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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Culling the Herd

CULLING THE HERD…

I am a student of the so called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration because I hate cold weather and admire those who endure conditions I am too cowardly to challenge. The great white waste of the southern polar region is the most inhospitable place on earth. It is a high altitude desert scoured by rasping wind and, except for the coast, bereft of life. It is the coldest place on Earth where −93.2 °C (−135.8 °F) was recorded at the Soviet Vostok Station. Just a few of the titles of books about exploring the continent tell its grim story: Life in the Freezer; The Home of the Blizzard; Just Tell Them I Survived, Racing with Death, The Heart of the Great Alone, and The Worst Journey in the World.

In the early decades of the 20th Century a group of brave and hardy men, tougher than woodpecker lips, moved from the outer edges toward the Holy Grail of Antarctic exploration, the South Pole. The likes of Sir James Clark Ross, Nathaniel Palmer, Adrien de Gerlache, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson, and Richard Evelyn Byrd wrote, in the words of Scott, “…a tale…of hardihood, endurance, and courage.” You can’t help but admire these men, warts and all.

I recently had an experience reminiscent of an incident which occurred during Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, more formally known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Unlike Amundsen and Scott, Shackleton was unsuccessful on all three of the Antarctic expeditions but has become a bit of a leadership cult figure because of his people centered style of management.

Just a few days after the start of the Great War Endurance weighed anchor in the harbor of Plymouth, England and shaped course for the Antarctic. The expedition was a disaster as the Endurance became trapped in Weddell Sea ice. Shackleton and his ice bound crew drifted with the ice pack for eight months until the ice won, crushing the Endurance’s stout wooden hull.

As the Endurance sank, expedition photographer Frank Hurley repeatedly dove into the icy waters to rescue his glass-plate negatives. After all of that danger he was eventually forced to abandon all but about 150 of the glass plates when the expedition took to boats when the ice floe they inhabited broke up. Space was at a premium on the life boats and so Hurley sat with Shackleton atop a couple of provision crates viewing each negative, keeping the best and smashing those not thought worthy of saving to avoid second guessing.

Like the Endurance life boats space has become an issue at The Casa Rocketto. The basement has become the repository of the detritus of my two daughters’ various apartment moves as they transitioned from college to the real world. In addition we have also renovated the old homestead resulting in a surplus of appliances, furniture, and assorted boxes of bits and pieces accompanied by a dearth of space. After going through the kid’s stuff I have had to perform triage on the many publications I have pack ratted away for research over many years.

I elected to cull my collection of Precision Shooting as opposed to The American Rifleman because the Rifleman is simply richer in the historical resources I require whereas Precision Shooting was a much more technical publication. Perched on my shooting stool I read the table of contents of each issue of Precision Shooting selecting only those issues which contained articles by me and my shooting favorite fellow shooting historians, German Salazar, George Stephens, and Paul Nordquist.

The castoffs filled several very large recycle bins and were very heavy and I did not look forward to hauling them away. The next day, over breakfast before our usual Friday morning shooting session, I mentioned my plans to cart them off to the transfer station to my young shooting acolytes Ryan McKee and Nash Neubauer.

Nash and Ryan were horror stricken that I would even think of disposing of my Precision Shooting collection. Their immediate and fierce protest peppered me with a spray of toast crumbs, bits of scrambled egg, and corned beef hash along with comments comparing my planned dumping to a Nazi biblioclasm and Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. An allusion to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was tossed in for good measure.

I was surprised at their reaction. It was not their passionate pleas to save the magazines that left me wide eyed. Rather I was taken aback by the fact that they, being an engineering and criminal justice major as well as high power shooters and the modern public school system being what it is, had accumulated the depth of knowledge to include such erudite historical and literary references.

Nearly in a panic they pleaded with me that they might have them. I demurred, saying that we were many miles from my home; it would take them far out of their way to retrieve them at a great expense of gasoline and time, while it was just a short trip to the dump for me. My reasoning did not impress them. They escorted me home and hauled the bins to their vehicles, vowing to share and share alike.

While they made reference to Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451 I could not help think of Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer. I had accomplished my purpose of clearing shelf space just as Tom had managed to get Aunt Polly’s fence white washed. I had, as Mark Twain wrote, “…discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

My goal had met with pleasant unintended consequences. I had gained storage space, didn’t have to risk a hernia or strained back moving the heavy bins, landfill room was conserved, and the magazines are now safe in the hands of those who will value them.

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Hopkinton Prone Matches (HPM) Start Thursday, 4/26/18

Hopkinton Prone Matches (HPM) start this Thursday, April 28th. 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 Good Old Days

THE GOOD OLD DAYS…

When I made my first trip to Camp Perry I was overwhelmed by the long awaited and anticipated experience. Day after day of shooting, free meals three times a day in the Mess Hall, a Spartan but adequate bunk in a hut, the company of like minded souls, and Commercial Row. I was living large. Yet, as great as it was I was constantly reminded that I was a late comer and had missed the ‘Good Old Days’. Now that I am in what I call my ‘anecdotage’ I fondly recall my ‘Good Old Days’ to the distress of today’s youngsters.

