The following information comes from Practical Rifle Shooting by Walter Winans. Practical Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
The tyro who has never been used to handle any kind of firearm, cannot do better than procure a .22 cal. rim-fire rifle. There are many makes on the market from which he can suit himself, but an expensive weapon is unnecessary. The accuracy of any such arm is sufficient for the novice at the very short ranges with which he is to commence practice. The reason I recommend this small-charge rifle for the beginner is that he should not feel any recoil, and therefore escape the impulse to flinch; the short .22 calibre rim-fire cartridge is the cheapest, and makes least noise and recoil.
The pupil who is already used to handling a shot-gun may begin with larger calibres, as he will not become “gun shy” at the recoil. For the moment, however, I write for the absolute tyro who has never been used to firearms of any description. I may here mention that calibre is expressed in decimal points; .22 calibre means that the bore of the rifle is .22 of an inch in diameter.
The trigger-pull of the rifle should be adjusted to about a three-pounds pull. Cheap rifles cannot be made with so light a pull as superior weapons, because the softer quality of the metal used in their locks cannot be trusted for pulls of more than a certain lightness, as it wears rapidly to a dangerously light trigger-pull. The actual strength of the trigger-pull with which a given weapon is to be fitted should therefore be left to the gunmaker, who is conversant with its capabilities, subject to a general direction as above. It is to be impressed upon him that what you want is the lightest pull consistent with safety.
The question of trigger-pull is of the utmost importance. The heavy trigger-pull of military regulation patterns greatly enhances the difficulty of taking aim at moving objects.*
[*I take this opportunity of suggesting that army shooting would be greatly improved if the regulation trigger-pull were lightened. I do not apprehend that such a change would increase the danger of premature or accidental discharge. The present heavy pull makes the men heavy-handed. A light trigger-pull would teach the men to keep their fingers off the trigger until the actual moment of discharge, whereas the heavy pull causes them to keep a finger in the trigger guard, and to hang on to the trigger.]
The sights of the rifle are the next point for attention.
A page of this book will serve to indicate how far along the barrel the hind-sight should be placed. For this purpose hold a page at varying distances from your eyes until you have discovered exactly how close you can hold a page without causing the letters to appear blurred. The hind-sight of your rifle should be fixed on the barrel at this distance from your best eye—the right eye, in case the sight of both eyes is identical—when the weapon is at your shoulder and you are looking along the barrel according to the directions which follow. If your left eye is the best, you had better shoot left-handed, i.e., put the rifle to your left shoulder and use your left fore-finger for the trigger, although that finger is not so sensitive as the right fore-finger.
Do not crane the head forward, but stand upright and bring the rifle slowly to your shoulder. The right arm is to be well extended, but not so far as to make your position stiff.
Take aim by looking through the hind-sight, but not by lowering your head.
Personally, I do not lower my head at all, but bring the stock sufficiently high up my shoulder to bring the sights up to my eye. The eye is not to be brought down to the sights, but the sights brought up to the eye. The stock of the rifle must fit you to enable you to do this; I give directions for this later.
The importance of this direction for sighting, when firing at objects in quick motion, or in “snap-shooting,” cannot be exaggerated, as any user of the shot-gun will bear witness.
The usual head-poked-forward attitude, and the regulation high position of the right elbow adopted by soldiers, is one of the chief reasons why they are unable to hit moving objects.
The .22 rifle has a short barrel, and you will generally find that the makers fit the hind-sight far too close to the eye for any but the most short-sighted. Such a sight appears blurred on trial. When, however, it has been moved forward sufficiently to enable you to clearly distinguish the “V” in it, you will probably find that there remains very little space between the hind and front sights. This adjustment makes correct long-range aiming more difficult, for the closeness of the two sights magnifies any error in your aim; but this will not prove a hindrance to correct shooting at the short ranges with which you will commence practice with this rifle, and the ease and speed with which you can take aim will more than compensate any such variation.
The whole art of practical rifle shooting consists in the marksman’s ability to take instantaneous aim, and to discharge his weapon before he loses that aim.
