Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 4 April 2002
When I recently expressed some puzzlement
about the semantic confusion in the differences between
iron and steel, I did not realize that I would
get such an enthusiastic response. A whole sock-full of
correspondents has responded by telling me at some length the
various terminological differences now in use in the steel
industry. I am duly grateful. I must remark, however, that these
people do not agree amongst themselves, even in the matter of text
books. Apparently a metal is steel if you call it steel, and iron
if you call it iron. The amount of carbon in the product, though
relevant, may not be conclusive. Of the various courses which I did
not take when I was in college (to my regret) one was the
history of metallurgy. Metal is what defines mankind. The
Greeks even had a god of the forge, expressing how important the
working of metals was to them. In passing I have discovered that
much of what we have called bronze is actually copper, and I found
that some of the edged weapons of the Nahuatl was actually a form
of bronze, though the Spaniards referred to it as copper
(cobre). These things are very interesting, but not so much
so to a scientist as to a historian. The matter of maintaining an
edge on a sword was of the most vital importance for more than 2000
years. It is quite obvious that one cannot "break" a sword over his
knee or by striking a hard blow if it is made of what we would call
steel today. The "Spanish sword" of the Romans (gladius
hispaniensis) seems to have been made of fairly primitive iron,
but would be called steel today by some people. The sword of the
Renaissance Spaniard, however, was made of excellent steel, in the
utilitarian sense, which can be determined by its observed
performance in action.
Thanks very much, friends. Clearly I need to go back to school.
Perhaps you will join me.
Note that Hans Hambrusch, who was head of
Steyr Mannlicher when we made the original plans for the Scout, has
gone into business for himself and announced the creation of a
bolt-action 700 Nitro Magnum rifle. Now there is something really
to show your friends! You can be sure you will be the only kid on
the block with one of those.
I notice a number of public departments
advocating the use of what might be called a "shoulder-ready"
position. In this, when a shooter with a long gun is ready to fire
or thinks that something may come up, he places the butt into the
shoulder, but drops the muzzle until it is pointing perhaps 45
degrees downward, still holding the weapon in both hands. When
ready he simply raises the muzzle to cover the target and keeps the
butt in the shoulder. I do not actually object to this system, but
I do not push it. The Standard Ready position, with the butt on the
belt, muzzle at eye level, is considerably more comfortable and
less tiring. It is in no sense slower. That is why we use it in
engaging the flying clay birds. The trouble with the butt
shoulder-ready position is that it is tiresome over a long period.
Our friend and family member Dalton Carr, who has had more
experience with troublesome bears than almost anyone, mentions in
his writings that a man can wear himself out or freeze himself
stiff by holding a shoulder-ready position for any considerable
length of time. Any system which works would seem to be okay, but
my choice is for the Standard Ready position in most
Semantic note: Violent criminals in New
Guinea now referred to as "raskols." Guess where that word came
Family member Dick Weinig from
Alaska informs us that there still exists a land where you can
shoot a moose from your bunk, deck a ram with a pistol, and hike
all day without seeing any work of man. Better go before it's too
I dare say that all shooters are familiar
with Ruark's Dictum: "Use enough gun." If one has a choice, he
certainly should select a piece with sufficient power to do the job
he carries it for. However, it is a great mistake to assume that
one can compensate for poor placement with increased power.
Proper placement and adequate penetration are the
essentials. Power is nice to have, but it is not the primary
consideration, except that the weapon must dispose of sufficient
power to secure adequate penetration. Karamojo Bell accounted for
his hundreds of elephants with the 7x57 and the 6.5. Dalton Carr's
favorite rifle cartridge is the 270, with which weapon Ian
McFarlane fed his family for 28 years. The essence of this matter,
however, is that these people were excellent marksmen who not only
could shoot well but could control their nerves under conditions of
extreme excitement. If a man cannot shoot well enough for the task
at hand, and cannot control his nerves, selecting a more powerful
weapon will not help - if fact it may hurt by giving him an
unwarranted sense of confidence. As far as I am able to discern it,
the consensus of African PHs is that the two greatest weaknesses of
their inexperienced hunters are packing a rifle which scares them
by its excessive blast and recoil, and the lack of the ability to
assume a proper firing position quickly. By all means use enough
gun, but do not assume that a bigger gun will get bigger results
without a direct measure of assistance from the marksman.
