Moly Coating - Salazar

This is the fourth in a short series of articles about moly-coating. The series covers technical and practical aspects of moly-coating. This article describes my coating process. If you are interested in moly-coating, I strongly recommend the NECO process and materials. http://www.neconos.com

I've added an update at the bottom describing WHY I use moly-coated bullets.  01-03-10.  -GAS-


Moly-Coating Process - Step by Step
by Germán A. Salazar

My moly-coating procedure largely follows the process set forth by NECO in the instructions. I hesitate to deviate too much from those instructions because I believe that Roger Johnston and Merrill Martin, who developed and patented the process, knew what they were doing, tried a lot of different approaches and determined that this was the best. I would rather follow the process that try to reinvent it. For those of you who are interested, the patents are available online; I use the Google patent search for my limited patent research.






For the sake of clarity, I will break the process down into numbered steps and will provide photos where appropriate. All photos may be clicked to enlarge.

1. Clean the bullets. Generally speaking, bullets need to be cleaned prior to moly-coating. While there are some brands, notably Berger, that are clean right out of the box, the cleaning process is fast, simple and harmless so there is no sense in skipping it. I often read descriptions of bullet cleaning for moly-coating which involve all sorts of powerful chemicals, most of which are hazardous to humans to a greater or lesser extent. This infatuation with harsh solvents is completely unnecessary! There is nothing like good old soap and water to clean bullets. Most of the dirt on bullets is a combination of dust, finger oils and light residue of bullet making lubricant; all of these are easily removed by a good dishwashing soap and water (the universal solvent). Once in a while you may have a batch of bullets from a custom maker that still have all of the bullet making lube on them; in this case, simply tumble the bullets in corn cob for 20 minutes or so prior to washing.


I wash the bullets under warm water with the dish soap; it gets a lot sudsier than the photo shows once you start to agitate the bullets with your fingers.  Get them nice and clean.  Once they're done, I rinse them thoroughly, drop them on a clean towel, run them back and forth and set them in the sun for a few minutes while I get the moly drum ready. I don’t want to see any visible drops of water on the bullets when they go into the tumbler, but I don’t worry about water droplets too small to be readily seen. A bit of moisture won’t hurt the process.


2. Heat. The biggest thing I’ve learned over 13 years of moly-coating is that the process works best when everything is hot - real hot. Since our daytime temperature in the Arizona desert exceeds 105 degrees most days for a period of six to eight months, finding heat is not usually a problem. I set the drums out in the sun at least 30 minutes prior beginning the process and by the time I’m ready to put the bullets into the moly drum, the temperature inside the drum is well over 100 degrees. I leave the drums and tumbler in the sun for the entire process. If you are in cooler weather, do whatever you can to maintain some heat in the drum - expose it to sunlight or some other source of heat during the process. Simply heating the bullets with a hair dryer prior to putting them into a cold drum isn’t effective.  These pictures were taken on an 85 degree day so don't think that extreme heat is required.


3. Ratios and Time. I use a full jar of the NECO provided steel shot in each of the two drums. I typically tumble 100 bullets in the 190 grain range, 150 bullets in the 155 grain range or 200 in the 105 grain range. These quantities allow the tumbler to turn properly without bogging down and also allow the process to take place in a reasonable amount of time. The amount of moly per load is relatively small as show in the photo - the amount shown weighs 5 grains and will coat the quantities described in 45 minutes.  These pictures show the process for a load of 150 Sierra .308, 155gr. bullets.



The actual time required to get a good coating on the bullets will vary depending on the temperature, the amount of moly used and the number of bullets in the drum. However, for the ratios mentioned above, on a hot day, I find that a perfect coating can be applied in 45 to 60 minutes of tumbling.  Note that the next batch of cleaned bullets is sitting out getting hot while the first batch tumbles.  The batch shown in these pictures tumbled for 50 minutes.


4. First Cleanup. Once the bullets are coated, I pour the bullets and shot into a soft towel and separate the shot from the bullets.  I use a Radio Shack video tape eraser (really a large electro-magnet) to separate the shot from the bullets. It’s very handy but with the demise of video tapes, I don’t know if they still sell these. Maybe eBay will be a source for one.  Once the shot is separated, I roll the bullets back and forth in the towel about 20 times. This leaves them looking perfect, but the process isn't over.




5. Wax. The principal differences between the moly step and the wax step are the amount of wax used and the length of time in the tumbler – both are greatly reduced for the wax. The photo shows the amount of wax I use and it is only put into the drum on every second load. The time in the drum is 75 to 90 seconds. Heat is just as important to this step as it is to the moly step - maybe more.  If excessive wax is used or if they are waxed too long, the bullets will have dark spots on them and feel a bit lumpy.  Just roll them  in the towel until they feel smooth if this happens.


6.  Second Cleanup.  After the wax coating, I once again separate the shot with the electr-magnet and roll the bullets back and forth a few times in the same towel as I used for the moly step.


That’s it! You should now have good looking, evenly coated bullets, providing 100% of the benefits of the process as patented by Merrill Martin and proven in competition by Norma, David Tubb, Berger Bullets and many others.


UPDATE - Why I Use Moly-Coated Bullets  Jan. 3, 2010

I use moly bullets in everything I shoot, however, what I shoot is typically relatively long bullets for their caliber, like a 190 in .30 cal. or 105/115 in 6mm.


That is an important point, because I think moly got a bad name because it was oversold as a cure-all when it really is just a lubricant. Cleaning methods and frequenct don't change with moly and barrel life is largely unaffected as far as I can tell. However, because in Highpower we shoot about 70 shots in a prone match and there is no opportunity to clean the rifle, fouling, especially jacket fouling, can be a concern. When you get to the last string of 20 shots and the barrel is fouled, your chances of shooting the winning score are slim. As a perfect example, in yesterday's match the winner shot a 600-34X, second place was 598-44X and third (me) was 598-41X. I was trying to overcome the second place finisher who shot on the relay ahead of me so I knew his aggregate and I also knew I would have to fire a 200-17X on the last string to beat him. He had fired a 200-18X on his last one, I was at 398-28X before shooting my last. I shot a 200-13X so I didn't get past him, but it wasn't any fault of the rifle or load, I just didn't get the wind perfectly as I would have had to in order to move up. I bring out all this just to indicate the importance in Highpower of being able to have peak accuracy all the way through the day.

Now, back to long bullets, they obviously will tend to jacket foul more than short bullets as their bearing surface is longer, and the fast twist barrels they require makes it worse.

Moly reduces the severity jacket fouling - it won't eliminate it. But, it reduces it enough that I find accuracy unimpaired through the day, something that isn't the case with bare bullets. I compile the scores for all of our matches as the club statistician and so I get a nice look at everyone's progression on a given day. As it turns out, I also know who shoots moly and who doesn't among the top shooters. It's usually fairly clear, by watching the X count, that the bare bullet shooters suffer a small decline in accuracy at the end of the day - I don't. That 200-18X that I mentioned earlier, was by a moly shooter, by the way.

In Benchrest shooting, with short bearing surface bullets, slow twists and frequent cleaning, I don't know if the benefit would exist at all. Having never competed in a Benchrest match, I really can't say. However, I speak to Lester Bruno several times a week and we discuss all these topics and he is no fan of moly although he tends to repeat the old wives tales about barrel corrosion, etc. more than any real testing of his own. I borescope my barrels after each shooting session and cleaning, I can tell you there is nothing in there but bare steel. I clean with Shooters Choice, Kroil and IOSSO paste, no brushes, and the barrels clean up just fine. The only thing I do a bit differently is that I'm in no hurry, I let them soak for days, just running a fresh wet patch through every few hours or morning and evening if I'm at work.

Update - July 5, 2010.  The photo below is the last target fired on July 3, 2010 during some bullet testing at 100 yards.  This 10 shot group was fired after over 100 rounds had already been fired through the barrel.  It was shot prone, with iron sights.  This is the kind of thing I mean when I say groups at the end of a lon day of shooting are as good as they were at the beginning.  All bullets fired that day were long, heavy, 30 caliber bullets, from 180 to 200 grains.  The barrel, which has over 2000 rounds fired (.30-06) cleaned up nicely with only light copper fouling.

Moly Coating - Berger Bullets

This is the third in a short series of articles about moly-coating. The series covers technical and practical aspects of moly-coating. This article was written by Berger Bullets and describes their coating process.  I believe Berger no longer offers coated bullets, but that doesn't diminish the usefulness of the article - in fact, it makes it more valuable.  If you are interested in moly-coating, I strongly recommend the NECO process and materials. http://www.neconos.com/

Official Berger Bullets Moly Coating Process
Berger Bullets,4275 N. Palm St.,Fullerton, CA 92835
(714) 447-5456 - Phone
(714) 447-5478 - Fax


The following is a detailed list of instructions describing how Berger Bullets moly coats their bullets. This process should not be done in your living room. Moly is washable with soap and water but the amount of moly that can distribute itself around the area where you moly can make a bit of a mess.

Materials Needed:
  • RCBS Sidewinder Tumblers (2 drums for each drive motor platform)
  • Molybdenum Disulfide (finest micron size available and from hereon referred to as moly)
  • Carnuba Wax (powder form)
  • Scale That Weighs in Grains (2 trays needed, one for moly and one for wax)
  • Terrycloth Bath Towel (consider using one will not be needed in your bathroom again)
  • ½ Gallon Bucket
  • Timer capable of 2 Hours
  • Sharpie Marker
Material Sources:

RCBS – http://www.rcbs.com/

The Sidewinders are available through many dealers who specialize in reloading products. Grain weighing scales are also available through many dealers. The accuracy of the weight of materials used is not ultra critical so less expensive scales can be used.
NECO – http://www.neconos.com/
NECO sells the moly and carnuba wax regularly. These items are available through others sources but can be difficult to locate consistently.

The ½ gallon bucket can be replaced by anything with similar capacity like a tumbler drinking cup or butter dish. The goal is to have something that will allow you to gently pour the bullets into the tumbler drums.

Moly Coating Procedure:

Note: Bullets must be completely clean for the process to work properly. Our bullets will arrive clean but some brands are not completely clean. To insure cleanliness wash your bullets in lacquer thinner containing minimal petroleum products or use acetone. Make sure the bullets are completely dry either by laying them in the sun or heating them up with a blow dryer. Fluid can stay in the hollow point area of the bullets and should be quickly evaporated away rather than allowed to dry slowly indoors.
Also, steel balls are not needed to moly coating your bullets. It is very important that two drums are used and that one is always used for moly only and the other is always used for wax only. Mixing this process in both drums will ruin your ability to coat properly and a thorough cleaning (which doesn’t always work) or replacement drums will be required to correct this particular result. To avoid mixing these drums use a sharpie marker to clearly label one drum for MOLY and the other for WAX.
Using this process you can coat from 1 pound of bullets up to 15 pounds. Bullets of different sizes can be mixed and tumbled together if you want to coat many small quantities in fewer cycles.

