Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 3 March, 1998
With all this tooth gnashing about Saddam
Hussein, it is odd that no one seems to remember the axiom that it
is the man, not his weapons, which causes the trouble. One of the
first principles of war is The Principle of the Objective.
The objective, in this case, it certainly seems to me, is Saddam
Hussein himself. We would, indeed, feel better if he were not so
preoccupied with nuclear and biological weapons, but as in a
defensive pistol, someone has to decide to press the trigger.
It seems to us that Saddam here is holding Israel hostage. He
cannot reach us with any of his fancy weapons, but he can reach and
devastate Israel. This point alone endears him to the Moslem
nations, but nobody seems to want to bring that up.
Way back when I was a student at Command
and Staff School, the class was treated to an all day session by a
group of white-coated biology professors who told us all about the
limitations and capabilities of "biological warfare." This session
was very secret - evidently to the point where no one learned
anything from it.
The professors in this case informed us that if biological weapons
were to be used, no existing affliction would be involved -
not anthrax or bubonic plague or typhus or anything else that
anyone had seen before. The agent used would be a synthetic disease
created in a laboratory and given a code name, such as "Q27." All
members of the attacking population could be immunized against it,
but the defenders would have no way of combating it since they
would not know what it was.
The professors further pointed out that the symptoms of the disease
could be manufactured to order and need not be permanently serious.
The affliction would have to last only long enough to allow ground
victory by the attacking force. These professors pointed out to the
class how humane that was. Well, maybe, but anybody who chooses to
use anthrax as a weapon does not understand biological
And now how about this new 440 Corbon
cartridge? It is supposed to be available in a new pistol by Magnum
Research Incorporated, and it is said to start a 260-grain bullet
at 1700f/s. This is just the ticket for the power hungry pistolero
always troubled with aggressive polar bears in Svalbard. I suspect
that anyone who can fire a 308 rifle, one hand, unsupported, at
arm's length, will have no trouble managing this new
We ran into a pleasant interlude up in
Vermont which emphasized the wisdom and social utility of the
Vermont firearms laws. It seems that some foreigner from down below
was in a supermarket when he observed one of the customers wearing
a pistol openly. He got all flustered and immediately called 911.
In due course a cop showed up and located the complainer, who
pointed out the "culprit." The cop agreed that the man really was
carrying a pistol, and then he asked what the problem was. I
suppose the poor fellow rushed off out the door and went back where
he came from. Obviously the state of Vermont was too dangerous for
A while back we were discussing the
subject of hunting trophies as displayed upon the wall. People
acquire trophies for various reasons, but we decided to dismiss
size, rarity, danger, or just the collector's instinct and address
the subject of beauty. After some discussion we settled upon six
species, each specimen to be not necessarily a record head, but
simply a prime example of the breed. Thus the following list -
in no order of precedence:
- The Marco Polo sheep
- The Bongo
- The Giant Sable
- The Wapiti
- The Kudu
- The Tiger
Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, as it is said, and we
cannot be objective about it. Still, those six would truly make up
into a magnificent collection.
We wish that people would stop referring
to any rifle with an intermediate mounted scope on it as a "scout
rifle," but we have no control over the whimsies of the
unenlightened. It is, however, time to discuss the ideal
characteristics of a true scoutscope. I have nothing against the
current Leupold instrument now available on the Steyr Scout, but I
would change it if I could.
By choice, I would have no moving parts inside the tube. I have
long held that variable power is sheer foolishness, but beyond that
I would not like to see any movement of the reticle inside the
tube. If the reticle is painted on the glass it cannot very well
come adrift unless the whole device is smashed. Putting adjustments
in the mount raises some irritating engineering problems, if the
tube is to be mounted low enough on the rifle to be comfortable.
However, the wonders of modern engineering are amazing, and I feel
sure that given sufficient incentive a strong mounting system could
be created which would adjust for deflection in one mount and
elevation in the other. As to the idealized reticle, I would favor
that transparent triangle that turned up at the tail end of World
War I. Possibly it did not work, since I have seen nothing of
it in recent times. In theory, however, it possesses great
advantages, being simultaneously extremely fast and absolutely
precise. It could be offered in any mildly contrasting color such
as amber or grey, and it absolutely could not get out of
I labored for many years to see the scout rifle finally available
over-the-counter. Now I will try to get after that scoutscope
You have all heard about the Japanese
harassment of the biathlon shooters in the Olympics. Here is a
perfect example of an organization that has redoubled its efforts
after it has lost sight of its goals. The competitors were treated
as potential assassins and required to surrender both weapons and
ammunition at all times when not actually firing. There was a
practice session, but dry firing was forbidden.
