1902 Encyclopedia > Shooting


SHOOTING for sporting purposes requires in the use of firearms two fundamental principles on which rest the attainment of dexterity. These are, first, that the weight of the weapon be such that the sportsman can carry and wield it with ease; and, secondly- of still greater important – that the weapon be so adapted to his chest, arm, and eye that when it is raised and leveled in the act of taking aim it may be as part of his own body. An over-heavy gun may be virtually lightened by being carried by an attendant an only handed to the sportsman when required; but a gun nor exactly "fitting the shoulder", cannot possibly serve its user with accuracy. The reason is plain. The slight divergence of his line of aim from the axis of the barrel, due to the shape of the gun nor permitting the coincidence of the two when the weapon I used rapidly., creates a far from slight divergence of the pellets at any range beyond a few yards, and the object fired at, if struck at all, is only struck by the outer and weaker pellets. The increasing wildness of game-birds, in Great Britain at least, especially of partridges, through the modern system of cutting grain close the ground and so leaving no sheltering stubble, demands rapid aim and discharge of the gun, and in consequence the efforts of gun-makers have been directed to the production of weapons of great lightness combined with power and precision. How different were the conceptions of our immediate predecessors is exemplified in such statements as "a few additional pounds in the weight of a gun makes a deal of difference", and "the most approved guns" are those "weighing, according to the fancy of the shooter, from sic to nine pounds". The most approved guns now vary in weight by a few ounces only, and their configurations not by inches, but by eights and even sixteenths of an inch. There are also fine lines in their modeling which, while of great consequence, are imperceptible to the eye, and can only be demonstrated by the application of exact and delicate instruments. Yet each of these lines has an important purpose, and their combination produces the perfect weapon. An experienced gunsmith who has studied this branch of his business can catch the salient lines of a sportsman’s figure with the eye of an artist, and by the further aid of test and measurements can construct for him a proper gun, and thus lay the foundation of a correct style of shooting. On the other hand, an unsuitable gun can only be aimed correctly with slowness, and by some straining of the muscles of the neck. Under such conditions correct and rapid shooting is at least improbable; the spread of the shot alone prevents a complete miss. It is the correct configuration of the gun which brings into full effect the elaborate boring of the barrel, and give those long sots of which sportsmen are so proud, and which are due to the central pellets flying straights to a very considerable distance, much beyond that of the outer pellets.

The next point in a gun is balance; that is, the metal in the barrels must be so apportioned and the general construction be so arranged that there is no tendency in the muzzle to droop at the moment of discharge, just when the faculties of the sportsman are absorbed in taking aim and his muscular energies are in abeyance. The gun should balance at a point a littler in front of the trigger-guard. The center of gravity should also be low, so that there may be nothing of what may be called "top-hamper", -- in other words, that his gun may not roll in his hand, but may keep on an even keel, as it were, while he is taking aim. If we weigh in the scales two guns of nearly the same weight, the one well the other ill balanced, the former, although feeling quite light in the hand, will generally be found to be really heavier than the latter, -- a fact which is frequently the cause of mush surprise to sportsmen. When properly balanced, a gun can be carried with much less fatigue.

The calibre -- a much disputed point -- is, within the bounds commonly used, a question more of the capability of the sportsman to carry weight than one touching his effectiveness in the field. It has been plausible argued that it matters little how narrow the calibre of a fowling-piece is, and that even gauge "35" (·510 inch) is wide enough. It certainly would throw a few pellets of swan-shot effectively, especially if the barrel was not less than 40 inches long. But for all common purposes the most useful caliber is the twelve-bore, if the weight is not under 6 _ lb, or somewhat less for hammerless guns. When a less weight is required, "16" gauge (which in breech-loaders is really (15") is preferable. Calibre "20" belongs to toy-weapons, such guns being also uncertain in their delivery; and, as strong and effective "16" double-barrelled guns can now be made weighing only 6 lb, a smaller caliber can hardly be required, except under peculiar conditions. Against the advantage of less weight has to be set the important matter to recoil, and one cause of recoil is the elongation of body of the shot (and especially of the small-sized shot used in such guns) when placed in the barrel or cartridge. The longer that body, and the smaller the shot, the greater the difficulty in starting it; hence, to bring a "20" as regards recoil to an equality with a "12", the weight of the charge of shot must be unduly reduced, with a more than proportionate reduction of the probability of killing, save in the exceptional cases where the size is not larger than snipe-shot. The shot in a "12" has no part at any appreciable distance from the wadding over the powder, and every pellet may fairly be said to receive a direct impetus from explosion. An exceedingly light gun has also the fault of causing unsteadiness when the sportsman takes aim.