1. Put the clean bullets into a ½ gallon bucket (or similar container).

2. Pour the bullets gently into the drum marked MOLY.

3. Measure the moly using the grain weight scale and the moly tray (squares of plastic will work but are harder to manipulate without spilling).

a. Use 30 grains of moly plus 1 grain for each pound of bullets

i. Example: 5 pounds of bullets require 35 grains of moly

ii. Example: 12 pounds of bullets require 42 grains of moly

4. Put the moly into the drum marked MOLY with the bullets.

5. Tumble the bullets for 2 hours.

6. Pour the bullets onto a large terry cloth bath towel.

7. Grabbing the ends of the towel with each hand alternate pulling each end of the towel up allowing the bullets to tumble back and forth inside the towel. Do this 20 times or so until all the excess moly has been removed from the bullets. You should not see any clumping or excessive powder on the bullets.

8. Transfer the bullets from the towel into the ½ gallon bucket. There are a few ways to do this without getting your hands dirty but they are difficult to describe. Try a few different techniques until you find one that works for you. (Think: pouring them out of the towel)

9. Pour the bullets gently into the drum marked WAX.

10. Measure the carnuba wax using the grain scale and the wax tray (squares of plastic will work but are harder to manipulate without spilling).

a. 1 to 3 lbs of bullets use 0.1 grains of wax

b. 4 to 7 lbs of bullets use 0.3 grains of wax

c. 8 to 12 lbs of bullets use 0.6 grains of wax

d. 13 to 15 lbs of bullets use 1.0 grains of wax

i. When you use the WAX drum for the first time double the wax needed.

11. Pour the carnuba wax into the drum marked WAX with the bullets.

12. Tumble the bullets for 15 minutes.

13. Empty the bullets into any container. They are ready to shoot.

a. In some cases excess wax will appear as clumping. This can be reduced slightly by following step 7 (make sure you use a different towel). Once your drums are used a few times you should not see clumping after the wax process.
There are other ways moly can be applied but the above is how we do it at Berger Bullets.

Moly Coating - David Tubb

This is the second in a short series of articles about moly-coating.  The series covers technical and practical aspects of moly-coating.  This article was written several years ago and may not reflect David Tubb's current thinking about moly-coating.  If you are interested in moly-coating, I strongly recommend the NECO process and materials. www.neconos.com

Moly-Coating: A Champion’s Perspective

by: David Tubb
Moly Explained
Coating bullets with molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) is not a new idea. Recent popularity increases due to the ready availability of coated bullets and various bullet coating kits, however, have brought moly coated bullets to the forefront of discussion among competitive shooters.

Obviously, I think moly coating provides the shooter with superior performance; as you may know, I own and operate Moly Coatings Inc., which we believe to be the premiere commercial facility of its type. I wouldn’t have invested in this operation, however, if I didn’t believe that moly coating provided a viable performance increase and, certainly, if I didn’t believe that the advantages far outweighed any drawbacks.

My focus in this article is giving an overview of what moly coating accomplishes, why it does so, and share a few tips I have used successfully to get the most benefit from this technology.

Moly Effect
Moly coating accomplishes one main thing: it greatly reduces friction between bullet and firearm bore. This effect is shown in several ways and, likewise, has various singular effects on the bullet. All these effects are positive.

The foremost effect, in my opinion, of reduced friction is that moly coating makes it possible to increase bullet velocity at the same chamber pressure.

For example, if we take one specific load that uses an uncoated bullet and simply replace the bullet with a moly coated bullet, velocity will drop. For instance, let’s say a .243 produces 2900 fps with an uncoated Sierra 107 gr MatchKing. The load is 41.5 gr IMR-4350. Replace the uncoated bullet with a moly coated Sierra 107 gr MatchKing and there will be an approximate velocity loss of 40 to 50 fps, (1-2 percent).

Pressure, however, will likely fall from approximately 52,000 psi to 49,000 psi, or lower (about 4 -5 percent reduction). Note that pressure decrease is greater than velocity loss, and this is the key to increased speed with moly coating. Note also that while all cartridge and bullet combinations will respond similarly, some will demonstrate more or less variance between coated and uncoated bullet figures due to many unpredictable variables (barrel configuration, individual component lots, etc.).

We would take the load now and increase the powder charge with moly coated bullets to attain the “old” uncoated bullet velocity level of 2900 fps. Now we’re back at the same velocity as before, but chamber pressures are still lower, so we can increase the charge a little more than that and increase velocity as a result. The net effect is higher velocity at the same or lower chamber pressures. Furthermore, if you only load back to the original velocity of 2900 fps using a moly coated bullet, you will now be working the rifle at a reduced pressure which translates into a longer barrel life and more than likely you will experience an increase in accuracy. Kind of like operating a diesel motor at 2100 rpm vs 1800 rpm -- which one will last longer and operates more efficiently?

Because it is such a tremendous friction reducer, moly also eases bullet entry into the lands. Whether the bullet is seated into the rifling or jumping, the initial contact and acceleration is facilitated with moly coated bullets. Recovered bullets have shown improved jacket integrity and greatly reduced impressions made from the lands. There’s no question that moly coating makes the bullet’s trip down the barrel much “easier.”

Downrange Performance
Other performance advantages from moly coating again come from reduced friction and can be related to enhanced bullet flight. I have found that accuracy is usually better comparing moly coated to uncoated bullets. I believe that less stress on the bullet plays a key role in this. I further believe that moly coated bullets can be more consistent shot to shot and possibly more stable in flight. These differences are difficult to quantify due to the great number of variables that come into play when shooting 600 yards and beyond.

One entirely plausible reason for enhanced flight is again due to lowered friction: a moly coated bullet will enter the bore much easier and, therefore, probably with less disturbance to the jacket and less stress on the core. Recovered moly coated bullets usually exhibit shallower rifling impressions, and these impressions have a more uniform appearance.

Barrel Life
I have found that moly coated bullets provide extended barrel life. I believe that the coating itself provides a “buffer” of sorts between the powder gases and barrel surface, and also that moly coated bullets result in less heat being transmitted to the barrel. Many time Bianchi Cup champion, Doug Koenig, told me that he can make several more practice runs firing the Barricade Event using moly coated bullets. In this event the shooter secures the handgun barrel against the barricade using his hand; barrel heat build up dictates how long the shooter can make practice runs.

Again, moly coating reduced heat build up sufficiently that Doug could get in 3-5 more 6-shot strings before having to stop and allow the barrel to cool.

It’s been my experience that moly coating adds at least 20 percent to accurate barrel life. Barrel wear in a centerfire rifle is almost exclusively due to throat erosion (cracks and roughness in the first 3-4 inches ahead of the chamber caused by heat, flame, and pressure).

An additional 500-plus rounds may not seem like much, but it will add up over the course of a few barrels. However, that, like many advantages of moly coated bullets, are welcome side benefits to the major improvements that result from their use.

Cleaning Frequency
There is far less bullet jacket fouling in the bore with moly coated bullets. Specifically, I have found there to be both less fouling in terms of the amount of deposits left behind after shooting, and a much slower accumulation of fouling. Norma AG found there to be a reduction in metal fouling of 30-40 percent. Now, the amount of fouling any one barrel exhibits has a lot to do with the barrel itself, but I think that this estimate is reliable, if not conservative. I normally shoot between two and three times as many rounds through my barrels before cleaning, depending on the caliber.

The effect here is obvious: I can get many more accurate shots between cleanings with moly coated bullets. In the past, I had to clean after each day of shooting at a major event, such as Camp Perry. Now I can shoot the entire four days there without cleaning.

This is not only a convenience but greatly enhances the consistency of my sight zeros. No matter what steps are taken in cleaning, the first two (or more) rounds through a clean barrel are always a little outside the group (moly coated or not) -- not anymore! This is the sort of advantage that can make the difference between losing and winning.

Other Benefits
There are other benefits to using moly coated bullets.  Since there is a coating between the bullet and case neck, moly coated bullets will not suffer from the “sticktion” many have reported with uncoated bullets. This dangerous circumstance results from simple corrosion between the bullet and case neck, and the result is elevated pressures.

Likewise, coated bullets won’t tarnish or corrode after handling. And there are others, but -- the reason to use moly coated bullets is because they provide better performance! Shooting them because they add to barrel life or so you don’t have to clean the barrel as often are, again, side benefits.

Moly Coating - Norma Report

This is the first in a short series of articles about moly-coating. The series covers technical and practical aspects of moly-coating. This first article by Christer Larsson of Norma is a good foundation piece on the subject.  If you are interested in moly-coating, I strongly recommend the NECO process and materials.  www.neconos.com


Moly Coating - Norma Report
by Christer Larsson, Norma Precision AB

Latley there has been a lot of discussions about moly. After Kevin Thomas article in the January (I will find the right year -GAS-) issue of Precision Shooting, we have received quite a few e-mails. Since we have been coating bullets for a few years we would like to share our experience. I guess this article will solve a few questions but probably raise a few too.

Briefly we have found that molycoated bullets do:
  • decrease pressure by 3-5% depending on cartridge, bullet and powder
  • decrease velocity with 0.5 - 1.5% - reduce metal fouling 
  • increase accuracy under certain circumstances 
  • very likely increase barrel life
During testing we have also observed that first shot out of a cleaned barrel is within the following group (at 300 meters).

Moly is a superb friction reducer and it’s bearing capacity is beyond the yield point of known metals. When a molycoated bullet enters the throat and travels down the barrel it has less friction than a ordinary bullet. So it is not surprising to see a lower pressure. We have not done any huge tests with many calibers but these 3% -5% has been there every time.

If pressure is reduced velocity will also be lower with the same charge. The interesting thing is that velocity is not reduced as much as pressure. Thus, by increasing the charge you can usually get 1% - 2% higher velocity with moly bullets.

Metal fouling is hard to measure accurately. We have observed through bore scopes and compared need of cleaning. It seems as coated bullets gives a certain degree of fouling but it more or less stays there. Our subjective estimation would be 30% - 40% less metal fouling and much slower buildup. This depends on cartridge, pressure, powder and bullet. I’m pretty sure we will see improvement in this area on the powder side quite soon.