These people have a great capacity for being obnoxious. I
discovered it many years ago in the Pacific, and I have since not
seen any reason to change my mind.
In an age when senior academicians are
preaching that there is no such thing as objective truth, and that
history is better understood as a collection of attitudes rather
than facts, we discover to our horror that there are educators
currently using popular movies as historical source material! As a
history student myself, I am well aware that "getting it right" is
difficult, and in many cases impossible, but that does not mean we
should deliberately falsify things about which we can be reasonably
certain. James MacDonald Fraser pointed out in a recent essay that
the movie "Braveheart" was the worst travesty of history he
had seen in recent times. "Rob Roy"; and "Amistad"
were not far behind. The cinematographers maintain, with some
justification, that their purpose is to entertain, not to educate.
Nonetheless, they should remember that we have several generations
of spectators who will not read, and who, therefore, take what they
see on the screen as fact. When a producer maintains that he should
never let the facts stand in the way of a good story, he really
should examine that story and make sure of his ground. Only too
frequently what actually happened, insofar as we can make out, was
more glamorous and more exciting than the imagination of the script
writer could dream up. Of course, history is not usually
"politically correct," but that is all to the good.
At long last I have discovered that most
shooters are not interested in firearms as tools, but rather as
toys. Such people do not acquire their weapons because of what they
will do, but rather to gratify the "Christmas morning joy" that we
largely left behind in our childhood.
For many decades I have striven to design firearms that were
primarily useful, but now I discover that only a few people care
about that. Well, so be it. Let each one enjoy himself according to
I guess we should not be picky about
terminology. People have a right to call things anything they wish,
but it does become annoying when they use a term which is
demonstrably wrong just because they like to. Take "shrapnel" for
instance. The shrapnel shell was the invention of a British
artilleryman of the 19th century and it differs totally in concept
from the high explosive shell which became standard in World
War II. A shrapnel shell may be likened to a flying shotgun
cartridge containing a large number of round steel balls. It does
not detonate like a high explosive shell, but it ruptures on signal
and sprays the ground in front of it with these round balls. It was
quite useful against troops in the open, but not against anybody
Many hundreds of thousands of men, including not a few of my own
personal friends, have been cut up by the flying shards of a high
explosive shell, but nobody has been hit by "shrapnel" since World
War I - as far as I can discover.
Another ongoing annoyance is the continual reference to the African
buffalo (Syncerus caffer) as the "Cape buffalo." Our old
friend and distinguished quarry has no need to wear a cape in the
warm climate of Africa. The term derives from the fact that during
colonial days anything south of the Congo Basin was preceded by the
adjective "cape" by the colonials, since the bottom end of Africa
was known as the "Cape Colony," referring to the Cape of Good Hope.
So we have a Cape Hunting Dog, Cape Wines, Cape Smoke, Cape
Coloreds, and perniciously enough, Cape Buffalo. Let us drop this
foolishness. A bison is a bison, and a buffalo is a buffalo, and
the one is by no means a variety of the other.
We see now that the Russians are pushing
for police pistols of very small caliber and very high velocity,
presumably to defeat the body armor they assume will be worn by
their criminals. There are a couple of things wrong with this
approach, but I am quite content to let these people pursue their
own strange gods.
We were somewhat confused in a previous
issue by a correspondent who insisted that Karamojo Bell died
before the appearance of the 308 cartridge, which he wrote that he
would take with him on his next African trip at such time as it
occurred. The timing is wrong here. Bell, who did not die in time
for this problem to occur, opined that the 308, with a properly
hard bullet, would be his choice over the 30-06 because of the
shortness of the cartridge. He claimed that he had run across a
couple of near disasters which could be attributed to
short-stroking a bolt-action rifle. I know a couple of these
myself, and I guess the point is worth considering.
We learn with some pleasure that our
family member Bill O'Connor now has a valid CCW permit in 21
states. That's our boy!
In this "non-judgmental age" in which
possibly the worst sin seems to be having an opinion about
anything, "tolerance" is frequently held up as the supreme virtue.