It is of little value to understand where the hindsight should be placed upon a rifle, if that sight is incorrectly shaped. There ought to be a wide shallow “V,” so that the front-sight can be instantly centred in it, but all side projectors, as in the American Buck Horn sight, I consider a hindrance. The sight should be made very thick, at least one-third of an inch in thickness. The “V” should be wide and shallow, with its edges bevelled to the face farthest from the eye. This arrangement gives the “V” a clear knife-edge, and yet does not weaken its sides. Also the hind-sight must be upright or incline slightly towards your eye; if it inclines away from the eye (as makers like to set it), it does not look the dead black which it does when in shadow, and consequently is not so great a contrast to your white front-sight.
The best front-sight is a bead-sight. If the whole of this is seen, the elevation (or vertical adjustment of aim) can be kept constant; with “barley-corn,” or pyramid-shaped, front-sights the eye catches a variable portion of the front-sight in successive aims, which are consequently liable to be placed too high or low. Target shots correct this source of error by painting dots, &c., on the front-sight, of course, an inadmissible device for practical work. The bead, for a beginner, is to be at least one-quarter of an inch in diameter, and it should be white. All military rifles have black front-sights, which are practically useless except against a white target. It was doubtless the target shooters, not practical shots, who decided on black front-sights for military rifles, for sporting rifles are always sold with plated or white front-sights. For the benefit of American readers I may explain that by sporting I mean what is called a hunting rifle in the States; the American “sporting” rifle is called a “match” rifle in England.
The best material for a white bead-sight is the Lyman inlaid-ivory. A good substitute is white enamel, but both are unfortunately brittle. The easiest and cheapest, although a troublesome, method for obtaining a white sight is to carry a tube of water-colour Chinese white, from which a squeeze of white may be applied to the bead as a preliminary to shooting. I always carry such a tube of Chinese white when out deerstalking or shooting wild boar, and in the latter case, when quick, accurate firing in a bad light may be called for, the little consequent trouble may well save a man’s life.
As I have already said, the hind-sight is to be upright; better still, it may be slightly inclined towards the shooter.
Many sporting rifles are fitted with a hind-sight sloped away from the shooter, and the eye consequently sees the back-sight as grey, thanks to the reflection of light from above. The “V” thus loses in definition, while the contrast between the black hind-sight and the white of the front-sight is destroyed. In order to maintain the blackness of the hind-sight, shooters may carry a supply of the usual sight black sold by gun makers. In case of need the smoke from a lighted match is a serviceable substitute.
For the first lesson, to which we are now to proceed, it is essential that the back-sight should be as dead a black as possible. It is best artificially blackened. This painting of sights may appear a concession on my part to target-shooters’ methods, but I borrow them for the beginner, whose lessons should be made as easy as is possible. I do not approve of the platina line usual on the hind-sight of sporting rifles; it only gets confused with the front-sight, and does not enable you to find the centre of the “V” any easier.
Open the breech of your rifle and make certain that it is unloaded. In the case of a drop-barrel action, do not raise the barrel into line with the butt when closing the breech, but elevate the butt.
The pupil is to stand in front of a mirror. Look at the right eye of the face reflected in the glass. The rifle should now be brought to the shoulder and the reflected eye covered with the front-sight. The reflected eye must be looked at with your head erect. Bring up the rifle to your shoulder slowly, and, if the stock fits you properly, as it touches your shoulder, your eye, the bottom of the “V” of the hind-sight, and the whole of the bead of the front-sight should be in line with the bottom of the reflection of your eye in the glass. If this does not come readily, consult your gunmaker as to the fit of the rifle’s stock.
Most .22 rifles are, in my opinion, fitted with stocks that are much too short. The fit of the stock of a rifle is as important as the fit of the stock of a shot-gun. It is customary with some gunmakers to ignore the essential nature of thus fitting the stock of a rifle to its user, although they take great pains with the fit of a shot-gun; but the ability to take quick and accurate aim depends upon such “fit,” whatever the class to which the weapon belongs. It is unfortunate that the majority still look on a rifle as a weapon only fit for deliberate shooting at stationary objects. With the badly-balanced regulation rifle, a stock which is not fitted, a heavy trigger-pull, and a black front-sight, the soldier has a combination with which it would puzzle the best shot in the world to make good snap-shooting.
