27 JANUARY 1900, Page 31


[To VIZ EDITOR OP THE "SPECTATOR."] Sin,—Attendance for some fifteen years at the annual meetings of the National Rifle Association at Wimbledon and Bisley, and familiar intercourse with the men who go to those meetings, has inspired me, although I am not more than a fair shot with a rifle, with a keen interest in rifle- shooting, and has provided me with some small store of knowledge on the subject. In particular it has caused me to realise the existence of a good many delusions concerning the scope and the objects of the National Rifle Association. upon which point there can be no doubt, and it has compelled me to arrive at views concerning the conditions imposed in competitions by military advisers which are not the views of military men, and perhaps none the worse for that. The points I desire to make are in many respects distinct, and hardly form part of one coherent argument, but I think they are all forcible :—

(1) Nothing, apparently, will disabuse the public mind of the idea that the annual meetings of the National Rifle Association are intended to encourage rifle-shooting among Volunteers and Regulars only. As a matter of fact, how- ever, there are numerous competitions open to " all- comers," and there would be many more such if there were more "all-comers."

(2) Numerous commanding officers of Volunteers deliberately discourage their men from what they deem to be excessive devoi ion to rifle-shooting. They use " shooting-man " as a term of contempt; they imply, indeed they say, that such a man is a "pot-hunter." In some cases this is true, in the majority it is very far from the truth. But when the matter is looked at from a common-sense point of view, it seems to me to make little difference why a man has learned to shoot. The important thing is that he should possess the ability.

A vast amount of sheer nonsense is talked about the appli- ances which Volunteers use at Bisley. In this matter I would allow greater, not lesser, scope. If there were an effective wind-gauge I should say i-4 By all means use it, and use also telescopic eights, which are perfectly practical, a spirit- level behind the ordinary back-sight, and even the elevated and supplemental sight fixed on to the butt, which con- verts the 103 into a match rifle capable of being used in the back position as effectively as any other rifle of the day.' My reasons are briefly these. With such appliances you can hit a man, with reasonable certainty, if you are a good shot, three times out of five at a thousand yards. Without them you cannot. It is the hits that matter; the misses do not count. I shall be told that the appliances are delicate; but in truth they are not very delicate, and if they happen to be knocked off, the rifle is still as good as it was without them. The fact is that the .rifle in these days is not required to be serviceable as a club, and there are none of these appliances, except the elevated backsight, which need necessarily be injured by its occasional use with the bayonet fixed,—i.e., as the shaft of a spear. Also " service conditions " must necessarily alter as ranges grow longer. Field-glasses, of course, should be in far more general use. They are simply indispensable.

(4) Ranges. These are the main difficulty. I do not myself believe that more than a moderate degree of efficiency is likely to be obtained by practice with the Morris tube in small-calibre rifles. But I do earnestly advocate generous expenditure in the provision of ranges on the lines sug- gested in your article, the exercise of reasonable generosity on the part of the landowning class, and the cultivation of some courage by the public. You cannot have in sufficient number ranges absolutely safe against all risk of accidents in a populous country. Occasionally a wild shot, dis- charged almost at random, will go over the top of the butt and travel a mile or more. But you can have reasonable safety ; and, in fact, we had it at Wimbledon. The closing of Wimbledon, although it had the good effect indirectly of forcing Bisley into existence, was a bad omen for rifle- shooting in this country.