Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Sportsman's Working Battery

Guns and Gunning, Captain Paul A. Curtis. Penn Publishing Co. 1934.
The notion of a personal working battery for a sportsman is a favorite topic of  unending debate among gun cranks.  There is a lot of classic literature on both hunting rifles and on shotguns. On balance, the rifle literature tends to be American and much of the shotgun literature, though not all, is British.  Classics authors writing about hunting rifles include (in alphabetical order)  Carmichael, O'Connor, Keith, Taylor, and Whelen.  There is a largely separate literature on shotguns by Boothroyd, Brister, Burrard, O'Connor, Keith, and others.   Bodio's Good Guns Again straddles the classification by discussing both.

I first recall reading a specification for a personal battery in Curtis' book Guns and Gunning.  This book is a favorite of mine though it is not often mentioned today - prices for used copies do not indicate it holds much collector value.  Like reading Datus Proper's recommendation that a man should spend a months salary on his shotgun (I have not), Curtis's recommendations for an all-round battery gave me a kind of permission to think in a way I'd not have dared to before reading it.

Considering a battery (and not a collection) is a holistic view that remains surprisingly infrequently discussed in writing.  The question answered by the consideration of the battery is just this: "What collection of firearms does a modern hunter need to participate in the various forms of hunting throughout the season?" Obviously the answer depends on what you hunt, where you live, if you travel to hunt and of course on personal tastes.

For the North American game hunter not planning to travel to Alaska or Africa, Curtis recommends the following minimal battery:
  • Rifles:  a small game rifle [.22 LR],  .a varmint rifle [.22 Hornet], a general service rifle [.30-06]
  • Shotguns: an upland gun [20 GA double], for all round use [12 GA double], a duck gun [Magnum 12 bore or 10 bore]
  • Sidearms: A .22 revolver or automatic and a large frame revolver [.45 Colt or .44-40]

If you are also a target shooter, Curtis provides the following additional recommendations:
  • a heavy barreled .22 target rifle with telescopic sight
  • a Springfield National Match rifle [.30-06]
  • a trap gun [12 GA pump]
  • a target pistol [.22 single shot heavy frame with adjustable sights]
At the end of the chapter Curtis apologizes for the small size of the battery he's selected!
"Remember, I said in the beginning that my ideal battery must be limited to a few guns to meet satisfactorily many needs. When one's battery assumes the proportions of a collection, he perforce becomes a slave to its care and it ceases to be ideal."
*                                   *                                   *

There's an old saying: "Beware the man with one gun."  What is left unsaid is that he certainly knows how to shoot it well.  An alternate approach to the question of a personal battery is based on a minimalist philosophy: a shotgun a rifle and perhaps a sidearm.  After a lifetime of gun trading, Steve Bodio may have reached a kind of perfection in his (current) minimalist battery.

Steve with his small working battery.
Steve has settled on his choices and, thankfully, brought them with him on his recent visit to show off to friends here in Laramie and surrounding environs.

Steve has a British sidelock 12 GA shotgun, a Mannlicher Schoenauer 1903 rifle and a Smith and Wesson model 629 in .44 Magnum.  Not shown in the photos is a Smith and Wesson model 34 kit gun which is chambered for a .22LR.  He of course has other firearms, but these are the ones he brought, and they form a kind of elegant minimalist working battery.

F. C. Scott sidelock, 1903 Mannlicher Schoenauer and S&W .44 Mag. 

The Mannlicher is a model 1903 takedown chambered in 6.5x54 MS.  It has the most elegant factory pop-up peep sight I have ever seen.  The peep is articulated so that when the bolt is pulled back, it lowers into the tang of the stock and as the bolt is pushed back forward it pops back up.  In photos (and I am kicking myself for not taking more of them) the mechanism looks like it might be flimsy, in person it is not - it is astoundingly robust.  The rifle handles like a shotgun - notice the Prince of Wales grip.  I was disappointed we did not get a chance to shoot while he was here.

The 6.5x54 is a very interesting cartridge.  In fact, Curtis himself recommended the 6.5x54 specifically (with the Savage 250-3000 as an alternate) for the hunter who wanted to combine his varmint rifle with a rifle for medium sized game shooting.  The 6.5 shoots heavy for caliber bullets at lower velocity.  This translates to bullets with very high sectional density and thus exceptional penetration.  The 6.5 Mannlicher was famously used (with 160 gr solids) by W. D. M. Bell to kill elephants.  It is an outstanding deer and hog rifle and is not to be sneezed at for elk in the timber when shooting a 140 or 160 grain bullet.  It is interesting that both Jack O'Connor and Elmer Keith agreed that it is an exceptional cartridge. John Taylor was less complimentary.

