An interest in shooting at long ranges is a subject which lies close to the heart of this writer. Impelled by the ancestral voices of two of his forebears who made gunpowder under the well known name of Curtis’s and Harvey and a third who bombarded Sevastopol with 13 inch mortars, he joined the Artillery and spent six years with 25 pounder guns which left him with a taste for long distance lobbing. Civilian life and a necessary reduction in the practical ranges attainable by the order of 90% left him with little choice but Bisley’s Stickledown Range and a limit of 1,200 yards.
This is no treatise on ballistics, the author is neither a scientist nor an engineer and most emphatically not a mathematician. It is really an historical perspective from the earliest times down to the late 19th Century.
What is Long Range?
We must start by seeking a definition of what we mean by "Long Range". This immediately poses the question, "What do we mean by Long?".
In the beginning there was, or so we are led to believe, a proto-man called Homo Erectus. Our readers must, we hope, realise that this expression refers to his stance and not to any particular portion of his anatomy. It would appear that he had learned the art of picking up a stone and bashing his prey with it. One day as "Ugh", for we had better give him a name, took a swing at some passing potential dinner, the stone slipped from his grasp and flew some distance. This had probably happened a great many times in the preceding few hundred thousand years with no more result than mumbled grunts of disgust as the hominid shambled over to recover his lump of rock. But this "Ugh" was a person of genius and distinction possessed of the rudiments of a brain. He connected the rock, its passage through the air, and the thump it made as it landed (possibly on his mate) with a potential for improved destruction of his quarry. Ergo, Long Range is born. This little anecdote serves to establish that "Long Range" means absolutely anything that is a bit further than it was before.
We will pass rapidly over the intervening million years or so when the perfection of every form of muscle and stored energy led to the sling, the woomera, the bow, the ballista, the mangonel and all the other numerous engines that the genius of man has devised for the destruction of his fellow creatures.
The form of stored energy that is the subject of this article is chemical – Gunpowder.
For hundreds of years as powder sought to make its way in the world its potential for long range was rather pathetic. The 15th Century bowman could outshoot any hand cannoneer and yet the evil smelling, sulphurous and patently hellish (in the medieval sense of the word) material obviously exercised an enormous fascination.
The historical reasons for the decline of the bowmen are many and complex and their economic and demographic causes are not our subject. Suffice it to say that by the 16th Century, demand for soldiers, a shortage of strong peasants trained to the bow, the curiosity of the nobility for new hunting weapons, burgeoning science and the growing number of active intelligences freed by the Renaissance, combined to advance the art or science of Gunnery so that by the 17th Century Europe was ready for the first period of rapid development. The second period was the 19th Century.
The 20th Century, in so far as it relates to guns, rifles and artillery, has advanced little beyond the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Aircraft, atomic weapons and rockets have seen to that. Today "Long Range" means beyond the limits of the Solar System and tactical, so called "Short Range" ballistic missile systems deliver their warheads for hundreds of miles. Would Sir William Congreve have regarded 500 miles as "Short Range"?
It would be fair, therefore, to define "Long Range" as meaning either "further than before" or "further than the other fellow", so we will go on to examine some historical and literary references.
The main push behind early gunnery came from the "Great Guns", siege pieces and pieces of position for the defence of places. Range was not a great object in itself, rather more a matter of hurling large projectiles. Light artillery for the field and the use of anti-personnel case-shot merely extended the range enough to avoid the galling fire of infantry. All this was to change dramatically in the 19th Century when small arms suddenly rivaled artillery in range, but we will deal with that later.
The author’s main interest these days is in small arms and so, from this point, artillery will not be referred to again except in so far as it affects small arms.
It was obvious to the early shooters that the matchlock muskets would throw their balls to a great distance. To borrow an expression from the Great Gunners, the "Random" or "Utmost Random" range was very great but the term "Random" is a good description. Random they most certainly were, so we come to another vital part of the equation of long range – "Accuracy". It is no good firing at 1,000 yards if there is not the remotest chance of hitting anything intended to be hit.
