It appears from recent instructions in regard to the subject that it is considered possible to simplify the method of conducting target practice. This probably includes the preparation for practice, the method of obtaining data with which to prepare the records, and the reports of the practice, as well as the method of actually conducting it.

It may be assumed that the primary object of target practice is to teach the men to load and fire the guns quickly and accurately. The methods of obtaining data for keeping the records should, therefore, interfere as little as possible with quick and accurate faring. At the same time it is evident that at least a fairly accurate method of keeping the record must be used, or the interest in the practice will cease with the practice itself, and much of the benefit, for future use and reference, will be lost. Under ordinary circumstances extreme accuracy of observation is seldom attained, and great refinement in plotting is therefore hardly necessary. As much credit may be given then to the gun captain who hits a target two hundred feet long and twenty feet high as to one who makes a bull's eye, unless bull's eyes are his specialty and he makes them frequently.

It will probably seldom happen in action that the guns of our vessels will be fired with ships at anchor, except, perhaps, in the case of bombardment. It would, therefore, appear to be advisable to teach our gun captains from the beginning to fire from the ships while under way. Two methods will be proposed for this: 1st, one in which the bearing and distance of the target remain constant, or approximately so. This would take the place of the present stationary target practice. 2nd, one in which both the bearing and range are constantly changing, as in our present moving practice.

First Method.

But one target is used, which is dropped overboard, when ready to begin the practice, at A. The ship then steams away from the target, say 1500 yards, and brings it abeam, as at B. She then steams around the target in a circle, with either port or starboard helm (according to the battery firing). All that is necessary to do this is to keep the target always bearing abeam. This method was recently used on board the San Francisco and was very successful, the ship maintaining a generally uniform distance of 1500 yards from the target, the limit of variation at any time being only about fifty yards. The target practice was excellent, and the fall of the projectiles about the target surprisingly uniform.

Observers.

Four observers are necessary, all on board ship, as follows:

One to take the time and number of the shots as fired from the guns in sequence.

One to note the range (so that the ship may be kept within the desired one, and also to furnish data for plotting); this may be done by Buckner's method or with the Fiske range finder.

One to observe the distance the shot strikes from the target, using Buckner's method. One to observe the angle, right or left, from the target to the spot where the projectile strikes.

All shots striking at an angle of not more than 1 ¼ degrees to the right or left of the target may be considered (at 1500 yards range) as striking a target extending 100 feet to the right and left of the target fired at, provided the vertical distance is not too great or too small. For horizontal plotting, on a scale of one inch to twenty feet, the following may be used: ¼° = 1 inch; ½° = 2 inches; ¾° = 3 inches; 1° = 4 inches; 1 ½° = 5 inches (limit to target 200 feet long).

For vertical plotting, take the distance short, or over, from the target that the projectile strikes, from Buckner's tables; with these distances pick out the vertical co-ordinates from table III of the "Tables for plotting gun practice," now furnished to ships.

The data for this method is easily obtained without interfering with or delaying the practice in any way, the shots are quickly plotted and the record is easily made up after the practice is over. But one of the most important points with this method is that the firing is continuous from the moment of commencing with one battery until all the guns on that side have fired their allowance. The firing is therefore spirited, and a lively interest is taken in it both by officers and men. It is much more natural that this should be so than in a practice which is interrupted by the ship swinging (at anchor) so as to prevent certain guns from bearing on the target, or smoke hanging around the ship so that the target cannot be seen. At the same time the method is as simple as though the ship were at anchor. Still, it may be considered preferable to anchor the ship, and if so, desirable places are easily found in our own waters; but this is not always the case on foreign stations, and such places where target practice with great guns can be carried on without offense to or objection by foreign powers are sometimes found with difficulty, if at all. By dropping the target and steaming around it in an approximate circle, as just described, target practice may be had at almost any time when a ship is at sea. It also takes considerable time to anchor, send out a target, place the buoys now used on each side of it, and station the boat containing the right or left observer.

