Sighting in a rifle is an important thing to do if you want your rifle to be dead on when taking a shot. Which brings us to the Carlos Hathcock way of sighting in a rifle. For those that don’t know who Carlos Hathcock is, he was a United States Marine Corps (USMC) sniper with a service record of 93 confirmed kills.
What type of rifle did Carlos Hathcock used?
Carlos used a Winchester Model 70 .30-06 match ammunition loaded with 173-grain boat-tailed bullets, also used an 8-power Unertl scope.
What many people don’t realize is that the Unertl scope back in the day doesn’t have glass amplification. There also isn’t any internal adjustments to zero. The scope adjusts with turrets integral to the rear scope mount, and the tube of the scope floats inside adjustment pins. The scope reticle does not have Mil Dots like the modern-day sniper scopes. Mil Dots gives you accurate unit measurements to compensate for gravity and wind drift, this is like “Kentucky windage”. So in other words using this Unertl requires lots of downrange practice. It is such an accomplishment of what he can do using what he had at the time. Hathcock’s record and the extraordinary details of the missions he undertook made him a legend in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a serious threat to the NVA (North Vietnamese Army), which they placed a bounty of U.S. $30,000 on Hathcock’s head.
Carlos Hathcock Method of Sighting a Rifle The following is a story by Gus Fisher a retired MGySgt USMC who talks of the time he met Carlos. What was unique was the way Carlos had taught Gus to sight in a rifle. Here’s the excerpt from M14Forum: As mentioned before, I was a very young Marine Sergeant when I came up to THE Marine Corps Rifle Team the first time as the junior Armorer.
I didn’t grow up using high power rifles. We used shotguns to hunt quail, rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, ducks and geese. I used a Mark I Ruger Target .22 pistol for racoon hunting and used a Model 74 Winchester .22 to really learn the basics of rifle marksmanship. My introduction to both high power shooting and long range shooting was in Marine Corps Boot Camp. On Qual Day in Boot Camp, I ran 7 consecutive bullseye’s from the offhand position at 200 yards. The 8th round was a pinwheel bullseye, but it was on the target next to mine, so I got a maggie’s drawers. Knee High wind got me after that and I fell apart and only shot Sharpshooter in boot camp.
I bought a sporterized Mauser in .308 with a scope on it from a fellow Marine during the time I was going through the Armorer’s OJT program on Camp Pendleton. I used that for ground squirrel hunting, but was never really satisfied with my zero on the rifle. So after I came up on “The Big Team,” I asked the second senior Armorer – Ted Hollabaugh, if he could show me how to REALLY sight in a rifle with a scope. He said sure and he would do it, but since we had all the talent in the world at MTU, why didn’t I ask one of the shooters? Well, I was a young kid and I didn’t know any of the shooters that well – most of them were much older than I. That’s when he suggested I ask Carlos Hathcock for some help. I didn’t know Carlos then and did not know of his exploits in NM and Sniper shooting. Ted talked to Carlos about it and Carlos stopped by the shop later that afternoon.
Carlos looked at me and said, “So you want to sight in your rifle, eh? OK, thoroughly clean the bore and chamber. Dry the bore out with patches just before you come down to Range 4 tomorrow at noon on the 200 yard line. Have the sling on the rifle that you are going to use in hunting.” Then he went on about his business.
When I got to Range 4 the next day, he had a target in the air ready for me. He told me to get down in the best prone position I had. He checked me and adjusted my position just a bit. Then he said, “Before you shoot. The MOST important thing I want you to do is take your time and make it the best shot possible. It doesn’t matter how long you take, just make it a good shot. ALSO, and this is as important, make sure you give me an accurate call on where you think the bullet hit the target.” After I broke the shot, I told him where I thought the bullet had hit. He checked it by using a spotting scope when the target came back up. He grinned just slightly and said, “not a bad call.” He then took a screwdriver and adjusted my scope a bit. He had me record everything possible: -about the shot and weather – humidity – temperature – wind – how I felt when the shot went off – what kind of ammo I was using – the date – virtually everything about the conditions on the range that day. I had never seen such a complete and precise recording of such things in a log book. He told me that if a fly had gone by the rifle and farted while I was shooting, to make sure I recorded that. Then he told me to thoroughly clean the bore and chamber, and have it dry when I came back at 12 noon the next day. I was kind of surprised he only had me shoot once, but when you are getting free lessons – you don’t question or argue.
The next day, he told me the same thing. I called the shot and it was closer to the center of the bullseye. He made another slight adjustment and told me to clean the bore and chamber, dry the bore thoroughly and come back the next day at noon. Then we recorded everything possible about that day. The following day, the shot was darn near exactly centered on the bullseye. Then he told me to clean and dry the bore before coming back the next day. Then we recorded everything about that day.
About a week into the process, Ted asked me how it was going. I said it was going really well, but we were only shooting one shot a day. Ted grinned and said, “How many shots do you think you are going to get at a deer? Don’t you think you had better make the first one count?” There was a level of knowledge and wisdom there that I immediately appreciated, though I came to appreciate it even more as time went on.