In expectation I dove into musty issues of The American Rifleman from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, submerging myself in the aura, history, and lore of Camp Perry. When I finally got there shooting veterans wistfully told me of the days before a politically correct Congress stripped away Federal funding, a time that would never be seen again. I had missed the military bands tooting and banging away, the columns of soldiers, sailors, and Marines marching to the pits to pull targets or act as scorers, and merchandise freebies doled out by the big gun and ammunition manufacturers.

Still, it was quite a place. Almost everyone lived “on post.” There were hundreds of huts, long gone, where modules and barracks now stand. Commercial Row was alive with a frenzy of activity and noise reminiscent of a carnival midway. People paraded up and down Donahey Road renewing friendships, making new ones, all the while exchanging greetings and stories of the day’s shooting. Some gathered under the golden glow of street lights, along with the moths and May flies, to exchange gossip and tall tales on the benches set up outside the buildings. Others roamed in and out of the many commercial establishments manned by the likes of Old Man Hogue, Al Freeland, and the nattily uniformed staff of Colt, Winchester, and Remington.

The delicate musical tinkle of the bells of an ice cream truck slowly cruising down Commercial Row provided a counter point to the muscular ping of lead pellets hitting the backstop at the air gun range. From time to time a figure or two would break away from this island of sound and light and stroll the short distance though the silent darkness to building 1002. In each dim corner, like sentinels standing guard at the catafalque at a state funeral, stood industrial strength pedestal fans that moved the warm humid air about in a futile attempt to keep the building cool. The deep roar of the fans’ motors discouraged extraneous conversation. The long tunnel like building was neatly bisected along its long axis by the “Wailing Wall”, which was illuminated by banks of fluorescent light fixtures. On both sides Plexiglas panels covered hundreds of square feet of the grid like NRA Form SR31A score reporting bulletin sheets.

Each competitor’s name, class, and category were neatly lettered on the plastic and next to it a pair of volunteers, wielding black grease pencils, posted the scores from each match. If one was particularly skilled, or lucky, a ring of color would surround a score or two indicating a small victory. A small knot of competitors would trail the statistical crew as it went about its business of transposing scores from hand typed sheets onto the board with accountant like precision. Competitors would read the posted numbers, check them against a scrap of paper covered with penciled scribbles and, from time to time, pull out a purse or wallet, extract a dollar bill, and bolt towards the Challenge Window next door in building 1000.

At ten o’clock the concessions and stat shack would close, and the crowd slowly broke up and drifted away to the huts to rest and prepare for the next day’s competition. Quiet would settle over the camp, occasionally broken by a mischievous burst of laughter from a hut full of excited juniors or the squeaking and slamming of a hut’s screen door as one of the elders made a necessary trip to the washroom in the shank of the night.

The common washrooms were from an earlier era. Juniors, unfamiliar with communal living, often found that their digestive systems shut down after their eyes first fell upon the lavatory. Opposing rows of china fixtures, each topped with a black wooden horse shoe, faced each other, sans the doors and dividers that kids were used to seeing in their only other exposure to group living, school. Mess Hall food was free and plentiful so that by the third day even the most fastidious and bashful of juniors could contain themselves no longer. Perched apprehensively upon the porcelain the kids were often unwillingly drawn into a friendly discussion about the previous day’s scores-baseball or rifle-or perhaps the weather, by an avuncular old timer sitting next to him perusing the morning paper.

The hunched over youngster, briefs drawn as high as possible and shirt stretched low to preserve some shred of childhood dignity, probably had no idea that the friendly old timer with the white wizened legs, boxer shorts casually draped wreath like about his ankles, had probably made his acquaintance with this type of facility with similar concern when he was a fuzzy cheeked draftee back in ‘Dubya Dubya Two’ or “Kowe-rea.”

The great open concrete cavern of the shower room offered even less privacy than the rest of the building, it that were possible. Shower heads lined the walls and a wooden grate covering the floor. The more reserved youngsters would sneak in late at night hoping to bathe in private. It was no use. There was always someone taking either a late night or early morning shower. Youthful modesty was only marginally preserved by facing the wall, working up generous amounts of soap lather, or the gossamer gray clouds of steam which belched forth from the shower heads. In a short time the youngsters grew comfortable with the situation and soon were engaged in towel snapping and other adolescent locker room horseplay. They had been initiated into the “Culture of the Huts” and completed one of the many male rites of passage. They looked forward to watching the next crop of juniors negotiate the path they had just traversed.

