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Take aim at a moving target

Lynn Jaynes Published on 26 September 2014

Common sense says it’s tougher to hit a moving target with a rifle than a stationary target. Hunting practice can assist in making adjustments for a moving target, but wartime wouldn’t be a good time to figure it out. During war, not only is the target moving, it’s shooting back.

I have no firsthand knowledge, but I imagine it is difficult to take careful aim at a target with adrenaline pumping, smoke in the eyes, and shells and bullets whistling overhead. Wartime would also be a poor time to figure out the limitations of a weapon.

In the 1850s, the rifle became popular and was advanced over the musket system (“Gettysburg – The last invasion” Allen Guelzo, Random House 2013). A rifle increased range and accuracy over a musket, but the trajectory of the bullet dropped rather than traveling straight to a target.

During the U.S. Civil War, one Illinois regiment lined up for target practice to shoot at a stationary barrel 180 yards away with the new rifles. Only four shots out of 160 hit the barrel.

In the Connecticut 5th Regiment, 40 men fired at a barn 15 feet high from only 100 yards away and managed to score only four hits – and only one of those below the height of a man.

William Izlar of the 1st South Carolina remembered a firing exchange at a distance of about 100 yards in which the chief casualties were “the needles and cones from the extreme top” of pine trees. He estimated only one shot in 500 ever found its mark.

To compensate for the trajectory drop, one has to know the speed and distance of a moving target – information not readily available during wartime. Maybe that’s why Civil War soldiers felt fairly safe standing straight up, elbow-to-elbow, in a firing line across a wheat field. And despite the reports that a rifle could be fired and reloaded three times within a minute, those in the trenches claimed it was closer to one shot every four-and-a-half minutes.

To complicate the process further, battlefields typically were filled with rolling clouds of smoke initiated by using black powder as the propellant. It wasn’t uncommon for officers to get down on hands and knees and peer under smoke clouds to confirm enemy positions. (I guess it likely wouldn’t matter what gun was being used if a soldier couldn’t see the target to begin with.)

I don’t want to trivialize the Civil War and the sacrifices made there or during any wartime conflict. But if you’d spare me just a sliver of latitude, I’d like to point out a small lesson that even forage producers can gain from this.

While it’s difficult to learn how to hit a moving target in peacetime, it’s even more challenging to learn about your weapon and its capabilities during periods of intense stress. Likewise, it’s difficult to make major adjustments to a crop yield or an overall farm plan’s trajectory during calm times, let alone during mid-season strain.

The growing season seems similar to a moving target with elements of that battle changing daily – weather, pest pressures, diseases – and our strategy clouded by equipment breakdowns and labor challenges.

But October isn’t mid-season; we’re not in the thick of the battle anymore. Crops are largely harvested, equipment is being washed up, repaired and put away, and commodities are beginning to sell.

This is the time, the time to make those adjustments that couldn’t be made during the heat of summer’s battle. This is the time to amend the soil, evaluate your equipment and practices, and realign the production battle plan.

My hope is that this issue brings you articles that explore those adjustments. Yes, the target is still moving; in crop production, the target will always move. But this is the time to figure out the limitations of your assets and strategies.  FG

Lynn Jaynes
  • Lynn Jaynes
  • Editor
  • Progressive Forage Grower