It's very rare that I get a student interested in rifles, but I still have a bunch in the gun safe. (Mainly because surplus military rifles are cheap, but more on that in another post) When I get the budding long-gun enthusiast to the range to shoot some of these old war horses, the first thing they're impressed with is the sights. All of these old rifles are fitted with sights that are set at absurd ranges.
The best pic I can find online that shows an example is here, fourth picture down. Notice that the sights can be set to 2,000 meters. Considering that a mile is 1,600 meters it's no surprise that people assume that they're shooting a precision instrument that puts modern giant bore sniper rifles to shame.
I've mentioned before that the best general issue rifle for long range shooting was the M1 Garand, and it could only be expected to consistantly hit targets out to the 400 meter mark. These old bolt action rifles can only be expected to hit targets out to 300 meters, which is the range that the sights are calibrated to at the lowest setting. So why do thay have these sights that are set at insane distances?
The idea isn't that a single man can expect to shoot another man at those distances. The idea is that 100 or more guys in the trenches will be able to see large enemy concentrations at extreme distances. Then they set their sights at those ranges and start banging away. The bullets will be travelling about chest-high when they finally get there, but vagaries in air movement and bullet weight will have caused the shot to wander off from a perfect straight line. Sometimes the bullet will be 20 feet or more from the point of aim. Not a problem if you have a bunch of bullets zipping through the area where a mass of enemy are standing around. Those bullets will, every once in awhile, hit someone.
This doesn't stop my students from trying to do some long range shootin', though. They just get disappointed and discouraged when it doesn't work as well as they expected.