At Various Ranges We continued this process with the sitting position at 200 yards, then prone and sitting at 300 yards and 400 yards. Then we went down to 100 yards and included offhand in the mix. Each day and each shot we recorded everything possible in the book and that included the sight settings for each position at each yard line. We also marked the scope adjustment settings with different color nail polish for each yard line.
When that was over after a few weeks, I thought I had a super good zero on the rifle. But no, not according to Carlos. He started calling me up on mornings it was foggy, rainy, windy, high or low humidity, etc., etc. and we fired a single shot and recorded the sight settings and everything else about the day. (I actually used four or five log books by the time we were through and put that info all into one ring binder.) I almost had an encyclopedia on that rifle. Grin.
Well, after a few months, we had shot a single round in most every kind of condition there was. Then about the 12th of December, it was REALLY cold and it seemed like an artic wind was blowing, there was about four inches of snow on the ground and freezing rain was falling. He called me up and told me to meet him at Range 4 at noon. I had gotten to know him well enough to joke, “Do you really want to watch me shoot in this kind of weather? He chuckled and said, “Well, are you ever going to hunt in this kind of weather?” I sighed and said, “See you at noon.”
By the next spring, I had records for sight settings for the first shot out of a “cold” barrel for almost any weather, position and range I would use and temperature/wind/humidity condition imagineable. He had informed me months before that was basically how he wanted all Marine Snipers to sight in their rifles as only the first shot counts, though of course they would do it out to 700 yards on a walking target and further on a stationary target. They also practiced follow up shots, of course and we did some of that as well. It gave me great confidence that I could dial in my scope for anything I would come across.
Some years later in the late 90’s or really early this century, I was talking to a Police Sniper and he was really impressed I knew Carlos. I told him about the way Carlos had me sight in my rifle and suggested he do the same thing as he was a sniper for the Henrico Country SWAT team. He had never heard of that and took it to heart. About two and a half years later, he got called to a domestic situation where a husband had a handgun to his wife’s head and was going to kill her. After the Sergeant in charge and the Pysch guy determined the husband was really going to do it, the Police Officer was asked if he could hit the guy at just over 200 yards and not hit the wife. He said he knew he could (because he had followed Carlos method), so they told him to take the shot. One shot and the perp’s head exploded. The wife was scared crapless, but unharmed. When he told me about it about when I saw him the first time a week after the incident, the first thing I asked him if he was OK about taking the shot. He understood I was talking about the psychological aspects and he really appreciated it. He said, it had bothered him a little that night until he remembered that if he had not taken the shot, the wife would have died. I checked back with him and he really was OK with having taken the shot. I’ve checked back every gun show I see him at and I know he is doing fine about it.
Royal Tiger Imports brings Ethiopia’s Arsenal to America
Story by Frank Jardim and Photos by Ulie Wiegand
If you don’t know by now, Royal Tiger Imports is offering for sale some of the rarest late 19th century to mid-20th century military rifles and carbines to ever make their way to the collector market. What makes them really significant is not so much the types of weapons available, as it is their remarkable and undisputable provenance to Ethiopia. One of the least studied and most important military powers in Africa, Ethiopia’s history was shaped by the arms its people bore.
Military history buffs have likely, at least, heard of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 that forced Emperor Haile Selassie into exile until British forces finally liberated the country in 1941. If that’s all you know, the good news is there’s a lot more Ethiopian military history for you to discover that will be eye-opening.
Ethiopia, called Abyssinia back then, is an ancient nation, more a peer of the Roman Empire than of Egypt. At the close of the 19th century, it had the largest and best-equipped army in Africa. Its emperors, and one empress, knew they could not hold back the wave of European colonization with swords and spears. at was going to take diplomacy and guns – lots and lots of guns. For over 40 years, Ethiopia artfully played the European powers off each other, while they armed up, organized and trained a formidably large army equipped with a diverse array of metallic-
cartridge repeating rifles from various nations spanning the black powder and smokeless powder eras. eir rifles were generally obsolete by European standards, but they made up in numbers what they lacked in comparative technical sophistication.
You might be surprised to know that, unlike nearly all other African nations, Ethiopia was never successfully conquered and colonized by any European power. e Italians did defeat Emperor Selassie’s army in 1935, but it should be noted that the Ethiopian forces were limited to infantry with some horse cavalry, while the Italians brought modern airplanes, tanks and poison gas to the battlefield. It was hardly a fair fight, and the League of Nations, of which Ethiopia and Italy were both members, did not act seriously to stop the invasion. However, despite Italy’s apparent victory, and their installation of a colonial infrastructure to effect their rule in this geographically huge country about the combined size of the four corners states, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, they quickly discovered a fly in the ointment.
The Ethiopians were not willing to be ruled by colonial masters. Tens of thousands of them fought on in the name of their exiled emperor, waging an aggressive rebellion that denied Italy control of the majority of the country. The rebels even tried to assassinate the top Italian general in charge, and very nearly succeeded.
WHENEVER I READ military history, I always get curious about the existing artifacts associated with the subject. When people go to museums and see the real uniforms, equipment and firearms used in a historic time or place, it’s natural for them to feel a direct connection with that past time through those artifacts. They were actually there, and somehow they survived to the present for us to see and sometimes even touch. Up until now, you could never find anything Ethiopian to connect you to the First or Second Italo-Ethiopian Wars, Ethiopia’s UN participation in the Korean War, or even the 1971 communist overthrow of the emperor or the civil war that continued until the communists were finally defeated in 1991.