Fikret Yegül, student of classical antiquity, summed up the significance of this type of public facility when he wrote that, “…it is hardly an exaggeration to say that at the height of the empire, the baths embodied the ideal Roman way of urban life. … Their public nature created the proper environment.” As it was with the Romans at their apogee of their empire so it was with the shooters at Perry.

Some thirty years later the ‘Good Old Days’ of my elders, like most of them, have passed on, preserved only within the pages of The Rifleman or in the memory of a few old duffers like me. So it will be with my tales of the ‘Good Old Days’. But I have to wonder how the memories of the ‘Good Old Days’ of today’s crop of Perry youngsters-days of a diminished Commercial Row, modules, air conditioned huts, privacy stalls in the bath houses, and computer generated score sheets-measure up to mine?

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Shot In The Tail

Shot In The Tail…

The Hudson New Hampshire Range is a small range, ten points packed so close together that the legs of spotting scopes often intrude into the adjacent shooter’s space. Some might generously call it intimate. However, an astute observer would comment that the shooters on the line appeared more like the top row in a tin of brisling sardines rather than a firing line of highly skilled shooting athletes.

The close proximity of shooters led to the inevitable, mats overlapped, shooters’ legs became tangled up, spotting scopes were knocked about, positions had to be adjusted to accommodate the confined space, and the slightest breakdown in natural point of aim might put you on someone else’s target.

For example, I confess that I twice crossfired onto the target of the shooter to my right, my shooting crony George Pantazelos. The first of two my miscues was a dead center X in bull two of George’s first Meter target. Now George shoots his targets in the following order: bull one, three, four and two- a U, while I shoot one, three, two and four, two columns.

I finished first and as a result I had opportunity to watch George shoot the bull I had defaced. I had a strong interest in his success as my bull two was a four shot knot that could easily be mistaken for a five shots. George’s first three bulls were pretty much one hole groups fully contained within the ten ring. The darker angels of my soul, having no reason to believe otherwise, were hoping that George would continue hammering the X ring and I my shooting sin might pass unnoticed.

The gods of shooting do not suffer fools such as me lightly and punish us severely for our indiscretions. George’s last bull was a clean, like his first three, but with six distinct shot holes.

Two shooters to my left lay my brother Steve, hammering away at the target with one of his better performances of the year. He shot so well that at the end of the day he was in second place, one point behind and, note this, eight Xs ahead of match winner Pantazelos. With it Steve earned his first Regional medallion and his first leg on prone Distinguished. We all must agree that such a performance must be a high point in any shooting career.

However, he is constitutionally incapable of allowing himself to be outdone by his little brother. When word reached him that I had crossfired he did likewise and blasted off an extra one for good measure so as to not be outdone by me. When he heard that I had erred a second time in finding my own target his big brother reflex kicked in and he began scattered tens and Xs on adjacent targets like a farmer broadcasting seed across a fertile field.

No bull was safe.

Fellow competitors were hitting the floor like students during the “Duck and Cover” drills, which many of us remember from our grammar school days in the 1950s.

There were those present who reported that his eyes and maniacal chortling conjured up an image of a cross between psychopathic killer Tommy Udo, portrayed by Richard Widmark in the movie Kiss of Death and equally unbalanced portrayal of Cody Jarrett by James Cagney in White Heat.

In the end he bettered me, as he intended, by shooting three cross fires during the match: a glorious hat trick of incompetence unequaled anywhere in the Western shooting world on that momentous day.

Had he only shot one crossfire, rather than trying to best me, he would have won the match, taken home a gold medal, a Distinguished step, and a Perry voucher.

He would have won all that swag and bling had he only fired two cross fires to tie me in ineptitude-he had, as I noted earlier, a higher X count than George.

But, no, fiendishly laughing and out of control, he had to one up his kid brother and shoot three cross fires, to deny me of my only chance to be the best at something that day.

When the dust had cleared, and the scoring crew was able to uncross its eyes from the combined efforts of the Frères Rocketto, Pantazelos remarked accurately, but not unkindly, that even if we had a GPS we would be unable to find the X Ring.

Disclaimer: No competitive rifle shooters were harmed in the making or telling of this tale. Secondly, Steve actually won a Perry Voucher the next week at the Rhode Island State Championship and Regional so he ended up winning it all but for a gold medallion.

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2018 Connecticut and Rhode Island JORC

2018 Connecticut and Rhode Island JORC

The Chase Hall Range Complex at the United States Coast Guard Academy was a beehive of activity during the first weekend in January as it hosted the combined Connecticut and Rhode Island USA Shooting Junior Olympic Rifle and Pistol Championship Qualifier. With 64 combined entries Match Director Debbie Lyman reports that the match staff, under the direction of Dr. Richard Hawkins, Head Shooting Sports Coach at Coast Guard, kept everything in order and on time.

