LIKE A FIDDLER ON THE ROOF…

 

LIKE A FIDDLER ON THE ROOF…

Few sports are more traditional than the shooting sports. We have been doing things the same way for a long time and the traditional way of doing things borders on sacred to many. Then there are others who look upon shooting as a bit stodgy, feeling that it is better described as some 150 years of tradition uninhibited by progress. No matter how you look at we all know that the secret to good shooting is consistency and that may be why the sport has changed so little, as consistency is ingrained in a shooter’s psyche.

Tradition is the glue that holds our game together.Perhaps a look back on the origins of some of our traditional ways of doing things will put them into perspective and in a better light for the more impatient of us.

When I was a wet behind the ears kid, just starting out shooting .22 in the gallery the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice heavily supported civilian shooting at all levels. Junior programs received an allotment of ammunition for each qualifying shooter and for every ten rounds of ammunition they also issued one “6920-00-557-4606 Target, Smallbore Rifle”, the venerable eleven bull A-17 target. This most ubiquitous bull’s eye for indoor training and competition was standardized in the early 1930s. There is probably not a competitive shooting in the United States who has not shot at the five ring fifty foot target. Despite the rise in popularity of international three position shooting and its more demanding target, which has gone through three changes since the early 1950s, the old A-17 hangs on unchanged.

Talking about tradition, while the A-17 has notable longevity the outdoor fifty and 100 yard smallbore rifle targets, which were derived from English targets in 1919 are still official targets: the A-23 and A-25.

How about the term “Maggie’s Drawers” for a miss in high power? When target shooting first became formalized few people had spotting scopes and so target boys would hunker down in a hole dug in front of a large flat steel plate with a target painted upon it. When a massive .45-70 lead slug clanged up against it they marked the location and value of the hit with a long stick which had a disc on its end, called a paddle, and then daubed a bit of paint over the chipped paint caused by the hit with a paint brush attached to a long stick. If it were a miss they waved a red flag across the target. A ribald ballad of the time entitled The Old Red Flannel Drawers That Maggie Woreled to the scoring flag’s name. Marking shots with paddles and flags is long gone but Maggie’s Drawers live on.

By the way, the place where targets were marked in those days of yore was a simple pit in the ground, another traditional term which has hung on.

The marking paddles’ large disc was usually painted red on one side and white on the other making them readily visible to the scorer and shooter. This device led to two terms, which hang on today and have cause much anguish on the firing line when they are confused: redisc and mark. If a scorer missed a shot being scored he would call for a redisc and the pit crew would simply repeat the signal. Woe be the competitor or scorer who gets confused and asks for a ‘mark.” In that case the target is pulled, pasted, and run up. As there was no shot hole it comes up a miss and has to be recorded as such on the score card.

Combat style shooting has become very popular recently and allows a two hand hold while the older more formal three gun 2700 pistol course of fire dictates a one hand hold. The reason for the difference rests in the origin of the pistol as a military arm. Mounted troops needed to be able to shoot at the enemy while controlling a madly dashing steed. The cavalryman’s carbine, a short shoulder arm, was not suitable for mounted use as it required two hands and so the horse pistol came into being. As it required just one hand to employ in combat its training reflected that and, in time, so did competition.

And what of formal strings of fire? Why five shots for pistol and two and eight for service rifle?

When the US Army adopted the ‘New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol’, popularly known as the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, in 1873, it was found that if a soldier loaded all six chambers and the gun was dropped on its hammer it would often discharge, wasting ammunition and likely wounding the owner. To avoid calamity, it was decreed that the pistol would be loaded with only five rounds with the hammer resting on the empty chamber, a procedure known as “five beans in the wheel.” Like the one hand hold this loading procedure transferred to training and then competition.

Two and eight seems obvious. The semiautomatic M1 Garand, the service rifle for two decades, starting in 1937, loaded with an en blocclip of eight rounds. When the M1 was first introduced there was discussion about going to a 16 shot string in competition. But as only the Army had the M1, the Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, and civilians still used the M1903 which loaded from five round stripper clips. In the interest of fair play it was agreed that the semiautomatic rifle would be loaded two and eight while the bolt gun continued with its five and five. The traditional loading pattern has hung on through the era of the 20 shot box magazine fed M-14 and M-16.

Tradition is a way of honoring those of the sport who came before us and of welcoming new shooters. Observing and preserving tradition, and teaching it to new shooters means that it will last beyond our own time.Tradition plays a great role in our sport. It links us to the past. It is how we keep our balance. To paraphrase Tevye the Milkman, “Without our traditions, our sport would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!

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Monophthongs, Diphthongs, And Firearm Terminology…

Monophthongs, Diphthongs, And Firearm Terminology

 

My daughters, like most of their contemporaries, are avid Harry Potter fans. At one time the English edition was published in advance of the United States edition. Before the practice stopped I ordered English editions which arrived on our doorstep about a week ahead of the US release, giving my girls great status among their circle of friends.

The first volume of J.K. Rowling’s immensely successful series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because a common language separates the two nations. It is not unusual for British books to have different titles in the United States as some words of the King’s English do not translate well to American English. For example, I am a big fan of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels the first of which was titled The Happy Return in England and Beat to Quarters in the United States.

That being said, I took the girls to see the film version of the book and was forced to stand in a long line with them, and their costumed contemporaries, at the local theater. I enjoyed the movie and was transported to the more familiar world of shooting by a scene in which Herminie Granger corrects Ron Weasley’s pronunciation of a word in an incantation “It’s Wingardium LevioSA, not LevioSAR.”

I was taken back to Camp Perry where new tower talker at Perry, unfamiliar with the smallbore discipline, announced the third match of the day, calling us to the line to shoot the “De War Match.”  We cringed at the phonetical mangling of Dewar which is correctly pronounced “Dew-Er.”

That brought up memories of new shooters trying to buy ammunition on Commercial Row. They might ask for Eli when they meant Eley. My shooting crony Kevin Nevius shoots for Team Lapua, commonly called La-Pu-Ah when its correct Finnish pronunciation is La-Pwa. We never had pronunciationproblems with domestic Winchester, Remington, Federal, or CCI. In retrospect no matter what the match ammunition’s name it is it can always be pronounced at X-Pen-Sive.

What of the carbine? It was originally a lighter, shortened rifle developed for the cavalry. The name apparently derives from its first users, French cavalry troopers called carabiniers. The most famous of these short rifles are the Spencer Carbine, the Germanshortened version of the Kar 98 the Karabiner 98k, the British modification of SMLE, the Rifle, No. 5 Mk I, “Jungle Carbine”, and the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1.

But, how is it pronounced? Is it Car-Bean or Car-Bine? It appears that the sociolinguistics experts come down on the side of the former.

Then what of the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1’s big brother, the U.S. Rifle, Caliber 30, M1? It was the first general issue semiautomatic military rifle to be fielded giving the World War II United States Army and Marine Corps infantrymen a distinct advantage over the bolt rifle wielding members of the Wehrmacht and the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun.

Development of the M1 began at the Springfield Armory in 1927 when a French Canadian born US arms designer began work on a primer actuated blowback semiautomatic rifle. It finally saw adoption in 1937. By the end of production, 20 years later, some 5.4 million had been manufactured. The rifle quickly took on the surname name of its inventor, St. Jean le BaptisteCantius Garand.

But what is the correct pronunciation of Garand? No one really cared until the Civilian Marksmanship Program opened sales of surplus M1s and ammunition to the masses. Among the Cosmoline encrusted customers of the CMP M1 sales program the pronunciation question took on a status well out of proportion to its importance.

Bunkered down with their rarely, if ever, fired annual purchasesof 12 rifles and cached cases of Lake City or HPX .30-06 ammunition the correct pronunciation of the inventor’s name became yet another way to establish caste. Having a fanciful Garand related handle on the CMP Forum, at least a four-figure number of posts, a low numbered CMP Customer number, membership in the Garand Collectors Association-all vaingloriously noted at the bottom of one’s post, along with boasting of being able to pronounce Garand properly helped establish one as a Brahmin in the Celestial Cosmoline Cosmos.

As youngster I heard about the Grand Rifle and about the Garand Rifle. I soon learned that the most commonly acceptedpronunciation was the second, Guh-Rand. It turns out that the inventor pronounced his name differently. Garand was born in St. Rémi, Quebec, Canada, but, lived there less than two years. He was just beginning to walk and talk when his family moved to the insular little borough of Jewett City, Connecticut, where he grew up. The insolated little hamlet had a dialect all its ownand it’s likely that, sandwiched between a Québécois lilt and a Yankee twang, he learned how to pronounce his name.

The answer to the pronunciation conundrum lies at the bottom of the first page of General Julian Hatcher’s seminal work, The Book of the Garand. Its first footnote appears at the 25th word and states that the name was, “Pronounced with G as in go, and the stress on the first syllable, to rhyme with parent (except the final sound is d instead of t) by the inventor.” I, for one, am not going to argue with an authority the stature of Hatcher.

With the French influence on the word carbine and Garand’s French-Canadian heritage perhaps the musical My Fair Lady’s Professor Henry Higgins, sums it all up best when he sings, “In France every Frenchman knows his language from A to Zed. The French don’t care what they do, actually, if they pronounce it properly.”

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LIKE FRED AND GINGER, WE WERE CHEEK TO CHEEK…

LIKE FRED AND GINGER, WE WERE CHEEK TO CHEEK…

When I was a kid, growing up in the shank of the 1950s, there were two great debates that filled miles of column inches in New York City’sDaily Mirror, a tabloid that The Old Man, a Brooklyn native, favored reading. After he discarded it my brother and I pawed through the 17 by 11 inch paper looking for sensational grisly crime photos and lurid cheesecake photos that were the hallmarkof the genre. But let me get to the point.

The first was the ongoing debate between the inhabitants of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn as to who was New York’s superior centerfielder, Willie, Mickey, or The Duke: The Giants’ Willie Mays, Yankee Mickey Mantle, or Duke Snider of the Dodgers. All three were All Stars, won the World Series, and eventually entered Baseball’s Elysian Field, Cooperstown.

It was the Big Apple’s golden age of baseball with one of the three New York teams reigning as World Champions from 1949 through 1956. In its final three years as a three team town the Giants won in 1954, the Dodgers in 1955, and the Yankees in 1956. It would never happen again for in 1957 the Dodgers and Giants decamped for the West Coast.

That being said, even as the generations that watched the trio grace the greensward of the Polo Grounds, Old Yankee Stadium, and Ebbets Field ages and now fills seats in the Great Grandstand in the Sky, the debate over the better centerfielder will, unlike them, never die

The argument has even entered popular culture. Terry Cashman’s songTalkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and The Duke)spins the tale of Major League Baseball ending each verse with the refrain, “Willie, Mickey and The Duke.” I unquestioningly supported The Duke as a young Dodge fan but, in the fullness of my years, I have come to believe that it was Willie who reigned supreme.

The second debate held no interest for a ten year old kid but was close to the heart of my mother, an avid movie goer and a high society/fashion aficionado. This discussion centered about who was the most intriguing, stylish, fashionable, and well-dressed man of her generation. The major players in this sartorial debate were the Duke of Windsor, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire.