I am amazed at what Royal Tiger Imports has accomplished. It really seemed impossibly unlikely in this day and age – maybe in 1965, but not today.
Anyone who recalls the ads in the American Rifleman magazine for surplus military guns through the 1960s will tell you it was a golden age for collectors.
The western nations, by then largely recovered from the devastation of World War II, were modernizing their armies and had a lot of obsolete weapons on hand. Plenty of them, by sale or gift, made their way into the armies of what were once called Third World nations. Ethiopia was one of them. Those countries needed arms to fight growing communist insurgencies armed with surplus weapons from the Soviet Union, “Red” China (as we called it then), and the satellite states they seeded around the world.
Though Cold War national interests sucked up a lot of surplus, American collectors got their share from the arsenals of the major world powers, thanks to the entrepreneurial efforts of domestic firearms importers large and small. The variety of guns available was astonishing, and naturally, the importers sought those in the best condition that they could obtain.
Sadly, the thing about surplus is, once it’s gone, it’s gone. As collectors, we haven’t had much reason to get our hopes up lately. The last huge caches of World War II-era guns came out of the former Communist Bloc countries in the 1990s when the Iron Curtain fell. That’s when Inter Ordnance Inc. came on the scene and made a name for themselves as importers. Among other things, I.O. Inc. bought Mosin Nagant rifles and captured Kar98 Mausers from Russia, WWI-era M95 Mannlicher straight-pull carbines from Bulgaria, and thousands of demilled parts kits from German MG-34, MG-42 and MP40 machine guns, and brought them home to the American collector market. Company CEO Uli Wiegand was in his element hunting down and orchestrating these deals.
A collector of historic military guns since he was 12 years old, vintage arms were, and remain, his passion. When the surplus dried up and the Clinton-era U.S. State Department choked off imports, I.O. Inc. turned to manufacturing for a while. But, in recent years, Wiegand has returned to his first love in the firearms industry, the real adventure of traveling the world searching out historic military guns to bring home to America for collectors. He formed a new company, Royal Tiger Imports, just for this purpose. I had a chance to talk with him about RTI’s most exciting success to date that brought him to Africa to acquire the best of the surplus arms held in storage by the Ethiopian government.
American Shooting Journal How on earth does something like this come together? Uli Wiegand It’s not easy, but I love it. From the time I was first told about a huge cache of historic guns in Ethiopia to the day I got the first guns through customs was about eight years. I’m approached by people with stories of treasures often enough that I was doubtful this Ethiopian cache even existed. Most of the stories are just that. I made some inquiries and this story was true. At that point, it was a massive research project to discover the right contacts and administrative channels on the African side to open the door to negotiate a deal. It was an agonizingly slow process. What takes five minutes here, takes five days there. They work on African time. It took about five years to get it all figured out, and then another three to make it happen. It turned out they had around 230,000 small arms, of which I bought about half, knowing that I’d probably only find 50,000 to 60,000 worth importing as complete firearms. The majority just wouldn’t be worth it, though they might be worthwhile to break down for parts. ASJ What did you find? UW It was really amazing. The oldest guns were flintlock muzzleloaders from the mid-1800s, and the most recent were German G3 Assault rifles. Basically, just about every firearm used by the Ethiopian Army for a hundred years was there. Not all of them ever made of course, but examples of just about all the types used. For me, the early, pre-
WWI bolt-actions were the most fascinating. I found guns I’d never held before. Russian Berdan II 10.75x58mm rifles, for example. That was the predecessor of the M1891 Mosin Nagant rifle. Russia under the czar, like Ethiopia, was an Orthodox Christian country. The backstory on how the Berdans got to Ethiopia is the Russians knew the Italians had colonial designs on Ethiopia and did not want to see an Orthodox nation fall under the control of a Roman Catholic nation. In the 1880s and 1890s, the Russians provided something like 30,000 Berdan II rifles to Emperor Menelik II.
France was a direct rival of Italy in Africa and provided the Ethiopians with 1866 Chaspot rifles converted to metallic cartridges in the Gras pattern, as well as various newer, 1880s-vintage Gras rifles and carbines.
The Germans were rivals of the Italians too, so it’s no surprise that the Ethiopians got a lot of Model 1888 Commission rifles and carbines. I found all these models with hand-carved markings in Amharic script indicating the guns were the property of Emperor Menelik II or his wife, Empress Taytu. That was how they marked their military guns, just like in America we marked our M16A1 rifles with “Property of U.S. Govt.” The soldiers who worked with us at the base where the guns were stored did the translating for us There were also M1888, M1890 and M1895 Austrian Mannlicher rifles. The M95 was the main rifle used by Austria-Hungary in World War I and they are quite rare today in their unaltered, 8x50mm-caliber, full-length rifle configuration. I even found some sniper models with the scope bases and bayonets for them.
I mention all these guns first because all of them were very likely to have been in service at the time of the First Italo-Ethiopian War. They may have even been in the hands of Menelik II’s troops at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. By the way, the Ethiopian soldiers we met were very proud of their historic military successes. They know that battle like Americans know the Battle of Yorktown.