While tolerance is all very well up to a point (we might remember
the statement that moderation is an excellent principle as long as
you don't overdue it), I remember being somewhat perplexed in my
youth when I read Hemingway's best short story "The Short Happy
Life of Francis Macomber." In describing his protagonist, Hemingway
pointed out his various good and bad qualities, and finally capped
the list by saying that this man was characterized by a notable
degree of tolerance, "which seemed to be his nicest characteristic,
unless it was his most sinister." Tolerance. Sinister. Yes, I
Our fish and game people now propose to
bring the grizzly bear back into Arizona. I am definitely in favor
of grizzly bears, but I do not think extending their range into the
mobile-home-and-cookout regions is a really good idea. Grizzlies
and people do not get along well. One might say that if anybody is
fool enough to take liberties with a wild bear, he deserves
anything he gets, but that is not the way society is set up now,
where nobody is held to be responsible for his own foolishness. If
we were to establish a healthy population of grizzly bears in the
White Mountains (which they might indeed find most congenial), we
would soon have a number of "incidents" to wail about. If we are
going to put bears in, we ought to take steps to get people out.
This might indeed be a good idea, but it seems unlikely to take
We recently ran across an observation
from the Great Duke (Wellington, that is) to the effect that
his officers were sadly deficient in swordsmanship. All of his
officers were required to wear swords as part of their uniform, but
Wellington discovered that, in the main, they could not use them
with any efficiency. He instituted a program of swordcraft, which
did not get very far because circumstances terminated his
peninsular campaign, but it does not surprise us too much to learn
that we should not assume that a man really knows how to fight just
because he is wearing a uniform.
To paraphrase Bill O'Connor again, "The
more you learn, the more you can appreciate." Absolutely!
Appreciation of the wonders of life make life worth living, and
learning is the road to joy.
A correspondent recently wrote in to us
and offered his idea that the purpose of education is to produce
educated citizens. Well, yes, but we have not said anything here.
Plato once opined that the object of justice was to see that each
man got what he deserved. Both of these statements are reflexive.
They simply fall back on themselves.
We now hear from Africa of a gent who is
contemplating a real honest-to-God safari - in the old sense.
He is making it in Abyssinia - on foot with bearers. His
object is big elephant. He will take one heavy double rifle and use
it only for his elephant and for camp meat. He plans three months
duration. I do not know if he can put himself a hundred years back
in history, but we are delighted to hear that he is going to
We are given to understand that firearms
laws in Poland at this time are among the best in the world, in
direct contrast to those of England, Australia and Canada. I used
to think very highly of The Empire, and I still do, but look what
has happened to its fragments!
"I believe that the shooting sports (unlike such
stylishly sanitized designer pursuits as fly fishing for the 90s)
serve as the politically incorrect metaphor for that most unpopular
of citizens - the Classical Man (as opposed to the Modern
Man). As such, when I am asked by one who fears and loathes
firearms, why anyone would find fascination in weapons, my answer
is, 'For the same reason that makes you afraid of such
On particular examination, we see that
most rifles are strictly slow-fire instruments. The idea of a quick
initial shot is not given the time of day. I will admit that the
quick first shot from the rifle is not normally required, but that
does not mean that its study should be ignored. In this connection,
the Steyr Scout is no more useful off the bench than a conventional
weapon, but it is far superior on the snapshot - without
losing anything on the bench. The snapshot in truth is not often
required, but when you need it, you really need it.
Herewith note the Foundation of the
International Society for the Elimination of Glass and Batteries
from Pistol Sights.
You doubtless noticed colleague Finn
Aagaard's recent work on killing power, which appeared in
Rifle magazine. His concluding attitude was "Better put 'em
in right, Bwana." Fact: No cartridge will suffice for a humane kill
if the bullet is improperly placed. Conversely, almost any
cartridge with sufficient penetration will suffice if it is
properly placed. The lethal zone for the larger cartridge may be
somewhat larger than that for the small one, but the difference is
not great. Essentially, if you shoot an elk, or a kudu, or a moose,
or a big old whitetail squarely through the boiler room, he will
run off a short distance and collapse - let us say, 35 paces
for a 30-06, 25 paces for a 375, and 15 paces for a 600 Nitro. If,
on the other hand, you place your bullet badly - with
anything - you are in for a long and dispiriting
We are assembling our forces for our
forthcoming birthday bash in Africa. As it stands now, the most
popular cartridge is the 308/180. In addition there will be one
30-06/180, and my trusty old Lion Scout. We will be packing at
least two Steyr Scouts. Everyone who signed up is a very good shot,
and most are experienced hunters. I foresee no difficulties in the
A thought for this month:
Never sneeze with a broken back.
Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal
use only. Not for publication.