When the Duke of Windsorwas the Prince of Wales he was the most dashing, handsome, and eligible bachelor in the world. His very presence gave young ladies the vapors,set their hearts aflutter, made them light headed, and weak in the knees. So wildly popular was he that there was even a song entitledI’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales that reflected and affirmed his cult status.

But, as King Edward VIII of England, he felt that he could notto do his job as he would have wished without the support of the woman he lovedand so abdicated, giving up the title ofKing of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire and Emperor of India for that of the Duke of Windsor. He also was reduced frombeing an Admiral of the Fleet to, in Merchant Marine terms, the third mate on an American tramp as the women he loved was twice divorced American socialite Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson.

The elegant and suave actor Cary Grant, with never a hair out of place and immaculate manicured nails, had an ivory smile. He was tall, trim, tanned, impeccably tailored, and handsome. Hands down Grant was simply one of the best dressed men of the era.

Then there was Fred Astaire, the most stylish, graceful, and athletic man ever to dance in top hat and tails. He was debonair, sophisticated, and could dance like no one else. In the movie Top Hat,he dances his signature number with Ginger Rogers while singing an Irving Berlin tune, Cheek to Cheek.

The song popped into my mind at the Great Pumpkin Match because of, oddly enough, Len Realty’s forgetfulness. It seems that Len, believing that cleanliness is next to godliness, pulled off his rifle’s cheek piece, inserted a bore guide, and scrubbed it out when he got home after the first day of shooting. When done he carefully packed it away for the return trip. Upon opening his rifle case at the range, he was shocked to find that cleanliness and forgetfulness also occasionally go hand in hand. While he packed his rifle, he forgot to pack his cheek piece.

Len, a gray haired shooter of the old school, uses a hoary old wooden rifle in an age of shiny aluminum stocks and was faced with having to withdraw from the match. I, another elder statesman of the sport, use a similar carbon based prehistoric stock because shooting is my religion and aluminum stocks have no soul. I proposed that we share my cheek piece. I am a fast shooter and for the rest of the day I shot my string, rolled over, pulled out the cheek piece and handed it to the hovering Remaly who rushed to his point, slid the cheek piece into his rifle, shot his string, and returned it to me so we could repeat the cycle.

Len and I were in a tight race for second after iron sight day with me in the lead by a slim four points, but nothing is vouched safe in a metric match. It would have been a great story line if Len had been able to make up the difference and forge ahead to beat me with my cheek piece. While Len made a valiant effort to close the gap it was, alas, not to be.

After 82 yearsTop Hatand Cheek to Cheekremain Astaire and Rogers’ best-known collaboration. One must wonder if the same might be said 82 years hence of the 2017 Great Pumpkin match when Remaly and Rocketto went cheek to cheek.

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SHOOTING’S CARROLL HARDY…

SHOOTING’S CARROLL HARDY…

My shooting running mate Shawn Carpenter’s favorite sports teams, outside of rifle teams that is, are the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

In fact, he is responsible for bringing me back to baseball after a toxic combination of Robert Moses and Walter O’Malley caused the Brooklyn Dodgers to decamp from the Borough of Churches to the City of Angels. After my ten year old heart was broken by the westward migration of the Dodgers baseball faded into the background. In its place I took up, of all things, following America’s Cup racing. I suspect my juvenile affectation was based on my infatuation with Goodyear Blimps which, at that time, were all namedafter the United States’ America’s Cup yachts.

The romantic in me was in awe of the majestic classic J Boats of the 1930s and the technophile in me was enamored of the sleek 12 meter boats of the 50s through 80s. When commercialism and professionalism entered America’s Cup sailing in the late 1980s my interest in sail racing waned.

It was then that Shawn came along and revived my interest in baseball. Living in southern New England there were three ball teams within a 150 mile radius, the Boston Red Sox, The New York Yankees, and the New York Metropolitans. I had to choose a team and it was easier than I thought.

I rejected the Mets because of team colors. As a Brooklyn fan I could live with Dodger Blue, but it was defiled by the black and orange of the much despised Giants. It then became an ethical decision. Simply put: did I want to root for the button down corporate machine which was the Yankees or did I want a soul? I became a Fenway Fanatic.

On top of that there were many Red Sox players that attracted me, such as Moe Berg. The journeyman catcher played in Boston from 1935 through 39 and stayed on as a coach in 1940 and 41. The Princeton and Columbia Law School graduate could speak seven languages but, as Senator outfielder Dave Harris remarked, “…he can’t hit in any of them.” Famed sportswriter John Kieran said that, “Moe was the most scholarly professional athlete I ever knew.” On the other hand, the wildly eccentric Casey Stengel, in a case of the pot calling the kettle black, remarked that, “Berg was the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Red Sox Icon Ted Williams, the Lones Wigger of hitting, in his second year in Boston, hadn’t heard of Kieran or Stengel when he asked Berg what made hitters like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth so special. Berg said, “…you are better than Gehrig, Ruth, or Jackson. When it comes to wrists you have the best.” If Berg was giving an honest evaluation or trying to build a young ballplayer’s confidence is debatable; what Williams went on to do with it is not.

Williams wanted to be known as the greatest hitter that ever hit and it would be hard to argue that he did not accomplish his goal. Harvard paleontologist and popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould called Williams’s 1941 season, in which he became the last ballplayer to hit .400, “the greatest achievement in 20th-century hitting” and “a lesson to all who value the best in human possibility.”

The last day of the1941 season began with Williams sitting on a .3995 average which would have rounded out to .400. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin gave him the choice of sitting out a double header and finishing the year with the rounded .400. Williams would have none of it insisting that if he was destined to hit .400 he would do it the right way and bat. He went six for eight in the two games and finished the season with a .406, the last player to do so.

Williams single minded focus on hitting caused him never to miss an at bat buton September 20, 1960, in the waning days of his Hall of Fame career, Williams stepped into the batter’s box at old Memorial Filed in the first inning and faced Orioles starter Hal “Skinny” Brown. Williams fouled the first pitch off his instep off his foot.

The Splendid Splinter was in such pain that he immediately hobbled off the field and into the club house. Manager Pinky Higgins called out to journeyman outfielder Carrol Hardy, ‘Hardy, get a bat; you’re the hitter.’ Just like that Hardy became the answer to a baseball trivia question: “Who is the only player ever to pinch hit for Williams?”

Fast forward to August 14, 2017. The US Roberts team was heading into the Army Shooting Club at Bisley Camp to attend a dinner in their honor hosted by The Perrymen, a British shooting club consisting of British shooters who have competed at Camp Perry, when NRA Liaison Toro Croft’s ‘phone beeped. It was an Email from Roberts Coach Lones Wigger with distressing news. Fighting cancer his doctors had advised him against making the trip and, after much soul searching, he had to agree.

Roberts officials had earlier made contingency plans for just such a situation. In the soft twilight of a late English summer evening the Roberts Adjutant beckoned Shawn Carpenter away from the crowd, placed his hand on his shoulder, quietly told him that Wigger was unable to attend, and that he was now the Roberts Team Coach.

Carpenter had become to Wigger what the Hardy was to Williams, a relative unknown replacing a legend. Pretty weighty, but still heady, stuff for a Red Sox and shooting fan. But, unlike Hardy who lined into a double play, Carpenter won the Roberts Trophy.

 

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PARTS IS PARTS ANDPIECES IS PIECES…

PARTS IS PARTS ANDPIECES IS PIECES…

From my perspective the 2019 NRA National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championship may best be distilled by a novel, a TV ad, and a book of the Bible. The first is Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, a novel written by English Gothic novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The second is a Wendy’s fast food restaurant TV commercial of the mid 1980s about chicken nuggets. The third is the Book of Job.

About three weeks prior to the championships the Kenyon trigger on my prone rifle developed a hitch which required me to replace it. That seemed like no problem as I have several extra Anschütz rifles and triggers lying about. It turns out that it was not as simple as I had hoped as my other rifles are 1800 series guns and my prone gun is a 1600 action. None of the triggers would fit.

Just as Victor Frankenstein created his creature out of different parts I mixed and matched actions, triggers and stocks to get a working prone gun. None of my bloop tubes would fit the selected barreled action forcing me to conjure up a way to fit my 30mm front sight on it. Eventually I got everything to work because, as was stated in the Wendy’s ad, “Parts is parts” and headed off to Bristol with, shades of Shelly, my Frankenrifle.

The first day of metallic sight competition was a trial. It seemed very dark down range and no matter how much I fiddled with the adjustable rear aperture and the various filters I could not get a good sight picture. Without a bloop tube, my sight radius was now eight inches shorter and the front the aperture was closed as far as it would go, It was not the best solution, but it was all I had. After the first match of day two I thought I might open the aperture a bit to let in more light. It was then I found I had installed the sight backwards! Once it was corrected things got better but it was too little too late.

With any sights I had a fresh start and lay down with some confidence that I would be back to form. After a few sighters there befell me, as Shelly wrote, “So strange an accident happened that I cannot forbear recording it.” My replacement trigger failed. Fortunately, I had a spare and quickly installed it. There was no time to adjust the trigger and I had to go with it. It seemed to break cleanly, but the pull was like dragging a log across a sandy beach.

I had been granted a continuation of fire but only had ten minutes to shoot the first stage of the Meter Match. I had no time, chance, or choice but to continue.

After another day of travail, we looked at the rifle when we got back to the motel. It was there that Shawn Carpenter noted that my trigger guard was askew and binding the trigger shoe. The problem was quickly solved, and I had a clean breaking trigger for the final day of conventional prone. The only downside was a nagging cough which had developed from a from a summer cold which had been pestering me for about a week.

The next morning, I took to the line with an air of confidence. I was quickly sighted in. When I closed the bolt for the first record shot the cocking indicator went fully forward. I cocked the rifle again and watched as indicator disappear into the back of the bolt once again. After several repetitions I declared a disabled rifle. I had no more triggers and was in a dark place because I would be faced with withdrawing.

Setting about trying to figure what was wrong I pulled the bolt out and the firing pin slid about a quarter of inch forward. It was a broken firing pin that had laid me low not the trigger. I guess I should have expected it as it was the original firing pin in a 34 years old rifle which had seen yeoman service. Fortunately, I had spare firing pins and was soon back on the line again for my second a continuation of fire in as many days. Parts is parts and it seemed most of mine were becoming pieces.

With conventional prone in the rearview mirror there were two days of metric prone still ahead. Things seemed to be working out but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I was running out of parts and should something else fail I would be out of luck.

The thought was quickly pushed from my mind when my brother Steve flopped down onto the line next to me and cursed. His handstop was missing. Luckily, I had two different kinds with me and sent him off to fetch one. I unfortunately told him it was in my toolbox when it was in a spare parts bag in my rifle case. He uses one with a quick release button while me preference is for an older style with a ball and hook which was the one in my toolbox. He made it work and, search as he might, he could not find where his may have fallen off between our ready area and the firing line. That night he noticed it on the floor partially hidden under a bed.

Other than the various mishaps it wasn’t too bad a match. Shawn made the Dewar Team and fired a perfect 1200, Steve put up a 1198 which netted him a second senior and first Expert award, and I took a second overall in a Meter Match.

However, the cough never left me. It was still bothering me when I got home so I went to see my doctor. He said he had bad and good news. The bad news was I had bronchitis. The good news was it usually lasts about 10-14 days and I was almost over it!