Cos Cob Connecticut’s Junior Rifle Club’s J1 rifleman Kyle Kutz topped the field in both men’s smallbore air rifle and smallbore shooting a 580 air and a 568 smallbore. His performance guarantees him an invitation to the championship to be held this spring at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Megan Wilcoxson, a J1 Stratford PAL alum, who now shoots at The Ohio State University, swept both air and smallbore in the women’s category with a 382 and 563 respectively and will be invited to compete in the spring as the state champion.

Nutmeg State shooters who shot well and be waiting to learn the cut off scores for invitation are male riflemen smallbore silver medalist John Lesica and Dan Wesson in both disciplines as well as air bronze medalist Harrison Callahan in smallbore. Silver medalist Laura Milukas, bronze air medalist Kiera Ulmer, and Stephanie Allen await word in air rifle while Silver medalist Gillian Riordan and bronze medal winner Allen stand by for smallbore.

Rhode Island Junior Rifle Director Brenda Jacobs worked in concert with Lyman and saw the Ocean State’s DJ Titus and Grace Foley earn invites as state winners. It will be the first trip for Foley while Titus made his maiden OTC appearance last year.

Two pistol shooters from The Ohio State University were home on break and were sandwiched into the rifle relays. Connecticut’s Con Merriman bested Ohio teammate, Bay State resident, Samuel Gens in air pistol and posted the only score in sport pistol. Merriman will be receiving an invitation as state champion.

Lyman commented, “The match was a great success because of the Coast Guard Academy’s generosity and hospitality as our host. The volunteer workers, Coast Guard’s assistant shooting coaches Chuck Griffin, Ryan McKee, and Hap Rocketto along with the Academy Armory’s fulltime staff CWO Paul Lahah, GM1 Charlie Petrotto, and GM2 Brent Craemer made for a smooth running match. We very much look forward to again returning.”

Results CT RI JORC 2018 2017

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GUNSLING DAVE, MAN AND THE MYTH…

The chime on my computer sounded indicating I had mail.

Opening the message I found that my good friend and fellow shooting historian Paul Nordquist reporting that, “We got an inquiry at the NRA the other day that you may find interesting. A man wrote seeking information on “Gunsling” Dave” the brother of his Great Grandfather. In your excellent history of the sling you quote Townsend Whelen as saying that the officers had heard of “Gunsling” Dave, a celebrated rifle shot ‘before the war.”   I have to admit that I had heard of “Gunsling” Dave but had always regarded him as a possibly mythical figure so I am glad to learn that he was real. Anyway, if you know anything else about “Gunsling” Dave I’ll be happy to pass it along to our correspondent.”

Nordquist’s note is one of the unintended consequences of writing a little tidbit without having any real backup information, working with a man you greatly respect-and to whom you owe more than one favor, and the desire to commit as much shooting history to paper as possible. Paul had very skillfully worked the bellows to blow the embers of my ego into a raging fire with his “your excellent history” comment and then tossed gas on the blaze by saying, “if you know anything else…” The mild mannered, but Machiavellian, Nordquist had effortlessly launched me on a trajectory to find out more about “Gunsling” Dave.

When I was a brand new ensign faced with a situation that was out of my depth, and that was almost everything I came across, I followed the wisest course possible and rushed off to find the repository of all knowledge naval, my leading chief. This was an analogous situation and I did much the same thing, I consulted Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.

Much to my surprise a handful of references popped up. The first was a citation from a Nashville, Tennessee newspaper reporting that a native son, Sergeant Richard N. Davidson, gave Nashville the honor of having “one of the world’s greatest shots of his day…the proud possessor of twenty-two medals, six of solid gold and sixteen of silver and bronze…” With a name at hand I checked my database of Distinguished to find that one Corporal Richard N. Davidson, USA of Company G 16th Infantry earned his Badge in 1892, among the first 200 men to be so honored.

Citations and references to “Gunsling” Dave began pouring in from the internet like ice cold North Atlantic seawater flooding the breached seams of the Titanic.

I discovered that the not so mythical, as Paul and I had thought, “Gunsling” Dave had enlisted in 1886 and was sent to the Southwest where he served under the tenacious Indian fighter, and Medal of Honor recipient, Captain Henry Ware Lawton in his successful pursuit of Geronimo. Davidson and Lawton’s careers would intertwine as they both later served in Cuba and the Philippines. Ironically Lawton, now a major general who lead from the front, was killed in action on December 18, 1899 by Philippine insurrectos under the command of a general named Gerónimo. He fell on the very day his appointment to the rank of lieutenant general was approved by the US Senate.

A contemporary account of Davison’s service in Cuba indicates that “Gunsling” Dave was, “…the pride of the Sixteenth Foot an’ he’s the champion shot of the hull (sic) army. He holds all the records for all the crack shot shootin’. His real name is Davidson an’ he’s a sergeant. In Cuba he had good practice pickin’ off Spanish sharpshooters what was troubling the spoils.” Furthermore it was reported that, “General Pando, the Spanish commander, who was shot day before yesterday was standing in an exposed position ordering his troops, when a regular named “Gunsling” Dave pulled on him at 1,500 yards. It was a peach of a shot.”