[Sidenote: The Battle of Adwa was a humiliating defeat for the Italian Army and brought about the end of Italy’s first attempt to conquer Ethiopia. This battle is a stand-out in military history because it was so rare for Africa to meaningfully resist, much less defeat, the military power of the colonizing Europeans.]
ASJ There was a fairly large number of Italian Carcano rifles, from what I’ve seen on your website. UW We found Carcanos ranging from pre-World War I M1891 rifles through just about all the carbine variants in use up through World War II. Since the Italian Army didn’t use the Carcano in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, I think those were left by the Italians after they were driven out by the British in 1941. We found quite a few of the World War I upgraded Italian Vetterli rifles (the Model 1870/87/15) that must have come over during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War too. I think so because some of them had the round “AOI” stamp in the buttstock, indicating they were for issue to local forces supporting the Italian colonial government. AOI stood for “Italian East Africa.” I found that mark on other obsolete guns too, like the French Gras, which says to me that the Italians probably didn’t want the native forces to have anything too good that they might turn against them.
The most amazing Carcano I found was one of the 200 carbines specially made at Beretta, engraved and gold inlaid, for use by the personal guard of the last governor of Italian East Africa, General Prince Amedeo di Savoia, Duke of Aosta. I’ve read he had his men use them for ceremonies to impress natives. ASJ It’s hard to believe anything that beautiful could have escaped plunder over the past 80 years. UW Well, it was completely disguised under a lot of dirt. The guns were only recently moved to covered storage at the army logistics base. My understanding is that prior to that, they were under the sky, maybe with a tarp covering them at best. They were all covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust, and one dusty carbine looks pretty much like the next. There were six storage warehouses in all to go through. Five of them were just corrugated metal sheeting attached to locally cut log framing. Not 2x4s or any other type of finished lumber, but actual whole tree trunks – and not very thick ones either. The floors were dirt and there was bird poop all over the place. All the guns would need to be cleaned before shipping and I had to hire a team of 10 guys locally to clean and repair rifles for shipment.
ASJ What was the military base like? UW Primitive by our standards. It was fenced and guarded, though I felt sympathy for the soldiers in the rickety-looking guard tower. We nicknamed it “The Leaning Tower of Nazareth.” When we opened up the warehouse doors, the goats living on the base got curious and came over to look at the guns too. The soldiers had the goats for milk. There was no electricity in the warehouses, so I had to buy a full-size, towed diesel generator and lights so we could work in there. We did a lot of inspection by flashlight, and my hat-brim light turned out to be very useful. It took four trips to Africa to go through all the guns. We couldn’t stay at the logistics base because there were really no accommodations you would want to stay in there or the tiny village nearby. The soldiers, like the villagers, lived in little sheet metal or block buildings. On the base they’d converted a 20-foot shipping container into a little dwelling and that was as nice as it got for them. This is not a rich country, but the people seemed happier than we are. They like Americans too.
We stayed at a big hotel in the capital city, Addis Ababa, where the international airport is. Even in the city there were animals everywhere. They don’t eat pork over there so you see these ferocious-looking warthogs hanging around but nobody seems concerned about them. We saw camels just walking along the highway, horses too, and outside the city there were monkeys and baboons in the trees. We weren’t on safari but we saw a lot of wildlife every day. It was an hour and a half drive, each way, to and from the base. Our transport was an old Toyota Land Cruiser with broken A/C. At times, the road up the mountain to the base was really nothing more than rain-rutted trail.
ASJ Did you actually inspect every gun? UW I had to … to separate the junk from the gems; but I wasn’t by myself. I brought a team of five arms specialists with me from the U.S. and Europe, and I had some assistance from the soldiers on base too. The team would cull through the stacks and I’d inspect what they pulled. Since I bought 130,000 guns, I inspected at least that many. My hands became so painful and swollen from handling guns, working actions and such, I needed to see a doctor to get cortisone shots in my fingers to keep working. The pain didn’t take away much of the fun of the treasure hunt. What a thrill it was to make a great discovery.
ASJ Anything else like the Duke of Aosta Carcano Carbine? UW I believe I found one of Emperor Haile Selassie’s personal hunting rifles. It’s a custom Mauser, engraved and bearing his name.
ASJ What was that doing in there? He’s a national hero, is he not? UW He is, and that’s a good question. In addition to the military arms in storage, there were lots of civilian guns with paper tags attached to them indicating who they were taken from and how much ammunition was taken. I learned these were privately owned guns that were confiscated by the communist Derg when they overthrew the emperor in 1974. They disarmed the population so they couldn’t resist them. Eventually the people drove the communists out, but I bet they could have done it before 1991 had they been armed at the start.
ASJ Were there many guns from the communist times? UW I’m getting ahead of myself, but the answer is yes. I found and imported M91/30 Mosin Nagants and Bulgarian refurbished Mannlicher M95 carbines. The funny thing was I immediately recognized the Bulgarian carbines as the exact same type I’d imported 30 years ago.
