsory military training. This will help to regulate our ever-increasing hoodlum element. It will benefit the physique of the masses. By thoroughly assorting each military unit during the period of training with men of the West, the Middle, and the East of this vast country American citizens will become by association and the averaging of speech and customs and mental attitude better amalgamated Americans than they now are. North, South, East and West must not be strangers with different ideals; intimate association alone will cause all to become patriotic Americans; compulsory military training makes the most patriotic citizens. Then, when comes the critical time for immediate defense, the will to cooperate and the knowledge how will save time and treasure and lives and country.

2d, the maintenance at the highest state of efficiency of a considerable body of detached staff officers. In time of peace they will be divided into groups of specialists who will dominate developments and foresee possibilities in warfare adjuncts — communication, arms, tanks, gas, chemical and electrical appurtenances, etc. — and provide sources of their supply to the limit of possible needs. In time of war they will first serve as teachers; in such capacity their value will be inestimable; witness the Second Platts-burg Training Camp for officers, where on the one side the latest knowledge was disseminated by extra competent officers and on the other was assimilated by a large body of college-trained civilians with marvelous speed.

3d, in creating national expertness with the rifle. This is the most important of the three parts of the program. While gas, bacteria and electricity wrill in the next war be factors of fearful power they will in the beginning of a war be accessories of an attacking army. Our main concern in times of peace is with our means of first defense — that is, with that sort of weapon which can be used from the first instant by the masses of citizen-soldiery with the readiness and certainty with which any man uses his bare hands. There is only one such weapon and that is the rifle. Hence we are nationally vitally concerned with it, and the importance of national expertness in rifle use is paramount.

But rifle expertness, unlike knowledge, cannot be conveyed . quickly by an instructor nor be gained by the average man in a short period of intensive training, because to instant and accurate rifle use there is necessary a combination of mental and manual dexterity that comes only by long practice. Therefore our weapon of war must become again, as it was in the days of our ancestors, our plaything in peace.

Rifles as sporting arms alwrays did and still do fascinate many men: they must interest us all if we are to continue our present national life. Of themselves alone they possess uncommon charm. In all the world they are the only instruments of precision which formerly were and can again be works of art, studied for form as carefully as a statue, for masses and disposition of color as a picture, for appropriateness of appearance to purpose as a Parthenon, and at the same time for exactness as an electro-micrometer. They used to be the only tools that required the combination of the crafts of workers in many materials: they used to be and they will again be art and engineering products in one.

Rifled arms are the delight of mathematicians and scientists, affording never ending allurement in the attempt to make them do what they often fail to do and yet arc theoretically capable of doing. Rifles are the average man's Aladdin's lamp; they bring elating thoughts of out-of-doors, by their appearance suggesting sunshine and cloud-shadows, wooded hills against the sky and watered verdant valleys, wind against tanned cheek and leaping blood and eager chase in wilderness adventure.

A rifle is a stimulator, a companion that brings a sense of safety, and a magician that confers wonderful and unlimited power. With it lie life and death; death for him that seeks your life; life, the most precious thing of all, for as long as there is life there is infinite hope, — life for you and your dear ones; and all that goes with life, — home, possessions, friends, family, your chosen kinds of education and religion and government, your nation's existence.

But a rifle's most valuable qualities are for its master. Fired by a poor shot its main worth is to morale; its great powers are at the minimum. In the World War the American soldiers, as a body unskilled marksmen, fired about 7,000 shots for each casualty they produced. It is impossible to insist too strongly that the hit is what counts. In order to be skilled marksmen we must acquire, besides skill at stationary targets with deliberate aim, proficiency at snap-shooting. The man who makes strings of bullseyes on the usual rifle range is a looser at fleeing game and as a soldier is helpless before a running, jumping, dodging charge of enemy infantry. A real rifleman must use his rifle with instant accuracy in the instinctive way that a batsman strikes a flying ball. Range instruction, then, must include snap-shooting by the instinct-method. When a rifleman can make 6 quick hits on a two-foot steel sphere that, starting from a considerable distance comes rolling, bumping and jumping down a long, curved, littered incline, that man is a national asset.

A plaything in peace, the highest use of the rifle is for defense in war. Once more, without skill in shooting, the arm alone confers little power. It is impossible to insist too strongly that the hit is what counts. It is the plain, brutal hit that gets the sportsman's game and saves the soldier's life. It is the hit that wins battles and saves nations. That plain, brutal hit is more mighty than strategy; more mighty than genius; more mighty than national wealth and advantage in numbers and terrain. It is the hit that counts. Strip warfare of everything but that fundamental and see. Governmental powers behind the armies, — preparedness, organization, coordination, vast resources, military skill, — all depend, to win, upon the life that is in the animated chessmen. Take away that life and all is gone. In battle success is, as an element, as simple as this; — your opponent sends a death-dealing missile at you and misses; you send one at him and put him out of action. Multiply by millions and army instead of individual operations exist. So important is accuracy of fire that if the enemy lacks it and you have it he is welcome to ten times your strength and all advantages in position and adjuncts, and you win. The sum and the substance of all shooting is that victory is to the best shot with the best arm.

In days before firearms, England was the strongest European nation because of national skill with the long bow. Practice with the long bow was by law; it was compulsory; it applied to every man, high and low. And it was not a burden to the nation; it did not greatly interfere with business; on the other hand, it was valued as attractive and healthful recreation. England did not maintain a great standing army, because her citizens, by their skill as archers, were themselves stronger than any foreign army.

In the days of our American ancestors the United States maintained its precarious existence only because every man wras a user of arms in time of peace. During the French and Indian Wars, the Revolution, and the War of 1812, Americans were the foremost rifle users of the world. The abundant game that in the times between wars furnished the incentive to shoot is gone forever, but the need for the hobby of arms has come back with redoubled insistence.

America needs government-subsidized rifle practice; regular practice; constant practice; that applies to all men and some women. Apathy will disappear if interest is aroused; sentiment creates interest; the sentiment of arms lies in the lore of arms as told by voice and book.

This book is not for ordnance experts, for it avoids with care the mathematics and the technicalities of the advanced text-book on exterior and interior ballistics. It is for our brothers Tom, Dick and Harry, who form the bulk and the strength of our nation; it is a primer, and a pioneer in the A B C's of rifle sentiment; it is humbly offered in the spirit of help and of patriotism. We who form the fraternity of arms users believe that this sort of contribution to the lore of rifles helps to spread the sentiment which may induce all our countrymen to admire and know and use them, for we are sure that a renewed national sentiment for arms will help to make our nation strong and lasting»


Chapter I Our Sporting Rifles from 1800 to 1920

Flint Lock

The kind of rifle most in use in America in flint-lock days was called the " Kentucky Rifle/' Its origin and development have been told with sufficient detail in Volume 1. Except during the Revolutionary War, when the United States had Kentucky rifles made and issued to troops as military arms, the Kentucky rifle was an all-purpose weapon, the private property of the citizen who used it. But the exigencies of the new and rather helpless government occasionally required the aid of bodies of hardy, wily woodsmen, who could kill a human opponent with every bullet without themselves getting killed. In such times the government called its militia from the central and southern states, and these bodies of men hurried to the scene self-equipped and armed with their own rifles. Kentucky rifles then became military arms. Until 1815 their chief military service was against savages; but in the last battle of the 1812 War they performed a feat unparalleled in history.

In the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815, the American troops were estimated by their leader, General Andrew Jackson, to total about 4,000 men. Of these about 300 were negroes,

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