Steve took the Mannlicher (and the Scott) to show to the rifle maker Nathan Heineke here in Laramie. The rifle has been previously drilled for a side mounted scope and Steve is planning to have Nate put a Griffin and Howe side mount on the rifle.  Nate worked as a gunsmith at Griffin & Howe in NJ for about 8 years and may well be the most qualified person in the country to do the work.  The great thing about a G&H side mount is that the scope is guaranteed to return to zero and, it does not mess up the engraving on the front ring of the action.  With a classic rifle I consider this to be an important feature.  If the rifle had not previously been drilled and tapped for a side-mount it would be a shame to add it but, since it has, adding a side-mount it is more akin to a restoration.

Steve's choice of a shotgun is an Birmingham made F. C. Scott sidelock in 12 GA with original  2 3/4" chambers. It was probably made in 1910.  For British made guns of the period, 2 1/2" chambers were standard.   Fredrick Scott was known for his pigeon guns and this may explain the non-standard chamber size. A description of the gun by Steve from an email:
He (Frederick, called "Frank") was in business from 1904 to 1918 (some say 19). I think he made fewer than a thousand guns. The wood is really nice which doesn't show well-- may eventually refinish. LOP 14 1/2 or a little less to checkered butt; barrels 70 cm (continental--??), chokes 1/4 & F. balance on hinge pin. Slightly more pitch up than BL and slightly shorter, and weighs 6 1/2 instead of 6 1/4 so it took a little practice to mount as well but I find if I hold it on the barrel ahead of the forearm it points very well. I will probably disable the ejectors (remove springs?) because they are no use to me. I think it was all tightened up when re-proofed (for pigeon level loads -- 1 1/4 oz-- which I will NOT shoot).  I think I will never get closer to a London gun. People who loved the AyA can see how superior it is even if they know nothing about guns (and it weighs exactly the same). 
The Scott is a perfect upland game gun (good for NM quail) and will serve for the occasional duck.

F. C. Scott ad from 1910.
For handguns, Steve's S&W revolver in .44 Mag has the lightest single action trigger I've ever pulled. A pound? Steve assured us that  it is a joy to shoot.  He's outfitted both the .44 and the S&W model 34 kit gun with Hogue grips so, disregarding the heft, they have a similar feel in the hand.

*                                   *                                   *

At this point my personal battery is closer to Curtis's recommended selection than to Bodio's.  I think I'd like to fix that, which of course means, more buying and selling which is half the fun.  

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Fall 2013 Deer & Elk Season

Four cow elk silhouetted on the skyline. [photo: copyright Mike Dunn 2006]

There's meat in the freezer, but there the 2013 season has been a bit of a bust for me. I was only able to spent a total of about four or five days hunting and really had no success.  I killed a grouse in thick cover on a great left to right crossing shot, it tumbled to the ground, feathers flying, but I never found the bird, only feathers.  I misidentified what turned out to be a very nice whitetail buck as a doe, until it was too late for a shot.  I never got a shot at an elk - though Brad cleanly killed one of the four I spotted driving out at dusk.

*                         *                         *

Elk populations are up and the seasons this year was more liberal than they've been since I moved to Wyoming fifteen years ago.  Mule deer are another matter.  The populations have been declining for years now and those declines are finally reflected in the hunting regulations.   The general season in local areas here were open less than a week with a bucks only rule, at least three points on one side.  I almost passed on even buying a license and in the end I was only able to get out for one afternoon and had no success.

*                         *                         *

Brad will be surprised by the image at the top because it is almost exactly the image we saw driving out after a long day hunting elk on foot. In Wyoming, you can shoot a 1/2 hour before and after sunset.  I spotted four cow elk and within a minute of the end of legal shooting time.  They stood there perfectly silhouetted against the skyline.  It was dark enough that the stars were clearly visible.  Brad got out of the truck with his .270 and I rolled  forward, keeping the engine running.  The elk calmly watched the truck, certainly believing they were safely cloaked in darkness. They were close, about 80 yards, but  it was a very steep 80 yards uphill. Brad made a perfect heart shot on the leftmost of the four and she went down within 10 yards of where the bullet hit her.  We were able to gralloch her on the spot and to roll her onto the orange plastic toboggan I use for hauling meat.  The hillside was steep enough that with some backbreaking pulling and lifting, we were able to lower her right down into the back of the pickup.  We were back at the house within an hour and a half of the shot.  We quartered her and the meat was hung for a week before we spent a day butchering. 


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Steve & Libby Bodio and Montana writer Malcolm Brooks

Steve, Jim and Malcolm.

... and Ataika and Erdos.

Penelope and Libby.

Libby, Steve, Malcolm and Penelope.