They had that commie, orangey-colored varnish on the stock. I also imported the Czech VZ 52 rifles. Those guns were once nearly impossible to find on the American collector market. There were also SKS, PPs 43, VZ 24 and 26 and PPSH-43 submachine guns, and a ton of RPD and DP machine guns, along with Goryunovs. In my next trip, I have to go through all the eastern bloc guns to separate the importable ones from the non-importable.
ASJ What did I skip? UW We found lots of military Mausers going back to World War I Gewehr 98s with their roller coaster rear sights. There were extremely rare, 1930s-vintage FN-made export Mausers with Ethiopia’s Lion of Judah crest, and previously unknown Czech export Mausers that are essentially German Kar98s except for the markings. The Germans had the BRNO factory set up to make Mausers during the war. The Czechs later put that equipment to good use making guns for Ethiopian rearmament in 1945. Yugoslavia also supplied Mausers to Ethiopia in the 1950s and 1960s and I found M24/47s, as well as Yugoslavian remarked German Kar98s.
There was also an abundance of British Enfield, No. 1 Mk. III rifles, No. 4 rifles from British, Canadian and American makers, and finally, rare No. 5 Jungle carbines. These guns were obtained by Ethiopia after World War II and many were in beautiful shape. My friend Ian McCollum (from Forgotten Weapons on YouTube.com) pointed out that when the British left Ethiopia to continue the fighting in Europe, they took all the war material with them. Like the Italians, they also had colonial designs on Ethiopia and didn’t want to leave the people armed and capable of resistance. I’m not sure of the exact circumstances that the Ethiopians obtained the No. 4 rifles, but they had a lot of them, and some were clearly refurbished immediately after World War II. Many of these were in very nice shape under the dust coating. Like they had just been turned in from service.
ASJ I think the guns that made the biggest buzz with American collectors were the M1 Carbines you found. What’s the story with those guns? UW The United States provided the Ethiopian Army with small arms after World War II. The M1 Carbines I found were part of that. What’s gotten the collectors so excited is these guns appear to have never been rebuilt by foreign arsenals and virtually all makers and variations were represented, from very early production with flip rear-sight, no bayonet lug and “I” cut stock, to a few immediate post-World War II U.S. arsenal rebuilds. Condition runs the gamut from well-worn to clearly unissued, though they all show the dents and scratches and dings of 75 years of storage. Ethiopian troops used them in the Korean War. They were a United Nations member, and Emperor Haile Selassie sent a small combat force to support UN operations against the communist invasion of South Korea. Some of these guns may have been there. I hope to get more carbines in, but my request for importation of the second batch was denied and we might be looking at the last of the “as-issued” World War II carbines we’re ever going to see.
ASJ Were there many machine guns in the mix that didn’t originate in the communist bloc nations? UW Quite a few, and I’ll be bringing some in as parts kits, particularly the World War II MG-42s and post-war MG-3s. There were also British FAL rifles and German G-3 rifles that I’ll demilitarize for parts. For me, the greatest machine gun finds were the first-generation World War I German MP-18 and Italian OVP 1915 Villar Parosa submachine guns. Those are incredibly rare. There weren’t many – no more than 20 of each. I can’t stomach the thought of cutting these rare guns up for importation to America, so they will be sold to European collectors.
ASJ In many respects, this Ethiopian cache seems like a time capsule. UW I agree. Only some of the earliest guns, a few of the Gras and Berdan II models, show evidence of modification from the standard to meet the needs of the Ethiopians. They shortened the stocks and barrels on some of the Berdan guns. Everything after that appears to be unaltered. It’s fascinating. Overall, I wish the condition was better on some of the oldest guns, but for pieces ranging from 140 to 75 years old, I’m glad as many were as nice as they were. If these guns had been in one of the tropical African countries, they’d be rust-dust and rotted wood. Fortunately for us, Ethiopia has a dry climate. Some of the guns were in remarkably nice condition and we offer the customer the option to upgrade with hand selection. While most of the World War II and later era guns can be had with no metal pitting or stock cracks, in general, most of the oldest, pre-World War I guns were missing most or all original finish. Many had some surface pitting on the metal and cracks or other damage to the stocks. However, I don’t think most of these guns are being collected as examples-
of-type. With the exception of the M1 carbines, the people who are buying them are interested in the history they were a part of.
More than a century ago, when some armorer carved that little crown and the Amharic letters to signify that Gewehr 88 was the property of Emperor Menelik II, it ceased to be just an example of type. If you had an 1873 Springfield Carbine used at the Battle of Little Big Horn, the history is more important to you than a little surface pitting. Everyone should read the specific condition descriptions for each type of historic firearm we offer, as they vary by type, and feel free to give us a call with specific questions. If something doesn’t match our description, customers can call us to make arrangements for return or exchange.
Editor’s note: For more info, visit royaltigerimports.com.
The Virginian’s James Drury Discusses Life On The Popular Western
The Virginian was a Western TV show that ran from 1962 to 1971. It was based on the 1902 Owen Wister novel, “The Virginian, A Horseman of the Plains.” The star was the foreman of the Shiloh Ranch, played by James Drury. He was known only as The Virginian, the man with no name. The series circled around the foreman’s quest to maintain an orderly lifestyle at Shiloh. It was set in Medicine Bow, Wyo., around the year 1898. The Shiloh ranch was named after the two-day American Civil War Battle of Shiloh, Tenn.
