Long-Range Rifle Fire (3)

Introduction | Minie to Martini | Long Range Skills

And here in the middle of our long-range we venture to let off this practical question for what it is worth. When inviting fresh competition, or when considering the merits of any new rifle, it might be well to lay down beforehand the extreme distance at and up to which excellence of grouping of the shots shall be considered a sine qua non, and beyond which it would not, in a comparative trial, be taken into account. This particular distance, which, we take for granted, could be easily determined by our superior officers used to war, would probably lie between 1,500 and 2,000 yards. The restriction, in the best sense arbitrary, would at all events have the effect of clearing the ground satis-factorily, both for competitions and judges.

After all, long-range is, in itself, the foundation only of good long-range fire. To get the full value out of a superlative arm there must, of course, be added the capability to find the correct distance of the object, and the possession of much skill in shooting. A good range-finder is absolutely necessary. One, the use of which is difficult. to learn and easily forgotten, which re-quires delicate manipulation, which soon gets out of adjustment and not seldom out of order, is, however accurate at times, of no use whatever. An instrument the reverse of all this, but always accurate, handy, light, and requiring a very short base, is the one for the field. (The babbling hound, right once in a way, is the one of all others you should draft.) Since the first Wimbledon Meeting in 1860 people have been gradually learning that, in order to make a string of bull's-eyes, motionless holding and perfect aiming must be preceded by great care and judgement in the matters of "elevation" and wind-gauge, and accompanied by close observation throughout the practice. But for good long-range firing in the field there must be more than this. To be able to pelt the enemy from a distant vantage-point, through inter-vening dust and smoke, and perhaps after sundown, means an acquaintance with the craft which, by means of the proper adjustment of stakes or cairns or dark lanterns, establishes during clearer intervals a part of the "line of sight" which for purposes of aiming is equal to the whole. This theory of thus seizing betimes a portion of the "eyeline" (well called so by the Americans) is taught in our own and some Continental manuals of musketry instruction. We are not certain how far theory is put into practice; but firing at extreme ranges being one of those many things where a grain of showing goes further than a bushel of telling - being, also, something of greater consequence than feux de joie - it would be as well not to put off the showing in question until early in the morning of the day on which the reality may be wanted.

About machine-guns there still hovers a small cloud, partly, perhaps, of Egyptian sand. But when the difficulties of jam-ming, of locomotion, and of tactical disposition have entirely dis-appeared, the Nordenfelt or some other pattern is sure to come to the front in long-range rifle-fire. It will probably take one or more European campaigns, with a siege or two (giving time and opportunity for crucial trial), before the value of the game of infantry long-bowls is fully recognized. This will be a case where there can be no challenge about a fair or an unfair delivery. The only thing will be to learn how to play and reply to the long-range bowler whose "popping crease" is a mile and a half away on the other side of a hill. Given the specification of his arm and ammunition, and a simple system of screens (not easily disturbed by wind) to catch and show the drop of his bullet, science should be able to find first the direction and the distance, and thence infer, with the help of a carefully-contoured map, the height above the sea level of the hostile firing-point. Then, to say nothing of defilading or moving a little out of his way, a very good shot might (weather permitting) he made with a .40 bore at the enemy's whereabouts.

Source: The Saturday Review, 4 July 1885