Davidson earned his first shooting award when he placed third in departmental competition in 1890. His proud messmates genially teased him about having to spend more time polishing his medal for inspection then shooting. He replied that he would then have to earn medals that did not require the use of a soft cloth and “Soldier’s Friend” to keep shiny. True to his word the next year he won the gold at the Department of the Platte matches and followed that up in 1892 with a record breaking score in the same match. He was soon presented with the gold Distinguished Marksman Badge making good on his barrack room promise.

Davidson preferred to shot from the supine position, Lying on his back with his feet toward the target he tucked the rifle butt next to his head with the left hand behind his head holding it in position by the butt. The right hand is turned to grasp the pistol grip in such a way as to allow the thumb to be used to squeeze the trigger-the so called “Texas Grip”. His legs were crossed and intertwined with the rifle sling. The rifle then sat between his knees on the sling, just as a log would sit on a sawbuck, giving the position its eponymous name.

So, in retrospect, “Gunsling” Dave was a real man, not a myth, and was a certified and documented dab hand with the .45-70 Model 1873 “Trapdoor” Springfield rifle and, later, with its successor, the .30 bolt action Springfield Model 1892 Krag-Jørgensen.

But some of his shooting feats-a 1,500 yard shot with and the claim that he could get off 20 shots in 30 seconds with the Krag, a rapid fire speed that would rival the legendary Sergeant Snoxall of the British Army’s School of Musketry who, it is claimed, fired 38 rounds into a 12-inch bulls-eye at 300 yards in one minute smack more of myth than man.

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The Twenty Eighth Annual Swanson Match

The Twenty Eighth Annual Swanson Match

One Hundred and forty-three juniors pounded well over a case of 22 caliber long rifle bullets into the backstop of Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club’s Carrol Indoor Range over the first weekend in December as they contested for awards in the 28th Annual David L. Swanson Memorial Match.

Ashley Gillis, of the Stratford Connecticut Police Athletic League Junior Rifle Team, won the sub junior title with a 295X600 shooting a 30 shot prone match on the A-17 target. Gillis posted one of the only perfect scores on a target as she slid past team mate Autumn Smith, who posted the only other clean target of the day, by a slim two points. Smith’s second place finish came on a tiebreaker with Metacon’s Joey Beaulieu based on the last target where she shot a 99 to Beaulieu’s 96.

Stratford also wrapped up the first and second place awards in Class A as Devon Dupray and Emma Surrock went had on head match scores of 99, 97, and 96, for an unbreakable tie that was decided by coin flip. Ava King, another Metacon shooters, was third with a 291.

The Lewis classification Class B winner was Liam Ward of the host Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club. Second place Faith Del Re, of SPAL, was sandwiched between two Quaker Hill shooters as Jack Didato came in third.

Quaker Hill scored another win in Class C with Lucas Johnson leading the pack. He was followed by Amanda Renge of SPAL and Blue Trail’s Nick Acampora.

Team competition went to the Quaker Hill Aces, Didato, Clint Grano, Liam Ward, and Gigi Loucraft. In a nod to the late Dave Lyman, 1974 Swanson Champion, Blue Trail’s BTR Gold “Do It For Dave,” Sydney Hawke, David Kuhn, Max Rook, and Justin Christian, came in second. Third place was taken by Metacon with Beaulieu, Ava King, Mike Augustine, and Logan Flebotte doing the shooting.

Three position shooters made it a contest with six of the top seven all opening with 100s prone. Moving to kneeling Blue Trail’s Mike Acampora and D.J. Titus, of Rhode Island’s South County Rod and Gun Club, made it exciting as they continued clean. Hovering behind them were SPAL’s Rose Reynolds and Blue Trail’s Laura Milukas down one, Haley Reynolds off the pace by two and SPAL teammate Hope Kavulich, down three.

Kavulich reached down deep and shot a near perfect 99 standing to leap over her competition, who fired strong standing scores but not strong enough, to snatch the title from her competition. Rose Reynolds and Acampora finished second and third overall. Class A winner was Haley Reynolds followed by Milukas and Titus.

Blue Trail almost swept Class B with Sydney Hawke and Brian Masselli, finishing one and two. Ethan Couillard, of Grasso, broke up the string.

Sweeps seemed in order as Grasso Tech took all three awards in Class C with Alex Gauthier, Kenny Smith, and Chris Dow earning the honors.

The SPAL Bulldogs parleyed Kavulich, the Rose sisters and Lauren Chechoski’s cores into a team victory. BTR Silver featured Michael Acampora, Erica Convery, Dan Wesson, and Brandon Hawke in its silver medal finish. Third place was taken by Avon Old Farms’ Feng Lu, Junyeop Ahn, Peter Du, and Wyatt Reller.

