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19thC Riflemen

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"In 1877 I captained the first English Eight that went to America [10]. We lost, but in 1882 we atoned for this by winning well [11].

"Almost immediately I landed with the team I received a letter from a man pleading with us not to drink. You see, the Americans are often over-hospitable. They take you about, drink with you, and give you too many big dinners. Yet they are often very keen and very much in earnest, and their team was up at six o'clock every morning practising for dear life. They bet outrageously - putting their money on single shots. It is a very good thing that nothing puts me off a shot, otherwise, when competing under a volley of 'Go it, Harry,' when I made a bull's-eye and derisive yells if I made a miss, might have upset me. It cost £900 to take that team over.

"Your American wants a thing settled then and there. For instance, we went to Chicago. I arrived there - with the team - at five o'clock in the morning, and had not been in bed an hour when I was aroused and told to get up, as there was a match on! It was at 300 yards standing. They talked a great deal about standing shooting being the only business shooting, and did not care for long range shooting. There is a five-dollar piece I won; I have worn it on my chain ever since."

"And whom do you regard as the most representative American shot?" I asked.

"Colonel Bodine," was the reply. "He is the man who brought the American rifles to perfection. I regard the Americans as coming second to ourselves in the matter of rifle shooting, though they are not so formidable as they used to be, owing to the fact that they have dropped all the long range shooting. They are generally considered to be au fait in the way of fancy shooting - I mean the glass ball business, such as Buffalo Bill and Dr. Carver go in for - though as a matter of fact, there are plenty of men in England who could do it if they would take the trouble. I can break 80 percent of the balls myself. Dr. Carver is extremely clever at trick shooting, but when asked to come to Wimbledon he said; 'No, that is not my business!'

"Yes, I have shot under severe difficulties. I remember one occasion at Altcar [12], in a competition for the English Eight. There was a change of wind requiring an alteration in allowance of sighting of 34ft. The thermometer went down twenty degrees in five minutes, and old rifle shots put this down as a record change in atmospheric conditions. I shall never forget shooting at Wimbledon on half a teaspoonful of laudanum and making a big score; but for sticking to your guns, recommend me to Major Young.

Sighting a shot

Sighting a shot

"I am speaking now of ten years ago. The Major unfortunately put his hand out of joint the very day before the match for the Elcho Shield. Notwithstanding this he went to the fray, and had to have his wrist put in three times during the competition! He made top score!"

Sir Henry Halford in 1893We talked over many things. Sir Henry regards Bisley as a much better ground for shooting than Wimbledon, where the light was often bad. Though Mr. Winans has done much to popularize the pistol in this country, the veteran shot does not think there is any future in it. Still, every officer should learn to use it. Stick to scarlet for your men's uniforms - it is not seen so far as many other colours. The men of the Rifle Brigade, as they are now clothed, are "spotted" at a greater distance than any other. He considers the future of the Volunteer assured, but he would like to see him armed with a better gun. The Regular's rifle is now a really serviceable weapon, Mr. Metford, with whom Sir Henry has worked since 1863, being the inventor; and the Volunteer should have it as well. Still, it is not the rifle which will make or mar the man. All depends on the way a corps is officered. Every Volunteer officer ought to feel that his commission is as important as one in the line.

These little fragmentary though notable remarks were gathered as we walked together down the elm-lined avenue which led to the road to Glen. As I wished him "Good-bye," Sir Henry said:-

"The primary necessities to make a good shot are nerve, carefulness, a calm temperament, eyesight, and power of concentration. I don't think you will find any man who is not a steady liver last long at shooting. Let young Volunteers remember that the student of habit and a good shot must run together."

Pictured above right is Sir Henry Halford in 1893.


  1. This was infact a British Team, not English.
  2. The 1882 match was between the Volunteers of Great Britain and the National Guard of the United States.
  3. Altcar rifle range was originally the private shooting ground of the 5th Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps. One target and an 1100 yard firing point were available on 28 July 1860. Shortly afterwards there were 30 targets available; more than the NRA had at Wimbledon at the time.


Footnotes by David Minshall ©2016