The Biblical Job suffered many trials. He lost crops and livestock and was beset by boils. I lost triggers and firing pins and suffered bronchitis. However, neither one of us lost faith and things turned out alright in the end.

 

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Roman Slings And Pains…

Roman Slings And Pains

I have always been amused by the M1 cultists that post on the CMP website. After obsequiously knuckling their foreheads to the CMP staff they gloatingly post long lists and photos of surplus firearms they have purchased from the CMP starting with the Mossberg 44, working their way through the much sought after US Property marked Winchester 52s and USMC Remington 40xs, the 1917 Enfield follows, as does the various iterations of the M1903, M1 carbines, until, finally, the Holy Grail, the M1 Garand.

Having purchased their yearly limit of 12 M1s they eagerly anticipate the turn of the calendar, so they can stock up with 12 more. In my day one counted himself lucky to win a Director of Civilian Marksmanship lottery to purchase your once in a lifetime M1.

Usually following the rifle braggadocio comes a detailed inventory of the massive amounts of .30-06 ammunition they have squirreled away in their basement bunkers. They discuss in excruciating detail various types of bandoleers, ‘spam cans’, cardboard packaging, and how best to clean the corrosion from ancient delinked loose packed cartridges.

Often a photograph of the smiling owner peering over a Berlin Wall of wooden wire bound crates, filled with four M19A ammunition cans or two M2A1 cans of domestic Lake City cartridges or surplus Greek HXP, accompanies the post. The Big Red One probably used less ’06 ammunition harrying the Nazis from Omaha Beach tothe Harz Mountains than some of these basements contain. Oddly, there is rarely a mention by these miserly munition mavens of actually shooting any of the accumulated stocks of armaments.

The mention of the Berlin Wall and hoarded ammunition recalls a similar situation concerning another wall and bullets. Archeologists excavating at Burnswark Hill, hard by Hadrian’s Wall in the Dumfries region of Scotland, report that some 800 Roman lead sling bullets were recently uncovered

The Romans exclusively employed mercenaries from the Balearic Islands as slingers. Vegetius, in his work De Re Militari, wrote, “The inhabitants of the Balearic Islands are said to have been the inventors of slings, and to have managed them with surprising dexterity, owing to the manner of bringing up their children. The children were not allowed to have their food by their mothers till they had first struck it with their sling.”

The sling can lob its bullet in a high trajectory which can achieve a range exceeding 400 yards. Until the compound bow came along it was the long range weapon of choice. Conversely, a skilled slinger can whip a bullet along a flat path at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. Ask any major league baseball batter what it feels like to get struck by a bulky and comparatively soft baseball moving at that speed and one does not need much imagination to consider the damage a small stone or lead pellet might cause.

The sling bullets found at Burnswark Hill are not uniform. Cast in lead, some are acorn shaped-glansin Latin, while some are two-ounce lemon shaped projectiles. A third group of small bullets have holes carefully drilled through them so that when slung toward the enemy the air passing through the holes creates a terrifying whistling sound that is intended to panic its intended victims.

Nearly two millennia later a screaming flying object still seemed to have merit as a terror weapon.The iconic gull winged workhorse German dive bomber, the SturzkampfflugzeugJunkers Ju 87,or ‘Stuka’,mounted a wind driven propeller siren, the infamous “Jericho Trumpet”, on its fixed undercarriage’s fairings. Like the Imperial Romans before them, the Nazi Germans believed that a high pitched screaming sound would destroy enemy morale. Unfortunately, for the Germans, it was soon found that the target population quickly became inured to the siren. More importantly, the bulky sirens reduced the rather low air speed of the stodgy Stukaby about 20 miles per hours, making them sitting ducks for modern fighters and so they were removed.

But I digress. Eventually the Romans abandoned the province ofBritannia, as Rudyard Kipling noted, “Legate, I had the news last night, my cohort ordered home. By ships to Portus Itiusand thence by road to Rome.” The Romans left behindan extensive network of roads, many of which are still followed today, as well as an efficient water and sanitation system. Britannia’smajor cities, such as Londiniumand Mamuciumexist today as London and Manchester.

Like any major power withdrawing from an occupied territory they also left behind abandoned fortifications, girlfriends, offspring, and supplies of all kinds. Far to the south of Burnswark Hillover 22,000 sling bullets were found on the shores of the English Channel at Maiden Castle in Dorset. Was that it an abandoned Roman ammunition bunker or, perhaps, something more familiar?

In my mind’s eye, I imagine Marcus Helvetius Apollonarius,a time expired Roman legionnaire abiding inBritannia, laboring with pen and ink over a sheet of papyrus, placing an order with the Tribunus Ex Arma, the CMP of the time. His order for aduodecimsurplus slings and XXII chests each containing M sling bullets, “good Roman glanscast from plumbumat LacusUrbs, not the inferior Peloponnesian HXP made of stone”, was quickly filled.

Marcus carefully stored the shipment in his Dorset root cellar and later, in the fullness of his years, crossed the River Styx, never having used any of it. While Marcus roamedElysium’s fields, his weapons cache lay undisturbed for millennium. The biodegradable slings rotted but the lead bullets lay until modern archeologists unearthed them and conjectured on their source and meaning.

I suspect that the hidden caches of many a modern day Marcus may confound yet unborn archeologists, countless times over, in the far distant future.

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Forrest, Mama Was Right…

 

Forrest, Mama Was Right…

Those of a certain age fondly recall Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip. Every year, Linus Van Pelt, the strip’s resident intellectual and theologian, holds vigil in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Across Southern New England the same may be said of a loyal cadre of smallbore prone shooters who eagerly await the annual season ending Great Pumpkin Match sponsored by the Stratford PAL and hosted by the Bell City Rifle Club.

The match is a Metric Regional and recently it took on a more multinational flavor as, in addition to ISSF targets, a group of Canadian shooters returned to the Bell City firing line after a hiatus of several years, making it a truly international contest.

I have been shooting both smallbore and high power rifle at the Bell City Rifle Club in Southington, Connecticut since the early 1970s. During the two years I was a graduate student, and lived close by the range, I was a member and shot on its smallbore team in both the Charter Oak and Nutmeg leagues. Later I was a regular at the old Yankee High Power League which was a 40 shot four position 200-yard slow fire match shot on the 5V target.

It is a pleasant little club which packs into its 10.5 acres a club house with a six point 50-foot indoor range and outdoors a smallbore range with 50 and 100 yard lines, a 200-yard high power range with pits, and a small pistol range. Towering above the range to the west is the mammoth ridge line of Mount Southington, an impenetrable backstop silently patrolled by hawks riding the thermals.

When the club was formed in 1948 it was pretty isolated but, over the past 60 years, civilization has intruded. The club is now in a rural residential area and, as a good neighbor, has taken steps to reduce its impact on the encroachers.

In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost contemplates the annual spring rite of his neighbor of mending a stone wall between their property damaged by winter winds and snow.  Frost does not like the wall, he feels it is unnecessary.  His neighbor thinks otherwise and tells Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors,” implying that boundaries make better neighbors.

To that end the club only shoot outdoors between 10AM and dusk. Additionally, they have planted a windrow of trees which, over the years have grown tall and thick, and there is the rub.

Throughout the early spring and summer, the sun is high and rises and sets to the north of the firing line. However, as autumn arrives the sun is lower in the sky and further south causing the trees long shadows to fall upon the targets on the left hand side of the firing line.

This year the early autumn sun took some of the chill from the air but, as expected, cast long dark shadows across part of the target line. A few of the elder statesmen of the sport were squadded on the low end of the firing line and gallantly fought the dim sight picture with aging eyes under light conditions that even the most ocular blessed was less than optimum for iron sight shooting.

So dim was the light that shot holes were often not visible at 100 yards, even through a 25 power spotting scope.

Anysight Day saw the field increase by nine shooters. The firing line was expanded but it did nothing for the dim lighting conditions on the left hand side of the range. The old hands still had trouble seeing the bullet holes and resorted to sighting in in the white part of the target above the sighting bulls. They then just simply held and squeezed in the record bulls hoping to be in the center and, perhaps, see a shot hole or two.

The technique worked for Grasso Tech Rifle Coach Shawn Carpenter who won the anysight 100-yard match with a 386-14X. Using the white area to sight in for the 100 yard stage of the Dewar Jeff Doerschler methodically punished the ten ring with shots until his 15thslipped out for a close nine at one o’clock leaving him with a 199-13X on his first card. Outstanding under any circumstances the score was a bit more so in these caliginous conditions.Wind, the inability to see shot holes, or eye fatigue may have played a part in a 194-11X with which he backed up the first target but his 393-24X won the match.

The magic continued as a trio of 387-17X fired by Doerschler, Carpenter and Québecois GaleStewart-possibly fortified by a breakfast of Cretons,strong black coffee and a side of Poutine, closed out the match. It was familiar territory for Carpenter as he had been involved in two unbreakable 400-40X 50 yard ties at the National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championship at Bristol in July. This time there was a tie breaker available and it went to Doerschler.

Throughout the two days it was a rare shooter on the low end of the line who saw many sighters. It really was a case of hold tight, spray, and pray. But, in the end, the top thee shooters emerged from the shadows, so the speak, to fill the awards podium.

It was a tough day and each time competitors walked forward from the firing line to change targets they were reminded of the movie Forrest Gump. For, to paraphrase Momma Gump, on that autumn day at Bell City, a 100 yard target at Bell City was like a box of chocolates. You never knew what you’re gonna get.”

 

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Chekhov’s Rifle…

Chekhov’s Rifle…

Back in 2016 the, newly appointed Editor of Shooting Sports USA, John Parker,emailed me confirming that I would cover the NRA Outdoor Smallbore Rifle Championships. Former editor Chip Lohman, who had been recently promoted to Deputy Executive Director of NRAPublications, had me on a regular reporting ‘beat’ with a pretty free hand.

A new editor means change so I asked John what my word count would be for the three phase championship. The reply was 1200-1500 words. I was stunned, a list of the members of the Dewar and Randle teams alone would eat up five percent of my allotment.

It seemed I would have to become the Hemingway of smallbore with spare, tight prose. It might not be as difficult as I thought because Hap’s Cornersare written under the constraint of two sides of a sheet of paper, about 700-800 words.

Later, at a family gathering, I happened to mentioned this event to my cousin Harvey, an urbane Emmy winning documentary film editor. Harvey is about six or seven years older and a product of New York City while I am a small town mouse.

I remember a long ago visit to the family in New York during Harvey’s freshman year of college. He was a very smart young man but was, understandably, a bit full of himself because of his rarified academic altitude. After all his older sisters had both gone to the local Long Island University, in Brooklyn, to be teachers. He was living the academic dream at Columbia, on Morningside Heights, on the upper west side of Manhattan.

After dinner he was showing off by musing on great literary names such as Kafka, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Burroughs. A jejune 12-year-old I eagerly piped up that I was also familiar with Burroughs. Harvey’s eyes rounded and his eyebrows arched in surprise until he quickly realized that his Burroughs was the drug addicted William Seward, author of the recently banned salacious novel Naked Lunch, and mine was squeaky clean Edgar Rice, creator of TarzanandJohn Carter of Mars.

