Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 14, No. 4 April/May 2006
I used to assume that most practical rifle
shooting was done from the sitting position, properly looped up. I
am not sure of that now. I do agree that sitting is very useful,
but over the last couple of decades I have discovered personally
that I have shot more from a rest and from off-hand than from
sitting. This, of course, depends upon the terrain in which hunting
is conducted. If you are hunting in open mountains or prairie, you
will probably use the same position more frequently than in the low
veldt or in deer forest. In both the low veldt and most deer
shooting you will use off-hand a great deal more and, of course,
off-hand is the most challenging firing position. It takes more
study and calls for more skill to bring off correctly. It should be
noted that the shooting sling is of no use in unsupported
positions. It only helps you when you have something to rest your
elbow on. So the shooting sling is particularly useful in braced
sitting and, if you must use it, in the kneeling position.
Ordinarily you do not need it for prone because in prone you can
usually get down onto the ground and use the Hawkins (a type of
fist-rest) position. The rest position involves placing the left
fist upon the ground or upon a rest and hanging on to the forward
end of the sling strap. Usually there is a time problem in shooting
from off-hand. There will be only a short time available in which
to get off a good squeeze. You will have the chance to control your
squeeze only if you are aware of the amount of time your target is
going to wait around. Your target may not stand there forever, and
often you will see that the time problem is going to be limited by
the action of the target. For example, if the target is walking, he
will walk between a clear space and cover, and you must be sure to
get your squeeze off in the time available when he is still
"Knowledge is power. Learning is fun."
This gains something in translation.
Who is a good shot? That would have
bothered me awhile back without a definitive answer. I know half a
dozen practitioners I consider to be good shots (excluding those
present, of course). Let us say a man who can do with his weapon
what it was intended to do - always and every time - is a
good shot. A man who spends much time in a target-rich environment
with unvaried success may be called a good shot. This depends to a
certain extent upon the nature of the challenge. If a shooter is
never confronted with really hard problems, this standard may not
apply. But if a number of challenges were reasonably difficult, I
suppose he may be considered to be "a good man with a gun." I know
half a dozen or more field marksmen who are really good, and I have
seen them prove their point. If a man pulled off something really
difficult three or four times, I guess that will establish him, but
he has to be able to bring this sort of thing off on demand. It is
not something that he once did under observation.
The Wright R-3350 "Cyclone" engine was
certainly a terminal effort of piston-type power. It was a "double
radial" with two rows of nine, supercharged, air-cooled
displacement of 3,350 cubic inches and ranged in power around 2,500
horses. Since we are in the jet age now, it is probable that this
Cyclone was the end of the line in piston engines.
It is curious to observe the clumsy
nomenclature used by the press at this time. The terms 9mm,
self-loading, semi-automatic and so on seem to confuse them. I
have not seen "revolver" used now for many years in the public
press, though it is often more descriptive than "9mm."
The proliferation of the bench rest has
been a definite backward step in marksmanship. Properly used, the
bench rest practically eliminates human error, and human error is
the measure of marksmanship. The revered Townsend Whelen left us
with the troublesome dictum that "only accurate rifles are
interesting." This is simply not true - in my opinion. Most
rifles are more accurate in the inherent sense than almost all
shooters, and this gets us nowhere. I was distressed by the idea as
a youth, unaware that a rifle's worth must be evaluated by the
purpose for which it is intended. A rifle which is particularly
suited to stopping a charging elephant need not print minute angle
groups - or two minute angle groups. Printing tiny groups is
only critical if the printing of tiny groups is the object of the
exercise, and this is usually not the case. In my opinion, the most
important single desideratum in a rifle is "shootability" - a
combination of at least half a dozen different characteristics.
This is certainly not to say that intrinsic accuracy in a rifle is
not important, but it is to say that small increments of accuracy
are too often over-emphasized. Group size in a rifle is rather like
drag time in a sports car. It is interesting, but it is not the
If nothing else, we professors of the
modern technique seem to have got across Rule 3. The
photos we see back from the contact areas all seem to demonstrate
the straight trigger finger outside the trigger-guard prior to the
moment of truth. This is a good thing, and if we are responsible
for it, we will accept appropriate pats on the back.
