I am firmly convinced that we may expect to make progress and to improve in many respects at our new and beautiful shooting-ground; for Bisley will not be more distant in time from London than Wimbledon: we can only get 1000 yards at Wimbledon, while Bisley will allow ranges of 2500 yards.
We have about 125 targets now, to be increased to perhaps 170 at Bisley: at Wimbledon competitors shooting in the late afternoon are bothered by the sun in their eyes, from which they will at Bisley be free. Our buildings will, after 1891, be permanent; while, owing to our tenure at Wimbledon, they have been temporary; thus the expenditure of yearly erection and removal will be avoided. We shall be free from the effusive crowd of the “Middle Sunday.” Though the residents at Putney and Wimbledon will miss us more than they think, we shall henceforth be guiltless of causing any annoyance to our neighbours, for we shall not have any neighbours except the Guards in the adjoining camp, Last, though not least, we shall be able to make new developments to meet the requirements of the altered condition of things military. Many other advantages might be enumerated, but the above will tend to show that having fought as hard as we knew how to fight on behalf of our old love, we intend very much to get on successfully with the new.
With more targets and longer ranges, with improved rifles and more favourable atmospheric conditions, the meetings at Bisley will convince the most sceptical that the advance which has been made in the art and science, the practice and skill of rifle-shooting has been as distinct and indisputable since the first meeting at Wimbledon as the advance in any other branch of modern life. In 1857 Brown Bess was still, in use in India: in 1860 the Enfield rifle was not a very reliable weapon: in 1862, so imperfect was the Government manufacture that thirty-four rifles issued for use at Wimbledon did not pass the Government test: in 1860 but few men in England had ever fired a rifle: those who shot best, shot badly: the match rifles of that day, except Mr. Whitworth’s, were of a very inferior quality. But little was known of ammunition, of wind-gauges, of the flight of bullets; while the experience of rifle-shots was almost restricted to the few deer-stalkers who shot their quarry at very short distances. Our match rifles and those who use them now take the highest rank in the world; the Government rifles are of infinitely better quality. Our Wimbledon shots have beaten all previous records; while the science of shooting is known and thoroughly understood, I think, by more men in these islands than in any country in the world. As Sir Henry Halford said not long ago, “We have taught the army to shoot”; and to the National Rifle Association is it mainly due that many hundreds of thousands of men in this country have added rifle-shooting to the pastimes of England; and though cricket and foot-ball are our national games, there are more men in the country who shoot than play cricket. So far as numbers are concerned, the rifle has more than taken the place of the bow.
I look forward to the influence which the proximity of Bisley to Aldershot will have on the shooting of our soldiers and the friendly rivalry between the services as amongst the most important of the advantages we shall gain. It has been suggested that the Queen’s Prize should be thrown open to all branches of the service; there is much to be said for this, but also against it. It must rest entirely with the Queen to say whether the valuable prize which Her Majesty has generously given for thirty years, the thoughtful presentation of which exercised untold influence on the early days of the National Rifle Association, and which was given to encourage the unpaid Volunteers, shall be thrown open to others. There is something very pleasant in looking forward to the friendly rivalry of soldier, sailor, militiaman and volunteer for the Blue Riband of rifle-shooting, but the conditions under which the competitors would be trained would differ in toto and it might well happen that in many a regiment a very promising young shot would be exempt from duty and encouraged to practise every day, and all days, with a view to his obtaining the much-coveted prize for the honour of the regiment, while most Volunteers have difficulty in finding time for practice. The Queen’s Prize has been won by men of most classes and almost all ranks of life: by a barrister, an artist, a clerk, a merchant, a farmer, a shopkeeper, a secretary, an undergraduate, and by those of many other classes and professions, but never, I think, by an idle man. The winners of the Queen’s Prize have been found amongst men actively engaged in the affairs of life, and for the most part hard-working Volunteers; and I, for one, am of opinion that the time has, at any rate, not yet come, when we should ask Her Majesty’s permission so to alter the conditions of the Queen’s Prize as to render it possible that it might be taken by an officer or private of the army, the navy, or the militia. But I should like to see a new prize commenced at Bisley in 1890, at the same distances and on the same conditions as those of “The Queen’s,” open only to the army, navy and militia, provided there were not, less than 2000 competitors: it might well happen that after a few years such a prize might be merged in the Queen’s, and all shoot together. Doubtless gradual changes will be made as the years roll on at Bisley. I believe these changes will be beneficial, and will tend to advancement and improvement; and although from the very nature of things the year 1919 cannot be expected to show as material an advance over 1889 as this year, does on 1860, yet we may hope and expect that the National Rifle Association will in 1919 have as large a measure of the confidence of those for whose benefit alone it exists, as it has obtained in the past, and enjoys at the present time.
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