History of the Palma Match

The Palma Match, or World Championship of Long Range Rifle Shooting, is the most prestigious team event in our sport. With individuals trialling and teams training for years in order to compete, it is small wonder that a Palma badge from a competitive nation, let alone a medal, is a highly sought after item. Shooters have competed to earn this honour since September 1876, when the Great Centennial Rifle Match was held on Creedmoor rifle range in New York State, more recently the site of a major psychiatric hospital.

That first Palma Match was contested by Australia, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and the United States of America on a 36 inch bullseye, with the home nation beating Ireland into second by 22 points. With no sighting shots and with firers both prone and supine, it had much in common with the Elcho Match; but the .44 cal, 520gr projectiles were rather larger than we’re used to! Since then, there have been a further 27 Palma Matches, which have been contested by shooters from 30 different countries, including some not normally associated these days with rifle shooting, such as Peru and Cuba (runners-up in 1928). The USA dominated the early years, winning seven out of the first eight matches held from 1876 until 1928, with Canada taking the top slot in 1901. 1877 saw the first appearance by Great Britain, who had not taken up the previous year’s invitation quickly enough. They lost to the USA, before a 24 year gap ensued as the 1878 invitation was unanswered.

By 1901 at Sea Girt, the match had progressed from black powder to bolt action rifles with .30 cal and .303 jacketed bullets. Canada won and took the match outside the USA for the first time, to Rockville the following year. There, Great Britain’s win allowed them to hold the match at Bisley for the first time in 1903 which, though ‘won’ by the USA, was declared void rather than claimed by them or runners-up Great Britain after a deviation from service rifle specification. 1913 brought the first match at Camp Perry, where Argentina took second place with 7.65 Mausers, but the Great War interrupted the series until 1924 (an ‘unofficial’ match along with 1923 and 1925), when Connaught Ranges first played host. A 20” V bull was introduced in the 1920s but, soon after, there was a 38 year gap between matches. The Great Depression and Second World War are likely to have been factors; but the hiatus also coincided with the disappearance of the original Palma Trophy - a 7½ foot tall Tiffany creation with a copper spread eagle and silver laurel wreath atop a panel, mounted on an ornate steel shaft, bearing the word “PALMA”, which had been outside the office of the Secretary of War in the 1930s. It had been presented “in the name of the United States of America to the riflemen of the world”, for which reason an official Palma Match must feature the USA among the competing nations.

Before the reinstatement of the match series proper, a ‘preliminary’ match was held at Camp Perry in 1966 between Canada and the USA, with the hosts taking the honours and Canada turning the tables at Connaught the following year with GB also in attendance. The modern era of Palma had begun, comprising yearly matches until 1974, with the home team winning all but once - no doubt aided by the use of host country issued rifles and ammunition. The last of the annual matches was the first held south of the Equator, when South Africa triumphed at Bloemfontein, much as they did 25 years later.

From the Bicentennial Match (1976) onwards, the Palma moved to a three year and then a four year cycle, encompassing a wider range of venues including New Zealand and Australia, where we return in 2011 to complete a full rotation through all the hosting countries – the last match in Australia was for its own 200th anniversary in 1988 at the Malabar Range in Sydney, which lacked a 900m distance so 800m was fired twice. Since 1985, the team size has been standardised at 16, while 1995 heralded the two day course of fire. The 1992 iteration saw the introduction of the World Individual Long Range Rifle Championship; yet that was the year that Great Britain made use of revolutionary practices on the team front that yielded a first victory since 1970.

While that provided a foundation for three further GB wins in the past four matches, team shooting has since developed strongly across the globe such that this year’s Palma Match, contested by Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, promises to be a fiercely competitive affair. All of those countries are former winners except New Zealand, who had the remarkable record of having finished in third place four times in succession - each time behind a different one of the others and GB - until they missed the 2003 match. The Palma Match record of 14200 will not be broken this year because of the change to ICFRA targets and a maximum score of 7200 but, if conditions permit, the teams will all be striving to break “200 off”.

To date, the Palma Match has ‘officially’ been hosted by:
USA 11 times, Canada 8 times, GB 4 times, South Africa and New Zealand twice and Australia once.

Cumulative standings in terms of wins (including the ‘preliminary’ match but excluding the match declared void and the four ‘unofficial’ matches – two of them with only the USA shooting) are:
USA 13 (in 28 attempts), GB 6 (in 18), Canada 4 (in 27), South Africa 2 (in 7), Australia 2 (in 14).

Other countries, continents and provinces to have competed are:
Argentina, Channel Islands, Cuba, East & Central Africa, Europe (CPC), France, Germany/West Germany, Ireland, Jersey, Kenya, Namibia, Natal, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Scotland, Sweden, Zimbabwe/Rhodesia.