Enter rifling. All sorts of reasons have been advanced for the invention of rifling. Spinning the ball in a similar manner to the way the flights, when set at an angle, spin an arrow. Cutting grooves in the barrel to catch the powder fouling, initially without spiral and afterwards spiraled to increase the amount of available groove, are but two of the theories. At this distance in time, it is impossible to say precisely, although the arrow theory seems to have a good claim simply because it makes sense.
Rifling is said to have originated in Augsburg around the year 1498 and certainly target practice with the arquebus was common by then. In the early 16th Century there are references to banning grooved barrels because they were unfair. Students of the duel will recognise this problem arising three hundred years later.
By the 17th Century rifles, both breech and muzzle loading, were in fairly common use. During the English Civil War (1640s) there are a number of accounts of sniping by game keepers or park wardens said to have been using rifles. We can assume that ranges to the order of 250 or 300 yards were achieved.
In Europe the hunting rifle was well established and the Schutzenfest was a feature of the recreational scene amongst the Germanic States. This festival almost certainly predates gunpowder and a specimen of a painted iron target dated to 1413 exists from the Free German City of Esslingen. It bears projectile marks but the nature of the projectiles can only be guessed at.
Thus, by the beginning of the 18th Century we have the riflemen established as persons able to shoot accurately at, by the standards of the day, long range.
During the 18th Century the application of scientific theory based upon observation and experiment expanded rapidly from its 17th Century beginnings. There were a number of treatises of earlier dates, notably that of Nicholas Tartaglia in 1537, followed by Leonard and Thomas Digges in 1571, Diego Ufano in 1614, Robert Norton in 1628 and William Eldred in 1646. These all concerned themselves with artillery and the application of pure mathematics. A good example of the type is John Gray’s A TREATISE OF GUNNERY published in 1731 which is a perfect example of refined mathematics and quite incomprehensible to this writer (who makes no claim to any mathematical ability anyway).
Whilst these elegant exercises in mathematics were being worked out there were still the remnants of medieval belief best characterised by the Bavarian philosopher Herman Moritz, who claimed, in 1522, that as gunpowder was manifestly a devilish product, the balls flew through the air, hither and yon, impelled by a small demon who sat astride them. It was equally self evident that if the ball was spinning rapidly, not even a demon could stay on it and thus it flew straight.
The great Sir Isaac Newton, in the late 17th Century, led the way into the theory of modern physics but it was Benjamin Robins starting in 1727, who was the first true experimentalist combining observation with theory and who became justly known as the Father of Modern Ballistics. His work on the resistance of the air opened up an entirely new field of research. Hitherto the effects of the air were thought to be so inconsiderable on the movements of a dense object that they were ignored. Indeed, John Gray, in his TREATISE of 1731 stated: — "Tis true indeed the resistance of the air is more sensible, but in solid bodies of heavy metal it is also so very inconsiderable that the error occasioned thereby may be neglected." Later, in the same treatise, he permits himself to speculate along the lines subsequently proved by Robins but without imparting any sense of conviction.
Benjamin Robins was a brilliant man who grasped all the fundamentals of ballistics at the same time. During the course of his experiments on the subject of the resistance of the air at various velocities he noted that the smooth bored muskets he was using showed wild deviations in accuracy. This led to his trials with rifle barrels, the results of which were published in the paper read before The Royal Society on 2nd July 1747. Many people are aware of the most famous extract from this in which he forecasts that the first State to adopt the rifle generally will acquire a superiority unequalled since the invention of gunpowder.
Robins tried his hand at small arms ranges then far beyond anything normally attempted. To quote: "…small rifled barrel piece carrying a leaden ball of near half an ounce weight. For this piece, charged with one drachm [This is the Apothecaries’ Measure of 60 grains.] of powder, ranged about 550 yards, at an angle of twelve degrees, with sufficient regularity…" and again "..a rifled barrel piece, loaded at the breech in the English manner. For here the rifles being indented very deep, and the bullet being so large as to fill them up compleatly; I found, that, though it flew with a sufficient exactness to the distance of four or five hundred yards…"
Although he was quoting from the findings of the Bavarian, Leutmann, in the 1720’s, Robins postulated the advantages of increasing sectional density and reducing air resistance by the use of an egg shaped projectile. In fact it was nearly a century before these ideas were fully developed and the round ball reigned supreme until the early years of Queen Victoria.