During our initial testing of moly we fired some 140 gr. 6.5mm bullets for accuracy. These bullets look very much like Sierra’s # 1740. We could see no improvement in accuracy at all. Testing continued with 6 PPC and Sierra 107 gr. MK. About 60 5-shot groups were fired indoors at 100 m with three different loads. Every load showed smaller groups on the average (6% - 11%) and less standard deviation with moly. That was just a hint, no significant improvement (usually significance on 95% level is accepted as true). We went back and retested the 6.5mm bullets with two different powders. Same result as first time – nothing happened. Then we coated our 130 gr. VLD (Bill Davis design) bullet and fired a substantial number. Significant improvement on 95% level!

Later we were going to load this 130 gr. VLD bullet with MRP. Quality of the bullets was okay from the continuous testing during production but the results were quite bad for the loaded cartridge. Every single item in the cartridge was changed one at a time. When two different cases were tested things happened with one of them. That batch of cases was old and had thick necks. Suddenly accuracy was back. Also variation in pressure, barrel time and velocity was approximately cut in half. Neck tension or extraction force as we call it, was the answer. We went back to the present cases and used a slightly faster powder and it worked fine. The 140 gr. was tested once again but no response in accuracy.

So, be careful when using slow powders and moly coated bullets – it is very important the powder charge starts to burn the same way each time. One thing that differ from our testing and some others is that we always use new cases because that is the way loaded ammo is produced (jealous eh?). Sized cases would not be the same. Typically moly reduces the extraction force by 50%.

One explanation for the increased accuracy could be that moly helps the bullet align in the bore. Thus, bullets with long bearing surfaces would not gain much from that help. Pistol bullets in 9 mm have been coated with no effect on accuracy. Probably more factors are involved that we don’t know of at this time.

When it comes to increased barrel life statistics start to get a pain in b- - t. It is too much a work with too many variables to do enough tests. However, we took a new Sauer 6.5 x 55 barrel and fired it 10,000 rounds with our standard load – 130 gr. at 2700 fps. It was examined with a borescope every 1,000 rounds and measured with gauges. After 5,000 it looked very nice but after that it started to show pressure cracks. Wear in bore dimensions was more or less normal. At 10,000 rounds it was set up at 300 m outdoors in a machine rest and 10 x 10 rounds were fired. It might have been a good batch for this barrel as average group size was 71 mm center to center or less than one MOA. That was good enough for us not to worry about barrel life.

A shortcut to prove less barrel wear was to find out whether temperature of the barrel was lower with moly bullets. A heat sensitive digital camera was set up and we fired conventional bullets and moly coated bullets at the same muzzle velocity from a conventional target rifle. Of course the barrel was fired with uncoated bullets first and then cleaned. First thing was then to shoot some moly bullets to break in the barrel. It was also allowed to cool down to same temperature each time. Shooting pace was controlled etc. There was no difference in temperature at all. If it had been, it would more or less has proven less wear. David Tubb told me he had heard pistol shooters could feel the difference from moly bullets so there might be things out there!

Some of our people who meet a lot of target shooters usually bring a borescope with a monitor to the major competitions. They look through hundreds of barrels each time. Their strong belief is that moly helps to prolong the accurate life of the barrels.

A few tests were made to find out if the wax was necessary and if thickness had any influence. This was only tested with respect to pressure and velocity, no accuracy testing. Moly alone seem to give 60% - 65% of full effect. Wax only didn’t matter much. Moly together with wax made a better job. To have some excess wax didn’t hurt but too little made the reduction in pressure / velocity less. Only 6.5 x 55 was tested.

Yesterday we compared our normal wax coating with a thinner and much nicer looking coat. There was an increase in velocity with 0.19% and in pressure with 1.23% when using less wax. No drop in accuracy was noticed.

Our powder supplier – Bofors – ran a few tests with both moly and wax to find out if there were any negative effects on the powder. Moly destroyed the stability of the powder but only when concentration was a few hundred times higher than what normally occurs. Carnuba wax was neutral.

Better trajectory with moly?

We have done exactly the same tests as Kevin and usually we have seen a small decrease in BC. Probably due to our relatively thick wax coating. The first test we made showed an increase in BC of app. 3% but it was due to a mix of bullet batches. Also Randolph Constantine mentioned in the August 1998 issue of Precision Shooting that we found better BC using a doppler radar. I’m sorry but that was a misunderstanding. What we found was that BC was more or less the same from 200 m out to 600 m with conventional bullets. We didn’t know about moly at that time. Some good shooters report on higher impact with moly but I guess that must come from shifted barrel vibrations or different barrel time. I’ll be back on that later as we will test it in a 6.5-284 when we have the brass – May.

A good friend won a 500 box of our 6.5x55 Diamond Line ammo. It did not shoot very well so he used it for training. Suddenly, after 300 rounds the ammo shot better than anything he has ever used. That was the worst case of ”getting used to moly” I know of. Usually it takes 5-30 rounds to get enough moly into a worn barrel. A new one is much easier, just shoot moly bullets during the break-in.

Some people are afraid that tumbling their bullets will work harden the jackets. We ran some Berger bullets for 5 hours in our rotary tumbler and checked hardness – exactly the same or 137 Vickers / 1kg.

A test was also done to see if time changed neck tension but we were unable to see any change at all.

One important thing Kevin is pointing out in his article is that moly and wax should not be in the chamber. Too many shooters don’t clean their chambers. I’m not talking about you bench rest guys now.

We are using OKS fine moly, 0.6 - 0.8 micron. Well, that’s about all we have done with moly. The commercial product has been very successful for us and we can’t see any reason not to continue.


Good shooting

Norma Precision AB

Christer Larsson, R&D

History: Ben Comfort 1935 Wimbledon Cup

Ben Comfort and the Wimbledon Cup in 1935
by Germán A. Salazar

Ben Comfort in Western Ammunition advertisement, October 1935 American Rifleman
(click to enlarge)
Although Ben Comfort of St. Louis, Missouri won the Wimbledon Cup in 1935, he is not one of the most remembered shooters in our history, yet he deserves to be more widely recognized.  Comfort was the first person to win the Wimbledon Cup, or any other significant 1000 yard match, with a magnum caliber, the .300 H&H Magnum to be exact, and in so doing, brought real change to the world of NRA long-range shooting.  Just as interesting is just how he went about winning the Cup.  A look back at the times and the circumstances of Comfort's win is worthwhile.

The Great Depression affected competitive shooting as much as any other activity in the early 1930's.  The Federal budget had no room for frills and the budget for the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP) and the National Matches were an early casualty in 1932.  The NRA soldiered on with its National Championship matches, although not all elements of those matches were still held at Camp Perry.  The matches were conducted on a regional basis, scattered to various locations throughout the country, covering eight of the nine Army Corps areas: Wakefield, Massachusetts; Quantico, Virginia; Camp McClellan, Alabama; Camp Perry, Ohio; Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Fort Des Moines, Iowa; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Lewis, Washington.  (Americans and Their Guns, James B. Trefethen, NRA, 1967 at p. 228).

Thirty caliber shooting was nearly dead in those times, the cost of shooting in matches at ten cents per shot for .30-06 was more than most people could afford.  Smallbore managed to remain popular, with ammunition at about a penny a shot.  In 1935, the country's economic situation began to improve, albeit slightly.  The previously decimated NBPRP budget was restored to $350,000 allowing for the National Matches to be conducted with full military support at Camp Perry.  This created the conditions for the NRA to bring its National Championship matches back to Camp Perry, reunited with the NBPRP National Matches, as had been the practice prior to the 1932 cutbacks.

The 1935 NRA matches saw a few important changes in the rules.  Pursuant to a rule change in 1934, the rifle permitted for the across-the-course matches was no longer limited to the Springfield 1903, but instead "any .30-06 rifle weighing less than nine pounds and equipped with metallic sights" was permitted.  In July of 1935, the NRA Executive Committee voted to open a number of the matches previously restricted to the military rifle or cartridge to "any rifle" and "any ammunition" including the Wimbledon Cup.  This set the stage for Comfort's win with the magnum.  (See, Americans and Their Guns, Id. at 228-232).  It should be noted that, while today we tend to think of "any rifle" as removing all restrictions, at that time, there were rifle, trigger, sights and ammunition restrictions which could be waived to "any" individually.  Accordingly, a match could be "any rifle" and still restricted to the .30-06 cartridge.  While my information on the exact rules of the Wimbledon in the years just prior to 1935 is sketchy, I believe the ammunition was still restricted to the .30-06; then in 1935, all restrictions were lifted, thus allowing the magnum cartridges alongside the .30-06.

Comfort went to one of the most respected gunmakers of the time, Griffin & Howe and had two rifles made.  These were U.S. 1917 actions with Winchester barrels in Griffin & Howe's stocks and, of course, chambered in .300 H&H Magnum and topped with a Winchester 5 power scope.  Griffin & Howe were, according to Townsend Whelen, the first American gunmakers to chamber rifles for the .300 H&H, having done so at least as early as 1927,  (The Hunting Rifle, Townsend Whelen, Stackpole & Sons, 1940, reprint by Wolfe Publishing Co., 1984 at p. 215). 

For his ammunition, as we saw in the advertisement that opens this article, Comfort sought out Western ammunition.  There's an interesting snippet regarding that in Phil Sharpe's contemporary work The Rifle in America: "The popularity of the .300 H&H Magnum can probably be traced to those noted gunsmiths Griffin & Howe who for many years have been making custom-built rifles to handle the foreign calibers.  The demand became so sufficient that Western added it to their regular production and in 1935 the .30-06 cartridge went down to defeat in the famous Wimbledon Match at Camp Perry.  Ben Comfort, the winner of the Wimbledon, used standard Western factory loads with the 180-grain full metal jacket boat-tail bullet to win this big 1000-yard match."  (The Rifle in America, Philip B. Sharpe, 1938, Second Edition 1947, Funk & Wagnalls Company at p. 725).  The following year, in the Wimbledon Cup match, the winner and nine out of the first ten shooters used the .300 H&H Magnum, and the world of long range shooting entered a new age (.300 Magnum Loads, Volume 2 of Reloading Information from The American Rifleman, NRA, 1953, p. 55).

With the background information established, let's switch from a historical recount to the chronicle of events as presented in the October 1935 issue of the The American Rifleman (Pepys' Diary of Camp Perry, Kendrick Scofield, The American Rifleman, October 1935, p. 5 at 12):

September 11 - Arose as the chimes called six, resolved to observe the firing of that classic, the Wimbledon Match.  This, together with the Leech contest which will be fired later, have always seemed to me to be the most fascinating of all the individual rifle-gun competitions, since they were well rooted even before the beginnings of the National Rifle Association program, and have been the reason for the keenest rivalry for upwards of those three-score years.

Out upon the firing line, I found to my great disappointment that this historic contest was being fired co-incidentally and upon the same range with the 1000 yard stage of the President's which perchance made for efficiency, but did cause it to be difficult to follow.  So I remained but long enough to take note of the weather and a few of the tallys.