A disadvantage of the present method of stationary practice (and in fact of all methods of practice requiring observers in boats) is that a smooth sea is necessary to make the boat observations of any value. A smooth sea may ordinarily be found in such favored places as Long Island Sound, Gardiner's Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and around Key West. But on foreign stations it is otherwise, and considerable difficulty is sometimes experienced in finding a favorable place for target practice with our long-range guns. A case is recalled when target practice commenced under such circumstances on a foreign station. The sea was smooth, and there was but little wind. Shortly afterwards a moderate breeze sprung up, but there was not enough wind to interfere with the firing. The short, choppy sea gave the observers' boats considerable motion, however, and it was found that their observations were of but little value in plotting the shots to make up the record. This could not have happened if the observations had all been made from the ship.

It is to be regretted that Buckner's method is the only one that appears at present to be feasible for the complete observation of fall of shots from the ship, as it is not very accurate, and for that reason probably has become obsolete. But it gives, perhaps, as good results as observations taken from boats, except under favorable circumstances, and it is not always convenient to wait for such conditions. If the method involving the use of Buckner's tables will give results sufficiently accurate to furnish data from which to draw conclusions to enable us to correct the gun captain's firing, and also make up a record with which to compare the various gun captains' marksmanship, it is sufficiently accurate for our purposes.

Second Method.

Moving Practice.

The objects in this method will be:

1st. To maintain a continuous, spirited firing from either the starboard or port battery from the time of commencing until all the guns of that battery have fired their allowance. The men would probably take more interest in the practice than they would if the ship steamed over a short range on one course for perhaps only ten minutes and then spent some little time to turn and get on the range to steam back. It is tiresome and uninteresting to stand at the guns waiting to fire.

2d. To lay the targets out quickly and easily and commence practice with but little delay.

3d. To have practice at sea at almost any time.

4th. To use no boats for observers; practice can then take place under circumstances of wind and sea that would make it impossible to have it if boats were used.

The system proposed is to use three floating targets, all alike, so that once dropped from the ship they will drift at about the same speed and maintain approximately their relative positions from each other.

Suppose the ship to be steaming along at a uniform speed, the first target is dropped, which we will call target A.

After steaming say 1500 yards on the same course, the second target, B, is dropped. The third target, C, is dropped by bringing either A or B on the proper bearing and steaming towards it until the angle between A and B (set on a sextant) gives the correct position to drop C. In the figure the ship is steaming towards A, where she drops the first target. Without changing course, she steams 1500 yards and drops the second target at B. She then changes course, as shown by the dotted line, and steams around until she brings B on the proper bearing, when she steams slowly towards it, keeping it on the proper compass bearing. When the angle between A and B is 60°, the target C is dropped; the ship then steams around all three targets, firing at them in succession until the allowance of ammunition for the battery on that side is expended. She then turns and steams in the opposite direction, mans the other battery, and fires until its allowance is expended.

Suppose the starboard battery to be the first one to fire. After dropping target C, the ship steams in the direction of B and gets on the circumscribed circle. When she gets near B, she opens fire on target C at 1500 yards range, turning gradually towards A with a port helm. If she follows the circle, the distance steamed from target to target will be 1815 yards, and the greatest distance from the ship to the target fired at will be 1733 yards. But by following the inner arc of a circle, struck from C as a center, the distance from C would be constant, and would be 1500 yards. This is a special case of the first method described, using a single target, and should be avoided to give the gun captains practice in training their guns. When the ship arrives at A the target B is fired at until C is reached, when A is fired at until the ship arrives at B. The same observers are required as in the one target method, already explained. The plotting is done in the manner described for that method.

On soundings, the targets could, of course, be anchored; but the advantage of the method (if there is any) would be that it could be used at sea off soundings under circumstances when observers in boats could only obtain observations that would be of but little value in plotting the shots. This might be of considerable importance on a foreign station where there may be difficulty in finding a good target ground outside of foreign jurisdiction.

It seems quite probable that objection will be made to the use of Buckner's method. But is the present method of observation and plotting always more satisfactory than this would be?

Suppose that with the present method a target is laid out at A and the ship steams over a range between two buoys, B and C, 3000 yards apart, at a speed of ten knots, firing at the target A while between the buoys. She will steam across the range in about nine minutes. Leaving or approaching a buoy at either end of the range, the distance from the target will vary 200 yards in less than a minute. The observations for plotting the fall of shots under these circumstances may not, perhaps, be any more accurate than those obtained by using Buckner's method. The preceding is offered not in any sense as a criticism of present methods, but merely as a suggestion of methods that may, under certain circumstances, be more advantageously employed in target practice on board our cruisers, particularly on board those on foreign stations.