Now, a half century later, we were on a more or less even academic and professional footing. I had mentioned the problem of condensing so much shooting activity into so few words and Harvey related he had the same issues in film editing. Falling back on a lesson learned in a philosophy class he found that Occam’s Razor served him well in editing. Simply put Occam’s razor slices through a problem or situation and eliminates unnecessary elements.

My brother Steve, a philosophy major, had been listening and interjected, in Latin no less, professorially pontificating, “Yes, Hans-Johan Glock regards lex parsimoniae, The Principle of Parsimony-it is pointless to do with more what is done with less-as one of the cornerstones of Ontology.”

The two cousins were intellectual rivals of a sort, made not so by natural combativeness but rather by competitive aunts whose college dreams were crushed by the Great Depression. They vicariously lived the academic life through their children and did family one-upmanshipthrough these surrogates. I knew where this discussion was going and tried to make my escape for I knew the cerebral waters would soon rise and close over my head.

Harvey laid his hand upon my shoulder blocking my flight and said, “Steve mentioned Glock, and while I am sure he is not a member of the firearms family his name does remind me of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle.’ I am sure, that as a writer, you are familiar with Chekhov, the great Russian playwright.”

He had me there, my only experience with check off was placing tick marks next to tasks I had completed on the extensive ‘Honey Do List’ provided by my child bride Margaret. But, if this Russian writer had a rifle, a Mosin-Nagant M91 no doubt, I’d be interested.

I was disappointed to find playwright Chekhov, also a doctor, owned no firearms. It seems that Chekhov’s Rifle is a literary trope. Harvey explained that Chekhov believed that if you wrote that there was a rifle hanging on the wall in the first chapter of a story, in the second or third chapter it must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there in the first place. Chekhov influenced Hemingway with his six tenets of writing; no excessive verbiage; objectivity; accurate description; extreme brevity; audacity; and compassion.

So I emulated both Chekhov and Hemingway in my report on the 2016 Smallbore Championship. I eliminated anything that had no relevance to the story as would Chekhov. In Hemingway’s style I used short words, straightforward sentence structure, vivid descriptions, and factual details. To tell the entire tale, which included the title and, of course, my byline as well as classical references to Dante Alighieri’s The Devine Comedyand Robert Browning’s first published work, Men and Women,just 1,278 carefully chosen words were used.

Hemingway wrote, “For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”

Let’s hope the reader finds that I have been lucky.

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The Wild Bunch…

The Wild Bunch…

Tickets in hand Larry Small, Stan Wujtewicz, Mike Franklin and I walked up the slight incline from the street level ticket box of the Garde Theater into the lobby. Passing through the double doors we took a sharp right to load up on popcorn and boxes of Jujubes,Raisinets, Milk Duds, and Sno-Caps before entering the theater’s classicMoroccan interior. Taking our seats before the towering silver screen we settled in to watch Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution the tale deals with an aging outlaw band trying to survive as the familiar, comfortable, and traditional Old West of the Texas-Mexico border grudgingly gives way to the new and threatening modern 20th Century.

The story is bookended bytwo violent gunfights. The first is the robbery of a railway company office. The gang, wearing stolen US Army uniforms, led by Pike Bishop played by William Holden, is ambushed by a railroad posse lead by Pike’s former partner Deke Thornton, portrayed by Robert Ryan. The last is violent, gory, bloody, act of suicidal vengeance against the Mexican Army after a fellow gang member is tortured and killed by theFederales.

As aficionados of cowboy movies and firearms it looked to be a great afternoon and we were not to be disappointed, sort of. While Peckinpah did a fantastic job there seemed to be a lack of attention to technical detail that only a quartet of fanatic firearms fanciers would notice.

For example, during the railway company officerobbery scene, in which the Wild Bunch is ambushed, several members of the posse wield Springfield 1903s. But they are the A3 model, easily noted by the receiver bridge mounted peep sight, which was authorized in May 1942, rather than the correct M1905 leaf sight. The anachronism was a bit of a jolt to the knowledgeable.

The gang carried Moses Browning’s iconic Winchester M1897 pump-action shotguns into the office. Those in the movie appeared to be the 12-gauge Riot model with 20 inch barrels. They were first used by the US Army during the Philippine–American Warand so are appropriate.

After temporarily escaping the posse, only to find out that what they thought were bags of silver coin were nothing more than common steel washers, they seek sanctuary from their pursuers in Mexico. There they become involved in a gun running scheme which brings them in contact with the Mexican Army and its German military advisor. When Pike is asked about their arms by the German, he erroneously replies that they are U.S. Army weapons which cannot be owned by civilians. This is incorrect as they are carrying the Winchester shotguns and Colt pistols which had been commercially available since 1897 and 1911 respectively.

A machine gun is prominently featured, and stars, in the final chaotic five minute “Fight on The Bloody Porch” in which the Wild Bunch, and most of the Mexican Army, it seems, annihilate each other. The gun is yet another of Mr. Browning’s masterpieces, the M1917 heavy machine gun. As the action takes place before World War I this is an obvious error. It also seems more appropriate that with a German advisor the Mexicans would have had the Spandau Maschinengewehr08.

Either way both guns are water cooled. However, during the entire “Bloody Porch” sequence the Browning’s water jacket is not attached to the water condensing can. After spitting out hundreds of rounds in rapid progression one would have thought the gun would have seized up, yet it operated flawlessly, but such is the magic of Hollywood.

After a little research we found that the director was familiar with firearms and insisted that each gun have its own distinctive audio report. The 1911’s sounded like .45 pistols, the 97s barked like shotguns, and the Browning rippled out its heavy cough. It is said that the production used up 90,000 rounds of blank ammunition which might be more than the number of real cartridges expended during the actual Mexican Revolution.

Lately it is the last lines of the movie that touch me most, not the minor firearms felonies. The film deals with a time of massive change and upheaval in the lives and times of the characters. Because the movie involves a lot of shooting, as does my life, and there has been great change and upheaval in both the smallbore and service rifle world I feel a little unsettled and estranged, much like the Wild Bunch. I sometimes wonder if times are passing me by.

In the movie’s last few moments Thornton, who has successfully tracked the gang and watched its demise, is at loose ends. As he sits against a wall next to the gate of the town a slow trickle of survivors passes by him, abandoning the town, a band of riders approaches through the dust. The interlopers are led by a former Wild Bunch member named Sykes who had earlier left the outlaw band to fight with the revolutionaries.

Sykesspots Thornton and leans down from his saddle saying, “I didn’t expect to find you here. What are your plans, now?”

Thorntonreplies, “Drift around down here. Try to stay out of jail.”

“Well, me and the boys here got some work to do.” counters Sykes “Ya wanna come along? It ain’t like it used to be; but it’ll do.”

And I guess that is how I feel about the NRA leaving Camp Perry for Bristol and then Camp Atterbury, two extra Leg matches a year to earn Distinguished, and the advent of scopes on service rifles. As far as my little corner of the shooting world is concerned, I suppose I must agree with Sykes, “It ain’t like it used to be; but it’ll have to do.”

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Hopkinton Prone Matches (HPM) Start Thursday, 4/25/19

Hopkinton Prone Matches (HPM) start this Thursday, April 25th. Don’t forget to bring your outdoor stuff…like clips for your target and a windmill if you have one. First shots down range at 6 p.m. Range gate is generally open by 5:15 p.m.

hpm

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The Great Western Schism: Two Popes at One Time…

The Great Western Schism: Two Popes at One Time…

We were lounging in Dick Scheller’s room in Olsen Hall after a long day of shooting the All Army Combat Rifle Championships at Fort Benning. We had earned our trip by winning the First Army Combat Rifle Championships at Fort Meade just as John Hinckley made his failed attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan. A year later the Falkland’s War would overshadow our marksmanship skills at Meade. First Army just seemed to be carrying a dark cloud with it in the early 80s, but I digress.

We were planning for the next day’s shooting as Ed Biatowas ambled into the room and announced that an attempt had just been made on the life of Pope Paul II. Ed had been in the Day Room hustling up a pool game when the news flashed on the television. Roger McQuiggan, a former seminarian, asked him if he had any details. The newsfeed from Rome was sketchy but apparently His Holiness was passing through a worshipful throng as he was entering Saint Peter’s Square when Mehmet Ali Ağca, a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organization, fired four shots from a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol and critically wounded the Pontiff. The would be assassin then tried to flee but was captured by the Vatican security chief, and-embarrassingly enough-a nun. Although, after Roger described some of the nuns who taught him in Catholic grammar school, it may not have been so embarrassing after all.

Roger gave an off the cuff opinion that it must have been pretty simple for the assailant to do his dirty deed. The Pope would have been an easy target as he was slowly carried along in his sedia gestatoria by thesediari pontifici.At our raised eyebrows he quickly explained that the sedia was simply the Pope’s sedan chair and the sediariwere the gentlemen of the papal household who carried it. As a happily lapsed Catholic and Latin teacher Roger was our go to guy whenever our more esoteric barracks room musings drifted toward the Holy See and the classical language.

Ed brought Roger up to date noting that the saintly John Paul II had done away with the stately sedia a few years earlier, much to the relief of the elderlysediari,to be replaced with a tricked out motorized vehicleknow as “The Popemobile.”

At that Scheller sat bolt upright. The Popemobile he, who was not well versed in the Church of Rome or Papal transport, blurted out, was an extremely rare classic vehicle from the ‘Brass Era’ of automobiles, so called for the extensive use of the metal in headlights, radiators and other fittings. “By rights it ought to be in a museum and not tooling about the streets of Vatican City!” he exclaimed. That observation got much the same appreciative reaction from the team as did Roger’s exposition on thesedia.

Dick went on to expound on the Hartford, Connecticut Pope Manufacturing Company which had produced over 500 vehicles around the turn of the 20th Century. He was pretty well versed on the subject because he grew up in Hartford. As a collector of Schützen rifles he also knew that the finest of them were made by Harry Pope, whose accurate barrels are legendary. He went on to tell us that for some time Pope was both a director and the plant superintendent at Pope Manufacturing. To make the firearms connection all that tighter he mentioned that Hiram Percy Maxim was the company’s head engineer.

Pope was no shade tree barrel maker either. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1881 after completing a two year industrial engineering course with a heavy emphases on hands on machining. His MIT degree was an accomplishment of which he was quite proud and made no effort to hide.

Wanting to work on rifles full time Harry left the family concern and took up with the Stevens Arms and Tool Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, perhaps the largest producer of sporting firearms in the world at the time. It was an uncomfortable relationship between the prickly barrel maker and the straight laced corporation but it did produce superb target arms, exemplified by the Stevens-Pope Single Shot Schützen Rifle.Pope was, himself, an excellent Schützen shooter and challenged all comers to, “stand on his hind legs and shoot like a man.”

After breaking with Stevens he moved on to San Francisco until rudely awakened on the morning of April 18, 1906 as the San Andreas Fault rearranged itself and destroyed 80% of the city, including Harry’s workshop.The incorrigible chain smoker who admitted that he, “Started to smoke after the San Francisco fire, when grub was hard to get.” was thereafter seldom seen without an ash laden tobacco filled tube dangling from the center of his mouth. After the earthquake he returned to the more stable east coast and settled into a shop at 18 Morris Street in Jersey City, New Jersey from could be heard the humming of belt driven machinery and the occasional popping sound of a rifle being tested.