Besides adjusting the fit of the stock, a gunmaker can render the novice another service. Being assured that the weapon is unloaded, take aim at the gunmaker’s eye. He will then tell you whether you cant the rifle to one side in the act of aiming, and how to squeeze-off the trigger instead of pulling it, and so jerking-off your aim. A man accustomed to a shot-gun will not need this instruction. Experience with that weapon will soon tell him whether the stock of his rifle fits, or if it needs more bend, cast-off, to be lengthened or shortened.
The scene of a first essay at rifle shooting should be chosen with a careful eye to the background, which should be ample and safe, so that wherever a bullet goes it will do no damage. Also, there should be no hard substances about, such as stones, &c., off which a bullet will ricochet. A bullet, striking water at an angle which is in any real degree more acute or obtuse than a right angle, is almost sure to ricochet.
The first mark may be a tin can, or other easily penetrable mark of about that size. The mark should be supported at the level of the pupil’s eye upon a short wooden stake. An iron rod must not be used for this purpose. The light bullet of a .22 rifle will glance off an iron support, and may do damage in consequence; and the same risk makes a glass bottle an unsuitable target for use with this weapon. Do not have this object so supported that it drops off if the stake is hit. The mark ought to stand at a distance of not less than ten yards in front of a butt, which should be composed of some soft material, such as earth or sand, in order that the bullets may imbed themselves in it and not rebound. Even hard wood is a dangerous butt with these light bullets, which are apt to fly back if they strike a knot in it.
At first, take plenty of time, and bring the rifle to your shoulder with the greatest deliberation, but fire the instant it touches your shoulder. Be careful, at the moment of firing, that you do not jerk the weapon off its aim, and be especially on guard against bobbing or dropping the muzzle of the rifle as you squeeze the trigger—a hard trigger-pull adds to this tendency.
The first distance may be five yards, and at this range practice a gradual increase of speed in firing as you gain in confidence and ability to hit the mark. Do not increase the speed at which you bring the rifle to the shoulder, but let all the saving in time be made after the weapon is raised, and not in the act of raising the rifle.
“Festina lente,” “make haste by going slowly,” is the motto for rapid shooting. Haste in bringing the rifle to the shoulder results in erroneous first alignment of the sights upon the mark. In consequence, you either fire and miss, or time is wasted in finding your sights. A good object-lesson in the right method of taking aim for rapid firing may be learned by watching a first-class game-shot. The shot-gun comes up to the shoulder rapidly but not hurriedly, smoothly, and is discharged on the instant of touching the shoulder. Do not let the butt of the stock slide up your shoulder; bring the rifle well forward and then back into the shoulder; do not have any lappet or pocket or other unevenness on that side of your coat to catch, or otherwise impede, the butt of the rifle. Wear a soft-fronted shirt, or shoot in your shirt-sleeves.
There is a machine, called the “sub-target,” which is useful.
The machine consists of a stand to which any make of rifle can be attached in such a way that there is no perceptible obstruction to the freedom with which the rifle can be handled within a limited field. This field is, however, sufficient to in no way embarrass any handling of the rifle necessary in connection with taking aim at a stationary target. When the sights of the rifle are aligned on the target, a pointer follows these movements on a miniature target affixed to the machine. When the rifle is fired this pointer pierces the miniature target at a spot exactly corresponding to the spot, on the real target, at which the rifle’s sights were aligned at the moment of firing.
In point of fact, the action of the machine is more delicate than this blunt statement indicates. The moment at which the trigger of a rifle is pulled and that at which the bullet leaves the muzzle do not coincide completely. The sub-target rifle recognises this, and its pointer does not pierce the miniature target at the moment when the trigger of the rifle is pulled, but at that in which the bullet (if the rifle were loaded) would leave the muzzle. This is a most important feature, for, infinitesimal as is this difference in time, it is sufficient for the recoil, if the rifle were loaded, to throw the front-sight slightly out of the alignment which the marksman chose.
The machine can be used with blank cartridges; so crimped as to cause a recoil, and the best practice is to mix blank and dummy cartridges. If the instructor handles these mixed loadings the pupil will not be forewarned when to expect a recoil or explosion and when no result as the hammer strikes. Thus there will be demonstrable evidence of the extent to which men, imperfectly cured of gun-shyness, flinch and “shoot wild” when pressing a trigger which they expect to cause an explosion and recoil.
