By Tom Wilson

Lets take a look at one of the most fascinating aspects relating to shooting a rifle, the art of reaching out at great distance and hitting an intended object. In the many centuries since long range shooting has evolved with superb marksmen using precision firearms topped off with sophisticated optics attaining phenomenal performance, outstanding records have been set with incredible results at 600 and 1,000 yards – marksmanship results far beyond the ability of most. Varmint hunters are regularly dispatching small critters at 500 and even 1,000 yards, which is truly remarkable.

This story starts with two young marksmen over 50 years ago. The years 1957 to 1960 find our young marksmen with military surplus Springfield .30-06 rifles. One had the model 1903 while the other owned a 1903-A3. Inexpensive World War II Surplus ammunition was available for around 5 cents per round. The surplus ammunition was regularly purchased for informal target shooting and to accumulate needed brass for future reloading.

The two young men in question were trained in proper handling of firearms and did not want to create any safety hazards. A favored informal shooting spot was an abandoned rock quarry adjacent a river. This location offered vertical rock walls on three sides. Quite a bit of plinking took place at this quarry out to a little over 100 yards. Adjacent the quarry was a bluff several hundred feet above the river. Ascending to the high point provided a superb vantage point underneath a small tree. The river stretched out visible for miles upstream. The river had a bend in the distance and at that point in the background was an inaccessible uninhabited wooded island. Boats were not seen navigating this stretch of river. In preceding years a large barge mooring point had been sunk into the riverbed. The mooring point consisted of possibly 20 – 30 what looked like telephone poles lashed together. This mooring point was not at the riverbank, but possibly 50 or so yards out in the water, immediately in front of the uninhabited wooded island. That mooring post was a very long way off.

A bullet drop chart was consulted. It did not prove too helpful and our marksmen had determined the post had to be at least one-mile away. No trajectory information could be found for a .30 cal. U.S. military bullet at that range. Our two young marksmen surmised the bullet would be dropping like a rock and would impact the water at such an angle it would not ricochet; this was proved to be correct.

So here we have these two young marksmen at the top of a bluff looking far off at this abandoned mooring post as a target. It was apparent the ‘03-A3 did not have the elevation adjustment necessary at this range so the ‘03 with its folding rear sight was used. The question had often come to mind as to what, if any, practical application the maximum elevation setting on the sight could serve. Could anyone actually use a setting of 2,875 yards for any realistic application? Our duo was soon to find the answer to this question.

Not having any range measuring device the first shot taken at the target had the ’03 sight set at possibly 1,700 yards. First shot, plop and a big splash in the water short of target, and no ricochet, no following water plume. The sight settings were progressively raised, with windage correction as needed until the marksmen were firing off of the top of the sight with its highest non-elevating auxiliary rear notch. The top movable graduation on this sight is 2,700 yards. Research reveals the very top cross bar with the non-elevating auxiliary sight notch is 2,875 yards. The rifle was being fired from a make shift prone position with the forearm resting on an ammo can, the toe of the stock resting on the ground, arm pit on top of the stock and no cheek weld at all. With this unorthodox firing position it more closely resembled lobbing mortar rounds than shooting a rifle. After numerous rounds to get on target with elevation and windage adjustments it was possible to place shot after shot on target. Please keep in mind the target in question was probably 6 to10 feet in diameter. Our marksmen had no way to determine the size of the target but hits were easily determined due to lack of waterspouts, which were amazingly visible to the naked eye and quite evident to the spotter with binoculars. On one occasion after possibly 10 to 15 consecutive hits windage was cranked into the sight until a miss to one side was seen evidenced by a tell tale splash. Then just cranking back to the original windage setting and hits continued until ammo was expended for the day. As best as memory can recall, which certainly is not precise, it seems the time of bullet flight was about 4 or 5 seconds.

It is not difficult to imagine a doughboy in the First World War or a sniper in the Second World War pinning down a squad of enemy troops at a mile and a half. And the trusty ’03 or 03-A3 was used in limited service even in Vietnam. Yes, it is very possible that several of the enemy could even be hit at that distance if our marksmen had all of the advantages our duo had. Plenty of ammo, a high vantage point and a nice little tree close to the ground for cover. I don’t think the rifle report could have been heard at that distance. But if buzz, or crack (if supersonic) bullets coming close were detected by troops they would certainly duck for cover. This does not come anywhere near today’s precision marksmanship at 1,000 yards. However, at that time with iron sights at about 2,800 yards or so it certainly made a lasting impression. Oh, for the good old days, a trusty 1903 Springfield and the location to again have such fun.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (March 2013)
and was posted online on January 25, 2013


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