“And what of the Popemobile” asked an increasingly agitated Dick, “Was it damaged? It is really valuable you know. I’d rather the Pope get lugged around in that sedan chair Roger talked about than risk one of Harry’s priceless cars.”

Roger quietly explained that there hadn’t been two men claiming to be the true Pope since the Great Western Schism of 1378 and the same could be said of two Popemobiles. The one in question wasnot a product of Hartford’sPope Manufacturing Companybut rather a modern Italian FIAT Campagnola.

And, with that explanation, Dick let out a sigh of relief and we returned to the more mundane; a discussion our fire plan for the next day’s Rattle Battle.

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THE METER MATCH, THE MEASURE OF A MAN…

In my dotage I have retreated from serious position shooting. It seems my body is a less flexible, my reflexes sluggish, and my endurance less than it was. Some of this is due to sloth as I really don’t train as I should, but some of it is just the mechanism wearing down.

I had moments of brilliance and managed to worm my way to the stratosphere of the National Guard shooting program in both highpower and smallbore. I was never much more than a journeyman rifleman at my best. But if you shoot long enough you will occasionally luck into a bauble or two. Or, as Dick Scheller, one of my shooting mentors is fond of saying, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then,”

Along the way I picked up a few National Records, mostly in the Codger Category. There were even few geriatric National Championships scooped up when they became available as I aged. Certainly, it was not a testament to my great shooting skills but rather a reflection of the fact that most of my contemporaries had either hung up their shooting boots or passed on to The Great Range in the Sky. There is something to be said for perseverance and good health.

As I scan today’s match bulletins, I note that there are precious few of those I started with who are still potting away at targets from ten meters to 1,000 yards. But what I am noticing is that there are some who are at the top of the game who I recall as struggling juniors trying to remember that the pointy end of the cartridge goes in first. One such shooter is Eric Uptagrafft.

Uptagrafft is a two time Olympian, shooting a rifle he designed and built himself. The World and National Record holder has earned the US International Distinguished Shooter Badge, Distinguished Rifleman Badge, NRA Distinguished Smallbore Rifleman award in both prone and position and the Presidents Hundred rifle tab four times. He has been a National Champion in Service Rifle, Smallbore Conventional Prone, International 50m Prone, 300m Prone, and Mid-Range Prone. An Air Rifle and Smallbore All American at West Virginia University he was the 1993 NCAA smallbore rifle champion Currently he is Sergeant First Class Eric Uptagrafft of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and serves as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the USAMU International Rifle Team.

When Eric was starting out in the game, he was a typically poverty stricken college kid. Between his All American stints at Texas A&M and West Virginia he joined the National Guard and was immediately picked up by All Guard. I met him on his first trip with us, a ten day sojourn to California. Unfortunately, his pockets only contained lint and car keys and he didn’t have enough front money for his motel room. Consequently, Bill Lange and I had him sleep on the couch in our room.

At the 2018 National Smallbore Prone Rifle Championships at Bristol Uptagrafft pulled off an extraordinary feat. Over four consecutive 50 Meter matches he fired an aggregate score of 1600-158X. After the first two 400-40Xs, shot with metallic sights, he dropped two Xs on the first any sight Meter Match to eked out his third consecutive Meter Match win on a tie breaker with Kevin Nevius. I bumped into him at the scoreboard and couldn’t resist a little needling, suggesting that he would have been better off staying with iron sights to keep his string going.

I was gob smacked when he casually replied that he was still shooting irons. The next day he shot a third 400-40X. He won the 2018 Conventional Smallbore Prone Championship on the back of those four Meter Matches, only the second person ever to win the title shooting irons all the way.

Eric’s magnificent performance reminded me of another series of Meter Matches I had witnessed. The year I was picked up for the All National Guard International Team I was sitting next to the Army’s legendary rifleman and coach Bill Krilling in the Assembly Area at Camp Perry. Back in 1965 Krilling became the first person to shoot a 3200X3200 in NRA registered competition. That was in the days of a required three pound trigger pull, so it was no mean feat.

I had met him at the Third US International Rifle Championships at Fort Benning, just before he shot the 3200 at the Silver Dollar Round-up in Winter Haven, Florida. As a graduation present. my parents allowed me to miss a week of school towards the end of my senior year to ride a Greyhound bus to Georgia to shoot the match with my brother Steve. Well, they hoped it would be a graduation present because at the time I was desperately clinging to a lofty class ranking of 311 out of 375. Being of no danger to the presumptive valedictorian I still had the Anchor Man sweating out his place of honor.

Off and on, over the intervening years, I had run into Krilling at various matches and, although not a friend, he was a good acquaintance. One day we were both scoping Wigger during the first of the two any sight Meter Matches of the second half of the smallbore prone championship as The Old Lion shot a 400-40X.

Mr. Bill, you won’t see a performance like that again in a dozen years.” I pompously predicted.

The next day, as we scoped him, Wigger shot another 400-40X.Bill turned to me with an indulgent smile and remarked, “Time sure flies here at Camp Perry, doesn’t it, kid?”

It flies even faster at Bristol when Uptagrafft is on the 50 meter line.

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Cholera, CLASS ACTION SUITS, ANDAMMOPRICES…

Cholera,CLASS ACTION SUITS,ANDAMMOPRICES

A pleasant day of shooting had ended and we had drawn up our lawn chairs into a convivial circle. As the shadows lengthened the day’s shooting was dissected and the post mortem performed. Soon the talk meandered along an aimless stream of consciousness,eventually forming a whirlpool around the subject of the expense of the sport.

The inevitable comparisons to golf and tennis arose. Certainly, the initial investment is large, rifle, sights, sling, spotting scope, jacket, mat, and the numerous ephemera that fill the shooters kit bag quickly add up to several tens of thousands of dollars. But that is an initial expense that, if done with some thought, will need not be repeated. There were also the ongoing expenses of travel, club membership fees, entry fees, dues for various shooting organizations-both state and national, and the ammunition.

However, the cost of ammunition seemed to raise the most hackles. The fact that domestic munitions firms had long ago abandoned the field to European competition was a sore point. Many remember when a brick of Winchester Mark III or Remington Match sold for ten bucks and a gallon of gas cost 36 cents. Less clear in our memories was the fact that minimum wage was $1.45 an hour. Gas and the minimum wage have risen but ammunition prices have far outstripped the natural rise in costs.

A few ideas were tossed out and mulled. The cost of production was popular for a bit. Certainly, the cost of labor and raw materials has increased, but that didn’t ring true when measured against other products. The unfavorable exchange rate of the US dollar against the various European currencies, the pound and Euro, had some traction.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists got all tangled up in the tawdry relationship between the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, United Nations, the Knights Templers, Skull and Bones, The Bohemian Club, the International Monetary Fund, and various international and domestic anti gun groups trying to dry up the supply of ammunition.

Suddenly a voice impatiently piped up, “Your all wrong. It is because of cholera and litigation.” The quiet was deafening. After a moment’s pause there was general acclimation of disbelief.

“Look! This drastic price jump all got started in the summer of 1854 in London”. It seemed to us to be a very far reach so we leaned forward, anxious to hear this tale.

“It seems that Charles and William Eley ran a factory on Bond Street making percussion caps for Her Majesty’s Forces. The Crimean War was heating up and the Allied expeditionary forces were headed to Balaclava. Sales of percussion caps were going through the roof and Eley’s work force was working long days to supply the “Thin Red Line.”

It was a hot summer. The Eley brothers, perhaps showing unusual compassion for Victorian employers, but more likely doing what they could to keep the work force on its feet to get every percussion cap made, packaged, and shipped, and most importantly paid for, supplied tubs of water to refresh their employees.

The water was drawn from the convenient Broad Street pump which enjoyed a reputation as a source of clean and tasty water. The Eley Brothers were even in the habit of sending bottles of it home to their mother who favored it. The water was convenient and tasty, but it was also infected with Vibrio choleraebacteria,cholera. The workers, and Mother Eley, quickly dropped like flies. Word of Eley supplying the tainted water to its employees, and the ensuing epidemic, drew epidemiologists, public health officials and lawyers like moths to a flame.

The chambers at the Inns of Court emptied in a flash. Barristers and solicitors raced toward Bond Street, armed with brief cases, their outstretched hands loaded with business cards. The tenement lined streets surrounding Bond Street soon were clogged with an armada of Hansom Cabs discharging a tsunami of London’s bowler wearing brollywielding ambulance chasers on the stricken neighborhood. The traffic jam had a unexpected positive effect on public health as the locals were unable to pass through the blocked streets and could no longer use the contaminated pump.

Individual and class action suits were filed and, at geological speed, they crept through the turgid and clogged British court system. Progress was further slowed by interruptions caused by The Abe Slaney Trial at the Winter Assizes at Norwich, Wilde v. Queensberry, The British Wreck Commissioner’s inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the 1926 General Strike, theAbdication Crisis, The Hawley Harvey Crippen Murder Trial, the William Joyce/Lord Haw Haw Treason Trial, Regina v. Turing and Murray, and The Great Train Robbery.

That being said, the wheels of British justice may grind exceedingly slow but they do grind exceedingly fine and it wasn’t until just recently that the multitude of Eley workers’ compensation claims cases were adjudicated. Jurors found in favor of the workers, England being a socialist haven and heaven what else would you expect. So Eley has had to raise its prices to meet these unexpected compensatory and punitive damages.”

Given the other ideas this one is just as plausible.

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PICKLED PEPPERS, PILOTS, AND PISTOL POTSHOTS…

PICKLED PEPPERS, PILOTS, AND PISTOL POTSHOTS…

There are two major events that occur on consecutive days in early October each year in the United States. On the first Monday in October the Supreme Court of the United States traditionally convenes following its summer recess.

Overshadowing this judicial event is the annual Abe Rocketto Memorial Service Pistol Match, on the first Sunday in October, a gathering of pistol shooters at the Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club. The event is open to  any general issue service pistol or replica from any country and any era, provided it is in original issued condition.

Like the Supreme Court there are oral arguments. In this case it is to the suitability of a pistol for competition but, unlike the Supreme Court, there is only one justice to render an impartial decision and his word is law. The match has seen a myriad of service pistols pulled out of the dusty dark corners of closets and gun safes to appear on the line The Beretta M9, black powder Schofields and Remingtons, Tokarovs, Nagants, Makarovs, Nambus, Radoms, Webleys, Mausers, P38s, DMWs, and Smith and Wessons come to mind quickly.

About the only military handgun that has not yet shown up is the stamped sheet metalFP-45/M1942 ‘Liberator.’ There is no doubt that as soon as someone acquires one it will be on the line to be ogled over by the military pistol cognoscenti.

The venerable Colt 1911, in its various iterations, is the most popular pistol used and the most honored of these is Abe’s Gun. The somewhat holster worn, and slightly battered, slab sided 45, the Old Man’s personal sidearm, has appeared in every match since the late Steve Schady inaugurated the event some 15 or 16 years ago. All participants are invited to shoot a reentry with the historic piece and most have.

