It is obvious that an armed man – whether regular soldier or volunteer – is of little value for fighting purposes, unless he can shoot fairly well with a rifle; and the volunteers, recognizing this fact, proceeded at once to establish a shooting organisation throughout the country. The centre and head of this organization was, and is, the National Rifle Association, which held its meetings at Wimbledon until they were transferred to Bisley.
In every county or district, an association was formed under "Wimbledon Rules," which held its meetings once a year, and battalion and company meetings also offered a chance of winning prizes to those who were not sufficiently expert in the use of the rifle to compete at Wimbledon. Thus an inducement was given to every volunteer to practice rifle shooting, in addition to the class firing ordered by the volunteer regulations.
The artillery have an association of their own called the National Artillery Association, which is quite separate from the National Rifle Association, and holds its meetings at Shoeburyness. It works on strictly military lines, and forms a camp where the mounting and dismounting of heavy guns, etc., as well as target practice, is a part of the regular training.
This, briefly, is the organization which, with some alterations and improvements, has continued to the present day.
The first meeting at Wimbledon opened on July 2, 1860, when Queen Victoria fired the first shot, with a rifle fixed in a rest and laid by the most experienced rifle-shot of the day, and the "bull's-eye" flag went up amidst the cheers of a large crowd of spectators. To promote shooting at moving objects, a life-sized stag made of iron was mounted on a small railway, and ran down an incline on one side of the range, and nearly to the top of the incline on the other side, on the principle of a switchback railway, the shot having to be fired between two white posts, thirty yards apart. Sir Edwin Landseer, the celebrated animal painter, drew the stag life-size, and this splendid sketch and the "Queen's" target are preserved by the National Rifle Association as their two most valued treasures.
In the year 1883 a team of the American National Guard came over to England to shoot against an English volunteer team. At the beginning of the match, the visitors gained a considerable lead; but at the long ranges the English team not only wiped out their loss, but succeeded in securing a hard-fought victory. In the evening both teams dined with the president of the National Rifle Association, on which occasion there were present Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Teck, the Duke of Teck, and the Hon. J. R. Lowell; the Minister of the United States in England. After dinner the rule of the association that no speeches are to be made was so far relaxed as to allow of the health of the American team being proposed by the president; and Mr. Lowell, in returning thanks for his countrymen, made one of those short and happy speeches which did so much to promote a cordial feeling between the two nations. He said on this occasion: "May God grant that in all rifle competitions between the two nations, all the rifles may always be pointed the same way" - a sentiment cordially echoed at the present day on both sides of the Atlantic.