In Praise Of Rook Rifles

By Terry Wieland

One should never underestimate the capacity of the Victorians to take the commonplace and elevate it to the level of fine–or at least functional–art.

By an extraordinary coincidence, the emergence of modern guns and rifles in England occurred just as the phenomenon of Art Nouveau was sweeping Europe and the world. Gunmakers such as Boss and Woodward fashioned their products in accordance with Art Nouveau principles, and Holland & Holland’s famous engraving pattern for the Royal, adopted in the late 1890s, is one of the finest examples of the type to be found anywhere. Art Nouveau, for those who missed it, was a movement that advocated “art as a way of life,” and incorporated it in all manner of objects, from architecture to furniture to jewelry cases.

As a formal movement, it dates from 1895, but the trends in that direction existed for some decades before. Once it was formally recognized, however, gunmakers clutched the idea to their collective bosoms. Soon, every gunmaker sported a distinctive engraving pattern, and began sculpting locks and frames to Art Nouveau principles.

Westley Richards Sherwood Rook rifle
The Westley Richards “Sherwood,” built on a special Martini action with hand-detachable barrel and lock, chambered for the .300 Sherwood.

This approach trickled down to include not only “best” matched pairs intended for dukes and marquesses, but even the lowly rook rifle. This was a small game number that existed in England in one form or another since muzzleloading days, but it really took off with the development of the self-contained cartridge. Small-caliber muzzleloaders, known as “pea rifles” from the size of their bores and lead slugs, were used to shoot small game of all descriptions, from edible rabbits to predatory hawks. With the coming of breech loaders in the 1860s, cartridges were developed for this purpose, ranging in caliber from .220 to .360, and firing a 40- to 145-grain bullet at the usual blackpowder velocities of 1,200 to 1,500 feet per second.

Kynoch .300 Rook cartridges and box
Kynoch, who loaded ammunition for Westley Richards, called the Sherwood the .300 Extra Long, to differentiate it from its parent, the .300 Rook. It launched a 140-grain bullet at 1,400 feet per second, and was extremely accurate.

Generally, such game was shot at 50 to 75 yards, and rarely more than 100. They wanted bullets that would neither destroy edible meat nor carry too far and endanger bystanders. Such rifles came to be formally known as “rook and rabbit” rifles. Holland & Holland made a particular specialty of such rifles, reportedly selling some 5,000 of them in the late 1800s. In Birmingham, Westley Richards–always a rifle specialist–and W.W. Greener were noted for their rook rifles.

Various actions were used, but the miniature Martini, a scaled-down version of the military Martini-Henry, was a favorite for its strength and its accuracy. In 1900, Greener introduced a cartridge called the .300 Rook, and a year later, Westley Richards came out with a lengthened version which they named the .300 Sherwood. Kynoch, who loaded ammunition for it, called it the .300 Extra Long. Westley Richards also developed a special rifle called the Sherwood built on the Martini action. It was modified into a takedown with an easily removable barrel and a detachable lock mechanism held in place by a thumb screw.

The .300 Sherwood launched a 140-grain bullet at 1,400 fps, a considerable gain over the .300 Rook (80 grains, 1,200 fps).

In 1906, Henry Sharp, in his book Modern Sporting Gunnery, extolled the virtues of the .300 Sherwood as a big game killer, quoting hunters in British Columbia who used it to kill bears, bighorn sheep, and one verified caribou at 220 yards. Not something I would do, but there you have it.

Alas, the coming of the .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge killed off the old rook calibers, and many of these vintage rifles were rebarreled and reworked into .22s. The advent of restrictive firearm legislation in Britain caused many to be destroyed, while others were exported to Australia, Canada, and South Africa. Historian Donald Dallas estimates the total number of rook rifles made to be in the hundreds of thousands, and while many have gone to their reward, enough are still around to make it interesting at auctions. The old cartridges are a lot of fun to work with, and a “best” quality rook rifle is something to see. It is also affordable for those who admire English workmanship but can’t aspire to a big name double rifle.

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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.

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.

SCIF Donates to Whitetail Research

Wisconsin’s whitetail deer research got a financial boost today when the Safari Club International Foundation donated $25,000 to the Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Science Services at the Wednesday meeting of the Natural Resources Board.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp accepted the donation from the foundation’s Jim Hammill, who in turn was presented with a certificate of appreciation from the agency.

Stepp called the donation an appreciated vote of confidence in the agency’s science-based conservation efforts by a respected worldwide organization.

Foundation president Joseph Hosmer said in a that statement Safari Club International was “proud to partner” with the DNR for the purposes of effective game management. “State agencies provide the most critical science to improve game management in the United States,” Hosmer said. “By working collaboratively with state agencies we will be building a long term partnership to keep sustainable wildlife populations for future generations of sportsmen and women.”

Bureau Director Jack Sullivan said the donation will be used for equipment and staff costs related to research into Wisconsin’s state wildlife animal. And, in exchange for the financial donation, the agency will provide to the foundation photographs and video showing how the donation was used for whitetail deer research.

Founded in 2000, the foundation is the charitable organization of the larger Safari Club International. It has provided $47 million to conservation, wildlife education and humanitarian programs worldwide in the past 12 years. The Safari Club International began in 1972 with a mission to protect hunters’ rights while promoting wildlife conservation. The group has about 190 chapters with about 55,000 members globally.

The DNR Bureau of Science Services in 2010 launched a multi-year research project to gather data regarding a variety of factors surrounding the white-tailed deer–including the effects of a changing predator population as well as the hunting patterns in addition to the fluctuations in hunter ranks.

Dr. Karl Martin, chief of wildlife and forestry research, said the Safari donation will be used to assess the causes and rates of fawn and adult buck mortality in the state’s whitetail deer herd. “The goal of these projects is to provide information that will help maintain Wisconsin’s healthy deer herd and continue to produce abundant recreational and trophy hunting opportunities for current and future generations of Wisconsinites.”

Martin said hunters statewide have long been interested in the DNR’s methods of estimating deer herd numbers and assessing the role of the changing predator populations. “Wisconsin’s deer research program dates back to the 1940’s and with the help of Safari Club International this long tradition is continuing to provide information for science-based management of our deer herd. The help of Safari Club International, citizen volunteers, and the sporting community, have been key components to the success of these large-scale field research projects.”

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