The earlier relays were blessed in that the wind was less to be reckoned with than later, although it was veering from 6 to 8 o'clock and coming puffily.  Saw upon the scoreboards many Fives but also many zeroes; those latter where the suddenly dying wind had tricked the marksman.  At that time noted only one possible tally of 100 with 13 V's and this credited to Lloyd Wilson of the Washington Civilians. [Note: Lloyd Wilson was L.E. Wilson of reloading equipment fame.  Wilson was a Double Distinguished shooter and a topic for another day. -GAS-]

[Several paragraphs of unrelated material follow, then back to the Wimbledon]

Again to the range where the Wimbledon match was yet in progress, and found conditions much more difficult.  The wind had shifted slowly but steadily clockwise until it was blowing straight across the range from due west.  Observing, I did see riflement using from two to three points windage [two to three points windage equals eight to twelve minutes of angle -GAS-] and such an oldtimer as John Hession who has fired in practically every Wimbledon in twenty-five years, and now holds the record, did blow out of the V-ring for a low count.

At this time I did see that Wilson was still high scorer, but there were many yet to shoot and no small number of these were equipped with "bull guns" as are termed the heavy free rifles permitted equally in this event with Service rifles.

On my way into camp, stopped to sit awhile with Clem Parker and Jim Howe and Jim did acquaint me of a tabloid upon the gunsmith's art which he is preparing to publish.  It is in his mind to have this book of value to the lover of firearms who is not wealthy, yet who has some knack with his hands.

To the taverne at noon and then to my tent, there to set down some pages in this diary, for the bright chill morn had bloomed into a summer day and the sun outside too hot for comfort.

By and by when cooler to the Wimbledon range again to hear that the wind was still difficult, and the score made earlier by Wilson had been equalled by some others.  Yet there often comes a golden hour on this range, near sunset, when the wind steadies or its velocity dies, and it is at this time that a shooter may expect better breaks in both wind and light so that at this time the match had neither been won nor lost.

Now as the afternoon did grow apace, there entered into the contest a factor which was neither wind nor light, but was one Ben C. Comfort, a civilian from St. Louis, who had long aspired to the massive British trophy.

Though equipped with a bull gun he had yet found no occasion to target it at 1000 yards and the conditions as laid down for the Wimbledon do exclude sighting shots.  To remedy this, he did bethink himself some days before of the President's Match, the final stage of which is at the long distance.  So he did enter this competition, which is for Service rifles only, but did not fire in its earlier stages at his own request.  Instead in mid-afternoon of this day he did report at the President's Match and did beg leave to fire his bull gun for record only, and to this the range officer did accede.  So that two hours later (then acquainted with his elevations) he did shoot his tally in the Wimbledon which credited to him a perfect score with 14 V's.

When the firing was finished, it was found that in spite of the most adverse conditions, seven others had made possible scores with varying numbers of additional V's.  They were Ernest Sellers, Alabama civilian; Sgt. C.J. Anderson, Marines; Ben Harrison, Massachusetts civilian, who incidentally was the only man in the match to make a possible score firing the Service rifle and iron sights; Lloyd Wilson of the Washington civilians; Vere F. Hamer, South Dakota civilian; C.E. Nordhus, Illinois civilian, and Sgt. Maj. Morris Fisher, Marine Corps Reserve.  Yet none of the tallys made by these men did equal that of Comfort and to him was awarded the trophy.

Now this award did cause much talk to spread about the camp, because of the sighting-in of the bull gun in the President's Match.  But after long discourse the weight of opinion was that, in so doing, Comfort had done no violence to any rule and was therefore entitled to the fruits of his victory.

End of quote from The American Rifleman, October, 1935.

So we see that Comfort was not only an innovator in selecting the .300 H&H Magnum for the Wimbledon as soon as the rules allowed for it, but also that he was a canny competitor, and used the means available to him to ensure that his performance would be representative of his ability, unhindered by his lack of 1000 yard practice.  Comfort changed long-range shooting with his Magnum; perhaps someone else would have done it eventually or even in that same year, but he is who did it and thus whom we remember:  Ben C. Comfort, of St. Louis, Missouri.




The Wimbledon Cup Match
(1481 Entries)

Open to - Any citizen of the United States.
When fired - Wednesday, September 11, beginning at 7:30 am.
Course - 20 shots at 1000 yards prone.
Prizes - To the winner, the Wimbledon Cup and a gold medal.  To the high competitor with the service rifle a gold medal.  To the second high with each type of equipment, a silver medal.  To the eight next highest competitors with each type of equipment, bronze medals.  Cash prizes (Schedule A).


                                               Medal Winners
No.                  Name and Organization                  Score       Rifle
1.   Comfort, Ben, St. Louis, Mo.                            100          **
2.   Sellers, Ernest, Ala. Civ. Team.                        100          **
3.   Anderson, Clarence J., Sgt. USMC Team            100          **
4.   Harrison, Benj. S., Mass. Civ. Team No.1          100          ***
5.   Wilson, Lloyd E., Wash. State Civ. Team,          100          **
6.   Hamer, Vere F., S. Dak. Civ. Team                   100          **
7.   Nordhaus, Conrad E., Ill. Civ. Team No. 1          100          **
8.   Fisher, Morris, Sgt. Maj. USMCR                       100          **
9.   Swanson, Emmet O., Minn. Civ. Team                99           **
10. Link, Max W., Sgt. Inf. Team                             99           **
11. McDonald, Hugh F., Ore. Civ. Team                    99           **
12. Yeszerski, Edward, Sgt. Cav. Team                     99          ***
13. Wills, Charles W., Sgt. Inf. Team                        99           ***
14. Donalson, Edward A., Sgt. NJNG Team                 99          **
15. Petersimes, Glen F., Mich. Civ. (Indiv.)               98           ***
16. Hamel, William G., Sgt. Cav. Team                     97           ***
17. Crabb, Charles C., Okla. Civ. Team                     97            ***
18. Gallman, Oscar L., Sgt. Inf. Team                       96            ***
19. Shoemaker, Carl V., Capt. Ore. NG Team            96            ***
20. Hedglin, Leslie H., Sgt. Cav. Team                     96             ***

Note: Names marked with two stars signifies any-rifle with any-sights.  Names marked with three stars signifies Service Rifle with sights as issued.
(The American Rifleman, October 1935, p. 46)

History: The President's Match 1904

The President's Match 1904 and Theodore Roosevelt's Letter
by Germán A. Salazar

Camp Perry shooters are familiar with the President's Match and the tradition that the winner of the match receives a congratulatory letter from the President of the United States.  The match itself has changed many times over the years, both in course of fire and in the allowable arms; however, the letter has been a constant since President Theodore Roosevelt sent the first one in 1904.

At that time, the President's Match was designated the "Military Rifle Championship of the Unites States of America" by authority of the President, and was thus as prestigious a match as a military man could win.  The match was fired with the U.S. Army service rifle and in 1904 that principally was the Krag, though there were some Model 1903 Springfield rifles on the line as well.  Ammunition was unrestricted meaning commercial ammunition for the service rifle could be used, not just military issued ammunition.  The match was open to members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Naval Reserve and State Militia or National Guard - no civilians.  The course of fire was seven shots at each distance: 200, 300, 500, 600, 800 and 1000 yards.

Private Howard Gensch of the First Regiment of Infantry of the New Jersey National Guard, didn't have to travel too far for the National Matches at Sea Girt, New Jersey and likely was well acquainted with the range.  Private Gensch fired the winning score, a 192 of a possible 210 (30, 32, 35, 32, 32, 31) and received the first Presidential letter in the now century old tradition.  The letter read as follows:


White House, Washington
September 24, 1904
My dear sir - I have just been informed that you have won the President's Match for the Military Championship of the United States of America.  I wish to congratulate you in person, and through you not only the First Regiment of the National Guard of New Jersey, but the entire National Guard of New Jersey.  As a nation we must depend upon our volunteer soldiers in time of trial; and, therefore, the members of the National Guard fill a high function of usefulness.  Of course, a soldier who cannot shoot is a soldier who counts for very little in battle, and all credit is due to those who keep up the standard of marksmanship.  I congratulate you, both on your skill and upon your possession of the qualities of perseverance and determination in long practice, by which alone this skill could have been brought to its high point of development. 
With all good wishes, believe me,
Sincerely yours,
(signed) Theodore Roosevelt
Private Howard Gensch
First Regiment of Infantry, N.J.N.G.
Madison, N.J.


History: Long Range Shooting

A Short History of Long Range Shooting in the United States
By: Hap Rocketto

Long range is, by definition, a relative term. When the earliest European settlers arrived on the east coast of what would become the United States of America they were armed with a collection of match, wheel lock, and snaphaunce actuated firearms that were, occasionally, more dangerous to the user than the intended victim. Among the immigrants were gentlemen adventurers on the prowl for quick riches, families looking to build a new life, and others who sought religious freedom; all who drilled with these firearms under the under the leadership of the likes of Captain John Smith, in the Virginias, and Captain Myles Standish, in the Plymouth Colony.

The separatist Puritans came from England and, with the possible exception of one or two men, had never used firearms. Firearms were a tool of the soldier and a plaything of the aristocracy, hunting being forbidden the common man. As much as the Pilgrims might have impressed the natives with the flames, explosive sounds and rolling smoke, they were far from effective marksmen. Even with a generous supply of powder, ball, and time to exercise themselves with their 16th and 17th century firearms, it took almost two years for the Pilgrims to become proficient. However, by the time they learned to hit what they aimed at, a hunting party of four could bring home enough game to feed the village for a week. Whether this is a comment upon the developing skill of the Pilgrim marksman or the quantity of game is left to the reader. In the early days of settlement long range might mean a distance of as much as 50 yards. The enduring myth that every American boy can drill out a gnat’s eye at 100 paces was in the making.

As time passed, gunsmiths from continental Europe immigrated to the New World and set up shop. They brought a tradition of manufacture and knowledge that was soon adapted to the technical and economic realities of the colonies. The somewhat clumsy and large caliber rifles of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland underwent evolutionary changes in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania in the early 1700s at the hands of French Huguenot, Swiss and German craftsmen. The first American made rifles were manufactured in smaller calibers than its European antecedents to save precious lead and powder. The spherical bullet, between .32 and .45, weighed about 160 grains. The powder charge, of about 60 or 70 grains, left a minimum amount of fouling. The long barrel, about 40 inches, increased velocity making efficient use of powder and ball, as well as dampening the sound of the shot that might attract uninvited attention from four footed quarry or two footed enemy.

