A Vintage Military Rifle Match
W. E. Poole Jr.
February 25, 1993
One hundred years ago, The United States army was in the process of adopting a "high-tech" assault rifle, the Krag. The model 1891 Mausers in use by Argentina and others were brand new. The British had a thing called a Lee-Metford, Russia had an 1891 Mosin-Nagant and Spain had just adopted the Model 1892 Mauser. Within just a few years, improvements in design and technology would bring out the 1903 Springfield, the SMLE, the 1898 Mauser, and a whole slew a variations of it. A .223 cartridge would have been laughed at.
A couple of World Wars, and one Cold one and the ingenuity of many engineers later, all those "assault-rifles" are obsolete, mere "curios and relics" to us common folk.
But many of us consider the those old military rifles to be classics. Set a nice 1898 Mauser next to a modern-day Kalashnikov and I defy anyone to try to change my opinion as to which is the finer of the two. The Mauser shoots straighter, further and harder, just not as often. The workmanship the Swedes, Germans and others put into their product at the turn of the century is unbelievable and hard to find today except in the finest target and hunting rifles.
But what possible "sporting purpose" do these old military rifle serve? They were, after all, designed for war, for killing. Nobody goes duck hunting with a 49" long, iron-sighted 9lb rifle. (At least nobody I know).
If shooting little holes in a far away piece of paper isn't "sporting", I don't know what is. We have a fairly active gun club, with all the usual matches, National Match Course, Trap, Skeet, Silhouette etc. We wanted to try something different to add some variety and introduce new shooters to competitive shooting. A lot of shooters and collectors are buying the various old military rifles currently being imported. We put the two together and came up with what we called a "Vintage Military Rifle Match".
The rules were: Any bolt action military rifle in (more or less) origional, safe to shoot, condition with origional style iron sights. Using any safe ammo. We fired a 32 shot "Sporting Rifle" course, (8 shots standing slow, 8 shots sitting rapid, 8 shots prone rapid and 8 shots prone slow), at 200 yards.
The turn-out of 27 shooters was better than most of our club's regulary matches. The experienced highpower shooters had to learn to shoot without their heavy leather and canvas security blankets, I mean shooting coats, gloves, rubber elbow pads and 1/4 minute apeture sights. The collectors, and others had to learn to shoot from prone or sitting position, use a sling and work targets.
The rifle racks behind and the firing line were truly colorful, with bolt action military rifles spanning over 50 years, and nearly all older than their owners. There were .30-06 Springfield 1903 and 1903A3's and P17's. There were .303 British of various types. There were a few .30-40 Krags, including the second highest score. There were a pile of Mausers from all over the world in 7mm, 7.65mm, 8mm, and .30-06. There were even a couple of 7.62x54R Mosin-Nagants. The ammo ranged from modern factory ammo to handloads to some old stuff dated 1900 (mostly misfires). Most of the rifles were completely origional. We wanted to keep the turn-of-the-century military arms spirit to the match, but out of pity, we let in a few that had been butcherized, (or is that called sporterized?). We missed the Schmidt-Rubins, Arisakas and various and sundry other military rifles, but maybe they'll show up next time.
The winner shot a 1903A3 with a score of 289-6X (out of a possible 320-32X) and won a club sweatshirt. We also had prizes for top allied and top axis rifle.
Southern California in November was just cool enough to be comfortable and the rain had not yet started (we'd been waiting for 5 years). Conditions were just fine, and the typical 25 mph wind couldn't push those big bullets very far off in a 200 match.
We had announced this match in our club's newsletter, at the monthly meeting and to members of neighboring clubs. We had numerous shooters comment on how much fun it was and ask when is the next one. We have had many others tell us they missed the first one but can't wait for the next one, so we are already planning another such match, although perhaps with a slightly different course of fire. Planned for April, it will be over by the time I con some editor into publishing this article.
This type of match can be held at 100 or 200 yards, or even longer, what ever distance is best for a particular club's range. Shooting WWI-style 1600 yards from trenches might be challenging. (Finding a club with such a range, even more so.). Often the older rifles had sights calibrated for 300 to 2200 yards for some old round-nosed heavy slow bullet and when fed modern ammo will shoot very high at 100 or even 200 yards.
We followed the "sporting rifle" course of fire because we couldn't think of something more origional. Many of us wanted to included rapid fire because it is fun with the old straight bolt handle. The sporting rifle course of fire calls for firing two 30- second rapid fire strings of 4 rounds with time in between to reload, instead of the string of 10 with one reload during 60 seconds as in the National Match Course. By using the sporting rifle course, our competitors were not required to have stripper clips for their rifles or to be proficient at loading. We changed the order of the stages and first had a 5-minute sighting-in period. But the match could be held any way desired.
There are piles and piles of these old rifles coming onto the market to join the millions already owned by collectors and shooters. Most have not yet been butcherized and most are not so pristine, rare or decrepid that they cannot be safely shot. (These old "curios and relics" are about the only guns we victims of California's senseless gun-control laws can buy without a 15-day waiting period.)
Why not hold a "Vintage Military Rifle Match" at your club too.
There are any number of special interest matches that
a club could hold. We are planning to hold matches for modern (semi- automatic)
military rifles, hunting rifles, military pistols etc.
We have held this match here in arizona at several
clubs. Lots of fun!