We hear reports back from Turkestan to the
effect that the 9mm Parabellum cartridge is simply not a
satisfactory man-stopper. Surprise?
There are so many new major-caliber
self-loaders being offered today that I have not been able to
evaluate them properly, nor will I, considering the amount of time
it will take to run a thorough test on each example. I can pick out
specific flaws in specific designs, but that is only negative
criticism and not the whole story. I will continue to insist,
however, that for personal self-defense against two-legged
varmints, a major-caliber pistol cartridge is the primary
consideration. By "major-caliber" we can use the following rough
formula: Multiply bore area (not caliber), times bullet
weight in grains, times 1000. If your cartridge can deliver a 44
caliber bullet of 200 grains at 1000 feet per second, you have a
passing cartridge, at least in theory. Here again, placement comes
Before leaving the subject, we must
remember that a 22 rimfire in the eye socket will stop the fight.
The thing is to be able to insure that.
In the bear-defense class, we ran the
group through on the Co-pilot for the purpose of determining
whether, as some have reported, it kicks too much. The answer is
that it does not. We had fifteen people, including, one petite
guide girl, and nobody suggested that the weapon pushed as much as
a 12-gauge shotgun.
It would seem that most people
characterize rifles by cartridge nomenclature. They call a rifle a
30-30 or a 375 or such. This designation is a starter, but it does
not go the whole way. If a man has two 30-06s, for example, it
would not tell him which one to choose. I have long preached that a
student coming to school here at Gunsite who has a choice of
several rifles should pick the one with the best trigger action.
People are not the same (thank God!), so I will not use my own
experience as a guide for yours, except to say that I have always
been able to hit better with a weapon with a good trigger action.
By "trigger action" I stipulate a crisp, motionless release (after
take up, if any) at 3½ lbs or less. If a trigger is made too light
it may allow the striker to fall when the bolt is closed, resulting
in either a failure to fire or an inadvertent discharge. It takes a
good gunsmith to install and tune a really good trigger. Some
gunsmiths are better than others.
Note that the foregoing is not true of the Blaser, in which the
trigger action is more or less independent of the gunsmith's skill.
When you press the trigger on a Blaser, it simply removes the
piston which holds the striker back without any rubbing, scraping
Therefore the features which distinguish one rifle from another are
more numerous than simple cartridge selection. Stock fit, weight,
sighting system, magazine capacity, barrel length, overall
length - all these are factors to be considered. When your
friend says that he will bring his "30-06," he has told you
something but not very much.
That beret is a crummy headgear. A proper
headpiece for a soldier is a helmet - steel for duty, plastic
for liberty. Seems to me we had one like that.
Have you noticed that relatively few
shooters are interested in what we may call utilitarian
shooting - that is, shooting for a purpose? Most people I talk
to do not think seriously about shooting to kill. Now I have
nothing against shooting at targets, I have shot at more targets
than most people, but target shooting is irrelevant to the purpose
of the firearm, rifle, pistol or shotgun. I continually run across
people who are very proud of a possession they want to show me.
When I ask them, "What is it for?" they are nonplused. I suppose in
the back of their minds is "What it is for is to show people."
Well, that is all right. It does keep the shooting industry alive,
and we do need the shooting industry, but we should not lose track
of the objective. You may regard a firearm as a toy, but the next
time you look at it consider it more seriously. Learn to use it
well. You may never have to use it for any serious purpose, but you
certainly should be able to.
We notice that Taurus has now introduced
a 45-caliber service pistol. I will look into this and get back to
We asked about the reputed plague of AIDS
in southern Africa. Accurate statistics are hard to get, but our
best-educated guess places the rate of the disease at 1½ to 2
percent of white South Africans. As reported in the press,
the rate is very high amongst the Bantu.
