A Glimpse Into the History of the Oldest Shooting Sport -- By Lucinda Bryan

by Shiloh Rifle

Marcus Garvey stated, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

In recorded history, Billy Dixon was known for his incredible shot at Adobe Walls, located in the Texas panhandle. At approximately 1500 yards, Dixon, in June of 1874 with a Sharps rifle, made what was probably the most famous long-range shot ever recorded.

In the late 1800’s before baseball, football were national sports, target rifle matches were the most popular sporting events amongst society. On Sundays, men and women would dress in their best attire to attend these long-range target matches. In 1874, one of the most famous and oldest precision matches ever held was the first Creedmoor Long Range match between the team from Ireland and the newly-formed NRA team from America.

The sport of long-range shooting was catching on in Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland. In England, at the Wimbledon Range, 800, 900, and 1000-yard matches, called the Elcho Shield, took place. In 1873 the Irish team won the match and they immediately challenged the Americans to a long-range match to be held in the USA the following year. The Americans accepted the challenge and began the search for a place to build a rifle range for the upcoming match.

On Long Island in New York, there was an old worn-out farm called Creed’s Farm named after the family who originally owned the place. The land was scraggly and foggy resembling the moors of England and Scotland. Due to the resemblance they began referring to the old farm as Creed’s Moor. The name stuck, and the newly constructed range, complete with a railroad line out to the range, became known as the Creedmoor Shooting Range.

In 1874, over 10,000 spectators, many of them Irish immigrants, attended the match at Creedmoor. Telegraph operators attending the match reported the results of each shot fired. The Americans won the trophy, taking it away from Ireland, but only because one of the Irish team fired a shot on the wrong target. As such the win was considered to be a bit of a hollow victory. A year later the Americans traveled to Ireland to compete in a re-match. It was said to have 30,000 spectators attending the matches rooting for the home team but the Americans won again. They were shooting at a target that was 12 feet wide with 4 foot wings and a 30” square. This match is what started Palma shooting, which consisted of 15 rounds per target, 800, 900 and 1000 yards. In the late 1880’s – 1890’s the Palma match along with the NRA went dormant. Around 1901 both the NRA and Palma shooting would come back.

I found an article in the Harpers weekly newspaper of July 24, 1875, reporting that Colonel Gildersleeve of the American team and Lee of the Irish team were tied 19 to 19. It was the 1000-yard match and if you made misses, you were made to retire in accordance with a rule that stated, “Any man who misses the target must withdraw.” Messrs, Bodine, Dakin, and Coleman of the American team made misses. The tie between Gildersleeve and Lee was then to be shot off. They agreed that the shoot-off would be three shots apiece. After the first round of shots, they were still tied. They began to shoot off on their 2nd round of three shots. Gildersleeve managed to score three bull’s eyes worth a score of 12 points; Lee scored only 10 points. The American team won the match outright with a score of 39 against Irish team’s score of 38. The Hundred Guinea Cup, presented by the London Dramatic News, was won at Dollymount on July 3rd, by Colonel Gildersleeve of the American team.

Over a century later, long-range matches, using the same type of rifles as in the late 1800s, are being held around the world. Some competitors are still using original rifles passed down over the decades. The heritage of Creedmoor Shooting along with the pungent odor of black powder smoke wafting through the air lives on today. We here at Shiloh are privileged to be a part of this great heritage and shooting sport. It is important that we as shooters educate new shooters and help this sport to continue to grow so as not to repeat history and the sport go dormant.