The match consists of 30 record shots fired in three stages; ten shots slow fire in 10 minutes, ten shots timed fire in two five shot string strings of 20 seconds each, and ten shots Duel-ten target exposures of five seconds each. There are no alibis, but for range alibis, and unlimited re-entries are permitted and encouraged. However, each re-entry must be fired with a different pistol. Most competitors bring generous amounts of ammunition for their guns so that collegial swapping around is quite frequent.

The match is followed by a traditional holiday picnic featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, Tony Goulart’s hot pickled peppers, and Mother Goulart’s deservedly famous potato salad. As the competitors refresh themselves with food and drink, they convivially swap loading information, the history of their guns, and tales of pistol daring do-some of which may even be true.

At a recent match we were munching on our lunches as the subject of the 1911 came up, as it often does. In response one of the guys pulled out his wallet and extracted a folded page from an old Air Force Magazine.Carefully unfolding it and called out, “Ya gotta hear this.”

He related that the magazine reported that on March 31, 1943 a Lieutenant Owen J. Baggett USAAF, was stationed in India serving as a B-24 bomber pilot on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge near Pyinmana, Burma. His plane took heavy fire from attacking Japanese A6M Zero fighters and he and his crew was forced to bail out of the crippled aircraft.

The Japanese pilots attacked the parachuting men, killing some and grazing Baggett’s arm with a 7.7mm bullet. The pilot who fired upon Baggett circled around for a second look at Baggett who was playing possum, hanging in his harness as if dead.

As the Japanese pilot flew within a few feet of the limp man in the parachute he throttled back, pulled his nosed up to further reduce his airspeed, and slid back his canopy to get a better look. At that moment Baggett pulled out his M1911A1 and fired four rounds at the plane. Much to Baggett’s surprise, and I am sure that of the pilot, the Zero, already in a most precarious state of flight close to the ground, stalled, spun, and crashed.

After landing Baggett was soon captured and sent to a POW camp near Singapore where the harsh daily struggle to survive as a prisoner under the Japanese quickly pushed the incident to the back of his mind. One day a fellow prisoner, Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, casually mentioned that a Japanese colonel had told him about a Japanese pilot who had been shot down and thrown clear of a crashed Zero in the area of Pyinmanaon March 31st. He was found dead with a single bullet wound to the head.

Had Baggett’s case come up before the Justices of the United States Supreme Court on the first Monday in October they might well rule that there is not enough substantial evidence to confirm that Baggett did, indeed, shoot down a Japanese fighter plane with a 1911A1.

On the other hand, their clerks may not have read, or even been familiar with, the precedent established on the first Sunday in October by the pistol packing jurists at the Abe Rocketto Memorial Service Pistol Match. They unanimously opined that the tale had to be true based on two factors. The first is that there wascorroborating evidence, no matter how flimsy, from disinterested parties. The second? The tale fell into the well established legal doctrine of it had to be true because you just can’t make up this kind of stuff.

 

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THE OLD LION, THE FIRST LADY, AND THE QUEEN MUM….

 

When one thinks of a gun toting Roosevelt the instant image in just about everyone’s mind is that of Theodore Roosevelt dropping a Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone or a rhinoceros in the Lado region of British Uganda.

But there were two branches of the famous New York presidential family tree. Theodore’s Republican set lived in Oyster Bay on Long Island Sound while Franklin’s clique of equally patrician Democrats abided at Hyde Park along the Hudson at Hyde Park.

Yet, in spite of distance and political leanings, the two were closely connected. TR’s niece, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, married her father’s fifth cousin, Franklin, on Saint Patrick’s Day 1905. Uncle Theodore, then the 26th President of the United States, stood in for Eleanor’s deceased father and gave her hand in marriage, to Franklin who would one day become the 32rd President. TR quipped, “It is a good thing to keep the name in the family.” Had he been clairvoyant he might have added the Presidency to his remark.

Franklin’s political life mirrored TR’s. Both held the offices of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, and President of the United States. TR had been Vice President, but FDR missed out on that opportunity when James Cox and Roosevelt were soundly defeated by Harding and Coolidge in 1920.

While on a 1918 trip to France to inspect US Navy facilities FDR met Earl Miller, the Navy’s middle weight boxing champion, who was assigned as his escort. Ten years later, as Governor of New York, FDR appointed Miller, now a sergeant in the New York State Police, as wife Eleanor’s driver/bodyguard.

Besides insuring her safety, the athletic Miller also gave Eleanor lessons in swimming, tennis, horseback riding and pistol shooting. It was Miller’s belief that she should be able to handle a pistol if the need arose.

To that end he gave her a .22 Smith & Wesson Outdoorsman revolver on her 49th birthday. The round topped framed revolver had a blue finish, a six inch barrel with an adjustable rear sight and partridge front sight, and checkered walnut grips. It was nestled in green velvet in a brown leatherette covered hard case along with a screwdriver and cleaning rod. Attached to the lid of the case was a silver plate engraved “OCT. 11, 1933 / May your aims always be perfect / EARL”.The pistol, now a historical artifact, was sold to a private collector in 2014 for $50,600.

Miller then spent considerable time with Roosevelt teaching her safe firearm handling and marksmanship. Mrs. Roosevelt became a good shot and often carried the pistol in the glove compartment of her car, especially when driving alone.

The dutiful Roosevelt also immediately obtained a pistol permit, probably no problem for the governor’s wife. The original permit lapsed as her husband moved up the political totem pole and on to the White House. However, in 1957, now living back in New York, she renewed it and that document is preserved in the Hyde Park archives.

In mid June of 1939 the First Family entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Hyde Parkduring the first visit of a reigning British monarch to the United States. As historically significant as that event was it was overshadowed because,famously, the President served the Royal Couple hot dogs at a Hyde Park picnic. The choice of the decidedly plebian hot dog for a state luncheon, even though it was served on a silver platter, became a newsworthy event greatly out of proportion to its size. It was not widely noted that the menu also included other typical American dishes such as Virginia ham, turkey, and strawberry shortcake all washed down with coffee, beer, and soft drinks.

It must be noted the Queen, who had never seen the noble tube steak before, asked how to eat it. Roosevelt replied, “Very simple. Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone.” The Queen demurred, politely ignored Roosevelt’s advice, and preserved her dignity by using a knife and fork.

There is little doubt that the First Lady and the Queen did not discuss Mrs. Roosevelt’s marksmanship skills but, in short order, the Queen found herself following Mrs. Roosevelt’s lead.

Soon after the Royal Couple returned home England’s emaciated and outmoded defense forces found themselves at war with the modern war machine that was Nazi Germany.Frightened of being kidnapped by Nazi parachutists the Queen learned to shoot a pistol in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. She reasoned that if she was going to be captured a Fallschirmjägeror two would pay a high price for the honor. The Queen practiced on rats flushed out of Buckingham Palace’s cellars by the tremors of Nazi bombs falling nearby. The ironic symbolism of the Queen learning how to shoot Nazis by taking practice pot shots at scurrying vermin is not lost.

These two widely respected and revered women of the 20th Century immeasurably helped their handicapped husbands lead the Allies to victory in World War II. Mrs. Roosevelt became the polio stricken President’s eyes, ears, and legs and the Queen helped King George overcome his debilitating stammer.

In this day and age the fact that the wives of two of the most powerful men in the world both felt the need to take up pistol shooting for protection of self and family is something to ponder.

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The Bull Moose and His Connecticut Connections…

 

The Bull Moose and His Connecticut Connections…

John Milius’ 1975 film, The Wind and the Lion,is a semi historic romantic adventure very loosely based on the Perdicaris Incident. Like most of Milius’ work it is meticulously researched and, even if this film does not strictly adhere to history, it is accurate in detail of dress, arms, and other such minutia.

On May 18, 1904, Mrs. Ion Perdicaris, changed to Mrs. Eden Perdicaris played by Candice Bergen for cinematic effect, was kidnapped by Moroccan brigand Mulai Ahmed er Raisulli, self styled “Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, and Last of the Barbary Pirates”, portrayed by Sean Connery, and his band of ruffians. Like many of us The Raisulli believed that, “A man’s worth is numbered in his rifles.”

In response President Theodore Roosevelt dispatched the South Atlantic Squadron under the command of the former President of the Naval War College Admiral French Ensor Chadwick, flying his flag in the USS Brooklyn. Serving in Brooklynwere several companies of Marines led by Major John “Handsome Jack” Myers who earlier had commanded then Private, and later Marine Corps legend, two time Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly in defense of the US Legation in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.

With no real plan in place Secretary of State John Hay saw the need to maintain face so he issued a statement at the Republican National Convention that insured Roosevelt’s nomination: “This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisulli dead.”

Brian Keith starred as Theodore Roosevelt and, in an ironic coincidence, Milius cast him 22 years later as William McKinley, the assassinated president succeeded by Vice President Roosevelt, in his TV movieRough Riders. Keith’s portrayal of Roosevelt is lively and dynamicas he displays a man unafraid to exercise the Unites States emerging world power muscle with restraint. Keith engagingly recreates our mythic vision of the energetic Roosevelt exercising the philosophies of ‘Muscular Christianity’, the ‘Strenuous Life’, and ‘The Big Stick.’ In the process he steals the show.

Never is this more evident than in a series of scenes where Roosevelt dictates a succession of letters to Winchester complaining about the fit of a rifle. While it may just seem a throwaway scene it is, in fact, based on Roosevelt’s preference for Winchester rifles, Colt pistols, and actual correspondence demanding firearms perfection.

Roosevelt’s side arm, when he led the charge up Kettle Hill, was, like his favorite rifles, manufactured in Connecticut. His Model 1892 Army and Navy Colt double-action, .41 Long Colt, six-shot revolver was made in Hartford in 1895 and traveled a circuitous path before arriving in Roosevelt’s holster.The pistol was aboard the battleship USS Mainewhen it blew up in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Roosevelt’s brother-in-law, Commander William Cowles, USN, in charge of the Mainesalvage operation, presented the recovered Colt to Roosevelt before he departed for Cuba and immortality.

As a young rancher Roosevelt favored Sharps and Ballard rifles but abandoned them for New Haven made repeating Winchesters, favoring the Model 73, ‘The Gun That Won The West,” in a host of calibers. Before leaving the White House he was laying plans for a yearlong post presidential African safari. So, Roosevelt directed his secretary, William Loeb, Jr. to contact Winchester for a catalog.

Roosevelt was not easy to please and a testy ongoing correspondence between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 275 Winchester Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut ensued. On one occasion he tartly wrote, “I am really annoyed at the shape in which you sent out those rifles…It was entirely useless to send them out to me in such shape.”

Roosevelt did not want his name and purchases to be used in Winchester advertising. Acutely aware of the corporate benefits of having Roosevelt use its products they wished to keep him happy. His instructions were obeyed to the letter but not in spirit. However, the publicity loving President seemed to turn his eye, blinded in a boxing accident, toward the wayward company and its word of mouth promotions.

Using Presidential prerogative, Roosevelt contacted General William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance, in 1903, setting up a third Connecticut connection. He sent a favorite Winchester to Crozier asking to have one of the new Springfield 1903 carbines to be, “made like it for me.”

