In 1859 Volunteering was new, rifle shooting almost unknown. The NRA Council had not only to draw up the rules and regulations, but themselves had everything to learn. Discussion, of course, arose as to the rifles to be used, the form of target at which to fire, the best distances, the number of shots, the proper position in which to shoot, the system under which the firing was to be conducted, together with the nature and value of the prizes.
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Duke of Cambridge presented valuable prizes to be annually competed for. With these and other donations the 67 prizes of 1860 amounted to a value of £2,238. Enthusiasm for the annual prize meeting blossomed. By 1866 the number of prizes had reached 835 with a value of £8,884 and in 1888 there were 2,814 prizes valued at £9,824, exclusive of challenge cups. The apparent disparity between the increase in number of prizes and their value was due to the urging of the competitors themselves that prize money be distributed over as wide an area as possible. With competitors travelling from every part of the country, it was important that they should if possible not only win honour and distinction, but also sufficient money to defray their unavoidable expenses. It was far better to give ten prizes of £5, than one of £50.
There were 24 targets at Wimbledon in 1860 and of the 67 prizes, 40 were open to all-comers and 27 restricted to Volunteers. Only 299 Volunteer competitors took part and the total aggregate of entries for Volunteer prizes was 594. For the all-comers' prizes the number of entries was 720, giving a grand total of entries of all kinds of 1,314. By 1888 the meeting had become immense. Target numbers had increased to 125 and the total aggregate of entries was an astonishing 41,670. In addition to this, the enormous number of 80,188 entries was made for the various Pool shooting and Running Deer events.
Right: The Last Shot of the Queen's Prize
(Illustrated London News, 27 July 1872).
Note the large number of spectators.
At the inaugural rifle meeting of 1860, ranges for Volunteer competitions were 300, 500, 600, 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. At 300 yards, shooting was 'off the shoulder' (i.e. standing) while beyond that, from the kneeling position. In 1861, 200 yards replaced the 300 yard distance; 300 yards being deemed too great for effective fire with the Enfield while standing. For the all-comers matches and at distances less than 500 yards shooting was from the standing position. At the remaining distances any position was allowed, although artificial rests (including slings) were not permitted.
Competitions were broadly separated into Volunteers using the military arm of issue, all-comers shooting 'small-bore' rifles, and team shooting (including the Elcho Shield, Lords and Commons match and a day set aside for Public Schools matches).
Although the targets, number of shots fired, positions used and distances competed at varied over the years, the competition format would largely be familiar to today's marksmen… … fire a set number of shots at a target at a given distance and achieve the highest possible score. There have, however, been less 'conventional' competitions which are worthy of review, if not revival!
The Novelty Acts
The Owl newspaper made its debut at Wimbledon in 1864 and generously gave a prize, which was shot for under special regulations, as set forth in the following proclamation:
Owl Shooting Extraordinary.
Oh Yes! Oh Yes!!
Take Notice all,
A Prize of £50 has been given by the venerable owls of the Owl newspaper,
to be competed for on such terms as the Council may fix.
Out of consideration for the generous but benighted donors,
the competition shall take place in the dark, at 200 yards.
Lights, called Owl's Eyes, will be substituted for Bull's Eyes.
Each competitor shall pay one shilling per shot,
and if the competitors do not appear in great numbers -
'The moping owl will to the moon complain.'
The prize shall be in the form of a beautiful silver owl,
shall be adjudged to the competitor who shall
by the end of the meeting have made the greatest number
of owl's eyes; that is, who shall have oftenest knocked out the owl's eyes.
Every precaution has been taken to guard against accidents.
The silver owl was won by Mr. Martin Smith, who fired ten shots, making four owl's eyes. Forty men in all shot for this prize. The competition was not repeated again, on safety grounds.
Yeomanry cavalry competition for the Loyd Lindsay Cup at Wimbledon
(Illustrated London News, 24 July 1886)
In 1873 Colonel Lloyd Lindsay introduced a prize for mounted riflemen. The initial experimental competition was a great success and it was for many years a feature of the shooting programme. The conditions in 1873 required that sections of four mounted men were to ride about three quarters of a mile, taking two flights of hurdles in the course, and were, while dismounted and their horses either linked or held by alternate files, each to fire five shots at 200 yards standing, and the same number at 400 yards in any position. There was a time limit of twelve minutes, and the rifle, of any Government pattern, had to be carried on the back or slung to the saddle. The winning team of the nine competing in the inaugural match was the Warwickshire Yeomanry, who carried Westley-Richards rifles.
A further mounted competition was added in 1879, this being for Regular Cavalry and was called the Royal Cambridge. Conditions were much the same as the Lloyd Lindsay, except that the arm was the Martini-Henry carbine. Four teams entered, with the 5th Dragoon Guards being the winners having cleared the course in eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds and scoring 107. The second placed 11th Hussars scored 88 and were 10 points above the winning score for the Lloyd Lindsay.