Match operations were smoothly handled by Range Officers Steve Rocketto, Ryan McKee, and Mark Wujtewicz. Jason Stansfield and Hap Rocketto scored while five members of the Coast Guard Varsity Rifle team, Randall Ford, Hunter Blankenship, Anthony Contreras, Seth Strayer, and Grayson Wheeler ran targets and kept the range tidy.

The Twenty Ninth Swanson is scheduled for Quaker Hill the first weekend in December of 2018.

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A Promise Made Is a Debt Unpaid…

A Promise Made Is a Debt Unpaid…

Saturday September 10, 1938 was the end of two long days for Coast Guard Seaman First Class Rudolph Jones. He had suffered through the typical hot humid late summer days usually found on the firing line at Camp Perry, Ohio during the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice’s National Trophy Matches. His left bicep had been held in a tourniquet like grip by the M1903 rifle sling while his shoulder had been pounded by the recoil of 60 rounds of .30-06 service ammunition fired through his Springfield Model 1903 Rifle.

While a bit sore and weary Jones also beamed with pride. He had put together a pretty tall score, dropping 13 points out of a possible 300, to be the top gun on the United States Coast Guard Rifle Team in the National Trophy Team Match. Six of those points slipped away during the first stage of the match, slow fire standing at 200 yards. After the rapid fire stages, ten shots at 200 yards sitting and another ten at 300 yard from the prone position he was still only down six-all 20 of his rapid fire shots had hit the black for two perfect 50s. The second day of the match was all prone and he followed up his short range performance with a 48 slow fire prone at 600 yards and a 95 slow fire prone at 1,000 yards totaling a team high 287X300, six points ahead of his nearest teammate, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Peter Marcoux.

When the statistical office had tallied and collated all of the scores Jones found himself not only the best Coastie but the best of the 1,250 riflemen who had fired the match. As well as he shot it was close as Jones won on a tie breaker. Corporal Clifford W. Rawlings, of the Marine Team, had fired the same aggregate score but Jones’ 1,000 yard score was a point better.

Jones was a bit disappointed that his effort did not help his team do any better than third overall. Nevertheless he took great pride in winning the Pershing Trophy and was presented a smaller keeper version of the trophy along with a gold medal for his efforts.

The North Carolina native, now a Gunner’s Mate, was stationed at the Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut during the early years of World War II. Upon being detached from the Academy he asked a shipmate, Charles E. Benedict, to take care of his bulky keeper trophy until he returned. The gold medal, being more easily transported, went with him.

Jones disappeared into the mists of history but Benedict, true to his word, safeguarded the trophy until his death when the trust was passed on to his daughter Carol. Seventy years after Jones asked Benedict to look after the trophy, in August of 2013, Richard Chiango, Benedict’s son in law, contacted the author asking for help in locating Jones or his next of kin so that the trophy might be returned.

Jones, being a common name, a fruitless search resulted. It was then suggested that the trophy be donated to the Civilian Marksmanship Program, the successor organization to the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, who might welcome the historical artifact to its trophy collection. Chiango contacted the CMP’s Christie Sewell, who was delighted at the idea, and started the ball rolling for the acquisition of the trophy.

After seven decades in limbo Jones’ keeper trophy now stands next to the original in a place of honor in one of the display window that fronts the CMP’s headquarters at Camp Perry. It arrived almost exactly 75 years after it had been presented to Jones and rests just a short distance from where it was earned on that long ago September 1938 afternoon.

Its presence is a tribute to Jones’ skill as a rifleman and the honorable discharge of a trust by Charles E. Benedict and his family. As Robert Service wrote in The Cremation of Sam McGee, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.” The Benedict and Chiango families have discharged their debt in full.

Jones’ keeper trophy is shown here, along with the original, as currently displayed at the CMP Headquarters at Camp Perry. The Pershing Trophy was presented by General of the Armies John J. Pershing (1860-1948), Commander of the American Expeditionary Force of World War 1, for team competition at the Inter-Allied Games in Paris in 1919.  Won by the AEF, it was brought to the United States and placed in the custody of National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice with General Pershing’s concurrence.  The trophy is a bronze figure of a World War I soldier firing, oddly enough for a rifle match, the service pistol.

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Lord Roberts Trophy 2017 Video

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Ruby Gomes a Wildcat

University of Kentucky bound Ruby Gomes displays the Charlie Rogers Trophy plaque, emblematic of the national  Expert class prone champion which she won at 2017 at the National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championships. Photo credit NRA

University of Kentucky bound Ruby Gomes displays the Charlie Rogers Trophy plaque, emblematic of the national Expert class prone champion which she won at 2017 at the National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championships. Photo credit NRA

 

Ruby Gomes a Wildcat

Portsmouth Rhode Island High School senior Ruby Gomes has committed to the University of Kentucky Wildcat’s nationally ranked rifle team. Gomes will be joining a team which has made 17 consecutive appearances in the NCAA championships and produced over 60 All Americans.