The Virginian ran for nine seasons; it was television’s third longest running Western after Bonanza and Gunsmoke. Towards the end of its run, spaghetti Westerns were becoming popular, so the format was changed in the final season and it was renamed to The Men From Shiloh. Sadly, it was discontinued along with other Western shows in what was known as the “rural purge” of 1969 to 1971. CBS had become known as the “country broadcasting system” and sought to change its image.
Drury grew up on a ranch in Salem, Ore., and moved to Houston, Texas in 1974. Besides The Virginian, he appeared on Walker Texas Ranger, Kung Fu, The Red Skelton Show, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Forbidden Planet and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1991, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. I had an opportunity to talk to him about the show, and discovered that he is a real authentic Old West individual, who doesn’t just talk the talk but grew up in an outdoors lifestyle with guns and horses.
Rachel Alexander Did you grow up shooting or hunting on the ranch where you lived?
James Drury I did, both, my first .30-30 Winchester when I was 6 years old. My grandfather taught me how to shoot. I fell down on my butt with the first shot. I learned to brace myself with the second shot. I’ve been a natural shooter all my life. My dad was a professor at NYU and my mother took courses there and married the professor. He would come back during the summer and holidays. They had a successful marriage living like that for over 50 years, even though my dad was never there in the wintertime.
Grandfather helped me with woodcraft and doing things in the countryside. I based the character of The Virginian on him. He was raised in Missouri and came west on the wagon train when he was 15 or 16. When he was 12, he was driving a 20-mule team in the coal mines of Missouri. Nowadays, I don’t know of anyone who’s qualified to drive a 20-mule team. That’s the kind of a man he was, a working man his whole life; cowboy, rancher, he did everything on the land.
He put me on a big Belgian plow horse when I was 3 or 4 years old. I remember that horse, the sweaty smell of the horse in the sun. I’ve been nuts about horses ever since. I’ve become very adept at horse-related riding events like polo and have competed. I’ve been fascinated by guns my whole life, always been a collector. I’ve had large collections before that have been stolen. A lot of my guns of The Virginian era were stolen, including a Colt .45 with a larger handle.
RA How did you get into acting, was that due to your mother and acting in a children’s theater group play at age 8?
JD I spent some of my boyhood in New York during the wintertime. I think my mother was an extra in a couple of silent movies. She always wanted to be an actress and wanted my brother and I to be actors. I went down and auditioned for the part of King Herod. I wasn’t that interested, she had to boot me onto the stage. But I knew my lines and my march. At the end, people clapped. That encouraged me, so I made a lifelong decision to be an actor. I started studying acting in junior high and high school, and majored in it at NYU. I went to Southern California and signed a movie contract with MGM, a real Cinderella story. Blackboard Jungle was my first movie. I said just two words, “thank you.” Mostly they looked at me and said “here’s a gun, get on the horse and don’t get off.” I spent most of my acting career on a horse!
When we were in L.A., mom took us to every cattle call, but we never got hired. It turned out to be a good thinkg; I wouldn’t have wanted to be a child star. I fell in love with Shakespeare at the Shakespearean plays in NYC. If you can play Shakespeare, you can play anything.
RA How did you end up doing Western movies and shows?
JD I have the skills to do Westerns. I knew my way around a horse and I’m firearm savvy. We were a close-knit unit back then; there were a few actors and directors who appeared in all the Westerns. I didn’t have to keep auditioning since they knew me. Nowadays, you have to read every time. You have to memorize the script because you can’t act without memorizing it. Now I just have someone film me at home.
RA What was it like working on The Virginian?
JD It was wonderful. We had all the resources that we needed. We had a tremendous advantage because we were the first and only 90-minute show with continuing characters, Western or otherwise. Our writers had the chance to write big juicy guest roles for men or women. Actors would walk over glass to get those parts, like George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Barry Sullivan, Bettte Davis, and Joan Crawford. Every day, I’d go down to work and know I would work with somebody tremendous. It brought our level of acting up; we had to bring our A-plus game. I never had a bad day on The Virginian. If someone told me that I’d grow up to do that in high school, I would have told them they were crazy.
RA I saw the immense amount of work you had to do on the show; besides having a photographic memory, how did you endure it?
JD It’s just the nature of the job. Working with those great actors and actresses was truly palpable. That kept me going. You can’t help but be excited. I usually got to the studio about 6 a.m., and usually got out of there around 9 or 10 p.m. . And then I had to learn my lines for the next day, if I had any time at all.
RA Did you carry a real Colt .45 on the show, or was it a replica? Any other types of guns on the show?
JD It was real and I did a lot of shooting with it. It was destroyed in another movie. Last year, I was able to get ahold of a Colt revolver from a Colt collector. Twenty years ago, I was appearing at the Tulsa Gun Show, and Al Qualls (CHECK NAME!) came up to me and noticed I was carrying a Ruger. He said I should be wearing a Colt. He put one together and gifted it to me. I carried that chrome-plated stag-handled Colt just like the one in the show, although fancier. All of my handguns are highly modified for fast draw and accuracy. (CHECK NAME!) made all my holsters. He found a dragoon handle in a glass jar with my name on it, and he bought it. It’s on my Colt now.