The rifle was equipped with what was the most reliable ignition system of the time-the flintlock. It had brass furniture and a recess built into the butt to hold a supply of grease or greased patches. Called a patch box, this is a distinguishing feature of the Kentucky rifle. Provided with a small, sometimes brass, blade front sight and a hickory ramrod, its graceful and comely shape, pleasing to the eye, made it easy to carry and employ in the forest.

A distinct disadvantage of the rifle, as opposed to the more common smooth bore musket, was that loading was slow and required a short metal rod and mallet to start the bullet into the bore. At some point in time an unknown marksman thought up the idea of using a slightly undersized ball and a greased patch and to ease the loading of the powder fouled rifle while insuring the tight fit necessary for the ball to engage the rifling. The American marksman now had a firearm that was capable at a range of 300 yards and deadly accurate at 100 yards. The technological advance of the patched ball made rifles capable of equaling the feat of James Fenimore Cooper’s fictional Hawkeye, La Longue Carabine, who with his rifle ‘Killdeer’ boasted an astounding firing rate of three rounds a minute standing or two prone.

A good shooting rifle, hand made by a Pennsylvania craftsman, might cost a man half a year’s wages. It earned its keep and repaid its owner by its daily use in hunting and, if need be, defense. Horace Kephart describes the so-called Kentucky Rifle as “…remarkable for its precision and distance it shot. It was generally three feet six inches long, weight about seven pounds, and ran about seventy bullets to the pound of lead.” The artist’s belief that form follows function reached one of its highest evolutionary points with the development of this distinctly American firearm.

Oddly enough the rifle seemed to be almost solely a development of the Allegheny frontier and its German influence. That hotbed of colonial industry, the Connecticut River valley of New England, boasted firearms manufacturing but it was almost exclusively devoted to smoothbore muskets. It wasn’t until just prior to the Revolutionary War that rifles became more widely used and manufactured in what would become the center of the American firearms industry.

The rifle gained its fame and name from its use in what Native Americans called the "Dark and Bloody Ground". The land west of the Allegheny Mountains, populated by the Iroquois and Cherokee, was the site of continuous warfare, the ground stained dark by the blood shed in battle between these two tribes for possession of these rich hunting lands. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War frontiersmen thought of the region as a hunter's paradise. John Findley traveled the Ohio River documenting the valley's beauty and abundance of game. A young adventurer and skilled marksman named Daniel Boone, explored the passage now known as the “Cumberland Gap” and followed Findley, rifle in hand, into what is modern day Kentucky.

Boone’s rifle, and its cousins, is more correctly known as a Pennsylvania Rifle. The more popular appellation, Kentucky Rifle, became permanent on January 8, 1815, two weeks after the Peace of Christmas Eve was signed at Ghent. The War of 1812 was already over when five thousand American soldiers and militiamen, including two thousand Kentucky and Tennessee frontiersmen armed with long barreled rifles, under the command of General Andrew Jackson, engaged 7,500 British troops along a drainage canal just south of New Orleans. The British forces grimly advanced into the fire of cannon manned by Jean Lafitte’s pirates. As the orderly lines of troops came into rifle range, Jackson ordered the cannons to lift their fire so that the billowing powder smoke would not obscure the Redcoats. In just a few minutes British General Edward Pakenham and 2,000 of his Redcoats were cut down by American riflemen hidden in trenches and behind cotton bales in the pointless Battle of New Orleans. A popular song called "The Hunters of Kentucky” or “The Battle of New Orleans” was soon ringing throughout the nation’s taverns hailing Jackson’s victory. One couplet proclaiming "But Jackson he was wide awake, and wasn't scar'd at trifles, for well he knew what aim we take, with our Kentucky Rifles" was a public relations coup of gigantic proportions. To this day, few ever refer to this quintessential American flintlock as the Pennsylvania Rifle.

The Battle of New Orleans may have raised public consciousness about the rifle but it was not the first conflict on American soil where the long-range capabilities of the colonial marksmen played an important part. Between 1689 and 1763, England and France fought a series of four wars on the continent that were mirrored in the colonies. The final conflict was The French and Indian War, known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe, fought between 1754 and 1763. Among the young colonials blooded in the conflict was a young teamster by the name of Daniel Morgan. Morgan, Daniel Boone’s cousin, survived the disastrous rout of General Edward Braddock’s expeditionary force in July of 1755 along with two young lieutenant colonels who would have much to do with each other two decades later-British regular Thomas Gage and Virginia militiaman George Washington.

Twenty years after serving with the British the tables turned. In July of 1775 Washington found himself in command of the newly formed Continental Army and with it, ten companies of riflemen. In command of the company from Virginia was Captain Morgan. As proof of their capabilities the Virginians marched from Winchester, Virginia to Boston, 300 miles away, in just three weeks. New England was treated to displays of marksmanship that amazed the locals who were unfamiliar with the rifle. Morgan’s men would demonstrate their skill by regularly hitting targets at twice the maximum range of the Yankee’s muskets and fowling pieces.

Over the next several years Morgan would command troops under Benedict Arnold in his abortive expedition to Quebec and in the Hudson River Valley. One lesson he would learn was that, as good as the rifle was, it was still slower than the musket and rifleman could not engage the enemy with out support. Morgan’s riflemen would prove their worth at Saratoga where they functioned as skirmishers, going out in front of the main battle lines to use their skills with the rifle to disable gun crews, kill officers, and generally harass the enemy. The constant rain of accurate long-range rifle fire hampered the fighting efficiency and mettle of the British troops under the command of Braddock’s Defeat alumnus General Thomas Gates.

It was here that one of the more famous long range shots of the war took place. The most celebrated of Morgan’s riflemen was Pennsylvania rifleman Tim Murphy. Tradition has it that Murphy was ordered to kill a British officer astride a gray horse. Perched in a tree and steadying his aim on a strong limb he missed with his first shot. With his second he mortally wounded General Burgoyne’s Aide de Camp, Captain Sir Francis Clerke, at a range of some 300 yards. Reloading, he next drew a bead and downed General Simon Fraser. Clerke and Fraser lingered for hours in agony before succumbing and were buried on the battlefield. In the end the British losses were twice that of the Colonial forces with rifle fire contributing greatly to the American dominance of the battlefield.

The British made several halfhearted attempts to establish a corps of rifleman to counter the colonial marksmen. The most noteworthy unit was under Major Patrick Ferguson of the Second Battalion of the 71st Highlanders, one of the finest marksman of his day and the developer of a breech loading flintlock rifle. Ferguson raised a company for deployment in North America to test his rifle. A colonial bullet shattered his right elbow on September 11, 1777 at Brandywine Creek, a battle where his riflemen contributed significantly to the British victory. After a lengthy convalescence he returned to active service but, ironically, before he could definitely prove the effectiveness of either his rifle or his troops, one of Morgan’s riflemen killed ‘The British Morgan” at the Battle of King’s Mountain, North Carolina on October 7, 1780.

After the war was won the rifle continued to prove its worth as the new nation pushed westward. As a tool, it both protected and fed the immigrants. On the occasional holiday it provided entertainment in the form of a riflemen’s frolic or turkey or beef shoot. These matches were fired standing, or from a rest, at 100 yards, or so. The target might be an X drawn with the fire-blackened end of a piece of wood from a campfire on a blazed tree side or a trussed turkey partially hidden behind a downed log. As the condemned bird’s head bobbed up and down the frontiersmen took turns trying to hit the moving mark. A successful shot earned the marksman the unlucky bird. If the prize were a beef then it might well be awarded in quarters, with each marksman taking his selection in the order of finish. Nothing went to waste with the “fifth quarter”-the hide, entrails, and bones-presented to the least successful of the five best riflemen.

The Revolution and the War of 1812 hinted that the rifle was the firearm of the future despite the disadvantage of slow rate of fire and cost. The new nation created two armories, one at Springfield, Massachusetts, and another at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, which produced both muskets and rifles for the Army. Harper’s Ferry produced about 15,000 Model 1803 U.S. Flintlock Rifles while private contractors manufactured the Model 1817 U.S. Flintlock Rifle, often known as “The Common Rifle”, under license from Harper’s Ferry. John Hall’s design of a breech loading flintlock rifle was adopted and produced at Harper’s Ferry as the Model 1819 Hall U.S. Breechloading Flintlock Rifle. The Hall rifle bears several distinctions: it was the first regulation breechloader manufactured in significant numbers, over 19,000 rifles being made and it was the first firearm manufactured with totally interchangeable parts.

Noted firearms historian Norm Flayderman reports that It is also the only firearm every presented in lieu of a medal or citation for gallantry. By Act of Congress fifteen were taken from the production of 1824 and prepared for presentation to schoolboys who had volunteered and, much like Horatius, bravely defended a bridge during the siege of Plattsburgh, New York in 1814. The rifles were furnished with engraved silver plaques that commemorated the event.

As the new nation moved westward, the rifle would begin to replace the smoothbore musket. Technological advances would begin to redefine long range beyond the 200-300 yard distance that seemed to be the limit of the Kentucky rifle. The first major employment of rifles by the United States was the Model 1841 U.S. Percussion Rifle. This muzzle loading 54 caliber rifle was used by Jefferson Davis’ Mounted Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War, hence its nickname, “The Mississippi Rifle”. This rifle is historically important because it was one of the first massed produced military rifles that employed the percussion ignition system, which had been perfected by Joshua Shaw around 1825. The percussion cap was a great improvement over the venerable flintlock. The new improvement was unaffected by wet weather and provided a quicker and more certain ignition under all circumstances. This innovation brought the round ball muzzle-loading rifle to its apogee.

All that was left was to improve the bullet. The round ball had limited efficiency because its small bearing surface’s inability to fully engage the rifling. Claude Etienne Minié, a captain in the French Army, made a major innovative step in firearms technology in 1853 with the creation of the bullet that bears his name. The misnamed Minié ball is actually a conical cylinder made of soft lead with an iron cup at the base. When fired the force of the rapidly burning powder forces an iron cup against the base of the bullet expanding it against the rifling causing a tight seal. The aerodynamically shaped Minié ball had a spin imparted upon it by the rifling making the bullet more stable in flight. The Minié ball was manufactured slightly smaller than the caliber of the rifle in which it was used and, as such, made it easier to load, overcoming the most important objection to muzzle loading rifles. It was a great improvement on the patched rifle ball used by earlier rifles.

The new bullet was more accurate and capable of flying further than the traditional spherical ball it replaced. Such was the impact of the new bullet that Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, ordered all Springfield muskets returned to the armories to have their barrels rifled. However, tradition dies hard in the world of firearms and, to this day, any cartridge with a solid bullet is still referred to as ball ammunition.