The machine has the advantage of greatly removing the difficulty which want of space causes to those who desire practice. It also gives no opportunity for complaint from neighbours who object to the noise of firing. It can be set up in a billiard- or reading-room and really cause no annoyance to other users of the room.
I suggest its use in institutes.
I wish to emphasise this point. Use dark targets with neutral colour bull’s-eyes, so that you may use a white front-sight on the rifles. As already repeated several times over, the practical rifle fore-sight is white, not black, and the practical target ought, therefore, to be dark.
Reverting to real shooting, practice may be varied after a while by taking up a position with the back to the target. Then turn and fire. Before attempting this variation of your practice, be careful to satisfy yourself that no dangerous results will follow should you accidentally let the weapon off while in the act of turning towards the mark. Do not, however, attempt firing in this way until considerable practice has taught you not to feel flustered. Later, you may take up a position at a distance from the point at which you mean to fire, advancing, halting, and firing instantly as you stop at different distances. In no case must you permit yourself to blaze away, but always make certain of your aim, even if you are conscious that you are slow in doing so. It is natural to keep increasing the speed at which you fire, and then to find that you have lost accuracy at the price of speed. The only cure is to begin anew, at the shorter range and with greater deliberation.
It is advantageous to have some one to replace the fallen or damaged cans, as walking to and fro between the mark and firing point both wearies a man and takes his attention from the real business in hand. But whether a rifle be loaded or empty, open or shut, remember that it must never be pointed in this man’s direction. It is absolutely essential to learn from the first that a rifle must never be pointed at any living thing unless with the intention of killing it. Be especially careful that a rifle is not pointing towards any one as you load it. It may jar-off; some otherwise very careful shots are guilty of this fault.
An air-gun might be used for this preliminary practice. But something much softer than a tin would have to be used as mark.
A small miniature running deer can be set up in any room for shooting at with an air-gun.
It should be made of soft wood, a profile of a stag, not modelled in relief, and shoot at it with darts, not slugs. A modelled stag causes the slugs to glance. A dart sticks in the deer and shows the hits, whereas a slug would glance off, or anyhow not show hits so distinctly.
If you have darts coloured differently for each shooter, you can tell who makes the best score, rather on the principle of playing bowls; after each man has shot six shots, for instance, you can look at the darts sticking in the “deer” and see whose average “hit” has been closest to the heart.
The labour of loading is, however, an objection, as loading between each shot will make your hand shake. In using this weapon it is, therefore, desirable to employ a loader.
The beginner must not rush into practice. A dozen shots are quite enough for the first day; on subsequent days the number may be increased gradually. Stop at the least symptom of fatigue or carelessness. You must not mind if all your shots are too high or too low, for this merely means that the sights need adjustment. In the former case, file down the base of the “V” of the hind-sight; in the latter, obtain a higher hind-sight (or alter the front-sight conversely). If your shots vary, some high, some low, the cause is bad shooting, and not an error in the sights.
If you find that you cannot hit the mark even when taking deliberate aim, get the gunmaker to try some shots from a rest, and regulate the weapon, as may be necessary, to shoot higher or lower. But on no account attempt to use a rest for yourself, or you will find it so pleasant, and so comparatively easy, that you will be tempted to shoot from a rest or in the prone position.
The object of the course which I advise is to teach you to become a first-class shot while standing, and when firing at moving objects, before you are acquainted with the temptations held out by other positions. The user of a rifle ought no more to take a “pot shot,” or shoot from a rest, than the user of a shot-gun.
The deleterious fascination of shooting in the prone position, and of “resting” the rifle, needs no further demonstration than may be had by observing the general failure of English shots, compelled to shoot in the erect position, in competitions in the United States or on the Continent. Continental and American shots do not fail in this way.
The regular excuse of men who have failed to shoot straight in the erect position is that “the position is not military.” This may be so. I have had no experience, as I am thankful to say I have never yet had occasion to fire at a man. But my experience of big-game shooting teaches me that at least half my shots have been made when standing erect; and I cannot but think that a skirmisher will often need to fire as he stands, or as he runs forward, under conditions in which the adoption of any other position would hide his mark from sight, or waste the moment when alone he could fire with effect.