I traveled 10,000 miles last year attending events, such as horse shows and benefits for boy scouts. I drive a 2008 Crown Victoria Ford. It is faster than greased lightening and extremely comfortable. I stopped flying in 1998 because I’m tired of being pushed around. I can get in my car with my guns in the back seat. I don’t want to take my boots off for anyone.
RA Any funny or embarrassing memories from the show?
JD The Westerns they make these days are designed to make people hate Westerns. Deadwood – the language was way more foul than it needed to be. I may use foul language, but not on the Westerns I played in. There’s nobody to root for when you do that. Today’s movies have massive rounds out of automatic weapons yet nobody gets a scratch. They’re fake. The shooter never hits anything, couldn’t hit the barn with a hat. The truth is, a .45 would chew up a fence.
RA It was such a wholesome show, was there ever anything controversial?
JD At the time, a lot of our scripts were controversial. But we went ahead with them. It was very serious dramatic work. They were episodes that resonated; we pulled no punches. Once every few shows I’d have a bad guy come to town and I’d have to shoot him.
RA How was the Virginian different than Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Wild Wild West and other Western shows of that era?
JD I appeared at the Weird West Fest and Steam Punk World’s Fair recently. The Wild Wild West covered the era when steam power was starting. It was the steam age. Those people celebrate the era; they make their own costumes and have competitions. Switches and gauges are sewn into the fabric, so they look like a man inside a machine. It’s phenomenal. The women dress in gay ‘90s outfits with extremely obvious cleavage. Some of them actually have steam coming out of their shoulders. It was an era that went beyond what we did.
Bonanza and Rawhide took place during our same period. Some had a different slant. Jim Garner of Warner Brothers did a Western, Maverick. Mel Gibson did a motion picture version of it somewhat recently. The movie Support Your Local Sheriff had comedy in it.
We essentially produced a Western movie every few days. The Viriginian was designed to be an adult show. The girl always had to die at the last minute, so I could be involved with another lady in the next show. There were lots of love stories.
RA Any Western shows or movies you particularly enjoy today?
JD Open Range was a really good Western, with Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner. I think the recent Lone Ranger was done well.
RA Any advice you’d give you folks interested in getting into acting?
JD It’s a very difficult profession, but it’s very, very rewarding. The rewards that you remember from your acting career are not financial. I’ve made a lot of money acting, but I’ve never acted for money. You’ve gotta love it, and do it better than anyone. Do it right, and it is the most gratifying feeling. Study it and work on the stage as much as they can. Of course, acting in plays is not very good training for motion picture acting. I played the Montgomery Clift role in From Here to Eternity, and I ranted and raved around the stage, it was terrible. If you raise your eyebrow, it goes up 10 feet on the big screen. You need slight movements. Some of the greatest close-ups are where the actor does nothing. The camera captures the truth in his eyes. It’s easy to learn the difference.
RA You’ve been a regular participant in the shooting sports, including skeet, trap and cowboy shooting. You’ve said, “Cowboy action shooting is the best way I know to promote our Second Amendment rights. It teaches all kinds of people, men and women, young and old, to handle firearms and shoot safely and responsibly. We share a sense of history and connection with the Old West.” What is your favorite kind of shooting?
JD I love to shoot skeet, some trap. I look forward to more skeet shooting. I love BB gun shooting. For five dollars you can shoot a bunch. Put your eye on the target, put the gun to your eye and pull the trigger. We started with a coke can, then moved up to shotguns, then .45s, .38s and .22s, then BBs. I can now shoot 18 BBs at 18 feet and never miss. It brings your marksmanship way above what you have ever done. My accuracy with those weapons has increased 300-fold since I started BB gun shooting.
RA Any favorite guns you enjoy shooting?
JD In the movie King Solomon’s Mines, I carried a .370 caliber. It was an elephant gun, designed to bring down elephants and rhinos. The Marlin .45-70 is another big caliber I like. For long-range shooting, I prefer a lever action with iron sites. I’m partial to Ruger, Remington, Winchester, S&W, Colt, and Marlin. I just haven’t shot the others. I like guns period! I have a pair of Colt army revolvers that were supposed to have been owned by the foreman of the Easter Egg Ranch in Wyoming when he was writing The Virginian. They were presented to me by Red Skelton at the studio in NBC.
RA Where can folks catch you at, where do you make public appearances around the country? I see there are a few upcoming events posted on your website.
JD I do most of my traveling in the summertime. Photos with me are free.
RA What are you up to these days, besides oil and gas and other business opportunities in Texas?
JD I’m pretty much retired from business. I’m open to acting opportunities and doing personal appearances. I told a Houston reporter who asked me whether I wanted to get back into acting, “in a New York minute!” It would be great to be in a motion picture that is nominated for an Academy Award. I may also write a book.
Editor’s note: Reruns of the Virginian are available to watch on Cozi TV, a cable affiliate of NBC, weekdays at 8 a.m. Fans can join James Drury’s Virginian Posse on Facebook.
Article by Rachel Alexander, Photos by James Drury
In the Land of the Midnight Sun, those who traverse the Last Frontier must choose to carry or not carry, and they must choose wisely.