The length of the barrels need nor exceed 30 inches. If a sportsman possesses a remarkable correct eye, he may safely go down to 26 inches or even less; but it must be borne in mind that the shorter the barrel the greater the necessity for a perfectly correct aim. Any divergence on a barrel under 26 inches is vastly increased at 30 or 40 yards. On the other hand, aim is more quickly taken with short barrels. Thirty inches is a sound medium.

Of late years there has been a run on what are termed "choke-bores" (see GUNMAKING, vol. xi. p. 28l). But unless the choking is most mathematically true the flight of the shot will not be coincident with axis of the barrel or the line of aim, but will "train off" in some oblique direction; and this obliquity will also be more or less affected by any required modifications of the charge. A choke-bore, therefore, restricts its user to narrow conditions in loading it. The velocity of the shot is also considerably reduced, the killing power depending less on that than on the object aimed at being struck with a greater number of pellets. Neither do all the pellets fly with equal velocity, so that, as was proved several years ago by ingenious experimentation (first announced by the present writer), these advance, as it were, in a narrow and prolonged column, whereas a properly bored ‘"friction and relief" barrel throws its shot in the figure of a broad disk, with all the central ones having, however, more sustained killing power, their " quality of motion" being of a higher degree and greatly prolonging the range. A weapon bored on the friction and relief method certainly puts the sportsman in a better position for all kinds of common game at fair sporting ranges; but since the introduction of breech-loaders barrels so bored have (undeservedly) fallen so greatly into disuse that the delicate art of friction and relief boring has nearly been lost. A purely cylindrical barrel only shoots well perfectly clean, -- a condition that every discharge impairs.

With a weapon that suits him, the sportsman will find that, on lifting it quickly to his shoulder, keeping both eyes open, and fixing them on any small object at some distances off, the barrels will be directly pointed towards that object without his having taken any slow or exact aim. To verify this, let him keep the gun in position and shut his left eye, when he will find still more plainly that his aim is true. The gun has been so constructed as to bring the rib between the barrels (for double-barrelled guns are always understood) right in front of his line of vision. In other words, the barrels and stock have been so constructed, inclusive of the fine lines already referred to, that, so far as the required purpose is concerned, the whole piece may be said to form an integral part of his own body. A few minutes daily practice in so pointing a fun at any small object, although in a room, will give the sportsman dexterity in its use even before he has burned powder in it. How the shutting of one eye (unknown in billiards and similar games) in taking aim came to be practiced in using firearms seems inexplicable to those who know how detrimental it is. The keeping of both eyes open was formerly not quite unknown, but was so little practiced that, when the present writer took the matter up some thirty years ago and publicly advocated it, he was looked upon as being quite in error; but now his correctness is acknowledged, and what is termed the "two-eye" system is coming more and more into use. There are still many uncertain "shots" who are not aware that their frequently unaccountable misses are caused by the scientific fact that shutting one eye deprives them of the power of measuring distances, and also of watching the movement of a running or flying object. As a rule, whilst the right eye is actually taking aim, the left is acting subsidiarily and showing the right whether or not it is taking it correctly. It may be noted that almost all exceptionally good shots have the eyes set wide apart, and so take their observation form a broader base.