After learning basic skills at various local clubs, she won the Rhode Island Junior title and finished in the top three of the Junior Olympic Rifle Championships at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Wishing to hone her skills Gomes spent her junior year in Colorado Springs training with the National Training Center Shooting Junior Program. As a resulted she was selected to represent the United States at the 2017 Shooting Hopes junior competition in Pilsen, Czech Republic where she was a teammate of Olympic Gold Medalist Ginny Thrasher.

She added to her international resume by competing in the 2017 British National Smallbore Rifle Championship as a member of the United States Team competing in the Goodwill Randle Team Match, which the United States won. In individual competition she brought home seven first place wins.

Gomes, who was heavily recruited, selected Kentucky for its excellent academic and athletic programs.

 

 

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2018 National Match Calendar

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Gaul and Shooting are much the same…

Success in the shooting sports is, as Gaius Julius Caesar said of Gaul,”…omnis divisa est in partes tres.” Success is divided into three parts, physical, equipment and mental.

Shooting does not require the physical abilities of a superhero. One of its beauties is that it is blind to height, weight, speed, gender, or age. A mask, colorful form fitting clothing with a logo on the chest, and cape are not necessary, although some of the newest shooting garb would make you think that there are some practitioners of the sport who are not quite clear on that facet of equipment.

Shooting is unique among sports because traditional rifle and pistol competition is static. It seems that almost every other sport is dynamic, requiring movement. In shooting the ability to be still pays big dividends when one is trying to shoot a 10.9 at 50 meters.

The sport requires nothing more of a participant than average physical abilities. A sure test of the potential of a shooter is to give that person an ice cream cone. If they can pick it up and lick it there is a good chance they will succeed in time. If they smash it into their forehead it will just take more time.

Good equipment plays no small part in being a good shooter. The rules keep the playing field level in this aspect as your gear must conform to various restrictions in regard to size, weight, and shape. However, most shooters are inveterate tinkerers and even the best equipment can be improved upon by a good gunsmith. It is even possible to buy a few points by spending the gross national product of a small third world nation on ammunition.

Given that most shooters have equal ability and equipment, the dividing line between good, better, and best is in your head. As the celebrated philosopher, sports psychologist, and Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra put it, Ninety per cent of the game is mental. The other half is physical.

The mental part of the sport encompasses a variety of things, chief among them are goal setting, building and maintaining self confidence, managing stress, imagery, pre-match planning, and dealing with unusual circumstances. These are all part and parcel of the mental game that can best be defined as preparation, the most important aspect of success.

Confucius said that, “ The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” I am agreement with the Chinese sage to a point, but I don’t think the will to win is the key. Every competitor wishes to win, but having the will to prepare to win is what really matters. It’s putting in the long lonely hours of hard work focusing on every little detail that counts. There is a big difference between wishing and willing.

Like an enormous bank vault door that easily swings on the smallest of ball bearings successful preparation hinges on the shooter’s journal. The journal is the key element in preparation because it contains the written plan to success. The written word is the lens that focuses thoughts and allows us to clearly see the steps on the road to our goal. Thoughts are ephemeral, but once written they become permanent and we are committed to them.

There is a famous rifleman whom I am fortunate to call a friend. In his long competitive career he has accumulated numerous national, international, and world championships and records on his way to three Olympic medals-two being of gold and one of silver.

Nothing gets the best of him. He is undisturbed by Camp Perry winds and rain or the intense pressure cooker of world class competition. He is very open about saying that the only way to out shoot him is to out prepare him. He keeps a journal and says that no detail is too minute not to be recorded and reviewed. He boasts that if you want to beat him you have to get up each morning before he does and he claims that no one owns an alarm clock that rings that early.

I have shot with him often and observed his every action hoping to pick up some tip that might make me better. He arrives in plenty of time for his relay, sets up his gear, and only then does he socialize. Ten or 15 minutes before his relay he sits behind his scope observing conditions. He has just one eccentricity. Immediately before going to the line he opens his journal, removes a battered, tattered, and yellowed piece of paper which he stares at it for a minute or so before carefully returning it and heading to the line.

Over the years my curiosity about that piece of paper grew. I speculated what it might contain. A host of thoughts crossed my mind. Was it an inspirational Biblical passage, a family photograph, or a very tight shot group from an important match? I had to know.

One day I was squadded next to him and my curiosity finally broke through my thin moral veneer. When he wandered off on some errand I furtively looked about insuring that my skullduggery was not being observed. Reaching over I snatched up the journal from his lawn chair and quickly pulled out the piece of paper.

My jaw dropped. Two lines of neatly printed block letters read: CARTRIDGES: POINTY END FIRST and under it; SIGHTS: COUNTER CLOCK WISE-UP AND RIGHT.

