Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 4, No. 14 December, 1996
Yes, we do have something to be thankful
for! We hung onto Congress, and it is Congress, not the White
House, that makes the laws. Things could be worse; we could be
living in Britain, where, as you know, Parliament has chosen to
turn the streets over to the bad guys. Henceforth in Britain,
handguns are totally outlawed, so only the outlaws will have
handguns. It is heartbreaking to learn of my English friends who
now have to trot down to the nearest police station and turn over
their family heirlooms and faithful comrades to Big Brother.
Well, it is not that way here - not yet - but there are
plenty of quasi-Americans who really wish that it were so. We keep
up the fight. We are beset, but we are not defeated, and we will
maintain the struggle as long as there is breath in our
I was recently enchanted to learn of
mounted pistol competition, which is being conducted on a fairly
regular basis down along the border in southern Arizona. If you
wish to enter, you must provide your own horse and two 45 caliber
Peacemakers. I found this stipulation pretty advanced, since it is
something of a problem to get your horse to behave when you are
shooting only one pistol off his back and controlling him at a
gallop, while shooting with a pistol in each hand is a difficult
exercise. Upon investigation I found the contestant only shoots one
pistol at a time, but he must have the other ready at hand in the
event he runs dry. I also discovered that only blank ammunition is
used, the targets being rubber balloons which can be burst by a
Not having a properly organized horse available to me at this time,
I am excluded from this competition, but I think the idea is just
great. The possibilities open to a horse-oriented society are
limitless. Sword and lance may add to the excitement. We must
examine this whole business in depth.
To my considerable disgust I note a press
release sent out by the Internal Revenue Service to the effect that
they got one George C. Brant of Snowflake, Arizona, a 3-year
sentence for not declaring his sale of woodshavings from his
carpentry shop on his tax return. Now obviously we have to have tax
collectors, and we have to have prison guards, along with several
other sorts of shoddy public servants, but I think these people
would have better taste than to brag about their
"Statistics can never determine
Our friends in Africa tell us that now
that the Bantu peoples feel that they are in full control, their
underclass have taken to the unpleasant habit of trying to drive
white farmers off the land by breaking their fences, burning their
crops, and killing their cattle. Fortunately, there is good answer
to this, and that is witchcraft. The farmer hires the local witch
doctor to do this stuff, and the harassment stops. This is plain
old extortion, well known and practiced in such exotic places as
New York, Chicago, and Sicily, but it works. We are told it is not
nearly as expensive as one might suspect.
Certainly we have enough different kinds
of cartridges, but while I have never been able to take much
interest in the 9mm family of pistol cartridges, 9mm rifle
cartridges have much to recommend them. The selection is very
broad, ranging from the obsolete 35 Winchester all the way up
through the 358 Norma. The better examples of this family are
properly categorized as "medium-powered." They will work well
enough on deer, of course, but they are somewhat excessive for that
purpose. They appear at their best when they are used to take good
sized four-footed game - anything short of buffalo. The most
efficient bullet mass seems to be about 250 grains, and when a 36
calibre, 250-grain bullet of proper design is launched upon its way
at about 2500f/s its killing power is most authoritative.
One of the most venerable of the breed is the 35 Whelen, which is
simply a 30-06 blown out to 9mm. This round has been with us since
well before World War II, and I find it surprising that it
never achieved the popularity that it deserves, having been
overshadowed from its inception by the 375 H&H Magnum. The 35
Whelen is not quite up to a 375 ballistically, but the difference
between the two is not great.
The 9mm rifle cartridges have long been thought limited to
short-range; a viewpoint I consider to be erroneous. The widespread
belief that a rifle cartridge is of no use at long distance unless
its projectile starts at 3,000 feet or better is simply not
corroborated by field experience. In my opinion, Colonel Whelen's
dictum that 300 yards was an effective working maximum for
sportsmanlike use in the field still holds, despite an enormous
amount of trash writing to the contrary. I am not inclined to be
falsely modest about my personal experience with field
shooting - I have a lot of my own, and I have studied the
experience of others at great length and over a long period. While
I am satisfied to extend the practical maximum from 300 yards to
300 meters, I am convinced that shots taken beyond that distance
are evidence of bad sportsmanship. We need not go into details
about animals improperly hit. It is enough to say that anyone who
has ever seen a deer wandering in the woods with its lower jaw shot
off may be impressed enough to give up the whole idea of big game
hunting for the rest of his life.