The round ball, however well formed and at whatever velocity it is launched will never be any sort of use beyond four hundred yards. This distance can, therefore, be taken as "Long Range" for small arms up to the 1840s.
On the analogy of the cannon shooting its great heavy ball much further than any small arm, we find that the logical approach was adopted and a class of small(ish) arm appeared throughout the round ball period. This was the wall piece. Generally, in the British Service this was a smooth bore of one inch calibre with a 54 inch barrel which weighed 35 pounds. The ball was nine tenths of inch (giving a windage of one tenth of an inch) and weighed about 1150 grains using a charge of ten drams (275 grains). The accurate range of these was unlikely to have been more than 400 yards although Colonel Mark Beaufoy, [Note that this author has been erroneously referred to in the past as Henry Beaufoy and also Beaufroy] the author of SCLOPPETARIA (1808) mentions on pages 80 and 81 that Swiss wall pieces at half a mile strike an object the size of a man’s hat. It must be assumed that these were rifled. In his words "Who, five years ago, when rifles were just coming into notice, would have credited the assertion, one telling him that, with practice, 300 yards would be an almost certain distance?"
Ezekiel Baker in his REMARKS ON RIFLE GUNS, Third Edition of 1806 (and later editions) stated - "I have found two hundred yards the greatest range I could fire at to any certainty. At three hundred yards I have fired very well at times when the wind has been calm. At four and five hundred yards I have frequently fired, and I have some times struck the object...."
That unusual man, Colonel George Hanger, Baron Coleraine, who despite his unfortunate later life, had been a capable military man, said in his book TO ALL SPORTSMEN AND PARTICULARLY TO FARMERS AND GAMEKEEPERS (1814) that in the American War, during the 1770’s, a prone rifleman shot the horse of Colonel Tarleton’s bugler at 400 yards. He spoke of the need to be able to hit troops in line at 600 yards. He advocated a heavy barrel, a small bore with one turn in the rifling and a large charge.
Finally, before leaving the subject of what constitutes "Long Range" in the days of the round ball, we will look at the regulations of The Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp Shooters taken from HELPS AND HINTS HOW TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY, written in 1835 by Baron de Berenger. There were four classifications for the qualified shot. To achieve the Fourth Class, 50 yards, on a 30 inch target, five hits out of six shots taken off-hand carried the right to wear a black silk cockade. For the Third Class, as the Fourth, but at 100 yards, and a green centre for the cockade. The Second Class fired at 150 yards with three shots off-hand and three from a rest for an all green cockade. To attain the First Class, and still on the same thirty inch target, six shots were taken at 200 yards, but all from a rest. The all green cockade now sports a bronze skull and crossbones badge and the holders of this honour continued their shooting at ranges of up to three hundred yards.
This, then, was the limit of long range until we enter the percussion era.
The Coming of the New Age
The first essays into improving range were connected with the use of mechanically fitting projectiles. The idea was not new, it crops up at intervals for well over one hundred years. The ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA in the Edition of 1810 discusses at some length the construction of light artillery using spherical ball with studs fitting the rifling. These guns were developed by Doctor Lind and Captain Alexander Blair of the 69th Foot as far back as 1774. The Carron Company were making a one pounder of this description weighing 100 pounds. It was rifled with six semi-circular grooves making one turn in the barrel. To increase their accuracy they were fitted with a telescopic sight incorporating an elevating arc which they called a Collimeter. The British Government adopted the idea of the mechanically fitted projectile with the Brunswick Rifle introduced in 1837.
