The advent of smokeless powder did not spell the end to long range black powder shooting. It is very much alive today. The NRA conducts a series of black powder competitions with the Castle Trophy awarded to the winner of the Creedmoor Match. This trophy, which first came to the United States in 1873, and was awarded to Colonel John Bodine as the 1874 International Champion at Creedmoor, is now awarded to the competitor who bests all comers over a 30 shot match, ten shots each at 800, 900, and 1,000 yards. The rifle must be a single shot black powder cartridge arm with period sights and be shot from the supported prone position. The trophy was originally a gift of Lord Elcho, the patron of the Elcho Shield, to the 25th Lanarkshire Volunteers to commemorate their victory over England and Ireland in a match in 1871. The trophy went missing sometime after 1879 and eventually found its way back to the NRA, by purchase, in 1985. For those that say that mysterious things come in threes, the loss of three major long range trophies, the Palma, Leech, and Castle, certainly fits into this category.
United States Army Lieutenant Colonel C. J. Shaffer, who served as the Director of Civilian Marksmanship, Executive Officer of The National Matches and later as a member of the NRA competitions staff, donated a highly engraved German schüetzen rifle as a trophy to be awarded to the high scorer in a match demanding the use of a single shot black powder cartridge arm with period sights. To win the Shaffer Trophy one must shoot twice across a course of fire that requires ten shots standing at 200 yards, ten shots sitting with crossed sticks at 300 yards, and a final stage of ten shots prone at 600 yards with crossed sticks.
While high power held the competitor’s and public interest at the end of the 19th century, and into beginning of the 20th, 22 caliber rimfire smallbore was beginning to make some inroads into outdoor shooting and would add another meaning to the lexicon of long range. At this time the use of .22 rifles was looked upon as primarily an indoor sport for distances up to 25 yards. During World War I Army Captain Edward C. Crossman saw that the smallbore rifle was the perfect tool to teach recruits the fundamentals of marksmanship at much less cost and without the need of extensive outdoor range facilities. During planning for the 1919 National Matches “Ned” Crossman suggested that it was time to schedule some smallbore competition to run in conjunction with the service rifle shooting.
The National Rifle Association thought it a good idea and wasted no time appointing Crossman to set up just such a program. Time was short, the NRA gave Crossman the go ahead in June and the matches were scheduled for August, so Crossman enlisted the aid of some of his friends. Having never organized a smallbore tournament of this scale, Crossman relied upon a British officer, Captain E.J.D. Newitt, who had experience organizing the “miniature” rifle matches at Bisley, England. W. H. Richard of Winchester, Captain Grosvenor L. Wotkyns of the US Army, and Frank Kahrs of Remington Arms Company were also pressed into service preparing the tournament. The program included a slow fire 200-yard stage fired on a reduced military 1,000 yard bull’s-eye with a 7.2 inch five ring surrounding a 4-inch V ring. Unfortunately torrential rains washed out the 200-yard firing line and the match was cancelled.
While the traditional ranges for outdoor smallbore prone are 50 and 100 yards, during the years between World Wars there were two long-range smallbore courses of fire that were quite popular. The first was the Palma-fashioned after its high power brother-that allowed two sighters before 15 record shots at each of 150, 175, and 200 yards. The second match was known as the “Swiss Match”. The target was a 1/5th reduction of the standard six foot by ten foot 1,000 yard ‘C’ target, designated the ‘C5” for smallbore matches. The black bull’s-eye was a 7.2 inch five ring with a four-inch V ring. After the allowed two sighters, the shooter could continue firing for record as long as the shots stayed inside the five ring. Any shot straying out of the black meant an instant end.
These long-range any sight smallbore matches were most popular in the Middle Atlantic States. Popular venues were Sea Girt, New Jersey, Camp Ritchie, Maryland, and Peekskill, New York. From time to time a 300-yard match was held in conjunction with the more common Palma and 200 yard courses of fire. The standard military “A” target, with its ten inch black five ring, was used in this ultra long range smallbore match.
Limited to just two sighting shots a wise long-range smallbore competitor would have taken the time to obtain a good 100 yard zero for both elevation and windage with quality match ammunition. From this point it was simply a matter of clicking up the Winchester 5A, or it’s successor the Lyman 5A telescopic sight a matter of 20 minutes from 100 to 200 yards and 21 minutes more for 300 yards, assuming the bases were 7.2 inches on center. In the mid 1930s, when Lyman, Unertl, and Fecker introduced scopes with larger diameter objective bells and higher magnification, shooters had to go to taller bases to keep the scope clear of the barrel as the externally adjusted scopes were elevated.
At a time when the quality of ammunition and rifles was such that perfect scores at 100 yards were worth space in shooting publications some of the runs of consecutive fives and Vs at 200 yards are phenomenal. Famed belly shooter Thurman Randle, of Texas, and his Winchester 52 rifle “Bacon Getter”, established a national record in 1933 of 196 bulls that would stand for seven years.
During the summer of 1940 the grandly titled “Smallbore All Range Championship” was held at Poughkeepsie, New York. This anysight event called for ten record shots at 50, 100, 150, 175, and 200 yards with sighting shots allowed only at 50 yards. Military style pit service was provided at 150 yards and beyond to insure that the shooters might see shot location. The final match of the day was the Swiss Match. A young Art Jackson lay down at 4 PM with half of a box of Western Super Match ammunition to try his luck. Four and a half hours after he started, the setting sun made it difficult to see the cross hair reticule of his scope and, finally out of ammunition, light, and feeling in his left arm, he was forced to stop with an unofficial count of 325 bulls. The scorekeeper’s official tally marks showed one less and his scorecard declared he had fired a new record of 324 consecutive fives with 238 Vs. The feat stands as a monument to both the endurance of the shooter and the generosity of the bystanders who donated some six boxes of Super Match ammunition to keep him going when his scanty supply gave out.