Target Shooting and the Great International Rifle Match of 1874 Part 1

About the Great International Rife Match of 1874, which pitted the best sharp shooters of Ireland against the United States.


No event in the sporting world has excited more general attention than the Grand International Rifle Match at Creedmoor, Long Island, between the American and Irish teams, said Harper's Weekly in 1874 when the 2 countries shot it out for the championship of the world before an unruly crowd of 8,000 cheering people. Since early morn on September 26, the day of the Grand Match, coaches, tallyhos, hacks, and high-wheeled bikes choked the roads leading from New York to Creedmoor, site of America's 1st rifle range. The L.I. railroad ran special trains jammed with spectators. Across the country telegraph offices stood by ready to flash shot-by-shot reports of the daylong match.

The year before, Ireland had won the rifle championship of the British Isles. Maj. Arthur B. Leech, captain of the Irish team, then challenged America for the world title. Col. George W. Wingate, one of the founders of the recently formed (1871) National Rifle Association of America, in accepting the challenge, yielded to Ireland's terms of a long-range match, at distances of 800, 900, and 1,000 yards. This was conceding a lot, for none of the Americans had ever fired beyond 600 yards. Ironically, the finest long-range shots the world had ever seen were right in America--the professional buffalo hunters on the western plains--but they were more interested in bagging hides at $50 each than in a rifle match.

The untested team selected by Colonel Wingate to do the shooting was: Maj. Henry Fulton, G. W. Yale, Col. John Bodine, Lt. Col. H. A. Gildersleeve, L. L. Hepburn, and Gen. T. S. Dakin. The terms of the match: 15 rounds per man at each of the 3 distances; .44 caliber rifles of 10 lbs. maximum weight firing identical loads of black powder; the Americans to use breechloaders of U.S. manufacture, the Irish to fire their own muzzle-loaders (considered more accurate); telescopic sights were barred; standard English targets, measuring 12'X6'. The square bull's-eye (4 points) was 3'X3'; the "center" (3 points) was 6'X6', with a 2' space on each side called an "outer" (2 points).

The veteran Irish team, experts at long-range, were the odds-on favorites as they took position in front of the huge roped-off throng at exactly 10:30 A.M. It was a hot, dry day. Captain Walker, Ireland's lead-off man, took his place between the red flags that marked the firing point, got down on his stomach and squinted at the target. A strange sight greeted the captain's eye. The target seemed to dance in the shimmering heat waves, a phenomenon unknown in cloudy Ireland. No marker rose up when he fired. It was a clean miss. Behind him came groans mixed with thunderous cheers. Colonel Wingate ran in front of the spectators and appealed to them to quiet down.

America's 1st man was Major Fulton, a 28-year-old Civil War veteran. Lying on his back with his feet toward the target, he rested the barrel of his Remington on his legs--a position which enabled him to keep his luxurious blond beard out of the dust--and squeezed the trigger for a bull's-eye. (Of the 12 men who shot that day, 5 used the feetfirst position; 7 the headfirst stomach-down stance. Comparative scores later showed that the feet-first men averaged 157 points against 154 for the conventional shooters.)

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