The attitude in taking aim should be free and upright, with the left foot somewhat advanced. The right elbow should never be raised to a horizontal level with the shoulder. – a common but had practice. The gun should be lifted directly upwards, the but-end just grazing the right front of the chest when reaching its final position, the eye all the while looking fixedly upon the object. To illustrate this by way of contrast, there is another bad style of throwing the gun forward, the shooter all the while trying to look along the rib (which cranes the neck), and then bringing it back against the shoulder before firing. This, however, is a waste of muscular power and quite throws our the adaptation of stock to the shoulder, because it is impossible to bring back the gun quite correctly, and it has therefore to be readjusted (which can hardly be accomplished) before firing. Besides, all this consumes time, for which game will not tarry. In military phrase, three "motions" are required; with the proper style there is only one.

The question how far the left hand should be extended in taking aim is much disputed, but is really of secondary consequence. Pigeon-shooters extend it as far as they well can, because their great object is to prevent the muzzle form drooping at the moment of discharge; but from this, and also from their custom of planting their feet firmly and squarely upon the ground, so as to stand with their full front to their probable line of aim, no lesson in shooting game need be taken. Good games shots are not unfrequently poor shots at pigeons, and vice versa; to be expert at the former depends upon the acquisition of a certain knack, and above all of calculation in time, i.e., of the power of estimating the average time from the shooter’s cry of the word "pull" to the opening of the trap and flight of the bird. This is so much the case that not unfrequently the gun is fired solely by calculation of time, and before a sluggish bird had flown. In game-shooting the bird may rise in front or at either side of the shooter, or even behind him. Very rapid lateral movement of the gun may therefore be required, and it appears not only probable in itself but experimentally true that this can best be made by the left arm when it has to described a circle of the shortest diameter. For this the best and safest position is when the left hand grasps the gun immediately in front of the trigger-guard. In pulling the trigger the finger should be well crooked, so that the pressure may be directly backwards, and no lateral disturbance may interfere with the aim at the most critical moment.

If the eye takes in all the rib of the gun when raised to the shoulder in position for firing, so that the full length of its surface is seen, the stock is too straight. If the rib is not seen at all, the stock is too crooked. When a stock is of the proper curve, the eye will catch the rib about one-third of its length from the muzzle, i.e., all the rib in front of that point will be visible, and all behind it out of sight. A straight stock is, however, preferable to a crooked one, which makes the gun shoot low, -- a bad fault. It is of first-rate importance that the delicate lateral setting of the stock, as distinguished from the perpendicular curve, should bring the center of the rib exactly into the line of sight. This dine desideratum may be arrived at conjointly by the sportsman and the maker of the gun; the latter can be guided by information as to the sportsman’s height, length of arm, and breadth of chest. If this point is satisfactory it is immaterial whether a bird flies to the right hand or to the left, and the neglect of it is the reason why some sportsmen are good shots in one only of these directions.

In cleaning breechloaders, including the inside of the barrels, neither oil nor water should be used, but solely spirits of turpentine. The gun should never be laid aside on full-cock, as this weakens the mainsprings. As hammerless guns are necessarily on full-cock when taken down, the triggers should be drawn, but with the careful proviso that the points of the hammers strike upon a block of hard wood held firmly in front of them. The lock should never be snapped unless there is a discharged or a "dummy" cartridge in the barrel. No hammer can be made, or any metal or form of construction, that will not probably crack if it falls without something in front less trying than the hard and impassive breech. On sea voyages and in damp climates the barrels should be kept from the atmosphere by inserting into them wooden rods covered with woolen sloth, and in such cases the free application of turpentine will be found invaluable. Failing these rods, each end may be closed with wadding or corks. For oiling the locks the finest chronometer oil should be used, and only applied in minute quantities to the points of friction, not over all: oil dries up and if applied copiously frustrates the desired purpose. Raw linseed oil, frequently rubbed into a stock, hardens and preserves it. Explorers and travelers, whose lives may depend on their firearms, may usefully strengthen the weakest part of every gun, the handle of the stock, by wrapping it tightly round with whip-cord.

Shooting Game.—Space forbids entering at length on the modes of shooting the several varieties of game, All that is here possible is briefly to touch upon some of the salient points in the pursuits of the more common varieties.

