The Record Long Range Score

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This fascinating article by Maj. C. W. Hinman first appeared in Arms And The Man, 4 March 1915. It offers insight into long range rifle shooting in the US during the 1880s, and is a rich resource for contemporary detail on practices of the time.

In a separate article, David Minshall has added some biographic notes on Hinman, and leaves the reader with a stimulating puzzle!

There were three men who have made the score of 224 out of a possible 225 in competition under the old time long range match conditions. Those conditions were a few sighting shots at 800 yards, until the competitors had got “sighted in,” then fifteen shots at 800 yards, fifteen shots at 900 yards and fifteen shots at 1000 yards, making forty-five consecutive scoring shots, no sighting shots being allowed at 900 or 1000 yards. Usually the shooting was interrupted after 800 or 900 yards to allow for a luncheon.

The three men who have made the score of 224 were William Gerrish, in 1880; myself in 1881, both scores being made at Walnut Hill, Mass., and a gentleman named Bell who made his score about 1884 on a range in Iowa. Bell’s 4 was at 800 yards, both Gerrish and myself made ours at 1000 yards. Bell died a few years after he made his score and Gerrish has been dead at least ten years.

The rifles used in “any rifle” long range matches in those days were all of the same type. They were single shot, breech loaders, weighing not more than ten pounds and having a trigger pull of at least three pounds.

The barrels were of soft steel, thirty-four inches long, about one and three sixteenths inches in diameter at the breech and thirteen sixteenths inch at the muzzle. .448 inch to .452 caliber and rifled with five or six grooves. .003 to .005 inch deep concentric with the bore and as wide or wider than the lands. The twist was one turn in eighteen inches. These barrels were chambered for a straight shell 2.6 inches long or for a shorter bottle necked shell of about the same capacity.

The favorite actions were the falling block Sharps, Borchardt or the Remington-Hepburn, but my score was made with the earlier Geiger action which was used so extensively on Remington military rifles. The blow igniting the primer was given in all these actions by a centrally located hammer or striker. The short fore-stock was separate from the butt-stock and both were carefully guarded from rain or undue heat while in use.

The front sight was an “open bead” in a hood and provided with a spirit level and a screw wind gauge giving a lateral adjustment of some fifty feet at 1000 yards. The opening in the bead was large enough to show the whole of the 4-ring at 800 yards.

The rear sight was a long “peep” attached to the heel of the butt stock, giving a distance of about four feet between sights. This sight was provided with a Vernier and a screw adjustment. If correctly adjusted the rear sight was not quite vertical when the spirit level was horizontal. This was to counteract the drift of the bullet and keep the zero of the rifle the same at all distances. Discs with different sized peep holes were used, according to the light: a hole .04 to .06 inch in diameter being commonly used. The disc or sight cup was usually surrounded by a rubber cup some three inches in diameter, so that little outside light reached the eye.

The bullet used weighed 550 grains and was about an inch and one-half in length. It had a cupped base and a point shaped somewhat like the small point of an egg, but more elongated. The temper of the bullet was 1 tin to 11 lead if a thin (.002”) patch was used and 1 tin to 14 lead if the patch was thick (.004”). The patch was of “linen” paper and was wrapped twice around the bullet. The bullet was placed in the bore in front of the shell, there being usually a small air space between the powder and bullet.

The powder used was black, rather slow burning, either Laflin and Rand. “Creedmoor” or Hazard “Sea Shooting.” The usual charge was 105 to 110 grains. I used 112 grains. In loading, the charge of powder was poured slowly through a long tube into the shell and was confined by a thin soft paper wad. At first the powder was carefully weighed, but later it was found that it could be measured by a flask or machine, with sufficient accuracy (1-2 grain).

The back position was used, the butt being held close to the body in the arm pit, the barrel resting between or over the crossed legs.

The rifle was carefully cleaned after each shot. A “Fisher” cleaner (a bristle brush on the stem of which were several soft rubber discs) was taken from a can of water and pushed through the barrel by a rod carrying a flannel rag. Another rod and rag were ‘used, then a rod with an oiled rag and after that another rod and rag were sometimes used.

My score of 224 was shot on the twenty-fourth of August in cloudy weather and a gentle wind from 1 to 4 o’clock, but most of the time from 2 to 3, making necessary a wind allowance of from one to four feet. The temperature was 66 degrees.

At 800 yards the shots would have been contained in a thirty inch circle, but on the average there was too much allowance made for wind. After luncheon the sight was elevated 16 1-2 min. and a well centered group was made. At 1000 yards the sight was elevated 17 1-2 min. and a bull’s-eye at the correct height resulted. The sight was gradually lowered 1 1-2 min. and good elevations obtained until the ninth shot when the sun suddenly came out and the bullet went a couple of inches over the bull. The sight was then lowered 1-2 min. and the remaining shots were bulls.

Some details of the competition which ran through the summer and fall (one score each week) may be of interest. The other competitors were J. F. Brown, Wm. Gerrish, W. H. Jackson, F. J. Rabbeth, H. T. Rockwell, J. S. Sumner, N. Washburn and Salem Wilder. All are now dead but Rabbeth and myself. The competitor having the best aggregate of six scores to take first prize. My aggregate of 1313 was only three more than that of the next man; and there was only about that same difference separating the aggregates of the other men. As an indication of the steadiness with which the rifle shot I had only three 3’s in six consecutive scores (270 shots) and only one of those was the fault of the rifle.

My experience with the old black powder match rifles and the modern smokeless powder rifles using spitzer bullets (the Springfield for example) does not lead me to believe that there is any great difference in accuracy between the two styles. My best shooting with the old style rifle has just been recorded. My best shooting with the Springfield was about seven years ago and was seventeen bulls and one four in eighteen consecutive shots at 1000 yards.

In sights and position the old rifle has great advantages. The shaded open bead is a much better target sight than the upright stud, especially if the light is good. Then the sights on the old rifle were more than twice as far apart as they are on the Springfield. The back position is a much steadier position than the prone, even when the strap is used.

On the other hand the recoil of the Springfield is only about half as heavy as that of the old long range rifle and under like conditions I am inclined to the opinion that wind does not have as much effect on the spitzer 180 grain .30 caliber bullet as it does on the blunt 550 grain .45 caliber bullet. But in long range shooting the conditions are not the same. The .45 caliber bullet in the middle of its trajectory is more than twice as high up in the air as the .30 caliber bullet and so is exposed to a stronger wind. In another respect the old rifle is much harder to shoot than the Springfield. With the old rifle a side inclination of one-half degree will make a lateral difference of one foot at the 1000 yard target. With the Springfield the rifle must be inclined one and one-third degrees to make the same difference.

See: Charles W. Hinman (1849-1922)