The pupil is not to proceed to the second stage of practice until he has learned to fire accurately and rapidly under the conditions which I have described:—while standing erect with the .22 calibre rifle, when standing with his back to the mark and firing as he turns, and when halting to fire as he advances towards his mark. As a definition of good shooting in this style, I may call a “good shot” one who can hit the tin, allowing two seconds for raising the rifle and firing, twenty-four out of twenty-five times. I do not say every time, as the mere fact of being able to hit it every time makes a man sometimes miss from being too confident and careless.
The second stage of practice consists in firing at objects crossing the line of fire away from and towards one, slowly at first, later at increasing speeds.
The .22 rifle used heretofore is an excellent weapon for the next stage did it not require reloading after every shot. I want you to get into the way of rapid aiming and rapid firing, and for this reason a repeater, or one of the new Winchester automatic rifles, is to be preferred. The automatic Winchester is a very pleasant weapon to “play with”; you can keep a tin can rolling by “pumping” a series of shots at it. After missing a shot at a moving object, it allows of one’s putting in several further shots in as many half-seconds, while it does not disturb one’s aim or attention like the usual repeating rifle which requires hand ejection. It can also be had in .32 and .38 calibres central fire, shooting smokeless powder and nickel-covered bullets.
Avoid most moving targets which travel on an overhead wire. They run unevenly, and a mark which progresses by fits and starts is much more difficult to hit than one travelling at an even rate, or even at alternating—faster and slower—speeds, and it is therefore apt to vex a beginner, and is no practice even for an expert as regards teaching “allowance” in front of an object.
A good form of moving target runs down an inclined plane of which the ends are alternately lifted, so that the target runs by simple force of gravity.
In another form, as at Gastinne Renette’s gallery in Paris, galloping rabbits pass by hydraulic power.
A useful form of practice target is one in which small targets appear at uncertain points, and disappear again after a two-seconds exposure. In fact, there is scarcely any limit to the variety of moving and disappearing target practice which can be secured by exercising a little ingenuity.
But, whatever your target and its action, do not have a bullseye, and above all do not have a white target with a black bullseye.
The proper target for present purposes may be of any uniform neutral tint with no mark in the centre. Begin with a size which you can easily hit, and then gradually decrease the size. You must not be satisfied until you have learned to hit this target fairly in the centre, although that centre is not indicated upon it. Always shoot consciously to hit the centre. You will, with practice, and only practice, learn how much to aim in front of the centre, according to its distance and speed.
At the short range, to which you still adhere, no allowance need be made for the rate at which the target is travelling unless it is actually “thrown”—i.e., no speed allowance need be made for a mark moving at less than ten miles an hour.
Unless a man is left-handed, and so shoots from his left shoulder, he will soon find that it is easier to hit an object moving from right to left, rather than one moving in the contrary direction. As an illustration of this truth I will mention the case of a keeper of my acquaintance. He is equally ready to shoot from either shoulder, and when out ferreting he stands prepared to fire from whichever shoulder is likely to afford him the easier shot. Thus if a rabbit bolts to the right he fires from his left shoulder, with the right arm extended, and vice versa.
If a pupil finds that he can shoot better from the left shoulder, whether because he uses that side from preference, since the left eye has better vision, or because his left forefinger responds more truly to the will, or he is left-handed, by all means let him shoot from that side.
The trigger is always to be squeezed by the first finger. The grip of the old Martini rifle was so thick that men with small hands were compelled to use the second finger. The neater grip of modern rifles has removed this necessity, but one sees the trick perpetuated even in the handling of revolvers, although in this case it entails a scorched first finger, owing to the blowback of powder from the cylinder. Apart from the awkward appearance of the trick it is illogical. The simplest experiment in fine work will demonstrate the higher sensitiveness of the first finger, and to wilfully use the second in pulling a trigger is to handicap one’s ability to shoot straight.
Many of the bad habits older shots have got into, and which the younger consciously follow, are similar survivals of what was very useful and necessary in former times, but are now not only unnecessary but even a hindrance.
