After a morning’s shooting we were idling over the remains of lunch on the back deck of my bother Steve’s home and regaling two neophytes, Ryan McKee and Matt Joiden, with our early adventures and misadventures on the road to Distinguished.
Many years ago Steve was working for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. At the time in question he stationed in Las Cruces, New Mexico and, as a perpetual student, was taking some courses at New Mexico State University. He somehow got hooked up with the schools Reserve Officer Training Corps and managed to wangle a rifle and ammunition our of them to shoot in what was the first match in which he used the M-14.
He showed up at that match and managed to get through the 200 yard standing stage without causing too much harm. He was unfamiliar with the nuances of the course of fire with this rifle, having only shot rapid fire with bolt gun previously. He knew he had to perform a reload in the rapid fire stage, so he charged his first magazine with nine rounds and loaded the singleton into the second. His logic was that if he fumbled the reload he would only risk a single shot. The targets went up and he dropped down into sitting and blasted away nine rounds before reloading and getting off his final shot.
When the smoke had cleared he heard a voice over his shoulder saying, “Son, you must be new at this. You did reload but the rules require it to be two and eight.” Memory has it that it was Roy Dunlap, Author of Ordnance Went Up Front and one the cutting edge gunsmiths of the day, who gave Steve one of his first coaching sessions in high power.
My reload story had to do with inserting the wrong magazine in a 300 yard rapid match. I flopped into position as the targets popped out of the pits and squeezed off my first two shots. I then pulled the magazine to reload and to my horror realized I had started with my eight round magazine as a round was stripped out and fell onto my mat.
Not wanting to be disqualified for a reload violation I grabbed the deuce and snapped it in and racked to bolt back to load the first round, sending the round in the chamber to join the loose one on my mat. I fired off the two rounds, reloaded and fired the first magazine which now held four rounds. I then felt around for the two rounds on the matt and loaded them singly. Somehow I managed to get all ten rounds down range into the target before it was pulled. My bemused scorekeeper neatly recorded all ten shots, signed the scorecard, and handed it to me barely containing his amusement.
The evolution of loading for rapid fire developed over time. The first US service rifles arms flintlock and cap lock muzzle loading guns. In those days, a good soldier could shoot, according to Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles, fire three rounds a minute in any weather. That would remain the standard until the introduction of the metallic cartridge and the single shot breech loading 1873 Trapdoor Springfield where the average rate of fire was eight rounds per minute for new recruits and 15 rounds per minute for experienced soldiers.
The first bolt action rifle to be adopted was the M1892 Krag-Jorgensen Rifle. This five shot magazine fed rifle had a rate of fire of 20 to 30 rounds per minute. It did not enjoy a long service life, being replaced in 1903, and its fame came in the Philippines where it was immortalized in a marching song that said in part, “Underneath the starry flag, civilize them with a Krag, and return us to our beloved homes.”
The United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903, a variant of the German Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle, replaced the Krag. The ’03 was popular and reached its pinnacle as the 1903 National Match Rifle, perhaps the most accurate bolt action service rifle ever made. The five shot internal box magazine was loaded from the top by stripper clips and the average soldier or marine could fire 15 well aimed rounds per minute out to a 1,000 yards.
The ’03 was replaced in 1936 with the semiautomatic U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, the Garand. Fed by an eight round En Bloc clip the rifle could spit out 40-50 rounds per minute. The introduction of the M1 into competition caused some head scratching among rule makers where ten shot strings were the standard, loaded five rounds at a time. How do you establish a level playing field for an eight shot rifle and a five shot rifle? After much discussion it was decided to have the M1s load two and eight, meaning both the bolt and semiautomatic competitors would each have a reload.
The conversation then wandered into loading pistols and revolvers. Since 1911 a magazine fed semiautomatic pistol has been the regulation US military sidearm. As far safety is concerned, conventional wisdom is that a 1911 pistol that has been loaded, cocked and the manual safety engaged is safe to carry. “Cocked and locked” gives many folks the willies as the cocked hammer appears ready to strike at any time.
This situation is similar to safe handling of the US Army’s standard sidearm between 1873-1892, “The Gun That Won the West,” the six shot M1973 Colt Single Action Army Revolver. The SAA’s firing pin protrudes from the hammer. When the hammer is down on a loaded cartridge it is nearly touching the primer and all it takes to fire a shot is it a hard strike. To prevent such an accident it was common practice to have the hammer resting on an empty chamber. This was accomplished by first bringing the hammer to half cock, opening the loading gate, checking that all six chambers were empty, and loading one round, skipping the next chamber, and the loading the next four chambersand then letting the hammer down gently on the empty chamber.
While it was no longer a six shooter an SAA so loaded was a safer firearm for both user and bystander and, in that condition, was described as having five beans in the wheel.