So we are talking about hitting well, and that means hitting
solidly into the boiler room of the target beast under field
conditions, including excitement, hurry, wind, bad light, and
unstable shooting positions. Before you take the shot you should be
sure of your ability to hit a dinner plate - every time -
under the circumstances applying at the time. It takes a very good
man - a very unusual marksman - to handle that problem
beyond 300 meters, and the better members of the 9mm rifle family
may be counted on to do better than the shooter can.
My own personal pet in this category at this time is the excellent
"350 Remington Magnum," which is essentially the Holland magnum
case shortened to 308 length and necked to 9mm. I have discussed
this nifty little round previously at some length and I must say
that its lack of general appreciation puzzles me. Using the
excellent Swift A-frame bullet of 250 grains, this load will shoot
right through both shoulders of a moose from side-to-side, and
right through a lion from end to end. Packed into a compact, short
(20-inch barrelled) handy scout-type piece weighing just over 8
pounds, it will group better than I can (6 centimeters
center-to-center at 200 meters) and it facilitates the aerial
snapshot fully as well as the bench rest.
It has its drawbacks. It is not a deer gun, since it is
over-powerful and over-penetrative for 200-pound targets. It is
hard to feed. Proper factory ammunition for it is practically
impossible to find, and handloading that short case can be tricky.
It kicks. When it first appeared the 350 Remington Magnum was
castigated throughout the industry as a tooth-rattler. I do not
know how this fancy got started. The little gun does kick, but no
harder than any other cartridge of similar power. For any shooter
who is up to a 338 or a 375 to be bothered by the kick of the
little "350 Short" is inexplicable - at least to me.
While the ballistic performance of the 35 Whelen and the 350
Remington (short) Magnum are practically indistinguishable, I
prefer the Remington cartridge to the Whelen simply because it is
short. There are certain advantages to a short bolt throw.
Obviously I like the 35s. I particularly like the 350 Short Magnum.
Its only trouble is that you cannot get one, at least not easily,
but then I have mine (Semper Fi!).
Have you noticed that even some fairly
well informed people may still be found referring to Vince Foster's
death as a suicide? So blood runs up hill?
To our considerable amazement we learn of
a formal sporting competition recently held in Germany in which the
weapon employed was the atlatl. The people concerned referred to
their instrument as a "spear thrower," but I prefer the Najuatl
term as being more exotic and mysterious. I tried fabricating
devices of this type when I was in junior high school. My efforts
were frustrating, but clearly this gadget did work, and over a long
period, because it has been found amongst the artifacts of
primitive men all over the world. I cannot quite see the future of
an atlatl association seeking entry into the Olympics, but the
Germans have always been ready to form in groups to play around and
drink beer, which is, of course, a cheerful national
We have mentioned the painful story of the
high school cheerleader who was set upon by a bear in the White
Mountains of Arizona and very badly hurt, though not fatally. Much
as we sympathize with this girl, we find our sympathy sorely tried
when we discover that now she has fallen into the hands of the
ambulance chasers, and is proposing to sue everybody in sight
because of the bad behavior of this bear. She cannot sue the bear
because it is dead - and besides it did not have any money
when it was alive - but she can sue the Forest Service and the
Department of Fish and Game, and, for all I know, the CIA, KGB, and
the National Zoological Society. Here we are in the Age of
The antics of the sleazemaster reached a
new peak just before the election.
- He stated for the record that he thought Lincoln's Gettysburg
Address was included in the Constitution.
- He paid special attention to the death of a police officer
incurred in the line of duty and insisted that his bullet-banning
policies would have saved the officer's life - and it turns
out that the officer was killed in an auto accident.
- He paid specific honor on Veterans Day to the war dead at
Arlington Cemetery. There must have been a great rumbling noise
caused by all those dead soldiers turning over in their
And yet the people went right out and elected him. As Harry
Hopkins, FDR's sidekick and exec, put it: "The people are too damn
dumb to understand."