The final stage in this kind of practice-shooting is to fire at marks flung into the air, rolled or trundled past one, or away from one. For such practice, automatic or repeating rifles are to be used, unless the cost of them prove prohibitive. Such rifles allow a series of shots to be fired until the mark is hit. A sandy soil is, again, for rolling targets, the best upon which to practise, since the spurt of dust which is flung up by the impact of each bullet can be used as an index to the error in aiming, showing as it does whether the bullet struck the ground over or under, in front or behind, the mark, and one can correct one’s aim for the next shot.
The ordinary clay pigeon machine makes too difficult shooting for all but the most expert rifle shots. Such a trap as the old-fashioned Bogardus trap, throwing glass balls, is better, since these machines cast the mark more vertically into the air and slower, and the shooter can be closer to the target. But whatever the mark, it should always be of a brittle substance easily penetrated, or there is a risk that the bullet may glance off and inflict injury at a distance. For the same reason it is better not to have the marks thrown up by hand, unless it can be arranged that the person charged with throwing them is safely sheltered behind bullet-proof and glance-proof shelter. To shoot at a stone thrown in the air, or even a bottle, (if this latter is shot at with a small charge), is a very dangerous practice, on account of the bullets glancing aside on impact.
One cannot be too careful in the selection of a ground when bullets are to be fired into the air. The popular idea that a bullet “fired into the air” can do no harm—as in the police-court plea, “I only fired into the air in order to frighten him!”—is quite erroneous. A bullet propelled by a heavy charge; even a bullet from the .22 short cartridge, may do great harm, although fired into the air. My own feeling about the risk is such that I never feel entirely comfortable when using a rifle for rook shooting, for fear that one of the falling bullets may strike and injure some one.
A .22 rifle may be safely used from the seashore as long as—granting that the day is clear—no boats or bathers are in range (say 700 yards, a .22 bore bullet). Objects thrown into the air between the marksman and the sea can then be safely fired at, while objects flung into the water and fired at as the waves toss them, make good practice; but the glare from the water is trying for the eyes, unless you use blue or grey goggles.
Increase the calibre of your rifle as you become expert with the .22, if you can afford the necessary outlay, and go through the same progressive course of practice as before. What you want to learn is to be as handy with the rifle, which you are to use either for big game or war, as small-game shots are with their shot-guns.
If you unfortunately have to use a military weapon, you will not take long to learn that it is impossible to do good snap-shooting with the heavy regulation trigger-pull. Further, some patterns of military rifle have a draw-pull which renders them particularly awkward for quick shooting.
Some men find that they can shoot wonderfully fast with the “aperture,” or Lyman, back-sight. The Lyman back-sight consists of a circular aperture in an upright stem. Instead of taking aim by seeing the fore-sight bead in the bottom of the “V” of the back-sight, the user of the Lyman back-sight centres his bead through this circular aperture. The advantage of the sight is that the user need make no effort to see the bead in the centre of the back-sight’s hole, for the eye naturally performs this centring. The hole can, consequently, be of a comparatively large diameter without hindrance to the user’s accuracy in aim.
In ordinary shooting, especially when the mark is a stationary target, the marksman’s eye is trying to focus the mark, the back and front sight, all at the same time—an impossible feat, because the human eye can only focus at one distance at any one moment. Most men reach nothing but a compromise, and see no one of the three points with real clearness, and this is particularly the case when the hind-sight is not placed sufficiently forward. My principle—and I believe that it is the principle of all rapid firers—is to concentrate my sight on the mark and to focus my eye on this alone. If the rifle’s stock fits properly, and you are in practice, the sights then come naturally into line, and the trigger is pressed without consciously troubling about their focus.
If practice shows that this is not possible for any given man, he may derive advantage from the use of the Lyman back-sight, as then the hind-sight needs no focussing.
Remember that the Lyman back-sight is to be used like a window. You are to look through it, and not to trouble about its existence, still less about bringing it into focus. The front-sight is sufficiently far away from the eye to be seen quite clearly, although the eye is fixed on the mark to be hit. I doubt if any one can become a really good shot if he mixes the use of a “V” and the Lyman back-sight. The user’s experience must guide his choice, unless, if he be a soldier, red tape has anything to say against the Lyman. I have not had much practice with the latter except at stationary targets, and I have then seemed to find that its use has an appreciable effect in the way of diminishing the eye-strain of aiming, and I can shoot very rapidly with it. Its use has suggested this doubt to my mind—that the Lyman sight might be dangerous when heavy charges are in use because it might strike the eye during recoil. Fuller experience will no doubt enable others to say if this is a real or baseless fear, or if the pin might not be placed far enough from the eye to avoid this danger. In that case the aperture would have to be made larger.