Rabbits, on which young sportsmen generally first essay their "prentice hand’, dash off for the nearest shelter with great rapidity, and should be instantaneously fired at, the aim being taken slightly in advance. If a rabbit has disappeared among brushwood, it may be not unavailing to fire right in front of the line it was seen to take. In "ferreting" the sportsman should stand clear of the burrow (over which he should never tread), and never fire at a rabbit until it is will away from the "bolt-hole." Hares are less tenacious of life than rabbits, and as it is an object not to mangle the body and so cause an effusion of blood, the eyes of the sportsman should be fixed solely on the tips of the ears in whatever direction the animal is going, when the shot is instantaneously fatal. A hare coming straight towards a sportsman should not be fired at; he should stand quite motionless until it comes within 30 yards, when on his making a slight sound or movement it will turn aside and give an easy shot. No other direction need be given on this head (save possibly that the shot is more easy when a hare is ascending a ridge across which it may be running than when it is descending from the crown to the furrow), seeing that the one principle of firing solely at the ears involves everything. Roedeer are usually killed with buckshot -- although a small rifle is preferable -- the "guns" being posted at the likely passes. The neck or shoulder should be fired at. They are easily killed when within fair distance, but are exceedingly clever in keeping out of range and in detecting the presence of the lurking sportsman. They also have the trick, in common with the elephant, or doubling back and passing round any knoll, coming out on its other side and then continuing their intended course. Of this instinctive habit the sportsman should avail himself.

Success in grouse-shooting, probably the finest of all sports from every point of view, depends mainly on vigilance and careful attention to the movements of the dogs, and following them well up as soon as there are indications of game being in front. Save that a cunning old cock will after rising immediately dip down to nearly the level of the healthier and go off with wondrously baffling speed, there is no peculiarity in the flight of grouse calling for special remark. Like partridges, they generally fly straight and nearly horizontally. As the season advances, their wariness and the matured strength of the young birds make their pursuit more difficult, but otherwise they afford fair shots. "Driving" is now quite a recognized branch of grouse-shooting. The "guns" being posted in artificial places of concealment in the line of flight known to be usually taken by the birds on being disturbed by beaters, the shots are taken as the birds are coming overhead. Their speed is so great that it is needless to fire if they have once passed the shooter, seeing that the aim must be taken some feet in front.1 It has been found useful for the sportsman to crouch without motion until the birds are coming within distances, when, suddenly showing himself, they are started and throw their heads up, thus breaking their flight and giving the gun a fair chance. Perhaps the easiest and most fatal shots are at single birds coming straights towards the sportsman, taken at about 30 yards. The aim should be high, and it is aided by the recoil of a gun when fired, which throws the muzzle up in the line of flight. The pellets also strike the head and neck, and with such force that when meeting the bird, No.7 shot us most deadly when so discharged, The recoil of a gun when fired "high" is also useful in shooting with a rifle any large bird passing overhead; the shooter face the bird. Driving is severe work if thoroughly carried out, as the sportsman, as soon as one best is over, have to find their way rapidly to the next position, It is therefore not an effeminate sport, and it probably indirectly maintains the number of the stock-birds by killing off the old leading cocks (which virtually are vermin). Setters are the proper dogs for grouse-shooting, their hairy feet being well protected from the heather; hence to maintain vigour they require to drink water frequently and even to squat in shallow pools. Pointers are preferable for dry moors, particularly in hot weather.

