There was a time in the history of Creedmoor when the mere mention that Colonel John Bodine or Major Fulton were to shoot in a long-range match was sufficient to destroy all hope of victory on the part of the new-comers, but grit and persistence are characteristic of our American rifleman.”
These front-page words of a Forest and Stream staff writer represented the realistic expectation. The thought of facing either man – Bodine in particular – with something to lose on the line, was a pretty daunting prospect. Those who’d faced him before were aware that his nerve would outlast theirs, and the contest’s outcome was not just likely, but a foregone conclusion with little to be done about it. Bodine was that imposing – and that good.
John Bodine was born in Ulster County, New York, near the village of Highlands in 1825. He was descended from the Huguenot Patentees, the original seven-family group that settled on a 40,000-acre patch of topsoil on the west side of the Hudson River, in the valley of the Walkill. It was purchased from the Esopus Indians in 1677. Young John was brought up as a farmer and practiced this occupation until the age of 29, whereupon he left the farm and hired on for two years with the New York and Erie Railroad. Later, he took a clerking position at the National Bank of Newburg, New York, and relocated there.
Sometime after this he became engaged in the freighting business and ran barges on the Hudson River from Highlands to New York City. Another John Bodine, likely his father, was active in the same business, in the same vicinity a generation previously. This business-suited both Bodines and the junior built it up into a rather profitable venture.
Before leaving the farm, young John became connected with the New York State Militia and spent the next 35 years in that service, attaining a Colonel’s rank in the 92nd Regiment. At 20-years-old, John became enamored with rifles. His exposure to the region’s 20- to 40-pound muzzleloading cap lock rest rifles instilled in him an appreciation for precision and a quest for rifle accuracy that persisted throughout his life. Along the way, he sampled the different shooting disciplines and was particularly smitten with the early cartridge rifles and their long-range capabilities.
Bodine was one of the original members of the Amateur Rifle Club of metropolitan New York City. The club had been formed in October of 1872, and was particularly devoted to long range shooting, and was not geared toward the customary military style of rifle shooting. Theirs was the first club to be affiliated with the newly-formed National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA had no rifle team, per se, so when the Irish Rifle Association’s challenge for a rifle match appeared in a New York newspaper in early 1874, the 67-member Amateur Rifle Association answered on behalf of the American NRA and all Americans. The planned long-range match in the British tradition between teams of the two countries was intended to be an expression of mutual goodwill and universal fellowship.
Never minding that none of the qualifying Amateur Rifle Club members had ever fired a shot at a target beyond 600 yards, they began to equip themselves with suitably developed rifles and ammunition. They then practiced industriously for the September 26 match at the newly extended Creedmoor Rifle Range. The firing members of the club received the Irish visitors and did their best to make them feel welcome.
On September 19, a preliminary match, the “Remington Diamond Badge” was shot. Rather than simply spectate, the Irish team members were encouraged to enter the 500, 800, and 1,000-yard event and were offered the use of Remington rifles and cartridges. Despite the gun’s unfamiliarity, the Irish shot them acceptably and a couple of them placed. John Bodine got his elevations mixed up and was off the target for the shorter shots. The Forest and Stream correspondent covering the match summed up what most people already knew: “We are quite willing to believe that on the occasion of the International Match Capt. Bodine will get his elevations just right, for there is no steadier, nor better, no more lasting shot than he is.”
All things considered, the New Yorkers actually representing America in the main event match made a creditable showing of themselves in the 800- and 900-yard phases of the contest that the Irish had expected to be more of a rout of the green Americans. As they drew back to the thousand-yard line, the “Yanks” were actually relishing a slight lead. The Amateur Rifle Club crew was rattled by the cacophony of boisterous cheers from the thousands of spectators in attendance. L.L. Hepburn and General Dakin both began their string with misses, and Dakin made two more in his 15 shots. When Dakin missed his last shot at a thousand, the vast crowd let out a loud collective moan.
The imperturbable Col. Bodine, because of his proven steadiness under pressure, was selected to shoot last. The Irish score was 931 and the Americans were now a point behind. A few minutes before heading to the firing line, Bodine had a bottle of sun-heated ginger ale burst as he opened it. He received a bad cut on his firing hand that only heightened an already stressful occasion. Bodine needed a hit on his last shot and the upstarts from America would beat the rifle champions of the British Isles. If he missed – his team would lose. The onus was on Col. Bodine as he stretched out his tall frame into his signature prone position, gasped the pistol grip of his rifle with a handkerchief-bandaged hand, and pointed the Remington downrange. He touched off 95 grains of Hazards Fg, and in due time the slightly hardened .45 caliber 550-grain bullet arced across the half-mile span, perforated the white target paper and impacted the iron backer. Three seconds later, the now silent crowd heard its ping. The hoped for white disc took an eternity to appear, but when it did it signaled a bullseye and a win by three points for the Americans. As it is always said on these occasions, “…and the crowd went wild!” The sky was reportedly darkened for the many thrown hats. General Wingate would later write that “men danced and thumped each other on the back and whooped and yelled and acted like crazy people.” They were like crazy people who had just witnessed the most dramatic finish in the history of American marksmanship, John Bodine’s finest hour, and his famous shot known reverently thereafter as “The Shot” – the shot that also bolstered his nickname “Old Reliable.”
Clear into 1875, the gunmaker Remington repeatedly used an illustration of Bodine’s 800-yard target along with the shot-by-shot tally of his 74 X 75 score. They filled the balance of the quarter page ad with a full-length graphic of the rifle. A sly inclusion was the name of Bodine, Fulton, and Hepburn, the three team members who used a Remington rifle in the win. An excerpt from the Army and Navy Journal wrote of the ad: “…may be seen as the most effective advertisement we have ever come across of the shooting of a Remington breech-loader.”
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