We have seen that the spherical ball carried its own limitation of range and therefore the only option open was the elongated projectile. In spite of this, the idea of augmenting the weight of the ball by increasing its diameter lingered on and in the British Service the last dying kick of the principle surfaced as late as 1840 in the form of the Heavy Naval Brunswick Rifle. This was .796 calibre (as opposed to the .702 of the army model) with two groove rifling. Fortunately, only one hundred were made of which ninety were actually issued and remained as official stores until the 1860s. Six were used in trials at the Naval Gunnery School, H.M.S. Excellent. The trial records for these may well still exist. In actual practice, using one of these rifles with exactly duplicated bullets and charges a few years ago, we found that the results were wildly inaccurate at 200 yards. The sight leaves are unmarked on all the specimens that have been seen but they were recommended by Captain Sir Thomas Hastings of H.M.S. Excellent to be marked up to 470 yards. What sort of results could have been obtained at that range is hard to imagine. They might perhaps have been able to land some balls somewhere on a three decker Line of Battle Ship.
The London Gunmaker, Staudenmayer, made air rifles with mechanically fitting bullets before 1820 and this idea was taken up by Captain Norton, an undoubted pioneer in the advancement of long range shooting. Sadly, he suffered throughout his life from a lack of official recognition. A study of his written work suggests that however good his ideas, his methods of promoting them were the probable reason for his lack of success.
A veteran of the Peninsular, Captain Norton was serving in New South Wales and in India from 1815 to 1823 with, one suspects, very little to do. Turning his attention to ballistics, and possibly having a knowledge of Robins’s theories, he arrived at the conclusion that elongated projectiles in rifle barrels were the answer. His rifle shells were rounded at both ends and fitted with studs to engage the rifling. He was obsessed with the shell principle, in order to blow up enemy caissons or ammunition wagons at a distance. The experience of being under the fire of Napoleon’s efficient artillery may have had something to do with this. During 1824 he developed the idea in a German made thirteen groove rifle of eleven bore and using this rifle he demonstrated in the Spring of 1826 to the Ordnance Select Committee at Woolwich at 120 yards. The same week he attended Addiscombe, the Academy of the East India Company, and Sandhurst where he gave similar demonstrations. At Addiscombe he blew up an ammunition box in the presence of the entire staff and students one of whom was the fourteen year old John Jacob in his first year there.
Jacob went off to India in 1829 and never returned to England but he must have been very impressed with the demonstration because from 1831, when the young "griffin’s" feet touched the ground for the first time after his initial appointment, he experimented continuously with shell rifles and the concept of really long range, by which is meant ranges in excess of 1,000 yards. The Jacob principle is well known; mechanically fitted long heavy projectiles with a rapid twist in a short heavy barrel. It was revolutionary for the day but, it must be said, a blind alley in the story of rifle development.
It is to France that we must look for the beginnings of the trail that led, effectively, to the later developments of the 19th Century. The French were a growing military and colonial power with interests in North Africa and the Levant. During the conquest of Algeria (which despite modern sentiment was necessary for the suppression of the Algerians, as evidenced by the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 when a combined fleet from the civilised world, including vessels from that great anti-colonial Republic, the United States of America, were forced to act in exasperation at the depredations of the Corsairs), the French found themselves at a disadvantage against the long barrelled North African Snaphances and Flintlocks used by the tribesmen which easily outranged the French service muskets of the Waterloo type. The Arabs were practising "Long Range".
The French had almost abandoned the rifle during the Napoleonic Wars. Their equivalent to the Baker was the Carabine de Versailles which was basically just a typical German Jaeger rifle. Accounts of the use of these are sparse although Colonel Peter Hawker in his JOURNAL OF A REGIMENTAL OFFICER, published in 1810, claims that the wound he sustained at Talavera in 1809, and which finished his active service career when still a Captain, was caused by a rifle ball.
The French campaigns in Algeria lasted from 1830 virtually until De Gaulle decided to abandon the place in the 1960s. The need for rifles was obvious. The Carabine de Versailles was hopelessly obsolete even assuming that there were any left in the arsenals.
