.45-70 at Two Miles: The Sandy Hook Tests of 1879 (3)

Introduction | First Long Range Tests | Report of 15 October 1879 | Report of 13 November 1879

By: W. John Farquharson

The report of October 15, 1879, covers long range firing at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. This was done along the beach to make the location of the bullet strike easier to find. Also, the long beaches allowed shooting back to 3,200 and even 3,500 yards.

The rifles tested included a special "long range" Springfield chambered for a 2.4-inch shell instead of the standard 2.1-inch case. The 2.4-inch case held 80 grains of black powder behind the new prototype 500-grain lead bullet. The other loads tested were the standard .45-70-405 Army load in the issue M-1873 Springfield, and the .45-85-480 load in the British Martini-Henry rifle.

The report states that a leaf to the rear sight several inches long was prepared in order to obtain the necessary elevation. A combination of the V-notch slide of the regular issue sight and a screw at the bottom of the leaf afforded means of correcting for wind and drift.

The target, which had been 12 feet by 12 feet square at 1,500 yards, was changed to one 44 feet long by 22 feet high. The extended wings had a height of 16 feet.

Since one of the test's objectives was to gauge bullet penetration, the huge target consisted of three 1-inch thick boards, separated by 1-inch cleats. The target was supported on 6-inch spruce posts and was constructed partly of spruce and partly pine, since this was the wood at hand.

In the tests at 2,500 yards, the target was hit five times in seventy rounds with the .45-70-405 service load, only once with the Martini-Henry in eighty rounds, and four times with the long range Springfield in thirty shots.

When the Springfield long range cartridge was fired, the 500-grain blunt nosed lead bullets propelled by 80 grains of black powder in the 2.4-inch cases at about 1,375 fps penetrated right through the three inches of wooden target and buried themselves in the sand. One 500-grain slug pierced three inches of target and buried itself in a supporting six-inch post, giving a total penetration of a measured 5.25 inches. The Service 405-grain bullet gave a penetration of just 1.12 inches, and the Martini-Henry 480-grain bullet, 2.50 inches.

Angles of rifle elevation were: Springfield service .45-70-405 - 17°08'16"; Springfield long range .45-80-500 - 10°38'21"; and Martini-Henry .45-85-480 - 13°20'18".

The angle made by the shot holes with the face of the target appeared to be about 40 degrees for the service Springfield, 45 degrees for the Martini-Henry, and 50 degrees for the long range Springfield. This angle is taken from the vertical and thus the lower angular reading indicates the higher angle of descent. Various kinds of bullets were dug out of the sand within 45 feet of the target and directly behind it. This shows the great angle of trajectory at this range and how extremely difficult it was for Mr. R.T. Hare to hit a 2,500-yard target the size of the one used.

The target 22 feet high by 44 feet long was then placed at 3,200 yards from the firer. The range chosen was fortunate in that it was found to be the extreme for the Martini-Henry. When the firer was instructed to increase his elevation, the range decreased. On decreasing the elevation, the range increased to a certain point.

The majority of the Martini .45-85-480 balls fell from 50 to 100 yards short, while the others did not go more than 25 yards beyond. More than 300 Martini-Henry cartridges were fired, but the target was not hit.

The long range Springfield's 500-grain bullets hit the target four times - twice where it was one board thick, and twice where it was two boards thick. In each case the heavy blunt nosed lead bullet punched through the wood planks and buried itself several inches into the sand.

At this extreme surveyed range, the angle of fall of the Martini 480-grain lead bullets was about 65 degrees to 70 degrees judging from the holes in the moist sand. Bullets were found in the sand behind the 22-foot-high target at a distance of only 35 feet. It was evident that they struck the sand point on, as the lead noses were always found rough.

In the case of the long range Springfield, the angle of the shot hole with the face of the target was about 30 degrees and the heavy bullet in punching through two one-inch boards actually penetrated a total of 2.5 inches. Those lead slugs that struck in the sand generally penetrated to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, sometimes more.

In this respect the Armory's 500-grain balls surpassed the Martini's 480-grain balls, which did not penetrate more than 6 inches into sand. In trying to get the correct 3,200-yard elevation, the long range bullets were thrown over 300 yards beyond the target. These were then dug out of the beach and all were found to have struck point on.

For the .45-80-500 2.4-inch case Springfield long range rifle at a MV of about 1,375 fps, the angle of elevation was 20°51'37". For the .45-85-480 Martini-Henry at 1,253 fps MV, the angle of elevation was 26°51'.

Introduction | First Long Range Tests | Report of 15 October 1879 | Report of 13 November 1879