Partridge-shooting is akin to grouse-shooting in respect to the mode of pursuits, the difference lying in its being carried on mostly upon cultivated or enclosed land. Both in partridge-shooting and in grouse-shooting one bird only ought to be singled out and shot at; no success will follow firing into the "brown" of a covey. Old sportsmen regret that shooting over dogs (pointers being preferable to the swifter and more dashing setters) is going out of practice; but the close cutting of the grain crops now in vogue leaves so little stubble that the approach of the dogs is seen by the birds, which, generally rising wild, afford few "shots to points". Hence the system of sportsmen walking in the line (with no dogs save retrievers) and taking what birds rise before them, and so driving them into turnips or other covert, or of having them "driven" by beaters, is almost enforced. When driven into such coverts the birds are apt to run before the shooters and take their flight form the far end of the field. This may be prevented by the sportsman not advancing directly, but in a series of circuits; then the birds, becoming uncertain as to which way they should run, sit close and only rise on his very near approach. Of course this excellent but almost unknown system can only be well carried out by a single shooter, or by two at the most. In "driving" the "guns" are posted in a line at some distance from each other, under the concealment of a hedge some 20 yards in their front. Towards this the beaters (with a fugleman on horseback, if necessary) drive the birds. The shots are generally very difficult, the birds flying with remarkable speed, and the shooter being also often bewildered by the number of smaller birds, such as the various kinds of thrushes, which precede or accompany the partridges; their sudden appearance on coming over the hedge is also trying, whereas the approach of grouse can be seem. These two systems – "driving" and the circular has developed greater skill in shooting.

The art of shooting pheasants depends upon the fact that, unlike partridges or grouse, the birds generally steadily ascend in their flight; hence the tendency is to shoot under them, This upward flight is greatest in coverts, until it sometimes become almost perpendicular, birds rising in this way being called "rocketers". The inexperienced shooter is also misled by the manner in which the tail is spread out like a fan, concealing the body, and thus diverting the aim from the body upon the tail feathers. To aim high, therefore, is the golden rule. The shooter should face birds which fly rapidly overhead, in the way described above.

To kill snipe well one must hunt down the wind—an exceptional practice -- and on the bird rising fire at once, or, falling that, give it time to change its few preliminary zigzag motions into a steady flight. As the least touch of shot brings a snipe down, it is very unlikely to have passed our of range before the direct line of flight is assumed. This is the only sport followed on land "down wind". Shot No. 9 or 10 should be used.

Although greatly different in character, black-game and woodcock may be well coupled together as being eccentric in their movements. The former are most easily shot very early in the season, especially over a steady old pointer, when the broods are yet on the more open ground, under the material charge, like so many domestic chickens; but when they have broken up the family ties, congregated, and betaken themselves to the coppices, they become so irregular in their habits and uncertain in their mode of taking flight that no exact rules can be laid down for their pursuit. The sportsman, using one steady old pointer and a retriever, had best be guided by an experienced attendant, who should take care to beat out any bird lurking in a thick bush from the opposite side and towards the gun. A few shots may also be got at the dawn of day on the edges of stubble-field; but black-game shooting is generally disappointing. The female birds, "grey hens," are not shot at; the young males, which greatly resemble them, are distinguished from them by the white feathers in the tail. A solitary blackcock may often be seen to take up a prominent position, usually in the center of one of the small fields to be found on the side of hilly ground, where he maintains a vigilant watch. With some experience in shooting matters, the present writer knows no pursuit more interesting and invigorating than stalking such a bird; without causing undue fatigue, it exercises one’s patience, vigilance, and coolness of nerve. Shot for this purpose should not be of a smaller size than No. 4. woodcock newly arrived may be readily killed, especially near the sea-coast. After recruiting, they frequently betake themselves to heathery moors if there are such near at hand, where they frequent the sides of rivulets and gorges. There they may be readily brought down; but in woods they have a knack of twisting, as it were, round the younger trees, in the branches of which they are mostly found, and so disconcert the aim. Being of nocturnal habits, their eyes are weak in the full glare of day, and they are fond of the sheltering shade of thickly foliaged trees, such as holly. The only advice that can be given on this sport is to risk the shot at the merest glimpse of the bird through the branches, and trust to the spread of the pellets to kill, for the woodcock, like its congener the snipe, will fall with a touch, and even (apparently) through mere fright on being fired at, without being touched at all. The best shot to use is No. 8.