As far back as 1826 Gustave Delvigne, a French Infantry Officer, was seeking a means of reducing or eliminating the windage in the smooth bore musket. In all the service arms of the period a large allowance was made for this. In the British service a ball of 14½ to the pound was used in a barrel of the diameter of 11 to the pound. This was a difference of some 50/1000 of an inch and although the paper of the cartridge took up much of it, a lot of gas escaped around the ball with a consequent loss of both velocity and accuracy. Delvigne devised a method whereby the interior of the breech was made a smaller diameter than the bore and when the ball, which was a loose fit in the barrel, came to rest on the shoulders of the constricted area, a couple of blows with the iron ramrod forced it to expand until it was a tight fit. The resultant loss of the windage enhanced the velocity of the ball but the misshapen ball had become a poor shape in ballistic terms.
At the same time he was also applying this idea to the rifle with a view to avoiding the problems of the old system, called by the French "Balle Forcée", where the patched ball was driven into the barrel and forced to take the rifling on the way down by blows from a mallet or a heavy iron ramrod. His first rifles on this system were offered to the Land Artillery and contemptuously rejected, but on 29th September 1829 his rifle with a calibre of .590 (15mm) was sent to Toulon by the order of the Minister of Marine for naval trials.
Various modifications were introduced by Poncharra, Thiery and Brunéel in which the ball was supported on the shoulder of the breech by wooden wads or sabots to prevent its being deformed too much. These systems did not last for long and gave way to the Pillar Breech designed by Thouvenin. In this a chamber was formed in the breech, not by constricting it, but by inserting a vertical pillar into the breech face around which lay the powder. The ball was similarly expanded by being crushed between the ramrod and the pillar. This system was used by other countries. For example the Prussian Model 1810 Rifle was converted to percussion with a new breech incorporating a pillar and renamed the Model 1835. In the British service the .577 Rifled Cavalry Pistol Pattern 1856 had the pillar although no other service arm was to have it and it was removed from the pistols by 1860.
The importance of the Thouvenin breech only becomes apparent when it is considered in conjunction with the Tamisier bullet for here we see a bullet that is recognisably like the American Burton which achieved such prominence in their Civil War and is used today by almost everyone who shoots the Enfield or Springfield rifles. Captain Minié applied the principle of the expanding cup to the Tamisier bullet and thus removed the need for the pillar. The finishing touch to this form of the expansive bullet came from Colonel Boxer with the boxwood (later baked clay) plug before Whitworth and Metford’s long bullets expanded themselves without the aid of plugs by the inertia of their mass.
The French rifles of this period show a sudden flowering of sights suitable for long ranges. Around 1840 a hinged bar which could be raised to the vertical was pierced with a series of holes marked for ranges up to 600 metres. However, in 1846, the Carabine Modele 1846 suddenly sprouts what must be regarded as the first modem sight. It is that seen subsequently on all our service arms from the 1851 Minié to the Long Lee Enfield, but like the 1851 Minié it has no side protection such as was introduced with our Pattern 1853.
The recorded range on the top of the 1846 sight bar is 1,000 metres or 1,100 yards, the slider moves between 200 and 900 metres and the 100 metre sight is taken with the bar laid flat. A true "Long Range" sight has now arrived.
These developments in the late 1840’s sparked off a fever of imitation, speculation and experimentation accompanied by an almost total lack of comprehension of the principles involved on the part of many of the leading rifle makers. Many of them tried putting Minié type sights on any and every rifle that they thought would sell better with them or else applied them at the whim of their equally uncomprehending customers. Two surviving examples illustrate this. The first is a Purdey finished in 1852 in half inch bore with two groove rifling for the winged sugar loaf bullet. The other is an 1852 double barrelled Lancaster Oval Bore in .53 calibre. Both have Minié type sights to 1,000 yards added to the usual range of leaves. It can be stated with complete confidence that neither could hit a barn door at 1,000 yards and probably not even the barn.