When firing at moving objects, the rifle should always be brought to the shoulder with deliberation,—in early attempts—and body, arms, and rifle should swing so that the rifle comes to the shoulder already “following” the object. Follow your moving mark by swinging the extended arm and the upper part of your body in the direction of the object’s motion, as you raise the rifle. This motion must not be checked when the sights are aligned, but the trigger is to be pressed while the motion continues.
Theoretically a rifle should be fired as would be a shot-gun in the hands of an adept, as soon as the butt touches the shoulder. This is possible at short ranges, and comparatively large objects, but at longer ranges a certain interval must usually intervene while the weapon follows the motion of the mark. In practice, therefore, the rifle-shot must shoot like a rather “pokey” gun-shot. You should, however, try to snap-shoot as much as possible. It is better shooting to fire thus, and the more rapidly a man fires after the butt has once touched his shoulder the less danger will there be for those who shoot with him or the beaters, as he fires when he sees “all clear “; if he “follows” too much he may swing across a danger zone.
Practice alone can tell a man what “allowance” he is to make in shooting at a moving object. The allowance, whether above or below, before or behind the mark, depends on the man as well as upon the speed and direction of the object aimed at. Some men cannot continue the swing of their weapon at the moment of firing, and they must, therefore, make a correspondingly increased allowance. Others find that their trigger-finger responds more or less quickly to the alignment of the sights.
For practice at objects trundled along the ground no mark is more serviceable than a couple of clay pigeons, fixed with the concave sides together. Sandy soil is preferable for reasons already given, but stony soil must be avoided owing to the danger of bullets ricochetting on impact with a stone. A repeater is altogether better than a single-shot rifle, as a miss with the latter allows of no second shot at the same object. Consequently you cannot attempt to correct the error which led to the miss, or compare the margin of error between two misses. It is really impossible to trundle two successive clays at the same speed and angle.
A swinging ball naturally suggests itself as an easy device to work, but it is a treacherous mark. Human nature just as naturally teaches you to wait for the end of the swing before firing. The swinging ball mark, therefore, teaches trick shooting. The same temptation must be guarded against when the mark is a clay pigeon thrown from a trap. You are apt to take it at the top of its flight.
A good mark for a .22 rifle is a small toy balloon inflated with gas and let loose, but it is a dangerous mark unless you are firing out to sea, and then you must be certain that no boats or swimmers are within range.
As soon as the pupil has obtained thorough mastery of the .22 rifle for rapid firing at stationary and moving marks, at ranges up to twenty yards, it is time to proceed to longer ranges. For these a weapon of larger calibre is better, though not absolutely necessary.
Such an advance necessitates increased outlay and increased command of space, and one or either of these considerations may preclude the possibility of doing more than perfecting practice at the short range and with the .22 calibre. Those whom necessity may disappoint in this way can, however, indulge in this consolation, if they have followed my suggestions faithfully—that they are good shots within their limits, and that a man who is a first-rate shot within those limits only needs the means of practice and a little application in order in a very short time to qualify himself at longer ranges and with heavier rifles, and even, without further practice, to beat any man who has only done “regulation target shooting” and no practical shooting.
Men accustomed to handle shot-guns, and therefore not afraid of, or liable to have their nerves upset by, the noise and recoil, have no need to commence rifle practice with the .22, but may handle a rifle of heavier calibre from the first. Such a pupil must, none the less, be content to make a beginning with a large target and at short ranges, and will have to be extremely careful to have a safe background, passed as safe by an expert.