Ammunition. -- In former times sportsmen carefully adjusted their charges of powder and shot to suit the weather (which affected the strength of the former) and the sport in hand. Now, almost everything is left to the purveyor of cartridges, which are usually charged on average proportions. The sportsman should be careful, therefore, to ascertain the charge best suited to his weapon, and to have his cartridges so loaded. When a gun recoils the charge of shot -- not of powder, as is generally supposed -- should be reduced; and it is always safer to use a light charge of shot. Breechloaders require large-grained powder, Messrs Curtis & Harvey’s No. 6, being the typical size. Pyroxyline explosives, of which Schultze powder (Footnote 835-1) is the normal type, are now largely used, especially in the first barrel, the other being charged with black powder. For almost all regular sport No. 6 shot is the best size; and it is better to use No. 7 in a smaller quantity than No. 5 for grouse and partridges. For pheasants and black game use No. 5, but of 1 _ oz. In weight, with a somewhat reduced charge of powder. One oz. or at most 1 1/8 oz. of No. 6 is ample; the former will travel with marvelous and far-reaching velocity. Any excess of shot merely falls to the ground, as may be seen by firing over a sheet of smooth water. For duck-shooting (for which the barrels should be of "10" gauge and 32 inches long) No. 4 shot is a good size and for this sport it is well to reduce the weight of the shot and increase very considerably that of the powder, velocity being everything.

Rifle-shooting. -- The propriety of shooting with both eyes open is, if possible, more imperative in rifle-shooting than in shooting game, if rapidity is valued, as it must be. Firearms immediately followed the long bow and the cross-bow, and it has never been supposed that the archer discharged these with one eye closed. With both eyes open the "back sight" virtually becomes transparent, and forms no obstacle to the aim, while with one eye closed it certainly does, for, as the head and eyes must be kept fairly up in firing a shot gun, they must be kept well down in firing a rifle. The "express" rifle is the chef-d’aeuvre of modern weapons, and when properly made will throw its bullet up to 200 yard without perceptible curve from one sight. This result is attained mostly by an inordinately large of powder to a light and partly hollow bullet (see GUNMAKING, vol. xi. p 282). The "pull" on the trigger should rather be a pinch than a direct backward pull, i.e., the trigger should be pinched between the forefinger and the thumb which grasps the handle of the stock. If the sportsman has the presence of mind to inflate is chest with a long inhalation he will shoot all the better. There is a popular opinion that a single-barrelled "express" shoots more truly than a double-barrelled one. This is quite a mistake, unless the barrel if the former is made so thick a mistakes, unless the barrel of the former is made so thick and heavy at the muzzle (to prevent the metal quivering when the bullet leaves it) as to destroy the balance. In double-barrelled rifles the one barrel braces up the other, and they are also so adjusted as to shoot parallel. This common error has probably arisen from confounding "express" with long-range match rifles, which are quite another thing. The 450 calibre is best adapted for deer and antelopes, 500 for mixed shooting, and 577 for dangerous animals. But for these and the great pachyderms a "12" gauge, throwing an explosive shell, is the most effective of all firearms, the larger "area" of thw wound telling at once.

All really useful information on the subject of shooting is contained in J.D. Dougall’s Shooting, its Appliances, &c (London, 2nd ed. 1881); General W.N. Hutchinson’s Dog-breaking (London, 1876); and W. Scrope’s Deer-stalking (London, 1846). (J. D. D.)


(834-1) A carrier pigeon can fly a little over 4 miles 5 furlongs in four minutes,-- an average of nearly 102 feet a second. Assuming the distance to be 40 yards should be more than 5 feet in advance, the flight of the shot to a distance of 40 yards requiring one-nineteenth of a second.

(835-1) This explosive is the invention of Colonel J.F.E. Schultze, of the Prussian artillery service, and was introduced about 1866 into the United Kingdom by Mr. J. D. Dougall. It is now being manufactured in Great Britain as well as on the Continent. The advantages claimed for it are that is does nor require any special loading, such as hard ramming, there is a smaller recoil than with black gunpowder, and it has great propulsive power, with little or no fouling of the firearms.

The above article was written by: James Dalziel Dougall; author of Treatise on Salmon and Trout Angling, The Rifle Simplified, and Shooting: its Appliances, Practice, and Purpose.

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