The following article provides a brief overview of the progress of the National Rifle Association and rifle shooting in England in 1861, from a US perspective. This was the second year of the NRA's Annual Rifle Meeting - Research Press
Source: Scientific American, 10 August 1861
Great attention is now given by the people of England to acquire skill in the use of the rifle, and laudable efforts are made, by those in authority offering prizes, to foster and encourage this spirit. The whole nation appears to have become a vast volunteer corps of riflemen. No less than 300,000 volunteers have become organized into regiments, companies and squads throughout the different cities, towns and counties, and for the past two years nearly they have been drilled under experienced officers and fuglemen belonging to the regular army; and now, it is stated, that in point of drill they rival the regiments of the line, while they far surpass all the soldiers of Europe as marksmen.
In the regular army there is a school for training soldiers to shoot with the rifle at marks ranging from 200 to 900 yards distance, but this practice is limited in comparison with that of volunteer riflemen who can fire away at their own expense as they please. To give unity and coherence to the different regiments, they have formed a “National Rifle Association,” which holds an annual meeting to contend for prizes at Wimbledon Common, near London. The best rifle shots of all the volunteer regiments and companies in the Empire contend for victory on these occasions, the second of which took place on the second week of last month and continued for three days. The highest prize was the “Queens Silver Cup,” valued at £250, which was awarded to the best shot; the “Prince of Wales Prize,” valued at £100; Duke of Cambridge Prize, £50; twenty prizes of Whitworth rifles, each worth £25, besides numerous smaller prizes. The Queens prize is only allowed to be contended for by those who have made the best shots at the successive distances of 200, 500, 600, 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. Seven shots were allowed to each trial, excepting the last, which was reduced to five shots. The twenty best shots at 200 yards received each a Whitworth rifle, and the best marksman of the lot a silver medal additional.
At 600 yards the best shot obtained the Prince of Wales prize, and at 1,000 yards the best received the Queens prize. The best shot at 600 yards was Capt. Robertson, of the 10th Perthshire rifles; the victor of all, who obtained the Queens prize, was Mr. Joplin, of the Second South Middlesex Rifles, who scored twenty points at the ranges of 200, 500 and 600 yards, and eighteen points at the ranges of 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. He gained the prize just by one point from J. Bingham, of Bristol.
The shooting this year is said to have greatly excelled that of last year, and the prizes were taken by persons who had obtained all their knowledge of the rifle through their company practice. Each contest- ant had to fire with an Enfield rifle of the army up to 600 yards; then, for the ranges beyond this, Whit- worth rifles were used, as the Enfield rifle cannot be relied on for such long distances. All those who gained seventeen points and upward had the right to contend for the chief prize, but none below this. The victor of the cup made a total of thirty-eight points out of forty shots.
The extreme range for target rifle shooting in England is four and a half times greater than the American, which is 220 yards.
As we understand the descriptions given in English newspapers of the rifle practice at Wimbledon Common, it surpasses the Swiss and American rifle shooting. When a bulls-eye of eight inches in diameter is struck in the center, it counts three points: when a bullet strikes within the circle of five inches it counts two points, and within one of twelve inches it counts one point. Mr. Joplin, the winner of the Queens Cup, made thirty-eight points out of forty shots, four points being made with five shots at 1,000 yards, which is the best shooting ever made so far as we know. The rifleman, Mr. E. Ross, who won the first prize last year, was also a competitor for it this year; but he was beaten easily by forty others.
As a whole, the shooting of the English rifle volunteers was twice as good this year as the last. Our most accurate American rifles - those which are most esteemed for prize target shooting - are all muzzle- loaders, but the best rifles for long ranges used in England, seem to be breech-loaders. All the shooting is executed off-hand, no rest is allowed, and the rifles are the common kind used in the army drill.