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Shooting in the olden days

Charles Young grew up in Georgetown in the 1850s and 1860s. His father was James Young (1821-88), a merchant, and first warden of Halton County, in 1853. When the Infantry Company of Georgetown was gazetted, 30 January 1863, James Young was its Captain, and he would take them to the front during the Fenian Raid.

In 1920, Charles wrote a series of reminiscences of his home town, that were published in the Georgetown Herald. Shooting was a common pastime, and he gives a vivid picture of what that was like.

With so many sportsmen in the ranks of the volunteer company, target practice was naturally a favorite game with the citizen soldiers, and there was always a full muster for the butts. The Georgetown range was in a triangular field east of the Grand Trunk and west of the White Bridge. The station of the Hamilton and Northwestern was in this field later.

The targets were of pine, whitewashed and painted with outer, centre and bull’s eye, and plugs were driven into the bullet holes with a mallet. There were no mounds of earth behind the targets and the bullets spent themselves in the dense pine bush, the butt logs of which were of not much value for lumber, but timber was cheap then. 

1866 Snider Enfield long rifle. Lorne Scots Regimental Museum.

 The volunteers were armed with muzzle-loading Enfields and the loading of them was a ceremony. The cartridges were of paper, and the end containing the powder was twisted or bitten off and emptied into the rifle barrel. The the ball was reversed and rammed down with a steel rod. The putting on of a percussion cap completed the operation. Ugly projectiles they were, of large calibre, conical bullets, with a cavity in the base, into which was fitted a wooden plug.

They were regular bone smashers, and when a man was hit, he certainly knew it. When used for deer shooting, as they often were, they tore a hole in the venison, into which you could put your hand, and the deer couldn’t travel far.

They were a good gun, however, close shooters up to 1000 yards, and when converted into breech-loading Sniders were a formidable military weapon and helped British troops to win many a hard fought battle.

I remember on one occasion when the Stewarttown company was practising, the wild geese were flying thickly, the men wanted to try a volley at them. The captain consented, and several geese were brought down, but there wasn’t much left of them.

The Enfields were soon barred at the turkey shoots. It was the custom to make a box of heavy oak plank, in which the unfortunate turkey was placed, its head sticking through a hole in the side. Ten cents a shot was paid and the bird belonged to the man who could kill the turkey. This was all right enough as long as the firing was confined to sporting rifles, but at the comparatively short range, the big conical ball smashed through three inches of oak as if it were paper, and there was a mess of blood, feathers and turkey flesh inside.

These old rifles remind me of the Fenian Raid of 1866. I had the honor of belonging to the 13th Battalion of Hamilton, and took part in the engagement at Ridgeway. In June of that year we were armed with Enfields. In the excitement of battle, for it was a genuine fight, if a short one, many of the soldiers forgot to bite the end of their cartridges, or to reverse them, and rammed them down the barrel as they were, putting them out of action, and giving the armorer a job afterwards. 

Flintlock blunderbuss. IMFDP.

My uncle, Alexander Proudfoot, who lived at the Sixteen near Oakville, told me that on one occasion he went out with an old blunderbuss and killed a cart load of pigeons in a few shots. That was a wonderful old gun and it used to be looked at with great curiosity by the boys. It had a flint lock and a bell muzzle, it seems to me about an inch and a half in diameter. The custom was to pour in about a handful of powder from a powderhorn and about the same quantity of shot. Of course it scattered all over the landscape and kicked like a mule, but it killed everything in front if close enough. 

Not far from Georgetown there lived a farmer named Johnny …. Johnny was a captain of militia, and there was always a training on the Queen’s birthday. So that company was called together in Georgetown, and as may be imagined it took a good deal of the old stuff to get them in shape for the evolutions, of which the captain himself partook freely. At high noon, mounted on a white horse, with a sailor’s cutlas about his waist, and a red sash, called the roll and addressed the command: “Save the Quane, boys. We will gather in a nice little square circle in this here beautiful spot.” How they executed the manoeuvre does not exactly appear at this time of writing, but the echo of the cheers can be heard at this distance and the roars of laughter of the spectators.

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