Above: The clubhouse and firing line at Sea Girt in the early 1900s.
"A rumor was prevalent that Ohio would shortly commence the construction of a range that would be adequate for the National Match of 1906; forty-five long-range targets being a part of that plan. If such a range is constructed, the reputation of Ohio in rifle practice and the geographical situation of the state should warrant a careful consideration of the facilities offered, by the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice."
—Shooting and Fishing, September, 1905
Early in the year, a government act greatly affected the makeup of the National Matches. Public Law 149 bolstered the NRA's campaign to improve marksmanship and marked the first time since its inception that the National Board was incorporated into federal orders. By an "Act to promote the efficiency of the reserve militia and to encourage rifle practice among the members thereof," the law (33 Stat. 986-87) was passed by Congress on March 3, and authorized the sale of military surplus rifles, ammunition and equipment to NRA members and clubs who met NBPRP criteria. And the day before, Congress approved a $1,500 increase in the appropriation sum for "National Trophy and Medals for Rifle Contests," which brought the total to $4,000.
Not surprisingly, due to the unfavorable effects of the separate match program from the year prior, the National Matches of 1905 saw the return of the joint program format at Sea Girt—but not without controversy. The matches were held from August 24 to September 9, with Brig. Gen. William Hall as executive officer of the Board Matches, while NRA President Spencer oversaw the other contests.
Despite the addition of 42 acres to Sea Girt that allowed for a new skirmish range, plus nine more 1,000-yard targets and eight more 200-yard targets, higher competitor volume and poor weather contributed to the matches running long by three days. Specifically, delays occurred during the Board Matches when both the facilities and staff were overwhelmed by the field of 600-plus individual and 37 team entries. Attempts were made to ease the strain by reversing the order of the National Individual and Team Matches with the individual event fired first. The intent was to let the individual match serve as a tune-up for the team event, thus reducing the amount of practice time required for teams to obtain elevations at the various ranges. Nevertheless, the Board Matches ran long and Gen. Spencer was forced to revise the NRA and New Jersey match schedules to help offset the delays.
National Individual honors went to Pvt. James Durward Jr. of the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment in a match that included a 1,000-yard stage for the first time. New York continued its dominance in the team event, and the Infantry took second followed by Ohio, the Marine Corps and the Navy. Additionally, Lt. Reginald Sayre of the New York National Guard won the National Pistol title.
With the NRA segment of the National Matches set to offer a challenging schedule of matches, some shooters did not remain at Sea Girt to compete in them. The extended match schedule forced the departure of some competitors before the entire program concluded, as Shooting and Fishing reported that "long delays in the National Match had either exhausted the vacation allowances, or the patience of the competitor, and nearly all the teams from a distance left for home immediately after the National Matches were finished." The result was fewer entries than 1904, but despite the program delays and subsequent effect on the NRA Matches, U.S. troops remained to assist at Sea Girt through the conclusion of all matches by order of the Commander of the Department of the East. And the prizes at stake were still hotly contested, with the popular Wimbledon Cup going to New Jersey National Guardsman Lt. William A. Tewes. Top honors in the Leech and President's Matches went to Ohio National Guardsmen Lt. William H. Richard and Sgt. C.E. Orr, respectively, and Orr received the following letter from President Roosevelt:
My dear Sergeant Orr:
I congratulate you most heartily upon winning the President's match for the military championship of the United States. Nothing is more important in a republic of freemen than that the freemen should be able to protect themselves. Just as it is vital that each citizen should show honesty and intelligence in doing his part toward achieving successful self-government under republican institutions, so it is vital that the average man should be able at all times to do his duty as a soldier, if ever the republic should be forced into war.
To show oneself a good marksman, to show ability to shoot straight, is to give proof of possessing one of the essentials of good soldiership.
I feel that you have reflected honor, not only upon yourself, and not only upon the National Guard, but upon the entire country.
With all good wishes, believe me,
Other issues surrounding the conduct of the 1905 National Matches were requests that private manufacturers be allowed to provide competitors with barrels that conformed to match requirements. Even though the Krag was now available to NRA affiliates, demand still outweighed supply—not to mention that once in hand, the Krag's barrel life was limited. Also, the case was made for introducing squadded matches in revolver competition, thereby eliminating the re-entry match format, which allowed competitors to choose conditions under which to shoot. And the subject of government ammunition, while better due to a change in bullet design, still fueled debate over its powder weight discrepancies.
The combination of debates and delays led to some critical post-match analyses. Regarding the overall match conduct, some of the suggestions for future National Match programs included holding preliminary matches on a regional basis, moving the NRA matches ahead of the Board matches, and even eliminating pistol matches altogether—although the latter was never seriously considered. Sea Girt was basically incapable of handling the growing number of competitors, and two options seemed plausible—either find a new location to accommodate the joint National Match program or discontinue the joint program altogether.
Behind the scenes of the National Matches, the Adjutant General of Ohio, Ammon B. Critchfield, was impacting the level of marksmanship in the Ohio National Guard as a third-place finish in the National Team Match and individual victories in the President's Match and Leech Cup this year would attest. It was Critchfield's tireless efforts and enthusiasm to further marksmanship development in Ohio that secured $25,000 from the State Legislature in 1905 to build a new rifle range on the southwestern shore of Lake Erie. At the time, the national implications of this appropriation and impact on the future of the National Matches was unknown, but very promising. How fortunate that Critchfield located land for a new range in September of 1905—at the same time that Sea Girt's shortcomings were fully realized.
"... the number of contestants so far exceeded the facilities provided that a number of matches were postponed from day to day and the President's Match, for the military championship of the United States, was so curtailed by the elimination 1,000-yard stage, that great dissatisfaction was evidenced by the experts, whose knowledge of long-range shooting was naturally expected to bring its reward at this distance."
—Shooting and Fishing, September, 1906
See more: NRA National Championships: The Early Years