Category Archives: Guns & Hunting

Enjoy exciting hunting stories told by SCI members and read about the latest guns and gear they’re using in the bush.

Sustainable Management: Protecting America’s Backcountry

By John Whipple, SCI President

The American West is setting an unenviable wildfire record in 2012. In addition to the toll fire takes on human lives and property, fire also poses challenges for wildlife management and recreational access. But the fires ravaging Colorado and New Mexico are only one of many problems that impact the use and management of U.S. Forest Service lands. Weather variability, invasive species and predator/prey fluctuations are also factors affecting wildlife health, recreational use and recreational access in our National Forests, and forests require dynamic management to respond to those ever-changing problems and conditions. Despite that, the U.S. Forest Service is clinging to a one-size-fits-all management rule prohibiting local forest managers from adapting to changing needs. Safari Club International (SCI) is trying to change that.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been petitioned to consider the case of State of Wyoming vs. U.S. Department of Agriculture, in which Wyoming is challenging the legality of the U.S. Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule).  The 2001 Roadless Rule is an inflexible, centralized, D.C.-based planning approach for 58.5 million acres of National Forest lands. The core problem is that permanent planning aspects of the Roadless Rule make it impossible for local forest unit planners to respond to changing local conditions, and deprives them of tools needed to prevent catastrophic forest fires, reduce the impact of weather conditions, solve predator/prey imbalances and improve access for all recreationalists.

On June 15, 2012, Safari Club International filed our own amicus brief to encourage the Supreme Court to review the 2001 Roadless Rule. SCI’s brief explains how the Roadless Rule contradicts the U.S. Forest Service’s adaptive management approach to forest planning, and violates statutory mandates to revise forest unit plans at least every 15 years. The brief also addresses the inequities that roadless restrictions pose for some members of the hunting community, and the benefits that roadways provide for many species. SCI’s goal is to impress upon the Court the significant impact that the Roadless Rule has on the resources that SCI members and all hunters seek to enjoy in our nation’s forests.

We know that anti-hunting/anti-recreation aggressors will use this court case to further bend the management of our nation’s national forests against hunting and recreation. Those 501(c)(3) “charitable” organizations fighting to protect the Roadless Rule are doing so to appease their own rigid ideology–not the American public. Their threats to our heritage are ever present, and that is why SCI is submitting our own brief to support Wyoming’s challenge.

The position we have taken in opposition to the one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule will not be a popular one in some quarters. We know there will be focused attacks on our organization, but we also know that through our support for active, healthy forest management, SCI is helping to improve wildlife populations for American sportsmen to enjoy for future generations.

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From The Hands Of The Master

The marrying of supreme function under the worst of conditions, with craftsmanship and beauty unlike any seen to that time, is the greatest legacy of the Manton brothers.

BY Terry Wieland

No matter how much you read about something, there is no substitute for personal experience. All my life, I have been haunted by the Manton brothers–John and Joseph–who are acknowledged as the fathers of the London fine gun trade. Before the Mantons, so tradition goes, guns were crude, unwieldy tools. After the Mantons, they were finely balanced, beautifully made, works of art.

In all likelihood, other gunmakers from the Manton era (1800 to 1835, roughly) who are less revered might argue that they, too, contributed to the transformation, and they may have a point. Where Joseph Manton particularly shone, however, was in the fact that so many of his craftsmen left his service to establish businesses of their own, preaching and practicing the Manton gospel of perfection in balance and workmanship.

These men included James Purdey, Charles Lancaster, and Thomas Boss–names that have resided at the “top of the tree” in London to this day. Although I have seen Manton guns in various collections, until recently I never had the opportunity to study one really closely, to put it together, and to see just how an original Manton feels in the hands.

The gun in question is an original flintlock Manton made around 1818, in the midst of the Regency era. Many Manton flintlocks were converted to caplocks, so finding one in its original state, in fine condition, is rare, and that rarity is reflected in their prices. A Manton flintlock might sell for $30,000, where a caplock conversion goes for $5,000. Having handled many different flintlock guns and rifles over the years, I have never been too impressed with their balance and feel, never mind the workmanship. The Manton, however, is a different proposition altogether. Although the barrels are 32 inches (made by Charles Lancaster, we should add) and the gun weighs more than seven pounds, it has better balance than most new and expensive shotguns you find today from reputable makers. How it must have felt to an officer just back from the Napoleonic Wars, accustomed to handling a Brown Bess musket, I can only imagine.

