Story by Mike Nesbitt
The annual Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match is really some doin’s! Hosted each June by the Forsyth Rifle & Pistol Club of Forsyth, Mont., it isn’t the longest distance match or the most “critically scored,” but nonetheless, there’s nothing else quite like it, and for a match like Quigley, it pays to be ready. (By not being critically scored I simply mean they count hits rather than 9’s, 10’s, or X’s. A hit is one point, and those are hard-to-get points.)
Quigley is a huge event, very well attended by all types of shooters, and the inspiration for this long-range match, of course, came from Tom Selleck’s character in Quigley Down Under, the 1990 movie about an American sharpshooter who responds to an Australian’s help-wanted ad, but finds the job morally wrong. We can easily say that the shooting in these matches is almost as good as portrayed in the film.
The rifles used in the Quigley match can be any traditional single-shot or lever-action rifle with a caliber of .375 or larger. That means the good old .38-55 is just about the smallest cartridge you’ll see on the firing line. Bullets must be made of cast lead (gas checks are OK) and the powder charges can be black powder, black powder substitute, black powder/smokeless powder duplex loads or smokeless powder. Even though there are no restrictions for the powder used, Quigley is referred to as a black-powder shoot and most shooters actually use it.
One of the Quigley rules is that shooters must use the same rifle for all distances and targets. Those distances, include shooting offhand at the 350-yard target as well as a seated 805-yard shot over cross-sticks, among others.
Last year, I chose my C. Sharps Model ’74 chambered in .44-77. The 400-grain bullets worked very well for me, and the 70 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F sends those bullets out of my 28-inch barrel at about 1,370 feet per second. It shoots well enough to give me good scores at 200 yards and it is enjoyable enough to shoot from the shoulder. But 200-yard shooting won’t even get you started at Quigley, since the distances begin with offhand shooting at 350 yards. I needed some long-range experience very badly. In order to get just that, I entered into a few black-powder cartridge-rifle silhouette matches. That was a whole new world for me and very fun! Why I waited so long before trying the silhouettes, I don’t know, but I certainly learned a few lessons! With my newfound education on shooting silhouettes out to 500 yards and copious notes, I was ready to try Quigley, or at least I thought so.
It all seemed too soon when my partner Allen Cunniff and I drove into the Quigley camp. We were immediately met by “Dangerous” Don McDowell, who was our guide and took us under his wing. He showed us our camp area and then took us down to the firing line to sight in. He made sure we were registered and suggested that we shoot in his same group.
Sighting in can be done throughout the week preceding the actual match; however, once the match starts, that’s it! One reason is simply because the firing line is too busy. Highest compliments must be extended to the staff for the administration of this fine event. They run more than 600 shooters through the course of six targets in about six to eight hours. Each shooter is assigned to a group and those groups are broken down into squads for firing in relays. The target course is doubled, meaning there are two of each target. This allows 12 squads to be shooting at the same time. Hits are recorded by scorekeepers who have earphones and receive an electronic signal when the target is hit.
All shots are taken from the sitting position using cross-sticks except for the bucket target, which is shot offhand. Eight shots are fired at each target, making Quigley a 48-shot match.
Each shooter has a spotter who watches for hits or misses and can suggest changes in sighting elevation or windage. McDowell was my spotter for every shot I fired. Getting at least one hit per target was a small goal that I had set for myself. That goal, I admit without shame, was not met. I just couldn’t get a hit on the bucket. Folks who were watching could see that my shots were close enough to show that I was trying. McDowell, who also shoots a Sharps .44-77, exclaimed, “If you were using a .45, you would have hit it!” As “Dakota” Dick Savage, a shooter who finished in the top 10 at Quigley in 2012, said in reference to getting scores that were lower than what was hoped for, “Well, that’s Quigley.”
Our group started with the large octagon, which means we didn’t take shots at the 805-yard buffalo, the furthest target, until last. This was the target I had looked forward to the most. My first shot, McDowell told me quietly, was right in line but just over its back. With that information, I dropped my rear sight down only about five minutes of angle, and fired again. That time, McDowell whispered, “Good hit, right in the white spot at about 1 o’clock.” My day had been made and I got two more hits on the buffalo with my following six shots.
Sometimes you can hear the bullets hitting the steel targets. But considering the bullet’s time in flight plus the speed of sound for the noise of the impact to get back to you, that impact won’t be heard until four to six seconds have passed. That seems like a very long time.
You can visit the Quigley match online at quigleymatch.com and read all of the details, including the individual scores. Last year over 600 buffalo-gun shooters gathered from 36 different states and three other countries. Ed Tilton from Columbia Falls, Mont., has won the last two shoots with a Model 1874 Shiloh Sharps chambered for the .45-90 cartridge. The record score was shot in 2004 by Al Loquasto with 46 hits out of the possible 48. The long-range course at Quigley has never been “aced.”
For me, the whole experience was simply outstanding, including the obvious brotherhood between shooters. I was talking with Tilton after the match and compared scores, my 11 hits to his 45. He said that my scores would certainly climb and his could only go down, then we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. My personal goal is to get closer to the middle this year.
I’m getting ready for Quigley again. This year I’ll use my heavy Sharps 74 in .44-90, shooting heavier bullets than my .44-77. The .44-90 weighs 13½ pounds and has an aperture front sight with a spirit-level which should have a better advantage over the silver-blade sight on my .44-77. I thought about using my Highwall in .40-70 SS, but to me Quigley is a Sharps shoot; in the movie, Selleck’s character uses a Sharps 1874 rifle chambered for the .45-110 cartridge with long-range sights.
The .44-90 will be used in some of our short-range matches before going to Quigley and maybe at some silhouettes matches too, although it’s too heavy for NRA rules. For ammo, I’ll take at least 100 rounds using 465-grain bullets over 90 grains of Olde Eynsford 1½ F. This way, a lot of shots can be fired for sighting-in before the match gets started. I’m practicing my offhand shooting with this heavy rifle too, and with a good body-rest, it isn’t too heavy to hold.
June 20-21 will see the 24th gathering in southeast Montana, and getting ready for it is time and shots well spent. ASJ
Note: For other great images from BJ Lane on the Matthew Quigley shoot, you can visit them at bjlanesimages.com.