THE MOVING TARGET PROBLEM
The North-China Herald
28 August 1909
Within recent years few questions have attracted more notice in military circles than the growing popularity of the moving targets at the expense of the bull's-eye; and the National Rifle Association, which is not subsidized in any way by Government and, consequently, has to popularize its competitions in order to secure entries, is giving greater prominence yearly to events fired under so-called service conditions.
The military authorities apparently do not favour the moving targets as unreservedly as does the National Rifle Association; and during the Bisley meeting a great controversy arose which has excited the interest of riflemen in all parts of the British Empire. At the Bisley general meeting on July 20 the principal subjects of discussion were rifles and targets. Debate at once turned upon the relative advantages of the bull's-eye and the moving target. Opinions expressed by experts on that occasion were, almost unanimously, that the best rifleman in actual warfare would be the one who had had careful training on the bull's-eye and had from his earliest career learnt to observe and rectify his errors in marksmanship. But holders of opposite views, who were numerous, stoutly maintained that the slow, unvarying conditions of bull's-eye practice teach riflemen theories that are useless in the field, where pot-shooting is required and known conditions are replaced by circumstances that demand judgement only to be gained by practice.
A committee was then appointed to consider the matter, and finally Lord Roberts was asked to prepare a set of rules by which an actual test of the two systems might be made. How such a test could be applied was not stated; but presumably two squads of men will be coached under the rival conditions in order to meet in a competition in which, necessarily, the moving targets must be used.
The National Rifle Association and the British School of Musketry work entirely from different standpoints. The principal duty of the service musketry instructor is to convert a bad shot into a fair marksman. For the army, a hundred first-class shots are more useful than ten marksmen, fifty first-class and thirty third-class shots, with the remainder unworthy to hold a rifle. Yet this is approximately what might be expected if special attention were not given to the indifferent riflemen. Consequently when the soldier reaches a certain standard of proficiency, the labours of the instructor are relaxed. It is true that a soldier is afforded every facility and encouragement to reach the highest standard of marksmanship. But rifle shooting to the regular forces is often a form of additional labour which it is desirable to avoid as much as possible; and as ability to hit a target is to some extent a matter of common intelligence, the range and the bull's-eye serve the purpose of the instructor much better than moving targets and conditions that are made to resemble as nearly as possible what might be expected in actual warfare.
The National Rifle Association, on the other hand, is an organization that happily is not called upon to worry over the mystifying idiosyncracies of men without any natural talent for shooting. It is a fraternity of experts in which there should be no place for people who cannot shoot. Beginners, naturally, are given every reasonable assistance; and special competitions and handicaps enable them to compete on equal terms with veterans in certain matches. But these privileges are to some extent tentative, and continual failure, which entails no less expense than disappointment, usually leads to retirement from the Association.
It is a matter for regret that the controversy has arisen; for as the work of the National Rifle Association serves as a complement to training under the musketry instructor, so, indeed, does the moving target represent a more advanced course of musketry than the bull's-eye. But it would be sheer waste of time and ammunition to take a squad of recruits on to a rifle range and to begin by setting them to shoot at moving targets. The preliminary musketry practices are demonstrated with the greatest ease and certainty when the bull's-eye is the objective; and the military experts at Home, judging by letters that have appeared in the Press, do not apprehend any danger of its supersession by any other target either fixed or moving.
The military authorities, however, have shown clearly that they recognize the utility of practice at moving targets by allotting a certain number of rounds to be fired at such targets in the annual musketry course, and the local volunteer regulations follow the same system. In fact the Shanghai volunteer has a unique opportunity of rising superior to the bull's-eye by an extremely easy qualification in part 1 of the musketry course. This kind of compromise, however, does not solve the problem; it rather accentuates the difficulty; and the mixed system has not been without its effect in precipitating the controversy by placing the two methods on an equal footing in the training of the recruit.
Public opinion in England and in the oversea dominions as well is in favour of the bull's-eye alone up to a certain state in the training of a rifleman, with the use of moving targets for more experienced shots. But no limit has yet been defined at which the bull's-eye could be dispensed with to advantage, and until that limit is fixed the controversy will find no adequate solution.
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