Colonel Peter Hawker, a veteran of the Peninsular War who was badly wounded at the Battle of Talavera and suffered the effects for the rest of his life, was a great Manton admirer, and extolled both his products and his disciples (Purdey and Lancaster especially) in his published works. Col. Hawker was one of the most interesting characters in the whole panoply of English shooting in the 1800s, who drove his ravaged body to shoot in all conceivable weather. His guns endured what his body did, so when Hawker praised a firearm, it was not merely for its charm or good looks.

This marrying of supreme function under the worst of conditions, with craftsmanship and beauty unlike any seen to that time, is the greatest legacy of the Manton brothers. It is even more astonishing when you consider the effects of black powder, with its corrosion and fouling.

The gun I examined, now almost 200 years old, was out of date when Lord Cardigan led the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, and considered an antique when Lord Ripon was dropping birds at Sandringham. But my friend who owns the gun has loaded it, shot it, hunted with it, and even has a photograph of three grouse that he shot with this gun some years ago. He says it swings and shoots better than most modern shotguns. Sad to say, the craftsmanship that Joseph Manton inspired is now disappearing, even in England, where the few remaining fine gunmakers are incorporating CNC technology and slowly phasing out actual, trained craftsmen. A century from now, the Manton may exist as a living reproach for the skills that we have allowed to die.

McMillan Adds Caping Knife

Handcrafted knife is specifically designed for delicate work in small areas.

McMillan is best known for its lines of ultra-accurate high-end hunting and tactical rifles, but it also offers custom hunting knives. Recently, McMillan added to that line a small caping knife that’s specifically designed for the fine, detailed cutting necessary when removing a hide that’s going to be mounted.

McMillan Caping knife
When caping an animal, you don’t just remove the hide from the head, you also have to split the lips, nose, and eyelids, and also turn the ears inside out all the way to the tips. And you have to do all of that preferably without cutting a hole through the cape or yourself.

When caping an animal, you don’t just remove the hide from the head, you also have to split the lips, nose, and eyelids, and also turn the ears inside out all the way to the tips. And you have to do all of that preferably without cutting a hole through the cape or yourself. I ran a small taxidermy shop before getting into publishing, and have some experience when it comes to what works and what doesn’t for caping. What works is a sharp blade–one that’s fine, nimble and light, but not so light that it “flutters” around in your hand. For me, caping in the field always meant two knives–one a Victorinox 3 1/4-inch paring knife, and the other a small X-Acto knife with an extra pack of replacement blades. After removing the cape, I’d find a smooth stone about the size of a baseball and stretch the hide over that so I could carefully pare down areas using the Victorinox, and when I got to the delicate areas, I’d switch over to the X-Acto and its razors.

It would be nice to do both the major and fine work with a single knife, so I’m anxious to give the new McMillan a try this hunting season. I see several things going for it as a possible one knife replacement for my two. For one thing, I like its size.  Like the paring knife I’ve been using, the McMillan Caping Knife is big enough to manage making a “Y” or “7” incision at the back of the skull, but is also small enough that you can control it during that incision. Another thing I like are the small serrations along the top of the blade so you can more easily control it using your finger. That’s the type of control needed around the lips, nose and eyes. Finally, it’s made for McMillan by DiamondBlade and from what I’ve read on DiamondBlade, the darn things just stay sharp.

If it holds its edge, then this knife should be just the thing for guides who cape their client’s trophies. For everyone else, it’s a handy size for general utility and camp use.–Scott Mayer

Introductions

By Craig Boddington

Some hunters strictly avoid nonnative, introduced big-game species. I respect this ethic, and trust that those same hunters also eschew ring-necked pheasants, chukars and Hungarian partridges here in North America. Let’s face it: The hand of man has left fingerprints all over the globe, and sometimes it’s very difficult to determine exactly what is “native” and what is not.

Fallow deer, for instance, are thought of as a European deer–but they have been moved around for so long that their exact origin isn’t entirely clear. They are now huntable on every continent save Antarctica, and even, in most regions, offer a choice between free range and estate hunting. So, since we consider there are six “hunting continents,” are there six fallow deer to hunt? Or just one? That’s up to each of us, but the only possibility for a true “native range” fallow deer probably lies in Iran! These animals were introduced here and there at least as far back as the days of the Roman Empire.