Crozier’s widow, Mary Williams Crozier, a native of New London, Connecticut, directed her estate provide funds to West Point, General Crozier’salma mater, for a building to be named in his honor. The US Military Academy was unable to honor the request and so the money was donated to, what was then, Connecticut College for Women in New London. A handsome student union, the Crozier-Williams College Center, rose on the campus in honor of the general and Mrs. Crozier’s father,Charles Augustus Williams, a local philanthropist. Today, in a recessed alcove in a wall of “The Cro,” can be found General Crozier’s medals and awards, illuminated for all to see.

Roosevelt left for Africa with two Model 1995 Winchesters in .405 and .30-06, a Model 1886 in .45-70, and an 1894 chambered for .30 Winchester Center Fire, the legendary .30-30, along with enough crates of ammunition to allow the expedition, described in Roosevelt’s African Game Trails, to send home to museums, “4,897 specimens of mammals more than 4,000 birds, about 2,000 reptiles and batrachians…besides a vast multitude of other specimens that defy a brief description”in just eleven months.

None of this would have been possible without the Bull Moose’s Connecticut connections.

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I DIDN’T KNOW THE GUN WAS LOADED…

I DIDN’T KNOW THE GUN WAS LOADED…

When I was a young lad in the 1950s, whenever we picked the old Mossberg 146B that he had bought for my brother at Billy Belgrade’s pawnshop, The Old Man ingrained the habit of firearms safety by singing the verse of a popular song of the time, written by Hank Fort and Herb Leighton,

I didn’t know the gun was loaded
And I’m so sorry my friend
I didn’t know the gun was loaded
And I’ll never, never do it again.

The song popped into my mind a few years later in high school when I was sitting in Miss Sullivan’s Modern European History class. She was discussing a celebrated incident during the latter day of France’sBelle Époquethatcaused an unsettling weakening of France’s body politic during the critical time with Europe on the verge of war.

Henriette Caillaux, wife of the head of the left-leaning Radical Party, called upon Gaston Calmette, whose influential newspaper theLe Figarowas engaged in a campaign of vilification against Mme. Caillaux’s husband, Joseph, the Minister of Finance. It seems that Henriette and Joseph had been engaged in an extramarital affair while he was still married to his first wife. Fearing that Calmette might publish some private letters which had come into his possession to discredit her husband she visited his office on March 16, 1914.

Mme. Caillaux inquired, “You know why I have come?”

“Not at all, Madame,” Calmette replied.

Nonchalantly Mme. Caillaux drew aFabrique NationalModel 1910 pistol from the large fur muff she had used to protect her delicate hands from the harsh weather of a Parisian March. Before Calmette could react, she let loose six .380 Automatic Colt Pistol bullets. Four hit Calmette who would die a few hours later. When the police arrived Mme. Caillaux quietly surrendered but insisted she be driven to the local police station by her chauffer in her own car which was parked on the street below. In true gallant Gallic

fashion the gendarmes acceded to her wishes.

The sensational and salacious crime gripped the nation. Forests of trees and barrels of ink were sacrificed to report on Caillaux’s titillating case. At some point some wag opined that you can tell a lot about a woman by her hands. For example, if they are gripping a pistol she is probably slightly upset.

Mme. Caillaux’s legal team’s task was to convince the jury that hers was an uncontrollable crime of passion rather than a premeditated political act of murder. After a week-long trial they convinced the jury and Caillaux was acquitted on July 28, 1914.

By chance, on the same day the acquittal was announced, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his morganatic wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were on a diplomatic trip to Sarajevo, a hot bed of political unrest. Unknown to the authorities a small group ofYugoslav nationalists, called the Black Hand, planned to assassinate him during the visit.

The assassination conspiracy got off to a poor start when, a little after 10AM on the 28th, a bomb was thrown at the Archduke’s open auto. It missed its target and skidded under the following vehicle before exploding and injuring several people. The assassin swallowed a cyanide capsule and jumped into a nearby river to avoid capture and insure his death. The comedy of errors continued because the cyanide merely made him sick and the river was only inches deep. The police, understandably riled up, pulled him onto shore and beat him near to death.

The official party fled from the scene of the bombing, but the Archduke insisted he be taken to the local hospital to visit those wounded in the attack. On the way to the hospital they got lost. By chance the slowly moving procession passed by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand, who stepped up to the royal party’s car. Princip pulled out his Fabrique NationalModel 1910, serial number 19074, and emptied the six-shot magazine in the general direction of the royal couple. He was not as good a marksman as Mme. Caillaux as only two of his shots hit their mark,but his two bullets were just as fatal asMme. Caillaux’s four. The Archduke, struck in the neck, and Sophie, hit in the abdomen, were dead by 11 AM.

Within a month Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Interlocking treaties forced the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary and Serbia’s allies, France, and England, to declare war on each other, setting off World War I

Firearms genius Moses Browning designed the FN Model 1910. This blowback pistol used a novel operating spring which surrounded the barrel. Colt did not want to produce it so Browning patented it in Europe and had it manufactured by FN, then a partner of Colt. Noted firearms authority Massad Ayoob, noted that some experts will tell you that the .380 is barely adequate, and others will say it’s barely inadequate.”

The .380 is considered, by many, to be a puny and underpowered cartridge, an opinion probably not held by MonsieurCalmette, Archduke Franz, or Duchess Sophie.

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DOING IT OLD SCHOOL…

DOING IT OLD SCHOOL…

My brother is a pilot of The Old School. By that I means he lives, at least in his mind’s eye, in an aviation world populated by leather jacket, silk scarf, helmet and goggles wearing men with leathery tanned faces and steely eyes surrounded by crow’s feet, earned by staring into the far horizon. The airplanes’ skeletons are covered with taunt doped Irish linen and the ships rest on tail skids with their noses held proudly high in the air by two large thin wheels connected by an axle.

He eschews the modern glass cockpits that resemble television sets and lack the romance and tradition of a simple steam gauge control panel. He is comfortable with the basic set of instruments run by air pressure, vacuum, magnetism, and electricity arranged in the traditional T. The basic ‘six pack’-airspeed, artificial horizon, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, heading indicator, and vertical speed indicator is reinforced by the mandatory wet compass and option fuel gage.

Neatly folded in his lap is a Sectional chart with its course line, landmarks, and time checks neatly lettered by a yellow number 2 pencil, the map is oriented in the direction of flight to make flying by pilotage, using fixed visual ground references to guide oneself to a destination by dead reckoning, easier.

Steve loves navigation, he would rather look at a folded-out chart than a fold out in a men’s magazine, and is a student of its history. He has a particular interest in the methods used by the Polynesians to get about the vast Pacific Ocean in outrigger canoes. The ancient navigators used oral tradition passed from master to apprentice combined with their senses, knowledge of the stars, weather, direction, size, and speed of the waves and even cloud formations.

Always trying to expand his knowledge he attended a navigation seminar at the US Coast Guard Academy. During a coffee break Steve approached the speaker and asked what he knew about primitive navigation. After taking a few moments to organize his thoughts he took a sip of coffee and replied, “Not a lot. Vacuum tubes are a thing of the past. All our stuff is now solid state.”

He was not a navigator of The Old School.

A similar situation recently popped up among several of our younger shooting acolytes, lead by Ryan McKee, in regard to the Infantry Trophy Team Match. For those unfamiliar with the National Matches there are four major rifle matches. Two are individual events, The National Trophy Team Match and The Presidents Match, and two are team matches the National Trophy Team Match and the National Infantry Trophy Team Match. The National Infantry Team Match is designed to simulate an infantry squad’s mission, which is “to close with the enemy and destroy or capture him.” More familiarly and commonly known as the Rattle Battle, perhaps because of clatter and jangle of the shooting designed to simulate a combat situation. It is a very popular event.

McKee is a student of the sport and I have very much enjoyed watching him delve into the history. He collects, or more accurately pack rats, all manner of guns and ammunition. He read Christian Lentz’s account of the Rattle Battle in his seminal work on the 1940 National Matches, Muzzle Flashes. The tale struck a spark of romanticism in the young man and he began thinking nostalgically about the good old days of wooden rifles and iron men.

Very quietly he began inventorying his friend’s cache of rifles and supply of ammunition and soon came up with a list which included five variations on the venerable United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903, and several wooden cases of surplus .30-06 ammunition of various vintages and headstamps.

All he needed to complete the armaments for a pre-World War II Rattle Battle was his Holy Grail, a Browning Automatic Rifle. It seemed an impossible quest, but the determined young man managed to turn up a modern day semi-automatic version.

The next day a letter was dispatched to the CMP stating they had noticed the CMP Games participants tricked out in period garb and, being historically minded, his team wished to fire the National Trophy Infantry Team Match ‘Old School,’ that is, fired as it was between the World Wars with five Springfield 03s and a Browning Automatic Rifle.

The CMP replied stating that the Programs Chief really liked the idea and thought that doing something like Ryan’s suggestion in the future would be an excellent idea. However, they would not be able to fire in the match this year because the NTIT is a very full event and the CMP is unable to allow a team to fire out-of-competition that might take away a spot from a team wanting to compete in-competition.

McKee is pursuing Distinguished with an M1A, and so he honors his wooden rifle predecessors, and the sport, with his sense of the history and respect for the traditions of the shooting sports lacking in most of his peers.

Unlike the Coast Guard navigator Ryan is of The Old School.

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And blow, ye winds, high-ho..

And blow, ye winds, high-ho..

On a typical hot humid July afternoon at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Aviation Officer Candidate School Class 17-71 stood, under arms, in five sweat stained opened ranks of nine, dressed right and covered down.

Staff Sergeant A. W. Myers, USMC, had been drilling us on the broiling hot cement parade deck-fondly known as ‘The Grinder’. As usual he was greatly dissatisfied with our feeble efforts to do anything in unison and, as usual, was unabashed in displaying his ire. In the process of working himself into an apoplectic fit he reminded us that we were the worst fumble footed, ham handed, and uncoordinated mob of subhuman life forms ever to disgrace the uniform of the United States Navy. He menacingly circled our little rectangle of khaki clad candidates sarcastically haranguing us, a lion looking for the weakest gazelle to cut from the herd and pounce upon.

I stood in the center of the formation, the fifth file in the third rank. It was an enviable position because files two, five, and eight are ‘stack men.’ We stood at attention while those to either side of us linked their M1 rifles’ stacking swivels to ours when stacking arms. Standing at attention rarely attracted unwanted attention while movement inevitably did. It was also generally a safe refuge as the Drill Instructors normally fed upon those on the convenient outer edges of the formation. Therefore, I was quite startled when the lantern jawed scarlet scowling face of Staff Sergeant A. W. Myers, USMC, suddenly filled my entire field of vision.

Staff Sergeant A. W. Myers, USMC’s gray eyes, the color of concrete, bore into me. The brim of his campaign hat tapped the spit shined bill of my combination cover in time with his staccato woodpecker-like questioning. “Tell me Rocket Man, just what is that weapon you are so slovenly attempting to hold at right shoulder arms!”

In Pavlovian fashion I rattled off at the top of my lungs, without taking a breath or pausing for punctuation, “Sir! The weapon the candidate is holding in a slovenly attempt at right shoulder arms is a U. S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1it is a gas operated clip fed air cooled shoulder weapon it weighs approximately nine point five pounds and the bayonet an additional pound its serial number is 5944220, sir!” Staff Sergeant A. W. Myers, USMC glanced down at the receiver of my rifle to confirm the serial number. Finding it correct Staff Sergeant A. W. Myers, USMC showed his pleasure with my correct answer by awarding me a mere 25 pushups for my slovenly right shoulder arms.