He was right: no detail is too minute not to be recorded and reviewed when you prepare to be the best.

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Take the King’s Schilling; do the King’s Biddding…

In a time long ago the center of my shooting universe was a large concrete and granite example of Classical Revival architecture located at 360 Broad Street in Hartford, Connecticut; the Connecticut State Armory and Arsenal, headquarters of the Connecticut State Military Department. For twenty years I was a small cog in that martial machine which churned out National Guard shooting champions at a furious pace.

Tucked away in a small side office on the second floor of the western wall were the desks of my shooting bosses Colonel Bill Meagher and Chief Warrant Officer Billy Mulligan, the State Marksmanship Coordinator and his able assistant. More importantly, deep in the bowels of the nearly two acre building, behind a massive safe door, stood racks of competition firearms and stacks of match ammunition.

Winchester 52s, National Match M-14s, carefully selected M-16s, Smith and Wesson Model 41s, and platoons of venerable Colt 1911s stood as if at inspection, dressed and covered, behind locked cyclone fence partitions. Across from them were heaped cardboard cartons and wooden crates. The cardboard each contained 5,000 rounds of 22 caliber standard velocity and match grade ammunition. Some of the wooden crates held four M19A ammunition cans of 5.56mm ball cartridges while others contained a pair of M2A1 cans holding either 7.62mm or 45 Caliber National Match ammunition.

When I would whine, in my childish way, about some of the inconvenient aspects of shooting for the Guard my captain, Platoon Sergeant Dick Scheller, or coach, Platoon Sergeant Roger McQuiggan, would quickly remind me of the largess that poured forth from the great gray building. A simple rephrasing of the old British Army recruiting saying became, “You take the governor’s guns and ammunition: you do the governor’s bidding” served as a reminder that I had volunteered for the team and, ungrateful wretch that I was, got more in return than I gave.

The Connecticut Guard Rifle Team had a solid history going back to the early 1900s. It participated in the National Matches and occasionally had a bright moment. Private E.C. Simpson won the President’s Match in 1906. Seventy three years later Scheller would take home the trophy. McQuiggan and I would be the only other Connecticut Guard rifleman to win a place in the Presidents Hundred.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gadd, Sr. would be the first Constitution State Guardsman to earn the Distinguished Marksman Badge in 1924, the first year Guardsmen were eligible. Captain William Denison, and Second Lieutenants Emil Kumnick and Clarence May would join him before the year was out, the first five of 26 Distinguished Rifle Badges earned by the Connecticut Guard.

First Lieutenant Robert Gadd, Jr. joined his father as Distinguished in 1930 becoming the first members of the same family to earn the distinction. Between 1935 and 1939 the three Lacy brothers, James, John, and Walter all earned the Badge. There are other Distinguished family relationships. Scheller’s son James earned his while serving in the United States Marines, Al Maloney’s wife Mary is a civilian Distinguished Rifleman as is my brother Steve. Dave Colt’s father Lebaron, who became the first Connecticut Guardsman to earn the Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge in 1971, and his brother Stephen are both Distinguished Pistol Shots.

Specialist Fourth Class Ralph Bluminhagen earned his Distinguished Badge in 1962 with an M1 in just three Excellence in Competition Matches. Raymond Baker II and Brian Roy are the only two Double Distinguished shooters the program has produced. Baker has the unusual distinction of earning both in combat style competition, never once earning a bull’s-eye leg.

The program fell on hard times following World War II. For many years, the late 1950s until the early 1970s, often times the only representation the state could muster was Scheller and anyone he could dragoon to join him on the range.

Major General John Frederick Freund was appointed Adjutant General of Connecticut in 1972. Riffling through his correspondence one day he came across the match bulletin for the most recent National Guard Rifle and Pistol Championship and noticed that Connecticut had finished nearly at the bottom. He found this intolerable and ordered Meagher to do whatever necessary to see that the state would be at the top of the list as soon as possible.

Meagher contacted Scheller who latched onto a willing McQuiggan. The two hit the streets like a Royal Navy press gang and rounding up every willing Guardsman, prior service rifle shooter, and innocent civilian rifleman they could find. Within six years the team won four combat rifle championships, two National Guard and two All Army titles and a National Guard M14 championship and began an incredible run of ten consecutive National Guard Smallbore Rifle Championship victories.

The program has changed markedly since 1972, most shooting is now combat style, but the men and women who have passed through the program have collected nearly two dozen National Guard national team championships, 11 service rifle Distinguished Badges, five smallbore Distinguished Badges, four M-14 and nine combat rifle Chiefs 50 awards.

Not a bad return for both the state and the individual and for both giving and taking the Governor’s guns and ammunition.

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NRA State Championship Conentional Smallbore Rifle Prone River Bend Gun Club Dawsonville, GA September 23 – 24, 2017

Final Results Bulletin – 2017 Smallbore Prone State Championship – Sep 23-24, 2017

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