Tag Archives: hunting

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.

Advertisements

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.

Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument Opposed


The Arizona Game and Fish Commission recently voted to oppose efforts to create a 1.7 million acre Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument in northern Arizona proposed by the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Wilderness Society. The commission opposed the measure for several reasons. For one thing, the land is already mostly public land that is currently managed and conserved under multiple-use concepts. Instead of continuing to conserve the land, the measure was an attempt to “preserve” the land, and that would impact the commission’s ability to manage it using sound wildlife management practices.

In many instances, “preserve” means the land is locked away and humans may not be able to access those lands for recreation. It can also mean fish and game departments are prohibited from augmenting wildlife populations, manipulating habitat, or developing wildlife watering areas–all of which have far reaching implications. For example, the monument proposal entailed voluntary retirement of grazing leasing on those lands. A department analysis pointed out that “loss of livestock management can cause significant loss of water availability for wildlife.”

Another management practice lost under “preservation” is the ability to mechanically thin high-risk forests with unnatural densities or to do prescribed burns. Both of those practices are necessary to protect forest habitats from future exposure to the possibility of catastrophic wild fires. Other concerns included the monument designation prompting external pressure to ban traditional ammunition thus jeopardizing success of the Game and Fish Department’s ongoing voluntary non-lead efforts to restore California condor populations, and further restrictions on motorized game retrieval.

Ultimately, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission adopted a resolution concerning the continuing and cumulative effects that special land use designations have on multiple-use lands, including effects on access, conservation efforts and wildlife-related recreation. The resolution does not prevent future discussions and dialogues on the issue, but sets the appropriate stage for those discussions.