Suddenly we hear of a new form of
misconduct known as "stalking," which apparently is the custom of
following people around without any apparent purpose. This brings a
story to mind of a school chum of mine who got into the diplomatic
service and found himself on the Moscow station for one tour of
duty. Naturally if he went out at night his hosts put a tail on him
on the assumption that he must be some sort of spy. My friend and a
buddy came up with the answer. They turned down a side street and
quickly into an alley. When the stalker showed up, they jumped him,
took away his pistol, and threw it down the main drain. They never
saw him again. That is not the sort of thing you report to your
superiors in Moscow.
I have always been given to understand from childhood that the best
defense is counterattack. The principle still holds.
During our Marine Corps time we were
privileged to serve directly under General Merrill Twining, who was
Vandegrift's G3 on Guadalcanal. Just this year General Twining, who
is getting on, finally got out his account of the Guadalcanal
operation. Among the many excellent first-hand battle accounts that
have come out of the war, this one stands out because it is very
difficult to understand a battle if you are just fighting in it
rather than operating it. As G3 of the division (referred to as D3
in those days), Merrill Twining was exactly in the center of the
entire Marine Corps operation on "Death Island." The book
fascinated me personally because it speaks of many people whom I
know. (Or knew. Time marches on.). But to the general student of
weaponcraft a couple of things stand out vividly.
When the Japanese sent their elite "Sendai" division into the
sector held by the battalions of Chesty Puller and Herman Hanneken,
they attacked at 2 o'clock in the morning in a driving downpour.
They outnumbered the defenders about six to one, but they were so
roughly handled that the division was never reconstituted. At that
time the Marines were armed with the 1903 rifle, the 1911 pistol,
and the Model 1917 water-cooled heavy machinegun. You cannot see
anything much in the middle of a dark and stormy night, so contact
was largely at arm's length. That grand old Browning machinegun, in
caliber 30-06, was the mainstay of the defense, and even without
any observation to speak of it was used to pour into the flanks of
the attacking Japanese waves. An interesting supply problem showed
up in the lack of water for the water jackets. If you do not keep a
water-cooled machinegun water cooled it will freeze up and crack.
Water simply could not be provided forward to the machinegun
positions in sufficient quantity. The Marines solved this problem
in the time-honored fashion renowned in song and story.
Garands would have been better for the defenders than the 03s, but
here is where the historically venerated 1911 came into its own. In
the dark and in the rain the sword and the bayonet were no match
for the Colt 45.
(Our old buddy Mason Williams has been holding forth recently to
the effect that the 1911 will not hold up under prolonged use, but
Mason was not there at Lunga Point.)
All this talk we hear about the need for
self-esteem in our children seems beside the point. These badly
behaved kids seem to have plenty of self-esteem, when what they
need is self-control.
When you analyze it, it becomes evident
that the combat marksman, whether his antagonists are human or
bestial, possesses a psychological antidote to fear. When he must
shoot to save his life, he is so completely preoccupied with the
need to place his shot well that there is simply no room between
his ears for fear. He feels no fear as he shoots because his
concentration precludes it. This is true, of course, only of the
marksman who understands marksmanship. This man knows, because he
has proved it to himself, that correct behavior on his part
produces the results he needs to save his life.
The inferior marksman, however, has no such protection. He does not
understand what he must do and therefore he does not do it. In the
famous case in which one of the Tsavo maneaters was trapped inside
a boxcar with three armed coolies from which he was separated by an
iron grill work, the men expended about twenty rounds apiece at
arm's length or less without achieving even one hit on the
It may be asserted that they were "terrified," and this is
doubtless true, but they were terrified because they did not know
how to shoot.
The skilled marksman has no room for fear when he is shooting, thus
his mind constitutes his shield.
Esteemed family member Chuck
Lyford is now heavily involved with Craig Breedlove's efforts to
exceed Mach 1 on the ground. Chuck has always been a dedicated,
hard-core, card-carrying adventurer, and this new operation appears
to be fully as perilous as anything he has heretofore undertaken.
Getting up to 600 or 700 miles an hour on the deck is not so much a
matter of power as of aerodynamics. The vehicle, named "The Spirit
of America," is just too close to the ground, and all sorts of
exotic design techniques are necessary to keep it from getting
adrift at hitherto unexplored speeds. There is also the very
considerable problem of keeping it point-on, since you cannot very
well spin it like a rifle bullet.
