This fascinating article by Maj. C. W. Hinman first appeared in Arms And The Man, 4 March 1915. It offers insight into long range rifle shooting in the US during the 1880s, and is a rich resource for contemporary detail on practices of the time.
David Minshall has added some biographic notes on Hinman, and leaves the reader with a stimulating puzzle!
The Record Long Range Score by Maj. C. W. Hinman
There were three men who have made the score of 224 out of a possible 225 in competition under the old time long range match conditions. Those conditions were a few sighting shots at 800 yards, until the competitors had got “sighted in,” then ﬁfteen shots at 800 yards, ﬁfteen shots at 900 yards and ﬁfteen shots at 1000 yards, making forty-ﬁve consecutive scoring shots, no sighting shots being allowed at 900 or 1000 yards. Usually the shooting was interrupted after 800 or 900 yards to allow for a luncheon.
The three men who have made the score of 224 were William Gerrish, in 1880; myself in 1881, both scores being made at Walnut Hill, Mass., and a gentleman named Bell who made his score about 1884 on a range in Iowa. Bell’s 4 was at 800 yards, both Gerrish and myself made ours at 1000 yards. Bell died a few years after he made his score and Gerrish has been dead at least ten years.
The riﬂes used in “any riﬂe” long range matches in those days were all of the same type. They were single shot, breech loaders, weighing not more than ten pounds and having a trigger pull of at least three pounds.
The barrels were of soft steel, thirty-four inches long, about one and three sixteenths inches in diameter at the breech and thirteen sixteenths inch at the muzzle. .448 inch to .452 caliber and riﬂed with ﬁve or six grooves. .003 to .005 inch deep concentric with the bore and as wide or wider than the lands. The twist was one turn in eighteen inches. These barrels were chambered for a straight shell 2.6 inches long or for a shorter bottle necked shell of about the same capacity.
The favorite actions were the falling block Sharps, Borchardt or the Remington-Hepburn, but my score was made with the earlier Geiger action which was used so extensively on Remington military riﬂes. The blow igniting the primer was given in all these actions by a centrally located hammer or striker. The short fore-stock was separate from the butt-stock and both were carefully guarded from rain or undue heat while in use.
The front sight was an “open bead” in a hood and provided with a spirit level and a screw wind gauge giving a lateral adjustment of some ﬁfty feet at 1000 yards. The opening in the bead was large enough to show the whole of the 4-ring at 800 yards.
The rear sight was a long “peep” attached to the heel of the butt stock, giving a distance of about four feet between sights. This sight was provided with a Vernier and a screw adjustment. If correctly adjusted the rear sight was not quite vertical when the spirit level was horizontal. This was to counteract the drift of the bullet and keep the zero of the riﬂe the same at all distances. Discs with different sized peep holes were used, according to the light: a hole .04 to .06 inch in diameter being commonly used. The disc or sight cup was usually surrounded by a rubber cup some three inches in diameter, so that little outside light reached the eye.
The bullet used weighed 550 grains and was about an inch and one-half in length. It had a cupped base and a point shaped somewhat like the small point of an egg, but more elongated. The temper of the bullet was 1 tin to 11 lead if a thin (.002”) patch was used and 1 tin to 14 lead if the patch was thick (.004”). The patch was of “linen” paper and was wrapped twice around the bullet. The bullet was placed in the bore in front of the shell, there being usually a small air space between the powder and bullet.
The powder used was black, rather slow burning, either Laﬂin and Rand. “Creedmoor” or Hazard “Sea Shooting.” The usual charge was 105 to 110 grains. I used 112 grains. In loading, the charge of powder was poured slowly through a long tube into the shell and was conﬁned by a thin soft paper wad. At ﬁrst the powder was carefully weighed, but later it was found that it could be measured by a ﬂask or machine, with sufficient accuracy (1-2 grain).
The back position was used, the butt being held close to the body in the arm pit, the barrel resting between or over the crossed legs.
The riﬂe was carefully cleaned after each shot. A “Fisher” cleaner (a bristle brush on the stem of which were several soft rubber discs) was taken from a can of water and pushed through the barrel by a rod carrying a ﬂannel rag. Another rod and rag were ‘used, then a rod with an oiled rag and after that another rod and rag were sometimes used.
My score of 224 was shot on the twenty-fourth of August in cloudy weather and a gentle wind from 1 to 4 o’clock, but most of the time from 2 to 3, making necessary a wind allowance of from one to four feet. The temperature was 66 degrees.
At 800 yards the shots would have been contained in a thirty inch circle, but on the average there was too much allowance made for wind. After luncheon the sight was elevated 16 1-2 min. and a well centered group was made. At 1000 yards the sight was elevated 17 1-2 min. and a bull’s-eye at the correct height resulted. The sight was gradually lowered 1 1-2 min. and good elevations obtained until the ninth shot when the sun suddenly came out and the bullet went a couple of inches over the bull. The sight was then lowered 1-2 min. and the remaining shots were bulls.