On the literary side the speculation was just as wild and the technical knowledge of the authors equally as lacking. Colonel Chesney’s OBSERVATIONS ON THE PAST AND PRESENT STATE OF FIREARMS AND THE PROBABLE EFFECTS IN WAR OF THE NEW MUSKET published in 1852 quotes THE CEYLON TIMES from early in 1852: "The Comte de Belloy and his friends used on this occasion two French rifles having four grooves taking one whole turn in two metres or 192 inches [This is actually five metres!] in the length of the barrel which is 42 inches. The ball used was of lead 0.672 inch in diameter, 1.158 in height, weighing 730 grains; and with a charge of only nine grains, it penetrated and passed beyond an inch plank at the distance of 900 yards." There is then an illustration of a cannelured Minié bullet with an iron cup. General Paixhans in CONSTITUTION MILITAIRE DE LA FRANCE (Paris 1849) describes experiments with a new rifled carbine requiring only 4½ grains instead of 9 to propel a ball nearly double the weight formerly used. It must be remembered that the term "ball" here does not mean a sphere. Ranges extended to a quoted 1,093 yards when six out of one hundred hits were made. These amazingly small charges are simply explained by realising that in the translation the term Grain has been substituted without recalculation for the French Gramme which weighs 15½ Grains and would produce the French service charges.
The 1850s was the decade when Long Range shooting really took off. It opened with the Minié Rifle, proceeded via the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny and closed with the introduction of the Whitworth and the founding of the National Rifle Association, the Final Stage of whose First Meeting in 1860 was shot at 1,000 yards.
The Enfield was introduced during the Crimean War and assumed its place there during the latter stages of the campaign alongside the Minié Pattern 1851. Much has been written of the awesome effects of the Minié Rifles but a comment by the Russian Commander Todleben will suffice: "....the enormous losses which the enemy’s riflemen inflicted on the Russian artillery. A perfect cloud of riflemen, hid in thick brushwood, opened a very violent and accurate fire against our artillery at the distance of 800 paces. Some of our guns from time to time rained case upon them, but the discharge only checked the fire of the enemy’s riflemen for a moment." Another extract states: "It was more the fire of rifled small arms than that of the artillery of the enemy which reached our artillerymen, of whom the greater part were killed and wounded."
A similar story of the long range success of the Enfield comes from the Indian Mutiny where Mutineers’ artillery was silenced on one occasion by volley firing at 1,100 yards.
While all this was going on the muzzle loading rifle was moving towards its ultimate form. Whitworth’s trials arrived at the calibre of .45 and the bullet weight of 530 grains with a 20 inch spiral using hardened paper patched lead. It is not the intention to go into the numerous forms of rifling that were tried, it is sufficient to say that the ratios arrived at by Whitworth suggest that the apogee of Black Powder and Muzzle Loading had been reached.
The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 is credited with having produced some astonishing results from the Whitworth. Some of the stories are suspect. Practical experience suggest that the account of the Union General sniped at and killed at a range in excess of one mile can only have been a complete fluke, if indeed, the victim was the actual object at which the sniper was aiming.
The widespread reported use of the Whitworth by the Confederates is a matter which today requires a degree of suspicion. These rifles were present and not only the production of the Whitworth Company, but others with hexagonal bores made under licence. However, it must be remembered that the name "Whitworth" was often applied by the Americans to the whole generality of British small bore rifles including the Turner, the Kerr, the Henry, etc., all of which produced remarkably similar spent bullets but which can, nevertheless, still be identified by the expert from the battlefield pick-ups.
In 1865 Metford produced a .500 calibre rifle weighing 15 pounds and fitted with a telescopic sight. This was specially made to shoot at 2,000 yards in trials organised at Gravesend. In 1866 another such rifle was made for and used by Sir Henry Halford, and these two rifles were the only ones to hit the target which was 24 feet wide and 12 feet high increasing in 1866 to 18 feet high. The charge of powder was 150 grains and the bullet weighed 700 grains. Elevations were to the order of five degrees. Hits varied from 8 to 14 in strings of 25 shots.
1865 also saw the first of the whole series of Gibbs-Metford Rifles in .461 calibre which, with their clones, were to dominate Match Rifle Shooting in muzzle and later breech loading form right through to the introduction of the .303 in the 1890s.
By now that crucial element in all Long Range shooting, the sights, had become very sophisticated and have not really been bettered to the present day. The foresight had developed into the tunnel with various forms of interchangeable inserts. These took many forms besides the usual circular ring. There was, for instance, a square aperture designed to frame the square black aiming mark used in the 1860s. It became apparent that some of these sight elements were dangerous and lists were prepared showing which were and were not permitted. The danger lay in those that obscured everything from the shooter’s vision except the aiming mark. In those days of iron targets, the marker had to appear at intervals to whitewash the target and the implications are obvious.