Australia’s water buffalo and banteng were introduced in the mid-19th Century as a meat source for early settlers. Many of the worldwide populations of feral goats and pigs were introduced for the same reason, some of them at least a couple hundred years earlier. Pioneers in New Zealand found a wonderful climate devoid of
large mammals, so over the years they experimented with many species. Mule deer and blue sheep, for example, didn’t make it. Moose were once established, but it’s been a generation since there was a confirmed sighting. Red deer, Himalayan tahr, chamois and fallow deer were perhaps the greatest successes, but New Zealand boasts isolated populations of whitetail, sambar and rusa deer as well.

Boddington with free-ranging, introduced sambar deer
Boddington with a great sambar stag, taken just at dark on the fourth day of a tough hunt. This herd of sambar has been free-ranging along the Central Coast for 80 years, but only recently has access become available.

Many introductions have been more recent. A lot of the non-native species in Texas–in a time when whitetail deer had become scarce—-were brought in as ornamental curiosities, without any forethought regarding either conservation or hunting potential. Some introductions were the result of careful study. When the late Frank Hibben headed up New Mexico’s game commission, he had a concept of “habitat niches” unfilled by native game. His successful experiments included Persian ibex, gemsbok and aoudad. Hindsight being a wonderful tool, isn’t it a shame he didn’t experiment with similar species that are now scarce in their native lands, like Walia ibex and scimitar oryx?

Even so, there are many instances today where introduced populations of various species are far more plentiful than on native range, and in some cases offer the only hope for survival. Perhaps the most classic example is Pere David’s deer, which became extinct in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. At that time a herd on the Duke of Bedford’s estate was all that remained in the world, but since then herds of this unusual deer have been established in Argentina, South Africa and the United States—-and Pere David’s deer have been re-established in China. Arabian oryx and scimitar oryx from the United States have been reintroduced into the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. The Cretan ibex or kri kri was already very scarce on Crete when, just a couple of decades ago, they were introduced onto a couple of Greek islands. Today it is believed that the remnant population on Crete is no longer pure because of
interbreeding with feral goats, but populations have been established in Macedonia and elsewhere.

Whimsical introductions are not always beneficial because of competition with native wildlife and potential habitat destruction, but there are many other good examples of introduced species providing a reservoir for animals that have been diminished or eliminated in their native lands. Obviously zoo populations are another reservoir. There are a number of species that have been saved only in captivity, but zoos tend to have ongoing problems with funding and space limitations. Introduced herds are often self-supporting and self-sustaining through the live capture and sale of breeding stock to create new herds, and trophy hunting of surplus, older males. Some areas, including Argentina, New Zealand and Texas have created major industries from hunting non-native species, and the wildlife has proliferated.

Given a choice, I would always prefer to hunt an animal on its native range. If this isn’t possible, and given a further choice, I would much prefer to hunt free range than estate. However, I freely admit that I have taken species in Texas that I could not take on native range. Perfect examples are both scimitar oryx and addax. It’s highly unlikely that those animals will ever again be hunted in North Africa, and I wanted examples of them with my other oryx. I make no apologies!

Over the years, there have been so many introductions of non-native species that you never know exactly what you might run into. Two years ago, in Argentina’s Sierra de la Ventana, I “discovered” a population of Himalayan tahr. Okay, I didn’t discover anything; they’d been there for 20 years, but nobody in the English-speaking world knew about them. We now have them as a category in our record book, and an addition to the available species in South America.

For some years, I’ve been aware that there was a substantial herd of sambar not far from where I live in California’s Central Coast. They’ve been free-ranging there since the 1930s, but access has been very limited. After years of effort, local guide and taxidermist Don Anderson finally secured permission to take a few older bulls every year. The sambar is one of the most impressive deer in the world, but although widespread in Asia, it is not currently huntable anywhere on native range. So I got on the list!

Honestly, I expected a very easy hunt. This is often the way we think of nonnative species…but it isn’t always that way. (Aoudad, for instance, are never easy wherever you hunt them!) It was not an easy hunt at all. We saw and passed quite a few, but we put in four long days before I finally got a shot at the kind of bull we were looking for. Non-native he might be, but he was a great trophy taken on a memorable hunt. That’s the way hunting introduced species can be, and often is, and I think it’s marvelous that today’s hunting world offers us such opportunities…with conservation of major species often a by-product.