All honor to these vehicular pioneers, but I much prefer flesh and
blood adversaries to unpredictable aerodynamic hazards.
My good friend is a lifelong hunter. Now well into middle age, he
has led a complicated life, with a full share of trials and
tribulations, but his joy in the hunt has brought significant
He has mainly pursued quadrupeds, but some years ago he took up the
serious study of the shotgun, and has now devoted much time, effort
and money to the arts of wing shooting. He has sought mastery, and
he has attained it.
On opening day of the current dove season I had occasion to
telephone him on matters ballistic, and he pleasured me intensely
with his account of the dawn just passed. He was out in the fields
well before sunup and the birds were plentiful. Just as the red sun
cleared the horizon he downed his sixth dove with his sixth shot! A
speeding dove is very hard to hit. I speak from a deal of
experience in Central America, where I have been treated to much
dove shooting by various hosts and clients. In my opinion,
"six-for-six" is a triumph! Luck is not involved here, but rather
the reward of talent perfected by extensive and assiduous
Oakeshot has wisely written that happiness may never be pursued as
an end in itself, because happiness is the by-product of
My friend was a happy man that day - and thanks to his own
efforts rather than good fortune. I am deeply grateful for having
been able to share in his experience by proxy. That phone call made
my whole day.
We learn from Keith Dyer, one of the
editors of South Africa's Magnum magazine that the shot-cock
system, as used with the crunchenticker, is by no means
new - having been used in Europe almost since the appearance
of that sort of weapon back before World War II.
(In case you missed it, the shot-cock system employs the round in
the chamber primarily to cock the piece for the second shot. The
shooter flings his first shot in the general direction of his
adversary and then concentrates on a proper sight picture and
squeeze for his second shot, which follows almost immediately.)
It is funny to consider how bitterly I have been excoriated by
certain police trainers for even mentioning the shot-cock system. I
have never taught it, as I consider it to be a sloppy technique,
but I know it exists and I have seen it work. I do not like flour
tortillas either, but there they are.
Our old buddy Gene Harshbarger from
Guatemala reports a recent episode with the 25 ACP pistol
cartridge. It seems that Gene's cousin was set upon by a trio of
car thieves who shot him once almost dead center with that dinky
little pistol. The bullet entered at a very flat angle, however,
proceeded laterally just inside the pectoral muscle, and exited
after about 5 inches of traverse, continuing on into the target's
The cousin hit the deck and started shooting back, whereupon the
assailants split. When he stood up the bullet slid out of his left
sleeve and bounced on the pavement. It penetrated the jacket, but
not the skin of his left arm.
As we used to teach in the spook business, carry a 25 if it makes
you feel good, but do not ever load it. If you load it you may
shoot it. If you shoot it you may hit somebody, and if you hit
somebody - and he finds out about it - he may be very
angry with you.
Family member Norm Vroman recently
went down to a cop gathering in Mesa attended by about 400 lawmen.
Norm's 1911 was one of only two in evidence on the range, and was
the object of considerable wonder, as many of these young people
did not know what it was. Norm entered the shooting, and, not
surprisingly, won his class. Then they knew.
Dick Davis, proprietor of Second Chance,
tells of a case when one of his customers, wearing Second Chance
Level 2 vest, accidently drove into the middle of an impending gang
war. The customer was hit 11 times with 9mm pistols. Four hits were
on the front of the vest, one on the back, six were outside the
vest area, the most serious one being a leg wound. I wonder if you
will be astonished to hear that an ambulance chaser contacted by
the victim called up Dick to ask about "compensation." Apparently
the attorney concerned felt that even though Dick's vest saved this
boy's life at least five times, Dick was expected to pay off simply
because the guy got into a fight. Again, we are living in the
Age of Litigation!
Well, we took a heavy hit on 5 November,
but though we lost a battle we did not lose the war, nor will we if
we keep up the fight. "These are the times that try men's souls,"
but such times have occurred before and will occur again. Enjoy the
turkey feast, and Nil desperandum!
Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal
use only. Not for publication.