The definition of long range was about to be rewritten for the first time since the introduction of the Kentucky Rifle. The Minié ball ammunition consisted of a bullet wrapped in a paper pouch filled with powder. The soldier only had to tear open the base of the cartridge with his teeth to begin loading. Incidentally this brought about the first serious medical examination of infantry recruits and with it a physically disqualifying condition for a new soldier. Up to this time about the only physical requirement for a recruit was that he be breathing. Now he was required to have two fully usable opposing teeth for without teeth with which to tear open the paper cartridges he was useless for as an infantryman.

The paper cartridge was torn open and the powder charge poured down the barrel. A steel ramrod then seated the bullet and the paper, which formed a wad between powder and ball. The last step was to place a percussion cap on the nipple of the lock and the rifle was ready to be fired. Each soldier was now armed with a rifle that was accurate to about three times the distance of previous rifles, and had a maximum range of 1,000 to 1,200 yards. An additional advantage was that the speed of reloading with paper cartridges was much faster than with ball and powder flask thereby increasing the volume of fire that might be delivered in a period of time.

As military rifles developed, the recreational use of firearms also progressed. Around the beginning of the 19th Century some gunsmiths had begun to produce a rifle used for competition. These flintlocks were heavy, mounting octagon barrels of 38 to 40 inches in length, had full stocks, double set triggers, and used metallic tube sights. The competition rifle would continue to develop with such innovations as the addition of cap locks; pinhead front sights coupled with adjustable micrometer rear sights, and improved types of rifling such a gain twist. The later match rifles were equipped with false muzzles and bullet starters to allow a paper patched bullet to be loaded with out deformation. Attention to this small detail could double the accurate range of a particular rifle. After about 1840, according to no less an authority than Captain Ned Roberts, matches began to be fired at ranges of 100 to 200 rods, a rod being 16.5 feet, or 550 to 1100 yards with some regularity. When the Civil War began these rifles, and riflemen, would figure prominently in the selection of sharpshooters to serve under Colonel Hiram Berdan.

As the smoke in Charleston Harbor cleared and the defeated Union garrison of Fort Sumter marched out of the battered fortress, thousands of men flocked to the colors, be they the ‘Stars and Bars’ or ‘Stars and Stripes’. Of all the men, just a small proportion were skilled marksmen, experienced at hunting or competition, and willing to put their particular skills at the service of their respective governments.

The Confederacy, while long on martial sprit and outdoor and hunting skills, lacked manufacturing capability and the rifles used by southern sharpshooters were largely Whitworth and Kerr rifles that were slipped past the Federal naval blockade. The soldiers designated to use the expensive British rifles were chosen from those who had demonstrated superior marksmanship skills. They were not organized into bodies, as were the sharpshooters of the Union. By early November of 1863 the Richmond Daily Examiner would boast “We have a wonderful gun in our Army, the Whitworth rifle. It kills at 2,000 yards, more than a mile.” Hundreds of the British target rifles found there way into the hands of Confederate troops.

Originally designed as a 45-caliber rifle, with a polygon bore, the Whitworths were rifled at a rate of one turn in 20 inches and shot a hexagonal bullet. However, the Confederate troops used a 530-grain cylindrical bullet. The British Government never adopted the percussion cap muzzle-loading rifle for military purposes but 40 of them were manufactured for use in the 1860 meeting of the British National Rifle Association where they proved their worth. The rifle was equipped with metallic leaf sight that was graduated to 1200 yards and many were fitted with a 14.5-inch low power Davidson telescopic sight mounted on the left side of the rifle. Rifles similar to these were manufactured and shipped to the Confederacy where the sharpshooters generally relied on the globe sights, as the telescopic sights were easily damaged.

Confederate snipers and their Whitworth rifles accounted for a large number of Federal troops and officers. Perhaps the most famous long-range sniping incident of the Civil War occurred at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 9, 1864. With his troops ducking for cover because of sporadic small arms fire, Union General John Sedgwick, demonstrated his bravery by remaining standing as he rallied his men by gently chiding them. ‘Uncle John’, as he was fondly known to his troops because of his unselfish and warmhearted character, called out, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!” They would be his final words. Sergeant Charlie Grace of the Fourth Georgia, some 800 yards away, had Sedgwick in his sights and squeezed the trigger of his Whitworth rifle. The dead general, shot in the head, fell into the arms of an aide

The Confederate sharpshooters proved to be a valuable and potent asset. While taking off Federal officers and troops at long range was good for the moral of the southern troops, the real worth of the sharpshooters was in keeping opposing troops under the constant threat of well aimed fire. The southerners often used its limited assets of skilled marksmen to try to neutralize the overwhelming strength of northern artillery by harrying the Federal gun crews with well aimed rifle fire.

While the south employed its sharpshooters in small independent teams the north took a more traditional approach in application but an innovative view of equipment. With the advantage of its industrial might the Federal forces formed two large units, the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters under the command of Colonel Hiram Berdan. Berdan’s Sharpshooters were armed with mass produced rapid fire breech loading rifles and placed as skirmishers ahead of the main line of battle.

Just as the southerners had issued its precious Whitworth and Kerr rifles only to shooters of known quality the requirements of the United States Sharpshooters required a man to demonstrate a high level of skill. The prospective sharpshooter had to be capable of shooting, “...a string of 50 inches in 10 consecutive shots at 200 yards with globe or telescope sights from a rest....”. Shooting a string was a traditional scoring method by which a wooden peg was inserted into each bullet hole on the target. A string was then stretched from the center of the aiming point around each peg and back again, each shot in turn, with its total length determining the winner of a match. A group meeting the 50-inch standard would be about five inches across, some two inches larger than the X-ring on the present National Rifle Association short-range target. When a company of 100 New Hampshire sharpshooters under a Captain Jones reported for duty the best string recorded was a phenomenal ten inches, shot by Jones, while the average string was 30 inches.

Many of Berdan’s men came with their own competition rifles and were paid a bounty for bringing them. These personal rifles, along with some purchased by the government, would be used for special sniping activities that required long range accuracy. The troops would be issued a standard shoulder arm for day-to-day work, their favorite being the Sharps Model 1859.

Berdan’s command became one of the most famous units of the war. They were effective as both skirmishers and sharpshooters, feared by the enemy, and established the primacy of breechloading small arms. Berdan’s men boasted they were responsible for killing more of the enemy than any other unit in the Federal army.

By the time of Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomatox Courthouse the definition of long range had been altered by technological advancements. From the early 1700s until the Civil War, a shot at 200, perhaps 300 yards, was the ultimate in long-range accuracy. As the states were reunified and began its westward expansion, a successful shot of 600 yards, or more, was the new standard. The first to take advantage of the advancement in firearms technology were the competitor and the hunter.

For the better part of the first half of the 19th Century the hunters and trappers who began the economic exploitation of the far west needed a reliable firearm and a good knife. If one were to believe popular fiction, not one of those hearty souls that ventured into the vast expanses of Indian country went without a Green River knife on his hip and a 50-caliber rifle made by Saint Louis Gunsmith Jake Hawken in the crook of his arm. True as we may wish it to be it seems that Hawken Rifles, fine pieces that they were, were usually sighted in for 125 yards and fiction has far outstripped fact in the case of the knife and rifle of choice for that breed of adventurers that would become generically known as “Mountain Men”.

The true long-range rifles of the old west were those used by the generation of hunters to follow the Mountain Men, the buffalo runners. Using carefully handloaded ammunition, both for accuracy and economy, and a telescopic sight mounted on a Sharps or Remington rifle, these professional hunters were consistently deadly out to 500 yards. In several documented cases these rifles were capable of hitting a target in excess of 1,000 yards. This seems to be no small feat for a rifle with a bullet size in the range of 40 to 50 caliber. Experts of the time swore by the .45-120-550 Sharps with paper patched bullets. A .45 rifle with a black powder charge of 120 grains was capable of pushing a 550-grain lead slug with good accuracy. The Ballard, in .40-70 and .40-90, was also held in high regard.

Noted buffalo runner Frank H. Mayer recorded that a retired fellow runner of his acquaintance made a habit of shooting 10 rounds a day at a measured 1,000 yards each day for recreation. He alternated between two Sharps, one .40-90-420 and the other .45-120-550. After shooting 350 groups sworn evidence, perhaps with a demijohn in one hand and Bible in the other, indicated that not one group was larger than 26 inches while the majority averaged about 20 inches.

The buffalo runner needed a heavy rifle of large caliber to kill the animals swiftly at long range as well as handle the high rate of sustained fire needed to fell enough buffalo to make the time spent economical. He employed it with crossed rest sticks, the forerunner of the bipod. The popular rest was nothing more than two stout staves about 40 inches long joined together about four inches from one end. The rifle was placed in the short apex while the longer ends, which had been previously sharpened, were planted into the ground. From this rest the hunter could assume the sitting position and begin his harvest.

Sitting, while shooting from rest sticks, was the preferred position for several reasons. First, and probably most importantly, of all it allowed an alert hunter to keep his eye on his surroundings and have early warning of approaching hostiles. The rifle, perched a yard or so above the ground, was very steady and made less noise and dust, as would be the case with the prone position. The greater distance between the rifle and the ground lessened the rifle’s report, reverberation, and vibration through the ground while allowing the breeze to carry away the powder smoke. The buffalo were less likely to be spooked and this allowed the hunter to get within 250 or 300 yards of a herd and to stay there while he killed the day’s quota.

Perhaps the most fêted long-range shot by a buffalo runner was that of Billy Dixon at Adobe Walls in June of 1874. Dixon was staying north of Amarillo, near the site of the abandoned Bent Brothers trading known locally as Adobe Walls, with some two dozen hunters and teamsters.

Before dawn approximately 400 to 600 Comanche, Kiowa, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne warriors, surrounded and attacked them. The surprised hunters dropped what they were doing and, grabbing up their rifles, made for the saloon. The experienced buffalo runners set up shop and methodically shot into the charging masses just as calmly as they would a herd of milling buffalo. By noon the mass charges had ceased in the face of the accurate fire and the attackers took to individual action, crawling in close under the cover of the tall grass.

For almost two days the Indians kept the hunters besieged. When the Comanche Chief Quanah Parker was wounded, they abandoned the battle. The survivors of the siege were forced to remain for several more days as their horses had all been killed or run off. From time to time small bands of Indians would appear to silently scan the battle site from a safe distance.

Dixon spotted just such a group on a bluff nearly a mile away. Picking up his 50 caliber Sharps, he checked the conditions, ran up his sights, steadied the rifle, and squeezed off a shot. The smoke had cleared by the time the heavy bullet and sound reached the mounted Indians, pitching one of them from his horse. His startled companions scattered but returned to recover their fallen comrade. Later a government survey team, who happened to be in the area, measured the distance at 1,538 yards. The feat would become known as “The Shot of The Century”. Given the conditions, rifle, ammunition, and distance, it might also be appropriate to call it the luckiest shot of the century. The modest Dixon accepted the praise but insisted he was just firing at the group and was just lucky to get a hit.