For those who are concerned about rifle
power, family member Ted Ajax reports a clean, one-shot stop
on moose with his Scout, using the 180-grain Barnes
In my continuing, but not successful,
effort to preserve semantic purity, I suggest that the Arab attack
on the World Trade Center was an atrocity, rather than a
tragedy. Rhodesia is a tragedy.
We just finished a specialized course
here at Gunsite intended for people who work (or play) in country
where they run the chance of inadvertent contact with four-legged
beasts which may prove hazardous to their health. A number of very
interesting points were raised.
First, does this person require the use of both hands in his normal
activities? The rifle and the shotgun are both more efficient than
the pistol in a deadly confrontation, but if the weapon concerned
is too cumbersome to be at hand when the flag flies, you have lost
the discussion. Thus while we all admit that a rifle is your
principal life-saver in any confrontation with a dangerous beast,
it may be necessary under some circumstances for you to depend upon
a handgun. Since animals strong enough to pose a threat to life and
limb are big and strong, the handgun intended for defense against
such beasts should be as powerful as can be comfortably managed,
but range is not an important consideration. If you have to defend
yourself against a bear or a lion that you just happened upon, the
chances are that the beast will be within arm's length or less
before you can fire. Of the several cases I know in which disaster
was avoided with a pistol in an encounter with a dangerous beast,
the muzzle was either touching the target or very nearly so.
If you carry a pistol for defense against dangerous animals, you
want it to be handy in order to be sure that it is there
when you need it. Drawing speed is of little consequence, but
security is important. A man who is working under particularly
sloppy conditions of rain, snow, mud, etc., will need a carrying
system which protects his piece completely from unwarranted
intrusion of foreign matter. In cool climates an open shoulder
holster may suffice since the piece will be worn underneath outer
clothing. In warmer climates, a covered holster may be the best
In animal defense situations you are not likely to need a lot of
ammunition. If you fail to brain your animal at spitting distance,
reloading is probably going to be irrelevant.
We get a report from family member
Eric Ching of 2300f/s in 19 inches with the 270-grain Swift bullet.
Seems high. I will check that further.
We are amused to note an ad in a slick
magazine saying, "Slim is in." Wal ah be dogged! What you
should get is a firearm that is "in." If your pistol is not
in, you will just have to go to the rear of the class. The
man who wrote that ad, of course, is an ad man, only vaguely
interested in the truth. The point that he is making is that the
double-column magazine, introduced by the venerable P35, makes for
a pretty broad butt if it is to be wrapped around a major caliber.
A great many rounds in a service pistol is not really very
important. The highest score I know of, and I have been studying
this matter for a very long time, tallied five stops without
reloading. It was executed with a 1911 pistol with eight rounds
aboard. Four goblins were dead on the scene and the fifth was
carted away on a stretcher. (I am pleased to say that in this case
the shooter was a student of mine.)
But the point is that whether slim is in or out
is not a consideration of consequence. A pistol is a close-range,
antipersonnel device. The P35 was a notable weapon, but it did
start us off on a false trail.
It is annoying to hear that they have us
fighting amongst ourselves. IPSC people are fighting IDPA people,
and so on. If you want to fight somebody, I can point out some
people in Congress who are worthy of your attention, but fighting
against ourselves is nothing but destructive.
It appears that we are now contemplating
a "Ladies Only" class for November. The front office has not yet
told me how they are going to decide who is and who
A short-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun with
rugged metallic sights is doubtless a good bear choice, and is
recommended by many people who work in Alaskan bear country.