Those who do not mind a little expense can have a special shot-gun made to use as one would a rifle. For this purpose a single or double barrel 28 or 32 bore shot-gun should be selected, one with the most extreme choke possible, shooting the “number” of shot with which it makes the closest pattern. Fit it with rifle-sights, and use clay pigeons from the machine as a mark. If the choke is really extreme, such a weapon needs to be held nearly as straight at a clay pigeon as a rifle would have to be at a roe deer, and affords excellent practice in rapid sighting. It must not, however, be handled as a shot-gun without sights, but a “bead” is to be drawn, exactly as though the weapon were a rifle. It enables one to practise a particular shot for an indefinite number of times while standing on a fixed spot and firing at a series of clay pigeons sent up from a machine adjusted to a given angle and strength, till you can make certain of that particular shot and know the exact allowance for it. A series of trials, with the machine sending up its pigeons at a different angle in each, will soon teach you what your allowance must be for each angle and speed, and you instinctively, when shooting at a deer, allow the proper distance for whatever direction or at what speed he is travelling. The ideal stage is reached when, like a billiard-player, the marksman’s eye intuitively calculates “such a speed and such an angle, therefore this allowance.”
When a pupil has mastered all the above varieties of shooting at the moving target, but not before he has done so, he may allow himself to fire in the back or prone position at fixed targets, and at ranges from 100 up to 1,000 or more yards. I personally prefer the back position, which is regulation in the U.S., but I believe not regulation in any other armies. In this art I will not attempt to become an instructor—first, because there are plenty of excellent books upon the subject; and next, because I have no pretensions to be called a target-shot with the rifle. I would, however, say this—
The better a man learns to shoot in slow shooting at a fixed target, in the prone or back position, or even when kneeling, the worse shot he will become for shooting at moving targets or for quick shooting, and for shooting in the standing position, and vice versa.
To become an all-round shot one must, of course, learn to shoot in all styles, but any man who wishes to become a practical shot, and to remain one, must be very careful not to overdo deliberate shooting. There are a few exceptional men who can be pointed out as first-class shots at fixed targets, and also at big game; but I do not recall a single first-class big-game shot with the sporting rifle who is also a first-class shot with the military weapon. The only man who, to my knowledge, might be named as evidence disproving this statement uses the sporting and military weapons equally well at both moving and fixed objects, but I understand that he confines his practice at the butts to ranges not exceeding one hundred yards. He is also a first-class gun-shot. All my experience leads me to repeat that nothing spoils practical rifle shooting so much as indulgence in deliberate shooting at a fixed target.
Bisley must necessarily provide more fixed targets than moving targets, its supply of targets being strictly calculated to meet the demand for them by those who come to the ranges, but I feel sure that the National Rifle Association only needs to find a demand for more moving targets in order to provide them. A mounted cavalryman, at a 200 to 250 yards range, would be a useful target when that day arrives.
In this connection, I will mention what has been one of my dreams for some years. Speaking from memory, I think that the trolleys which are used for shifting targets run down the long inclined line of rails at the “90” butt at a speed of nearly twenty miles an hour, if left to themselves. They run by gravity. Twenty miles an hour is about the speed which would be right for a big target representing a cavalry charge, and there is room at the “90 butt” firing-point for several hundred men to fire in squads at such a target as it passes their front, and it would have a very spectacular effect; the number and value of the hits for each group of, say, fifty men would be marked at the end of each “run.” Such a target would surely be of value, but it would cost a good deal to work, and the idea could not be tried unless there was a certainty that men would be forthcoming to make use of it.
A feature of miniature rifle ranges at most places of popular amusement is the “Jungle,” and although it is a fashion with target-shots to decry the value of practice at the “jungle,” I take leave to differ, considering practice of the kind to afford most valuable instruction in practical rifle shooting.
The “jungle” consists of a stage representing rough ground across which run mechanical rabbits, tigers, &c. When struck, the animals fall over.
A good form of practice is to select two out of the rifles provided, which are sighted alike, and to use them alternately, having an attendant to load. One should endeavour to get a certain number of rabbits without letting one pass unshot at. This is quick practice, and two men may have a good match at, say, fifty rabbits to see who can knock over that number first.
It is usually possible to make an arrangement with the owner of a “jungle” by which one can bring his own rifle and fire at so much per hour during slack times. The plan is cheaper than paying the proprietor so much per shot, and is at once cheaper and easier than fitting up a private “jungle.”
Most repeating .22 calibre rifles are too powerful for use at such a range, as they take long or medium .22 calibre cartridges, which knock the rabbits about. The usual jungle ammunition is the short .22 calibre cartridge, or even .22 bulleted caps.