Noted firearms writer Mic McPherson enlisted the aid of Bill Falin, chief ballistician at Accurate Arms and, in 1996, they attempted to duplicate the fabled shot. Noting the 1,538 yards is 0.87 miles they prepared a Sharps rifle and powder charge that was a close to authentic as possible. For a target they constructed a like size silhouette of an Indian astride a horse. After zeroing the rifle for the distance they commenced a series of record shots using a single aiming point. The mean radius of the shots was such that if the target had been the center of a group of mounted men it is a certainty that someone would have felt the sting of a heavy bullet after its 5 second flight through the hazy and dust laden atmosphere. Almost a century and a quarter separated the real shot from the reenactment but both were impressive examples of long-range marksmanship.

Around the same time that the Indians were dragging off their surprised comrade and Billy Dixon was swabbing out his barrel, long range shooting was a hot topic of conversation accompanying the post dinner brandy and cigars at various gentlemen’s clubs in the New York City area.

General George Wingate and some of his associated were concerned about the poor level of marksmanship evidenced by the recruits to the Union Army during the late Civil War. In an attempt to bolster national defense and encourage marksmanship they formed the National Rifle Association of America on November 21, 1871. They were able to enlist the aid of the New York State Legislature and on June 21, 1873 the newly constructed range, just 20 miles from New York City on at Creedmoor on Long Island, was opened with a major match pitting teams from the National Guards of various states and the regular army. Events in Great Britain would soon thrust the new facility into the international spotlight.

For some years eight man rifle teams from England, Scotland, and Ireland had vied for the Elcho Shield. The contest required the teams to fire at ranges of 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. When, in 1873, the Irish won the match for the first time they were so enthused that they issued a challenge to the United States to engage in a world championship. Not knowing of the existence of the NRA, the Irish directed the challenge to The Amateur Rifle Club of the United States. The president of the Amateur Rifle Club happened to be General Wingate who picked up the gauntlet for the NRA. Considering that the club had barely five-dozen members and no experience at ranges beyond 500 yards it was a bold reply. The match was fired on September 26, 1874 at Creedmoor. It would be more than a contest between nations; it would also be one of competing technologies.

The American team fired breechloading cartridge rifles made by Sharps and Remington while the British Empire preferred Rigby or Metford muzzleloaders. The Remington rolling block rifle became known as the “Long Range Creedmoor Rifle.” It was designed, and its manufacture supervised by noted marksman L.L. Hepburn. The rifles were chambered in .44 with 90 grains of black powder pushing a massive paper patched 550-grain lead bullet.

The rear sights, copied from the English, were of a vernier tang style that mounted just behind the receiver, or near the heel of the butt stock, depending if the competitor was shooting either the prone or supine position. The front sights were of the wind gauge style. In original form they were dovetail blocks that were lightly tapped with a tool for windage adjustment, later a more accurate and easier to use horizontal vernier was employed for left or right changes. The rifles of both sides used heavy loads of black powder that required them to be wiped clean after each shot, a necessity with paper-patched bullets.

The competitors took the line to shoot 45 record shots apiece at cast steel targets with a four point square bullseye. Each man would discharge 15 shots at each of 800, 900, and 1,000 yards. There were no sighters. The match was tight all the way to the finish with just three points separating the victorious Americans from the Irish.

In a splendid example of sportsmanship, Major Arthur Blennerhasset Leech presented an ornate Victorian standing cup to the host team who placed it in national competition the next year as the Leech Cup. It has always been a long range trophy except for 1951 and 1952 when it was awarded to the highest scorer using the service rifle in the 600 yard Marine Corps Cup Match. The Leech Cup is the oldest trophy presented in shooting by the NRA. After the 1913 National Matches the Leech Cup went missing and was not found until 1927. The NRA responded by requiring that all trophies would be held at NRA headquarters and keeper awards would be given to the match winners.

The Irish again challenged the Americans in 1875 and invited them to compete at Dollymount, Ireland. The visiting team repeated its performance of the previous year, only opening the margin of victory to 39 points. The Americans then traveled to Wimbledon, the British range just outside of London, to compete for the prestigious Elcho Shield. It turned out that the rules excluded the American team and caused some hard feelings. To assuage the visitors the British National Rifle Association prevailed upon Queen Victoria’s daughter, the Princess Louise, to present a large three-footed silver tankard to the Americans for competition amongst themselves.

The first winner of the massive trophy, now known as the Wimbledon Cup, was Major Henry Fulton. Fulton himself was honored with a trophy when, in 1987, International Shooting Hall of Fame member and Palma Alumnus Arthur C. Jackson presented a trophy to be awarded to the high scoring individual in the International Palma Team Competition in Fulton’s memory. The Wimbledon Cup returned to the United States with the team and was placed in competition by Fulton. It has become the premier long-range prize for marksman in the United States, as it has never been contested over any distance other than 1,000 yards.

'The Great Centennial Rifle Match" was fired at Creedmoor the 13th and 14th of September 1876 as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the independence of the United States. The fledgling National Rifle Association of America hosted eight man teams from Australia, Canada, Scotland, and Ireland for the first meeting of what would become the longest continuously running international rifle match in history. The target was a six by ten foot frame of canvas that had a 36 inch black five ring, or bull's eye, and a 54 inch four ring printed upon it. The remainder of the inner six by six foot section, outside of the rings, was worth three points. A two-foot wide panel ran down each side and was valued at two points. The teams fired twice across the 45 shot course in two days and when the billows of black powder smoke had cleared, the home team had won the first Palma Match.

The Palma Matches quickly became the preeminent long-range international shooting event. However, it would be a misnomer to refer to these early events as prone matches as most of the shooters fired from the popular back or ‘Texas’ position. Lying supine, with their feet pointing towards the target, the shooters would rest the rifles upon their legs or feet and blast away. The long barreled rifles and the tall vernier sights of the time favored this seemingly ungainly, but strong, position making it a less formidable task to shoot than it looks. The 32 to 34 inch long barrels and sights mounted close to the butt gave shooters an incredibly long sight radius.

The Palma has evolved into the “The World Long Range Shooting Championships, Individual and Palma Team Matches”. It has gone through many changes since 1876 and has developed its own set of rules and requirements in regard to target, rifle, and cartridge. The United States has, overall, experienced great success in this special match that is held at three to five year intervals. Teams consist of 16 firing members and two alternates along with a support group of a team captain, adjutant, five coaches and a non-firing armorer, with total team size not to exceed 26 members. The current rules allow for the use of a manually operated rifle using .308 Winchester or 7.62mm NATO ammunition loaded with the Sierra 155 grain Palma bullet or its equivalent. The rifle must mount metallic sights and not weigh more than 6.5 kilograms. It is interesting to note that the rules state that the use of a sling is not mandatory.

The match is fired at 800, 900,and 1,000 yards or 700, 800, and 900 meters depending on the range available to the host nation-the distances being almost identical-and at the National Rifle Association of America’s Long Range Target. The Palma is a match of great distinction, so much so that nations, or rifle associations, that are celebrating special events or anniversaries apply to host the match to add extra glamour to the occasion.

The advent of smokeless powder did not spell the end to long range black powder shooting. It is very much alive today. The NRA conducts a series of black powder competitions with the Castle Trophy awarded to the winner of the Creedmoor Match. This trophy, which first came to the United States in 1873, and was awarded to Colonel John Bodine as the 1874 International Champion at Creedmoor, is now awarded to the competitor who bests all comers over a 30 shot match, ten shots each at 800, 900, and 1,000 yards. The rifle must be a single shot black powder cartridge arm with period sights and be shot from the supported prone position. The trophy was originally a gift of Lord Elcho, the patron of the Elcho Shield, to the 25th Lanarkshire Volunteers to commemorate their victory over England and Ireland in a match in 1871. The trophy went missing sometime after 1879 and eventually found its way back to the NRA, by purchase, in 1985. For those that say that mysterious things come in threes, the loss of three major long range trophies, the Palma, Leech, and Castle, certainly fits into this category.

United States Army Lieutenant Colonel C. J. Shaffer, who served as the Director of Civilian Marksmanship, Executive Officer of The National Matches and later as a member of the NRA competitions staff, donated a highly engraved German schüetzen rifle as a trophy to be awarded to the high scorer in a match demanding the use of a single shot black powder cartridge arm with period sights. To win the Shaffer Trophy one must shoot twice across a course of fire that requires ten shots standing at 200 yards, ten shots sitting with crossed sticks at 300 yards, and a final stage of ten shots prone at 600 yards with crossed sticks.

While high power held the competitor’s and public interest at the end of the 19th century, and into beginning of the 20th, 22 caliber rimfire smallbore was beginning to make some inroads into outdoor shooting and would add another meaning to the lexicon of long range. At this time the use of .22 rifles was looked upon as primarily an indoor sport for distances up to 25 yards. During World War I Army Captain Edward C. Crossman saw that the smallbore rifle was the perfect tool to teach recruits the fundamentals of marksmanship at much less cost and without the need of extensive outdoor range facilities. During planning for the 1919 National Matches “Ned” Crossman suggested that it was time to schedule some smallbore competition to run in conjunction with the service rifle shooting.

The National Rifle Association thought it a good idea and wasted no time appointing Crossman to set up just such a program. Time was short, the NRA gave Crossman the go ahead in June and the matches were scheduled for August, so Crossman enlisted the aid of some of his friends. Having never organized a smallbore tournament of this scale, Crossman relied upon a British officer, Captain E.J.D. Newitt, who had experience organizing the “miniature” rifle matches at Bisley, England. W. H. Richard of Winchester, Captain Grosvenor L. Wotkyns of the US Army, and Frank Kahrs of Remington Arms Company were also pressed into service preparing the tournament. The program included a slow fire 200-yard stage fired on a reduced military 1,000 yard bull's-eye with a 7.2 inch five ring surrounding a 4-inch V ring. Unfortunately torrential rains washed out the 200-yard firing line and the match was cancelled.

While the traditional ranges for outdoor smallbore prone are 50 and 100 yards, during the years between World Wars there were two long-range smallbore courses of fire that were quite popular. The first was the Palma-fashioned after its high power brother-that allowed two sighters before 15 record shots at each of 150, 175, and 200 yards. The second match was known as the “Swiss Match”. The target was a 1/5th reduction of the standard six foot by ten foot 1,000 yard 'C' target, designated the 'C5" for smallbore matches. The black bull's-eye was a 7.2 inch five ring with a four-inch V ring. After the allowed two sighters, the shooter could continue firing for record as long as the shots stayed inside the five ring. Any shot straying out of the black meant an instant end.