Others which have since fallen into disuse, such as the Goodwin Bar, are now enjoying a revival and are found to give very good results. The addition of a cross levelling bubble appeared in the middle 1860s. When using elevations of 120 minutes or more it was crucial that the sights were vertical as canting them had a serious effect both on line and elevation. It was usual to adjust for windage on the foresight which was normally adjustable laterally by a screw threaded through a dovetailed block on the muzzle. This was regulated by a scale engraved in whichever divisions the maker had decided upon.
Rear sights consisted of a long bar mounted on the wrist and later on, either the wrist or the heel of the butt for back position shooting, which became more and more popular towards the end of the 19th Century. The adjustment on these was for elevation only, the windage being on the front, until the advent of breech loading made this very impracticable. Fine adjustments were made by means of the Vernier Scale, the use of which was well understood. In order to move the sights smoothly and fairly rapidly it was normal to use double start threads which require a delicate touch in the making. The use of "click" adjustments was not normal although there are very likely examples that were made. It is true that there is nothing new under the sun.
Makers had their own ideas on the subject of the best way to measure elevation on the rear sight, with the front sight usually following the same scale. The best known are Whitworth’s use of inches divided into hundredths and Metford’s degrees and minutes. Of the two, Metford’s was the more scientific and modern shooters also use minutes of angle as this is a measurement that can be translated easily and quickly into subtended distances at any range.
The arrival of the .303 and its counterparts overseas saw the last of the truly long range small arms intended for general issue to the infantry. The early Lee Enfields, before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, retained a feature which combined the great range of the new cartridges with the ancient concept of volley firing. Experience on the wide plains of India, North and South Africa suggested that at ranges far beyond any possible ability of a marksman to strike an individual target, entire platoons or companies firing volleys could blanket an area target with fire. For this purpose an additional sight known as the Collective Sight was fitted to the left side of the fore-stock. It was graduated to 2,800 yards allowing a further 800 yards over the normal barrel sight which was limited to 2,000 yards. The short range carnage of the trenches and the use of the medium machine gun, in a role similar to that of a light field gun, put the finishing touches to this idea which has never been revived.
As this is an Historical Perspective it will not go beyond 1914 because target practice at 1,000 yards, increased to 1,200 yards by the end of the previous Century, is not exceeded today and the Military now seem to regard 600 metres as about the maximum effective range of the new 5.56mm. Certain limited military arms are retained which are capable of long range sniping but the generality of infantry today are not expected to know the Art of Musketry as did their grandfathers.
Today’s Historical Shooters have revived the art of 19th Century Long Range Shooting alongside their modern counterparts, the Match Riflemen of the English VIII and their rivals of the Scottish, Irish and now the Welsh VIIIs. The use of the modern Match Rifle is increasing as evidenced by the annual rise in entries for the "Hopton" Match Rifle Aggregate Championship held each year at Bisley. Perhaps tradition now has more influence than the needs of the military.
To close this Perspective an account of "Billy Dixon’s Long Shot" taken from the Journal of the American Single Shot Rifle Association will make a fitting end. In June 1874, a mixed group of Comanches, Kiowa and Arapahoe attacked a trading post in the Texas Panhandle; an engagement known as the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. On the third day of the engagement, Billy Dixon shot an Indian at the distance of 1,538 yards with a 50/90 Sharps. Dr. Donald Fusia, Junior, of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, published an article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences (Volume 34, No.4 of July 1989) entitled "A Trajectory Analysis of Billy Dixon’s Long Shot". The article investigated the factors involved in such a long shot. The wind deflection at 14.3 miles per hour = 28 feet. The bullet drop was 318 feet. The time of flight 4.8 seconds and the remaining energy 630 foot pounds. From personal experience this author would have allowed for a much longer time of flight but that is his opinion only and he is not familiar with the criteria used by the learned doctor.