There is no use in trying to sort out
journalistic atrocity, but there is such a thing as
shrapnel, and shell splinters it is not. The shrapnel shell
is a sort of giant flying shotgun, disposing of a large number of
small round balls which can be sprayed with deadly effect upon
troops caught in the open. A man could be hit by a shrapnel
ball, or several, or he could be hit by a shrapnel base cap or
its fuse, but being hit by a shell splinter is something else
entirely. This would not matter if it did not mean the diffusion of
We are amused at being steadily taken to
task by commentators who insist that my rake of cap angle in
photographs is non-regulation and uncouth. My original commanding
officer in the Marine Corps was Clifton B. Cates, a Marine of such
distinction as to be beyond criticism about style, and General
Cates raked his cap - like it or not. If some moderns do not
approve of this I am sorry, but I am not going to change.
We hear rumors to the effect that the
giant sable of southwest Africa may not be entirely extinct. It is
furiously to hope.
Herbivorous quadrupeds tend to stop and
turn 90 degrees when aware of pursuit. This is handy in offering
the hunter a neat target picture, but, of course, it should not be
counted upon. This sort of thing is offered more than half the
time - let us say two-thirds.
Is a heavy rifle really necessary for
buffalo? While it is not absolutely necessary, I think it is
desirable. We do, however, want to avoid the problem of the hunter
who is scared of his gun - and there are those. By a heavy
rifle I mean 45 caliber and 500-grains, or about 40 caliber and
400-grains. The latter is a borderline case - a light
heavy. People do just fine, of course, if the shot is properly
placed, but that is true of a light rifle nearly all the time. If
you have access to a heavy rifle and you enjoy shooting it, it is
certainly your first choice for buffalo. You may do better, of
course, with the 30-06/220, if you are happier with the gun.
Don't call it a Cape buffalo. Hasn't been one within a
thousand kilometers of the Cape in one hundred years.
This is a gaucherie. Syncerus caffer is no Bison
We recently ran across a gun camera
revelation. The shooter showed again the fearful efficiency of the
great 50 BMG cartridge. In this case our Hellcat pilot packing six
50s ran nearly head on into a Nip exiting from a cloud at a target
angle of about 345 degrees. His quick burst ate into the enemy
aircraft at about the port side windroot and the Zero simply flew
apart. Our pilot had no time to evade, but flew through the
wreckage without apparent damage to himself. However he was barely
able to land his aircraft, which was then declared unserviceable
and thrown over the side.
Now O.J. Simpson has surfaced again, and
this leaves us with Lon Horiuchi. And the killer of Vince Foster.
You can get away with it, if conditions are right -
at least some of the time.
The Steyr Scout is now a production item
available for sale over-the-counter, and Baby, the idealized heavy
rifle, now rests securely at the sconce at Gunsite. These are
artifacts of which I am consciously proud. They are good things to
know about, and I am glad to have participated in their
When early man first affixed an axillary
point to a shaft, he created the first pole arm. But curiously he
never told us how to use it. This weapon is called different things
in different languages, but in English it is normally called a
spear - or a pike if it is used on foot, a javelin if it is
thrown, or a lance if it is used on horseback. It has been with us
through the ages, but nobody ever told us how to use it. Hector and
Achilles fought with spears outside the walls of Troy, but we do
not have any description of what spears they used or how they used
them. The Roman legions, contrary to Gibbon, overran the world with
the "pilum," rather than the gladius, but we are not sure how they
held it. The Swiss mercenaries of the enlightenment frustrated
Medieval calvary with the pike, and we do have some idea of how it
was used - as a horse stopper, if not in a man-against-man
mode. Hermann Göring, who was "Reich Jagermeister" was known to be
the last German hunter to kill a wild boar on foot with the boar
spear. According to illustrations, he used the cross piece and held
the weapon knuckles up forward and knuckles down aft.