These long-range any sight smallbore matches were most popular in the Middle Atlantic States. Popular venues were Sea Girt, New Jersey, Camp Ritchie, Maryland, and Peekskill, New York. From time to time a 300-yard match was held in conjunction with the more common Palma and 200 yard courses of fire. The standard military “A” target, with its ten inch black five ring, was used in this ultra long range smallbore match.

Limited to just two sighting shots a wise long-range smallbore competitor would have taken the time to obtain a good 100 yard zero for both elevation and windage with quality match ammunition. From this point it was simply a matter of clicking up the Winchester 5A, or it’s successor the Lyman 5A telescopic sight a matter of 20 minutes from 100 to 200 yards and 21 minutes more for 300 yards, assuming the bases were 7.2 inches on center. In the mid 1930s, when Lyman, Unertl, and Fecker introduced scopes with larger diameter objective bells and higher magnification, shooters had to go to taller bases to keep the scope clear of the barrel as the externally adjusted scopes were elevated.

At a time when the quality of ammunition and rifles was such that perfect scores at 100 yards were worth space in shooting publications some of the runs of consecutive fives and Vs at 200 yards are phenomenal. Famed belly shooter Thurman Randle, of Texas, and his Winchester 52 rifle “Bacon Getter”, established a national record in 1933 of 196 bulls that would stand for seven years.

During the summer of 1940 the grandly titled “Smallbore All Range Championship” was held at Poughkeepsie, New York. This anysight event called for ten record shots at 50, 100, 150, 175, and 200 yards with sighting shots allowed only at 50 yards. Military style pit service was provided at 150 yards and beyond to insure that the shooters might see shot location. The final match of the day was the Swiss Match. A young Art Jackson lay down at 4 PM with half of a box of Western Super Match ammunition to try his luck. Four and a half hours after he started, the setting sun made it difficult to see the cross hair reticule of his scope and, finally out of ammunition, light, and feeling in his left arm, he was forced to stop with an unofficial count of 325 bulls. The scorekeeper's official tally marks showed one less and his scorecard declared he had fired a new record of 324 consecutive fives with 238 Vs. The feat stands as a monument to both the endurance of the shooter and the generosity of the bystanders who donated some six boxes of Super Match ammunition to keep him going when his scanty supply gave out.

The Second World War all but shut down competitive shooting for the first half of the 1940s. The war had both a positive and negative effect upon long range shooting. When the standards for the award of the Distinguished Rifleman Badge were reviewed after the war, the 1,000-yard stage was dropped. As a result, for almost two decades shooting at distances beyond 600 yards were pretty much restricted to the National Matches. It would not be until the Palma resurgence in 1966 that attention would be focused on long range shooting other than the Leech and the Wimbledon matches shot at each year at Camp Perry.

On the other hand, troop ships had disgorged hoards of the returning veterans with marksmanship skills that they wished to continue to hone on rifle range and in the hills. With them also came an unknown number of souvenir rifles of all makes and descriptions, as well as a desire to see just how well they might shoot. In formal competition the numbers of people participating in NRA events soared.

However, there were those who were not interested in National Match Course shooting. What they sought was one hole accuracy based upon experimentation with powder, ball, and rifle. As early as 1881 William Wellington Greener had written about a special class of target rifle that he described as “ a sort of scientific toy” with which the end is absolute accuracy by use of any artificial aid that an active mind can conjure. Today we know such a firearm as a bench rest rifle. Starting with informal activities by the Puget Sound Snipers Congress in 1944, on the west coast, and some matches in Machias, Maine on the Atlantic side these varmint hunters and accuracy fanatics soon met at the Pine Tree Rifle Club in Johnstown, New York on Labor Day weekend of 1947. By the end of the weekend the assembled men had elected officers and the National Bench Rest Shooters Association was born. Harvey Donaldson, Townsend Whelen, Sam Clark, Ray Biehler, Al Marciante, Warren Page, and Lucian Cary were some of the legendary firearms experimenters who laid the foundation for the development of bench rest competition as it is known today.

Center fire bench rest competition is usually shot at 100 and 200-yard distances, with an occasional 300 yard match added if the range construction permits. In this game the group size, not placement, is the criteria for success. The bench rest community has been responsible for many of the developments that have improved the overall accuracy of target rifles used in both NRA and international competition. As far as long-range bench rest is concerned the ultimate came about in 1967 when William Theis, George Reeder, and David Troxell put together the first 1,000-yard benchrest match across the lands of the Lynn and Waltz farms in the Williamsport area of Pennsylvania. The first match, held on October 1, 1967 was won by James Barger who wielded a 7mm Remington 40X and banged out a 16 inch group.

Within a year “The Original Pennsylvania 1000 Yard Bench Rest Club” was incorporated and had obtained a 99-year lease to land from shooter Gene Plants. Construction followed and pits and a concrete pad were soon in place to be followed, eventually, by ten covered firing points and a clubhouse. The club runs a series of matches each year from May to November with a hundred or more shooters attending each shoot.

Much of firearm development has been a by-product of military necessity. The relative short distances and massed troops of World War One brought about the formalized training of soldiers to insure competent marksmen to use specially manufactured or modified rifles for sniping. As a rule the distances were somewhat short, some 100 to 300 yards, but from time to time there was a need for a hard-hitting rifle at longer ranges. The British used what was known as “African Rifles”, large bore high shock power firearms that would otherwise be used to take down elephants, rhinos, and hippos.

The Germans developed the bolt-action 13mm Mauser anti-tank rifle while the United States called upon John Browning and Winchester to devise a firearm to meet the challenge. What would become the classic heavy machine gun of the 20th century-and perhaps beyond, the .50 Browning Machine Gun was ready to be tested but developed too late for employment in France. During the years between wars the .50 BMG would undergo further development and develop into the classic M2 familiar. The M2 was employed, on a very limited basis, in a sniper role during the Second World War. The Perfex Corporation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin manufactured the 3.25X M1 telescopic sight for use on the BMG and, in good conditions, the gun and sight combination were accurate to over 2,000 yards in single fire mode.

The long-range capabilities of the .50BMG cartridge would begin to be fully exploited during the Korean War by two innovative and inventive soldiers, Frank Conway and Bill Brophy. Conway, who won back-to-back Wimbledon Cup victories in 1955 and 1956, lead the way in 50-caliber employment. As early as 1946 he was championing the BMG long range concept. He adopted a German PzB39 anti-tank rifle to the big fifty and demonstrated during the course of its development its effectiveness at 1,400 yards, with 2,800 yard shots being feasible.

The war in Korea eventually reached a stalemate that was reminiscent of the trenches of World War One, setting the stage for a rebirth of sniper activity. Brophy, a Distinguished Rifleman and Ordnance officer, found that the state of the sniper program within the Army in Korea was poor. The equipment, mainly M1Ds and M1903A4s, were in poor repair, the infantrymen assigned them were not trained, and the supply and maintenance system was incapable of providing adequate support. Brophy reached into his own pocket and purchased a Winchester Model 70 and a 10X telescopic sight. Within short order he made effective use of the combination and believers of the Army snipers. However, there were many targets of opportunity that were far outside of the range of the 30-caliber Winchester’s 1,000-yard capability.

While rummaging around a cache of captured enemy equipment Brophy came across a Soviet 14.5mm PTRD1941 anti tank rifle. Building on Conway’s pioneering work he had it fitted with a BMG 50 caliber aircraft barrel and attached a skeleton stock, cheekpiece, and bipod. A Unertl 20X telescopic sight was mounted upon it and this particularly homely looking collection of welded pipe and spare parts was soon making distances between 1,000 and 2,000 yards most uncomfortable for the enemy. Brophy would go on to even greater fame in a second career in firearms when, after retirement, he served as Marlin Firearms Company’s Senior Technical Manager, author of seminal books on the L.C. Shotgun, .30-40 Krag, 1903 Springfield, and the Springfield Armory, and competitor with the Palma Team.

Within the shooting community there exists a less formal, but no more intense group of competitors, who are very much cut from the same bolt of cloth as the benchrest shooter-the varmint hunter. Not as formally organized, but no less fanatical about accuracy, these long-range hunters often deal in distances that certainly would be considered long range. Varmint hunting may best be described as a cross between bench rest and hunting. The major differences being that he distances are longer than bench rest’s traditional 200 yards and the targets are smaller than the average deer hunter’s quarry.

Varmint shooters consider distances in excess of 850 yards to be ultra-long range. To be successful they quite often are involved in customizing rifles, ammunition, and optics. Armed with a truck loaded with gear that might include a bench rest table, sand bags, a mechanical rest, range finder, and an array of long-range optical gear the varmint shooter seeks out rockchuck and prairie dog colonies. After scouting out an area the truck is unloaded, quite often in the dark hours before dawn to take advantage of the most favorable shooting conditions of the day, the quiet time just after dawn. After setting up shop the shooter and spotter spend some time observing and becoming familiar with the target area and the calm conditions at day break.

May 31, 2000 dawned as a perfect morning on a mesa near Pueblo, Colorado as Kreg Slack and his spotter Nadine Parry peered out at a prairie dog town some distance away. The light was coming up, the air was clear, it was still too cool for mirage to build, and there was not a breath of wind. Slack was very familiar with the area as he and his regular shooting companion, Bruce Artus, had been working up an Dillon/McMillian stocked Obermeyer barreled Winchester Model 70 action in .308 Ackley Improved for some long range shooting at the site. He was shooting at a 16-inch metal gong that the pair has earlier set as a target. As Kreg peered through the Leupold scope, modified to 40X by Premier Reticules, he noticed a prairie dog lounging in the sun near the gong. Taking up the slack on the two-ounce Jewell trigger he broke the shot.

Pushed by 85 grains of IMR 7828, a 338-caliber 300-grain Sierra bullet was in the air at a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second and quickly struck near the unsuspecting varmint. Making a quick adjustment Slack fired another round that kicked up another column of dust just a foot or so from the now curious, but not alarmed, animal. While his target looked about to investigate the source of the strange dust spouts Slack made a quick adjustment to the scope knobs, squinted through the scope, and fired a third shot.

Much like General Sedgewick the fearless dog was taken unawares by a long-range shooter. The distance was ultra long range not just by varmint shooter standards, but also by anyone’s reckoning. A laser range finder measured the distance at an astounding 3,125 yards! The shot at, 1.78 miles, is the world’s longest successful, recorded, and verified aimed rifle shot to date.

The history of long range shooting in the United States is fast approaching 400 years. Since European explorers and colonists first brought gunpowder to these shores the definition of long range has grown along with the nation. While the United States may have reached the extent of its physical boundaries the imagination, ingenuity, and success of those living there who seek to hit a target at further and further distances has not.
 

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