I have been a competitive rifle shooter for over 60 years or, to put it into perspective, eighty per cent of my life. My days, as my shooting mentors Dick Scheller and Roger McQuiggan would say, have gone up in smoke, noise, and expended brass.
In these past six decades I have had a few moments of raging success, an individual open match win at Camp Perry in the prone stage of the anysight metric three position match, ironically my weakest position, a few team and individual National Records to my name, and some special category national championships. I do not relate these brief shining moments to brag for, in reality, my entire shooting career has been one of mediocrity. I am a journeyman rifleman, one who is reliable but not outstanding.
Most of us are journeymen and there is no shame in our lot in life, seeking excellence and failing more times than not. Many more erudite authors than I have written on the subject such as Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech in which he says, “The credit belongs to the man… who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
While I like Roosevelt’s words on the subject, my favorite thought along this line is from Andrea del Sarto. It is a piece of dramatic monologue blank verse delivered in iambic pentameter by Robert Browning about the Italian painter Andrea del Sarto. Roosevelt delivered the Man in the Arena speech in Paris in 1910 but may have been influenced by Browning who published Andrea del Sarto in 1855 wherein appears the following, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
All in all this means that my shooting legacy will not be one to rank with Willis Lee, Morris Fisher, Walter Stokes, Art Jackson, Gary Anderson, or Lones Wigger. My shooting legacy will be from my musings and documentation of our sport. This was driven home to me as I was researching and writing the histories of the six major international prone matches, the shoulder to shoulder matches shot in Pershing/Roberts series, and the Dewar, Randle, Wakefield, and Drew postals.
While I have a good reference library I usually find myself calling upon some of my British counterparts for aid. Brian Woodall and Geoff Doe have generously tossed out a life ring to me on more than one occasion. Answers to my questions usually come as an email essay accompanied by scanned copes of articles out of the National Small-Bore Rifle Association official journal On Target or its predecessor publication The Rifleman.
When I read the articles in the magazine and the accompanying answer I would occasionally find an expression or term I did not understand. I could reason out that the British term ‘foresight’ in American English is ‘front sight” and a ‘cross-shot’ is our crossfire. But what about a ‘carton‘ or the seemingly ubiquitous ‘three card system?” Perhaps a carton was something they used to store things like we use a box? Was the three card system a way that shooters at the NSRA’s headquarters relaxed after a match, gamboling as they gambled over cards, playing the British equivalent of our Three Card Monte?
It was if the chain gang Captain from the movie Cool Hand Luke was staring down at me, as he did Luke, and announcing to all, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” Usually we were able to work out a translation with a little back and forth. By the way, a carton is an antiquated term for a ten, and inner carton is an X. The term three card system is an anachronistic reference to the old British practice of having the sighter target and two record bullseyes on three separate pieces of paper. This practice has long been superseded by a single target with three bullseyes so when a British shooter uses the term it implies he has reached a certain age and has a real history, much like a US highpower shooter using the term Maggie’s Drawers for a miss.
And, of course, this brings up one at least one more translation. In England each aiming mark is termed a ‘target’, what we call a bullseye. A ‘card’, which we call a target, may be comprise of one or more bullseyes which the British call targets, three being the typical arrangement for the popular 25 yard/meter gallery postal matches. Most gallery shooting in the United States is done at fifty feet, but the NRA does have an authorized 75 foot target, the A7/5, which is based on the venerable A-17 target which dates from the early 1930s.
The term card does play into the vocabulary of the United States shooter. It is used, usually in exasperation, after a trying day at the range. After looking at the scoreboard the dejected rifleman might say, “Well, at least I shot my card today.” Meaning his score at least met the minimum score of his current classification card.
In England for the Roberts Match was flummoxed with left hand traffic. As a driver I left more rubber on the curb stones of the impossibly narrow streets than I did the roadbed and never got used to it. The same cannot be said of the change in shooting vocabulary. At the Bisley Meeting I quickly adapted to moving with my detail on and off the firing line which led to the Prize Giving of which, as usual I was only a spectator.
The difference between the Queen’s English and the vernacular spoken by us former colonists is a gap as wide as the ocean that separates us. In spite of that we are drawn together in a common love of our esoteric sport.