Photos courtesy of Miles Gilbert and the National Rifle Association.
Jim Foral’s article on John Bodine and the early International Rifle Matches was both interesting and informative (BPCN
Summer 2021, Issue 114). Our very good friend and enabler of 45 years, gun dealer and collector Ron Peterson of Albuquerque, New Mexico, owns three of the long-range target rifles used in some of those matches and agreed to share them in this issue. Here is a look at Irish Team Captain Arthur B. Leech’s Rigby muzzleloader, American team member Major Henry Fulton’s Remington, and American Team Member George Wooster Yale’s Sharps.
2023, is the 152nd anniversary of the National Rifle Association and the 149th anniversary of the International Rifle Match at Creedmoor on Long Island. The match was the brainchild of Irish nobleman Arthur Blennerhasset Leech. A keen rifleman, he had built the first rifle range for long distance shooting at Markree Castle in County Sligo in 1859. He was captain of the team of riflemen who had won the coveted Lord Elcho Shield at Wimbledon in 1873, with a score of 1,195 of a possible 1,200 points, over the English team’s 1,175.
With that victory under his belt, Major Leech challenged America to field a team that would shoot 800, 900 and 1,000 yards with Vernier sights. The targets for the match would be six feet high, 12 feet wide, and have a three by three-foot black bull’s-eye. A hit in the bull’s-eye scored four points, a hit in the next inner square scored three, and a hit in the outermost square scored two points.
The American range was a tract of 70 acres that had been known as Creed’s Farm, then Creed’s Moor, and finally as Creedmoor. It was located only 15 miles east of New York City, and within walking distance of the Long Island Central Railroad, which had been induced to establish a stop there for the convenience of shooters and spectators. Firing lines were established according to the pattern at Wimbledon near London. It was 750 feet wide, with 20 individual shooting pits, with distances up to 1,000 yards. There were nine target pits on the sunken pit system for the protection of target-marking volunteers, with a 25-foot high berm as a backstop. The shooters faced the north so that they would always have the sun at their backs.
The Irish team arrived in New York City on September 16, 1874, and was greeted with great fanfare. The match began on the 26th, a day with clear sky, light wind and a crowd of 8,000 people. The first stage at 800 yards was completed in 90 minutes. The Americans scored 326 points to the Irish 317.
The Creedmoor Range in 1874.
Then it was time for lunch and speeches. Irish Team Captain Leech surprised the crowd by announcing that he would like to leave a souvenir of the Irish Team visit, and he uncovered a very large, very ornate silver tankard in the shape of the “old Towers of Ireland.” It was inscribed “Presented for Competition to the riflemen of America, by Arthur Blennerhasset Leech, Captain of the International Team of Riflemen, on the occasion of their visit to New York
Irish Team Captain A. B. Leech’s Rigby with the Leech Cup, John Bodine and Arthur Leech.
The tankard, since referred to as the “Leech Cup” was graciously accepted by Col. George W. Wingate. It became a perpetual trophy for the NRA of America, and is still competed for today.
Competition resumed after lunch. At 900 yards the score was Ireland 312, America 310. The Irish lead would have been greater but for an error by their member J. K. Millner whose bull’s-eye was on the wrong target! So, the total score was then 636 for America, and 629 for Ireland.
Fulton’s back rest position.
At 1,000 yards the Irish caught and passed the Americans. The match came down to the last shot, as reported by Jim Foral. With an injured and bleeding right hand, Team Captain John Bodine fired a bull’s-eye, giving the Americans 934 to the Irish 931. America had won the Leech Cup.
Major Fulton’s Remington.
John Rigby posted the highest score for the Irish with his own Rigby muzzleloader, like the one shown here used by Irish Team Captain Leech. It is .451 caliber, weighs nine pounds, one ounce with the false muzzle removed, has a trigger pull of three pounds, a 14.25-inch length of pull, and a sighting radius of 35.5 inches. Of course, the entire Irish team used the Rigby muzzle loaders.
Fulton’s 800-yard target.
The American team shooters who used Remington Rolling Blocks included John Bodine, Henry Fulton, and L. L. Hepburn, who is credited for assembling the Remington Creedmoor target rifles. The rifles were chambered for the 44 Remington Special centerfire cartridge, with a 2.25-inch bottleneck case, holding 90 grains of powder and a 550-grain paper-patched bullet. The rifle shown here used by Henry Fulton has a 14.125-inch length of pull, 34-inch full octagon barrel, and weighs nine pounds, 13 ounces. Although some of the Creedmoor Remington rifles were equipped with heel-mounted sights, Fulton chose to shoot from the back position, and used the tang-mounted long range Vernier sight, giving him a 37-inch sight radius. It should be noted that Bodine loaded his Remington from the muzzle, as a breech-muzzle loader because it was more accurate that way. The paper-patched bullet was gently pressed down from the muzzle, and then a cartridge case charged with 90 grains and an over-powder wad was inserted into the chamber.
Paper patched bullets for long range shooting.
A week later the Americans held their own long-range match, giving the Irish a chance to win, which they did by six points, and John Rigby was the high scorer with his muzzleloader. It must be noted that he DID NOT clean the fouling from his barrel after every shot, but the American team did. That led to an impromptu 1,000-yard match of Rigby versus Sharps rifle, 25 rounds and no cleaning. The lowest Irish score was higher than the highest American score! Again, John Rigby led the scoring for the Irish team 321 to 201.
The NRA hosted a “Centennial” match on September 12-14, 1876, where Sharps long-range rifle SN 158444 was used successfully by George Wooster Yale, firing from the back position. He posted a score of 162/180. He was employed by the Sharps Rifle Company as a salesman, and even briefly, as Plant Manager.
George W. Yale’s Sharps.
• Ron Paxton for the collage of the Remington rifle, and collages of my photographs of the Rigby and Sharps rifles.
• Ron Peterson, friend of 45 years for access to his long-range rifles, paper patched bullets, and his copy of A.B. Leech’s Irish Riflemen in America.
• Roy Marcot for a copy of his Remington Rolling Block Rifles, Carbines & Shotguns, Sporting and Target Rifles (Tucson, Northwood Press.) Coauthor Ron Paxton did the excellent photography.