|A firing point at Wimbledon, 1870|
For the gun makers of the time this development created a new market in the form of discerning riflemen seeking accurate long range arms. Following principles established by Joseph Whitworth, there developed a special class of ‘small-bore’ target rifle. The majority of these rifles were around .451 calibre, and the contemporay term ‘small-bore’ used to distinguish them from the ‘large-bore’ service rifle of .577 calibre.
|Whitworth military match rifle|
|Rigby match rifle|
By 1870 Whitworth’s deeply rifled hexagonal bore and mechanically fitting bullet, together with other makers who had followed these principles, were being supplanted by designs by Metford and Rigby, which used shallow groove rifling and hardened lead bullets. These latter rifles dominated in long range shooting for a number of years.
In the right hands the match rifles are extremely accurate. One notable achievement was made by J.K.Milner of Ireland, firing at Creedmoor in the Centennial Match of 1876. Using a Rigby muzzle loading match rifle he scored an unprecedented 15 consecutive bulls-eyes at 1000 yards.
Demise of the Muzzle Loader
|The International Rifle Match of 1875|
between American and Irish Teams
at Dollymount, Near Dublin, Ireland
Subsequent international long range team competitions at Dollymount, Ireland, in 1875, and Creedmoor in 1876 and 1877 were won by the Americans using their breech loading rifles. A final match fired at Dollymount in 1880 between America and Ireland was notable for the fact that for the first time both teams used breech loading rifles.
By 1878 there were calls from within the ranks of the NRA to abandon the muzzle loader in competition. Given that many muzzle loaders were still in the hands of private persons, it was however pointed out that this would destroy their value and many would not face the expense of new rifles, with resultant loss in competition entries. Finally it was resolved that muzzle loaders would still be permitted provided that competitors were ready to fire when called upon to do so. In practice there was a gradual phasing out of the muzzle loading match rifle as the breech loader gained popularity.
The Modern Day Revival
The modern revival of long range muzzle loading in the UK occurred during the 1960s when the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain introduced long range muzzle loading into their calendar of events.