Coming down to us ceremonially, the British infantry senior NCOs
used what was called a sponton, which was a badge of office and
used to dressing the lines, among other things. The Swiss guard at
the Vatican today display the halberd, which is sort of a sponton
to which is affixed a cutting edge back of a point, though they do
not cut anybody with it anymore, as far as I can tell.
I have a small selection of pole arms on display at the sconce
armory, but I am past the point of using them for any serious
purpose - I hope.
Since the military no longer teaches
marksmanship in any serious sense, they do not teach the use of the
shooting sling. I was taught the loop sling of the 03 rifle in high
school ROTC, and it served me extremely well. I killed my one and
only bull elk, my record ram, my mountain caribou, and my white
goat using the loop sling. Naturally I think it is a technique
worth knowing, and I taught it assiduously(!) here at Gunsite for
many years. Go thou and do likewise.
Range Master Giles Stock informs us that
various troops are asking about our use of the term "Dragoon" in
reference to the oversized Scout. Well, that's what it is - a
big Scout. The factory dislikes the usage, but I have in
possession a 376 Scout Dragoon - so labeled by Steyr. It is a
nifty item, and you are welcome to label your own copy likewise. A
true Scout comes in 308 or 7-08, but nobody owns the
I still favor the "butter-knife" bolt on
the Mannlicher action. Ease of the second shot is not a critical
factor and the true Scout is neater.
The best part of any periodical is the
Letters Column. One can always make sure that the contributor is
interested in his subject, otherwise he would not take the trouble
In the May issue of Guns & Ammo, we see reproduced
an illuminating message from a Friscan - that being a
correspondent who signs himself from San Francisco.
Friscans, as a group, may be addressed with some salinity,
since the inhabitants of the Bay Region do indeed run to type. We
see this as evident from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This
correspondent takes me to task with asperity as "having gone over
the edge." He feels that my attitudes about the proper education of
a young man are unreasonable and that I expect too much of youth.
He feels that people today have no time to supervise the education
of their young. Just what they do have time for is unclear. We note
that Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, among others,
somehow did find the time to do their homework, and they did a fine
job in covering the generalized background. The writer feels that
it is too much to expect of a young person to acquire basic skills
and abilities such as geography, zoology, history, and literature.
He goes on to say that today's parent should not devote unnecessary
attention to the elementary education of his children. In my view,
the supervision of one's child's education is what parents are for.
Making money is nice, and I think everybody should have some, but
what is more important is a properly grounded offspring.
The man goes on to ask what degree of competence I feel is
necessary. When I say, "manage a motorcycle," I do not mean
motorcross, but rather the ability to get from point A
to point B with safety on a two-wheeler. When I say
"comfortable in a foreign language," I mean the ability to make
one's way on the street in an environment in which English is not
the primary tongue. When I call for the ability to manage an
airplane, I mean the ability to take off and land in a
propellor-driven airplane with some degree of security.
The point is that a young man of 21 should be able to cope with the
world around him in a general fashion. One of the measures of his
ability to cope should be his ability to educate his son. What does
that mean to a Friscan or the inhabitants of the Bay Region
(and I suppose the megalopolis of the Eastern seaboard)? These
march to a somewhat limited drum, or so it seems to me.
The Friscans are not necessarily confined to the Bay Region,
but such a location may serve well as a starter. The correspondent
feels strongly that I expect the impossible. My own experience and
acquaintance indicates otherwise. High goals are not necessarily
impossible, or even relatively so. I recall a high school student
back in my teaching days asking if the goals set forth by Kipling
in the mighty poem "If" were not impossible. The response was not
whether they were impossible but whether they are striven for. To
set one's goals high is not an unreasonable position. That is what
parents are for. It seems to me that the important thing in life is
the production of outstanding people - whether we can do it
not. It is the attempt that makes the struggle
Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal
use only. Not for publication.