However, I would choose a rifle. If this rifle is to be used for
defense against dangerous animals, it is necessary that it be
handy. A weapon that is so clumsy that it is out of reach when you
need it is no weapon at all. If a rifle is to be used at any
distance, we are probably avoiding the defensive connotation, but
if so, it should be equipped with a shooting sling, either a
conventional loop or a speed sling. Many people argue against the
use or presence of any kind of sling at all, since ranges in
dangerous situations will be very short and straps can be hampered
by thick brush. (Modern slings are instantly detachable and should
be demounted and left aside in conditions of short-range
Any beast which poses a serious danger to people is a big, strong
beast and should not be pestered with minor-caliber rifles. It is
true that you can brain almost any beast with a 223, under certain
circumstances, but this certainly should not be your first choice.
It that squirt gun is all you have, shoot for the brain and hope
for the best, but remember to pray a lot.
Is our standard 308 (7.62 NATO) adequate for dangerous game
defense? Certainly it is, provided proper bullets are used and the
shooter is a cool hand. The proper bullet is one of ample weight
and thick jacket. Long range exterior ballistics hardly matter. I
remember when I was living in California that a friend of mine had
a huge brown bear mounted in his place of business, practically
rubbing its head on the ceiling. He loved to talk about how
exciting that bear hunt was, but he was hard put to decide whether
it was a matter of stark peril at arm's length or a case of
masterful marksmanship way across the canyon. He could never decide
which, so he alternated one story against the other.
Defense against bears, lions, tigers, and such is a short-range
proposition. No matter how fierce he is, no wild animal can hurt
you unless he can touch you. Clearly you will make do with what you
have, and in many cases the defensive situation is improvised, but
still you should not select a weapon suitable for long-range
shooting if its principle purpose is self-defense.
Telescopic sights are so common today that it is practically
impossible to sell a rifle without one, but a scope is not the
right choice when you are trying to stop a beast from biting you.
The glass sight is plenty fast enough - faster than metallic
sights when thoroughly understood - but it is no help in
stopping a charge, and regardless of what any salesman will tell
you, it is fragile over the long haul. Besides which its lenses may
easily become obscured by foreign matter under conditions of rough
duty. (On the occasion of my one and only lion, taken head-on at
eleven paces, the telescope was an encumbrance. All I could see
through the tube was yellow fur, which offered no aiming point.)
Experiences differ and we have room here for endless fireside
conversations, but I do not recommend a telescope sight on a rifle
intended for man-killing beasts.
In counting your blessings aren't you
glad you were born on the right side of this Holy War?
At risk of sounding too much of a self
promoter, I strongly urge prospective students for rifle classes to
read "The Art of the Rifle" before signing up. And anybody
contemplating either Safari Prep or Quadruped Defense Class should
complete a 270 before showing up for those.
For another plug, I now suggest that it
is time for us to re-issue the hardcover version of "Another
Country." Paperbacks wear out on the shelf.
You might not believe this, but our man
Dan Dennehy reports that our troops in Bosnia had to scrounge their
beer off of peacekeepers from other nationalities. It is hard to
think of people in positions of authority who do not understand
about the conduct of war in its relationship to beer. We could give
them several examples. We even had beer on some of those South
Pacific atolls, during breaks.
Looking at the distressing world scene
today, I must but conclude that possibly a war is good for the
spirit. Not a trivial war with no effect upon the social or
economic scene, but a real war in which everybody is a player. In
such a war, young men get their priorities straight. They find out
quickly what is important and what is not. They understand values,
and they quite literally prepare to meet their maker. On D-Day
morning the word goes out, "We're all going into this today and a
lot of us are not coming out. Make sure you people understand that
and act accordingly."
A war is a great thing for a marriage, as I can testify personally.
When you realize that each parting may be the very last one, you
prize what is truly valuable and you forget about what is not.
In a real war you undertake a real moral task and you understand
about morality. Just recently a young man - an American, he
claims - announced publically that if the United States
instituted the draft he would pack up and slip for Canada. Well,
shucks, that really upsets us. Without that bird, we're in bad
trouble, or so it seems to him. He said that his plans did not
include any fighting. It might be well to pick that kid up before
it is too late and put him in the Plans Division, there he could
make all sorts of plans involving scrubbing latrines and picking up
Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal
use only. Not for publication.