The U. S. rifle, caliber .30, M1, the Garand, was the brain child of French Canadian John Cantius Garand who lived, for a time, just a few miles north of my home town of New London, in Jewett City, Connecticut before he ended up the darling of the Springfield Arsenal. His Connecticut roots have not been forgotten and Garand has a Connecticut Turnpike bridge near Jewett City, by Exit 93, named in his honor.

The sweat dripping from my forehead dappled the cement in front of my face as I did my pushups and my mind drifted to the Garand to dull the discomfort. I had shot the M1in competition before signing on the dotted line which consigned me to AOCS and the gentle ministrations and creative pedagogy of Staff Sergeant A. W. Myers, USMC.

The Garand was the first semiautomatic rifle to see standard issue to an army, but not the first to see combat. That honor rests with the now justly forgotten and unreliable Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne (MAS) Fusil semi automatique de 8 mm RSC modèle 1918 fielded in a limited fashion at the end of World War I by the French. The RSC was not the only worthless firearm with which the French have gifted the world. The Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSR, the Chauchat machine rifle, nicknamed the “Sho-Sho” by the unlucky U.S. Doughboys who employed it, was another. However, the pièce de résistance of French firearm follies has to be the pétard.

The weapon dates to sixteenth century France when gunpowder was emerging as the new wonder weapon. Giant stone castles were virtually immune to attack and usually only fell after months, or years, of being blockaded. Siege was costly in treasure, time, and men so some bright French military engineer dreamt up the idea of using the new explosive to attack a fortress.

After some experimentation a small bell shaped vessel, of brass or iron, filled with gunpowder seemed to fit the bill. Attached to a castle door by hooks, it was ignited by a fuse, and the resulting concentrated explosion, a primitive shaped charge, would breach the door allowing assault troops to rush in to plunder and pillage.

In typical French scatological style the device was named the Pétard derived from the Middle French péter, which means to break wind. One must presume that the rations of Gallic soldiers of the day, rich in flatulence producing French legumes,Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cheese, and small beer, must have produced some prodigious intestinal gas to resemble, upon release, the detonation of five or six pounds of gunpowder.

Being a pétardier was a dangerous occupation and more often than not, after setting the weapon and lighting the fuse, he was blown into the air, and to smithereens, by the device. This gave rise to the expression describing being harmed by one’s own plot against another as “being hoist by one’s own petard.”

As I labored away at my push-ups I couldn’t help but grin at the fact that things never seemed to change in the military. Here I was, often being punished for my haphazard handling of a gas operated weapon while 500 years earlier gas operated soldiers were often punished by their weapons for haphazardly handling them.

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YOU WON’T FIND THIS IN ANY RELOADING MANUAL…

YOU WON’T FIND THIS IN ANY RELOADING MANUAL…

My wife Margaret was clipping coupons as we were leafing through the papers over a lazy Sunday breakfast. She passed me a dissected section and, to attract my attention,  tapped her scissors’ point on a short article she thought might be of interest to me. It was about a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Xtreme acrobat who was about to take her 500th flight as a human cannonball.  It was illustrated by a full color frontal photo of petite and comely Gemma Kirby emerging in full flight from the muzzle of a cannon.

I don’t know what really attracted my attention. It was either Kirby, in a form fitting sequin trimmed costume, or the muzzle of the gun which reminded me of a Saturday afternoon spent in the Garde Theater watching The Pride and the Passion, an action movie from my youth. It starred another entertainment beauty, Sophia Loren, along with Cary Grant and, oddly enough, Frank Sinatra. The plot revolved about a band of Peninsula War Spanish partisans dragging a humongous cannon across the Iberian landscape to batter the French stronghold at Avila.

I was not unfamiliar with the concept of the human cannonball. The Old Man was a rabid circus and carnival fan as a result of some romantic misadventures of his misspent youth during the Great Depression. Annually, in the early 1950s, The Old Man took my brother and me to the Clyde Beatty-Coleman Brothers Circus at Caulkins Park, just a block or two from our house. Steve and I were willing accomplices for The Old Man’s nostalgic trip back in time as we were both students at Waller School, just across the street from the park. For days had been breaking the points off of our pencils so we could go to the sharpener by the window and sneak a peek at the roustabouts and elephants erecting the canvas Big Top as we ground yet another yellow Mongol Number 2 into oblivion.

It was during one of these sojourns that I recall seeing my first human cannon ball. The big gun was mounted on the back of truck and parked on the long axis of the tent. After some preliminary acrobatics a small man slid feet first into the barrel and disappeared from sight. A clown appeared with a huge match and applied it to a fuse at the breech. The cannon roared and amid an enormous cloud of “black powder” smoke, which added a Mephistophelian odor of burning brimstone to the musky smell of canvas, sawdust, and animal droppings that already filled the tent, the man shot out. He flew across the length of the tent, did a quick midair somersault, and landed on his back in a net to the roar and applause of the delighted crowd.

Kirby won’t reveal the exact workings of the cannon, preferring to refer to it as circus magic. However, the mechanics of shooting a human cannonball are actually not that complicated, or far removed from the typical shooting match activity. The exception is the fact that no powder is used to propel the human cannon ball as it serves only as a dramatic theatrical effect.

Essentially a circus cannon is nothing more than a piston powered by compressed air to hurl the human projectile out of a tube. The platform rests at the back of the barrel and is pushed forward with a pressure approaching 6,000 pounds per square inch. The piston abruptly stops at the top of the barrel and inertia takes over. The human cannonball travels somewhere around 200 feet at about 70 miles per hour in a   parabolic arc which can reach 75 feet above ground level. The human cannonball is subjected to G forces nine times normal gravity at the start of the three second flight.

Let us put shooting a human cannonball into the context of the preparation and execution of a rifle competition.

Well before the audience fills the stands the cannon crew sets up the target and cannon and tests the system by shooting dummies, which approximate the human cannonball’s size, shape, and weight at the net. Numerous factors have to be taken into account such as wind speed, the cannonball’s weight, distance, humidity and temperature. Great care is taken in calculating the barrel angle. They adjust the windage and elevation of the barrel until the dummy hits the center of the target repeatedly.  This reminds one of a combination of ammunition testing and sighter shots.

 

“A successful human cannonball keeps his eyes open to find the net.” That smacks of follow through and shot calling.

 

“A human cannon ball has to keep their weight consistent, with a pound or two, as any remarkable change in weight will require recalibration of the cannon.” In other words, do not change lots of ammunition in the middle of a string.

 

Kirby comments, “I can never do this act half-awake or not unprepared or not warmed up.” This speaks to maintaining concentration and awareness of conditions from first shot to last.

Finally Kirby says that ‘Being detail-oriented and being a creature of habit is really essential in this line of work. Consistency is key.” Now doesn’t that sum up a successful shooting sports athlete?

It seems that no matter what the projectile, be it a 22 caliber 40 grain ball, a 5.56mm 77 grain full metal jacket, a 308 caliber 168 grain hollow point boat tail, or a 115 pound 25 year old acrobat, the same basic marksmanship skills and procedures are required to hit the center of the target.  

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THE MALTESE FALCON MEETS THE MALTESE CROSS…

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was, according to the New York Times, “the dean of the ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.” He is widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time who produced his most enduring tales, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, in a short four year period between 1929 and 1933. Both works gained greater fame on the silver screen where Humphrey Bogart played the sardonic Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon while William Powell and Myrna Loy played the sophisticated bantering husband and wife, Nick and Nora Charles, of The Thin Man.

What follows may be best summarized by Kasper Gutman, the criminal mastermind in Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon who said that, “These are facts, historical facts, not schoolbook history, not Mr. Wells’ history, but history nevertheless.”

A string of wins in the Dewar International Rifle Match during the late 1920s had built up quite a head of competitive steam among the prone shooters in the United States. The cocky Americans issued a challenge to Great Britain’s Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs for a shoulder-to-shoulder rifle match to be shot in England using the Dewar Match format. The colonist’s overblown opinion of their skills was dramatically deflated when they narrowly escaped a 12 point trouncing only because of a Herculean effort on the part of the last several rifleman who reduced the double digit deficit to a face saving two point loss.

The team returned home from England in time for Camp Perry and brought back some great tall tales and an innovative idea from the Bisley Camp experience that would change the face of US smallbore shooting: the backer target. The backer target, a blank sheet of target tag board, placed ten inches behind the target and made possible to locate the source of crossfires and to identify all the shots in tight groups.

Ned Crossman, the Father of US Smallbore Shooting, wrote the first crossfire rules for the game in 1919 which stated, “A competitor accidentally hitting the wrong target shall lose the score, be fined fifty cents, and will not be permitted to resume fire until the fine is paid. A competitor deliberately hitting firing on the wrong target shall be instantly and automatically disqualified and forfeit all prizes and entry fees. Whether the hitting of the wrong target is “accidental” or “intentional” is a point to be decided by the Range Officers and their decision shall be final.” 

That is how it pretty much stood until the backer target showed up in 1931. A half a buck was a pretty tough penalty when one considers most match entry fees were just 25 cents.   Range Officers found that they were in a position similar to Tomás de Torquemada, the Spanish Dominican friar, who was the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.  Simply put, if you didn’t confess to your sin you would be subjected to the Range Officer’s inquest.

No sooner had the backer system been adopted, and put into use at Camp Perry, then Pennsylvania’s Ray Louden entered the history books as the first United States shooter to have a confirmed crossfire when he shot into the adjacent target of Lewis McLeod of Long Island, New York. The errant shot at 100 yards was easily identified and appropriate penalties applied.

The pair were well respected and excellent marksmen. In fact they were team mates on the 1931 US Dewar Team. That two experienced rifleman were involved in this historic event made it clear to all that crossfires were not just the province of the novice.

Fast forward nine years to the final day the 1940 National Championship. Russ Wiles, of the Black Hawk Rifle Club, chided Ray Converse for having crossfired. Wiles then boasted that he had never done so at Camp Perry. No sooner had the words left his mouth than he crossfired, on the next and final relay of the tournament. As soon as the firing ended Wiles, hoist by his own petard, was then hoisted from the firing line by teammates Converse, Fred Johansen, and Ken Waters and deposited into a nearby trash can.

Wiles had seemed to have forgotten the old shooter’s saying that there are only two kinds of shooters, those who have crossfired and those who will. As a trash can is a bulky and not an easily transported trophy, Converse, Johansen, and Waters quickly came up with an alternate insignia of ignobility.

The trio hacked a rough Maltese cross from a piece of heavy scrap leather and attached a huge horse blanket safety pin to the top arm. A can of yellow paint, a small brush, and limited artistic skills provided a crude picture of a set of crossed eyes. The words “Black Hawk Tribe” and “Crossfire Expert” were lettered above and below the eyes.

Wiles was charged with wearing the badge until another club member crossfired at either Camp Perry or the Black Hawk Annual Tournament. The leather cross has changed hands uncounted times over the decades but, unlike the Maltese Falcon which is, as Sam Spade noted, “The stuff that dreams are made of,” the Black Hawk Maltese Cross is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

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