Some details of the competition which ran through the summer and fall (one score each week) may be of interest. The other competitors were J. F. Brown, Wm. Gerrish, W. H. Jackson, F. J. Rabbeth, H. T. Rockwell, J. S. Sumner, N. Washburn and Salem Wilder. All are now dead but Rabbeth and myself. The competitor having the best aggregate of six scores to take ﬁrst prize. My aggregate of 1313 was only three more than that of the next man; and there was only about that same difference separating the aggregates of the other men. As an indication of the steadiness with which the riﬂe shot I had only three 3’s in six consecutive scores (270 shots) and only one of those was the fault of the riﬂe.
My experience with the old black powder match riﬂes and the modern smokeless powder riﬂes using spitzer bullets (the Springﬁeld for example) does not lead me to believe that there is any great difference in accuracy between the two styles. My best shooting with the old style riﬂe has just been recorded. My best shooting with the Springﬁeld was about seven years ago and was seventeen bulls and one four in eighteen consecutive shots at 1000 yards.
In sights and position the old riﬂe has great advantages. The shaded open bead is a much better target sight than the upright stud, especially if the light is good. Then the sights on the old riﬂe were more than twice as far apart as they are on the Springﬁeld. The back position is a much steadier position than the prone, even when the strap is used.
On the other hand the recoil of the Springﬁeld is only about half as heavy as that of the old long range riﬂe and under like conditions I am inclined to the opinion that wind does not have as much effect on the spitzer 180 grain .30 caliber bullet as it does on the blunt 550 grain .45 caliber bullet. But in long range shooting the conditions are not the same. The .45 caliber bullet in the middle of its trajectory is more than twice as high up in the air as the .30 caliber bullet and so is exposed to a stronger wind. In another respect the old riﬂe is much harder to shoot than the Springﬁeld. With the old riﬂe a side inclination of one-half degree will make a lateral difference of one foot at the 1000 yard target. With the Springﬁeld the riﬂe must be inclined one and one-third degrees to make the same difference.
Charles W. Hinman (1849-1922) by David Minshall ©2018
Charles Hinman was born 11 April 1849 in West Concord, Vermont. He spent his boyhood on a farm, and devoted his leisure time to trapping. Graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1870, he taught chemistry there for a year or more. He was the first State gas inspector in Massachusetts, holding the office more than 20 years. Later he was manager of the Tufts Meter Company for five years, before going into business for himself. His business was absorbed by the American Meter Company, and he continued with the company as a consulting engineer until his death. In late life hunting and fishing were his recreation. He died in Nova Scotia, in May 1922, while travelling home to Winchester, MA, after developing heart problems on a fishing trip.
As Private Charles Hinman with 1st Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, he represented the USA in the military rifle matches of 1882 and 1883 between British Rifle Volunteers and US National Guard. By 1888 and as a Major, he was assistant inspector-general rifle practice, First Brigade. He was an officer of, and for four years president of, the Massachusetts Rifle Association. He represented the Association in team competitions and later coached teams in the National matches at Camp Perry. Hinman was also responsible for the design of the standard American target adopted by a majority of rifle clubs in January 1886.
Charles Hinman was undoubtedly a noted marksman of his day and speaks with authority in the foregoing article. One item however remains perplexing; his score of 224 x 225 at Walnut Hill, Mass., on 24 August 1881. Results published at the time credit the score to W.C. Gregory.
New York Herald, 25 August 1881
EXTRAORDINARY RIFLE SCORE
Boston, Mass., August 24, 1881
Mr. W.C. Gregory, of the Massachusetts Rifle Association, in what is known as the “Victory Match,” at Walnut Hill range to day, made the best score on record at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. He made 38 bull’s eyes before breaking, and scored 224 out of a possible 225. The following is the score made by Mr. Gregory:-
The "Victory Match" referred to was a series of competitions held broadly on a weekly basis from May to November 1881. Perusal of results has to-date failed to find C.W. Hinman listed in any of the matches. In summing up the series of competitions, Forest & Stream (1 December 1881) noted "The Victory long-range match, which has been shot Wednesdays since May 11, closed at Walnut Hill, Nov. 23. The season’s shooting has developed some remarkable scores. The best work was done by W.C. Gregory, whose score of 224 out of a possible 225 is the best on record."
Biographies published of Hinman on the prelude to the 1882 National Guard vs Rifle Volunteers match are contradictory: The Spirit of the Times, 26 August 1882, notes "at long range in five consecutive competitions, his lowest score was 217 and his highest 224 points in a possible 225", while Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 9 September 1882, notes "He has been shooting about three years, but only lately took up long range work."
The New York Clipper Annual chronicled sporting events. That for 1893 in a history of sporting events notes:
- 1881, Aug. 24 - Rifle Competition, 800, 900, 1,000 yards. 15 shots at each; W.C. Gregory, 224 out of 225 possible points, 38 consecutive bull’s eyes – Walnut Hill, Mass.
However, in the same edition and under a record of best performances notes for the same date and venue:
- 224 out of 225 - C.W. Hinman, 800, 900, 1,000 yards, 15 shots at each distance, Boston, Mass., Aug 24, 1881.
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