Since I’m working on producing an e-book video series on how to make ammunition, once again we have another blog today about shooting. Until I finish the series I’ll post from time to time shooting related subjects that will be covered in the videos, mixing them in on occasion with the regular gunsmith projects here on the website.
Being a bit of a history buff combined with being a gun nerd sometimes yields interesting results — at least for me. World War 1 had been raging since 1914 and the US had managed to stay out of the conflict until 1918. Once America got involved, the American Expeditionary Force was shipped to France to fight alongside the British and French Allies against the Imperial German troops. Having been a former US Marine myself, I like the history of US Marines who fought at Belleau Wood.
After the Germans had defeated the Russians on the Eastern Front, they transferred 50 additional divisions from there to launch an all out assault on the Allies at the Western Front. They reached the north bank of the Marne River in May 1918 and were held up by the US 3rd Division. By June the 1st, they had punched a hole in the French lines to the left of the US Marine’s position. German commanders ordered an advance on the towns of Lucy and Marigny through Belleau Wood as part of their major offensive, which would allow other German troops to cross the Marne and reach Paris only 59 miles away.
Army General James Harbord defied French orders to dig trenches further to the rear and told the Marines to hold where they stand. The Marines used their bayonets to dig shallow fighting positions so they could fire from the prone shooting position. The Germans attacked the Marine position and were cut to pieces before they retreated back into the woods. By the 6th of June, the Marines decided to attack the Germans and the result was nearly as disastrous. As any Marine knows this story, the fighting was so fierce the Germans gave the Marines the sobriquet of “Devil Dogs”, named for the vicious animals in the legends of the Black Forest. The name has stuck ever since.
Most interesting to me of course is the claim of the Marine Corps marksmanship skills displayed at that time. Several stories are cited, but one in particular is a book titled “The Two World Wars” written by Susanne Everette and Brigadier Peter Young. In this book the writers cited that at the onset of the battle of Belleau Wood, Marines were shooting across the wheat field and killing enemy German troops at 750-800 yards with their open sighted Springfield 1903 rifles.
I don’t happen to have an 03 anymore unfortunately, to put it to this test. But what I do have is a pristine WW2 bolt action Mosin Nagant. It’s a model 91/30 chambered for 7.62 X 54R. The sights are considerably more crude than those on the 03 Springfield, but many stories are told about the accuracy of this rifle as well. During the 1939 Winter War between Russia and Finland, a marksman named Simo Hayah racked up an impressive number of enemy dead using a Mosin Nagant rifle. His version was a model M/28. In less than 100 days he had 505 confirmed kills with his rifle — all while shooting with open sights! During the battle of Stalingrad (10 November to 17 December 1942), many scoped verions of the Mosin were put to good use against the German invaders. These scopes were only effective to about 200 yards by today’s standards, but Russian Sniper Vasily Zaytsev is credited with sniping 225 Germans during that battle. From October 1942 to January 1943, Zaytsev had an estimated 400 kills using that same scoped Mosin rifle…. some as far away as 1,000 yards. Imagine what could have been done with optics like we use today.
Well…. this ain’t Hollywood, and we ain’t filming “Enemy at the Gates”. I’m NOT a sniper…. just an average shooter with a bit of a US Marine Corps background. But I do have a Mosin 91/30, plenty of ammo, and a long range to shoot in. So let’s get started! Besides…. the prices of these guns will go through the roof in the near future since our “Fearless Leader” has seen fit to ban any future imports of surplus arms from Russia. Got to love those Executive Orders, you know. So far this pertains to items from Izhevsk, but I’m sure the gun banners will want to include the venerable old Mosin as well. So let’s enjoy them now while we can.
The target is a standard dart board. I have a bright orange one that’s easy to spot in a sea of green even at the distance of 800 yards. No scope, just an open sight that came on the rifle. Here’s the view towards the target… out by the far tree line. Kind of adds a new twist to the game of darts, doesn’t it ?
And as seen through maximum magnification of the zoom lens of the spotting scope.
With my nearly 50 year old eyes and open sights? The shooting was a bit tougher than I figured it would be. The front sight blade is wider than the target and the constant shifting winds in this part of Maine didn’t help much.
The ammo is standard quality Russian silver tip 149 grain ball. The trigger on the rifle was reworked to make it smoother and a bit more consistent. Still, I was only able to hit the target 7 times out of 15 shots. Oh, I pounded the rock that the target was propped against, but didn’t hit the target as many times as I thought I could. I didn’t continue to blast away because it was a waste of ammo for me to do so. The camera guy stayed behind some other rocks nearby the target. We found out pretty early on that it would fall once it was hit. I fired a round and once he heard the crack of the shot whizzing by as it broke the sound barrier… he’d check to see if it was down. I waited until he walked over to set it up, then went back to safety. Either that — or I’d have done quite a bit of walking to reset it myself!
The target does have a few holes.
And the rock had the snot beat out of it. Those silver tips have a steel core inside the lead core, so they seem to put a hurting on the rocks around here. What did I learn? That I’m not that good of a shot with open sights at 800 yards. I’m not a sniper. And nearly 50 year old eyes don’t want to focus like they used to. However, I’m still of the opinion that a person with marksmanship skills should be able to pick up any rack grade rifle of sufficient caliber and hit a target out to 500 yards with little effort. This is the “rifleman’s quarter mile”. Those same skills will allow you to hit a target the size of a paper plate from the offhand (standing) position at 100 yards very consistently too. Practice, practice, practice. Thanks to the fact that the NRA had only been founded a couple decades before WW1, we had a ready supply of pre trained marksmen in time for that war. Many folks seem to forget that the NRA is not just a political lobby group… they offer gun safety classes as well as sponsoring rifle and pistol competitions all over the country. The US gov’t has a program called the CMP. The Civilian Marksmanship Program was designed to provide the populace with a source of inexpensive military surplus rifles and ammunition to practice with. They teach gun safety and offer classes to give people the chance to learn how to fire service rifles accurately. They also sponsor some of the biggest rifle matches in the country today. Do yourself a favor. Go out and get a nice old surplus rifle and learn to shoot it. Accurately….. any dummy can spray lead all over the area with a semi auto, learn a good marksmanship skill.