Story and Photos by Larry Case
What are big bear guns that you would carry in Bear country? Here’s the short list with the full story below.
Winchester Defender SXP
CZ-USA .375 H&H
As I coast into what may be my sunset years, I have come to realize there are two kinds of people in this world. Some of us believe there are things out there that will hurt or kill you, and there are some who do not. A few of the things pretty high on my list include a summer lightning storm, a poisonous snake, a crazed terrorist and an 800-pound bear.
People on the other side of the aisle from me on this topic seem even more convinced that nothing in the animal kingdom would really cause them any harm. I beg to differ. A few summer’s ago, I spent a week with some folks from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR), United States Geological Survey (USGS), Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), and others.
The purpose of this visit was to attend a class with those who work in that wild, beautiful part of our country known as Alaska to better protect themselves with firearms, primarily against bears. The class was held at the Grouse Ridge gun range near Wasilla, Alaska, outside Anchorage.
Alaska is popularly known as the Last Frontier, and deservedly so. It has a lot of wild country and, not coincidentally, a lot of bears. In all honesty, when people and bears meet up, it is not all sunshine and roses. The folks who created this class spend a good deal of time working in some of the most remote country on earth, and they know that a possible encounter with a black or brown bear is always part of the bargain.
As I see it, it all comes down to this. Hunters, hikers, fishermen and country has a decision to make, and it is much more important than “paper or plastic.” Are you going to carry a firearm, or not? Alternative “bear deterrent” in the form of pepper spray is also widely available, and the controversy of which is most effective – bear spray or firearms – remains alive and well.
The group of Alaskans that I spent time with a few summer ago landed decidedly on the side of firearms over bear spray. Some carry both, but they definitely want a gun available. As usually occurs in the gun world, if we decide we need a gun for some task, the question always arises. Which gun is best? Here are a few notes based on what I saw and learned on the firing line at the bear defense class in Wasilla.
“THE 12-GAUGE PUMP shotgun has been the choice of most people for bear defense in Alaska for some time,” said Steve Nelson of Anchorage. Nelson has been teaching bear defense classes since 1978, when a USGS coworker was severely mauled by a black bear. “There are many reasons for the shotgun’s popularity. Shotguns and shotgun ammo are widely available, are generally less expensive than rifles, have magazines capable of holding several rounds, and with slugs they will deliver a big, heavy projectile,” he said.
The Remington 870 outnumbered other shotguns in this bear defense class, specifically a tactical version with ghost ring-type sights. This is a quick handling shotgun that holds seven rounds and delivers the 870’s rock solid dependability.
The Mosseberg Scorpion, built on Mossberg’s tried-and-true Model 500 action was also present, and this weapon has a lot of goodies to turn heads. An ATI-brand adjustable stock, along with sidesaddle ammo carrier, heat shield, and rails to install sights and other accessories could make this a very handy bear defense gun.
Also seen on the firing line in this class were two shotguns in the Winchester Defender SXP line, one the Dark Earth model, the other the Marine Defender. A Benelli Nova pump gun was also used, and one thing is for sure: Benelli shooters are very loyal to this shotgun.
EVEN THOUGH SMOOTH BORES came out ahead numerically on the firing line, alternate methods of bullet delivery were also well represented. “Shotguns are very popular for bear defense, but I am more of a rifle guy,” said Nelson. He has hunted big game all over the world, and in Alaska for most of his adult life.
He prefers big calibers for bear work. “Although I recommend anything .30-06 and up, I sometimes carry a .375 H&H or something in that category” he said. The Ruger Guide Gun in .375 Ruger got high marks from those in this class, as well as the Mossberg Patriot in the same caliber.
The CZ-USA turned a lot of students’ heads too, as it is capable of holding six rounds of .375 H&H, a definite advantage if you are going to face a bad-tempered grizzer bear. Many Alaskans who live and work in bear country sometimes want a handgun for ease of carry.
There is always a trade-off, and the one involved with handguns is finding something powerful enough to take down big bears. Having said that, Alaskan guide Phil Shoemaker told us that he used a 9mm pistol to down a large brown bear in Alaska last summer.
The bear charged him and the fishing party he was guiding in dense brush. Some would say this makes a case for using smaller handgun calibers for bear protection, but I would argue that few of us have the experience with brown bears that Phil Shoemaker has. He’s been guiding in these parts for more than 30 years, so unless you are Phil Shoemaker or his equivalent, I would go bigger than the 9mm.
“Large” calibers usually means revolvers, and the most-carried weapon I saw was the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model in .454 Casull. Now, there is no doubt that the .454 is a brute, but the point is with this round is, if you are proficient enough to hit something with it, you may very well put it down. Some shooters may want to go down a notch to the .44 Magnum, and the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model also comes in this caliber.
The Taurus Raging Bull revolver in .454 was also on the firing line in this class. While the 6½-inch barrel model is a handful, it seemed to handle the .454 Casull rounds well.
THE BEST AMMO in the world may not bring down your aggressor, whether it is of the ursine family or human, but it will certainly help. For the shotgun, this class fired dozens of rounds of Federal Premium shotgun slugs, and I saw no problems with this ammo. They functioned every time. Some of the Alaskans in the class carry Brenneke slugs for confrontations with bears.
A new star on the horizon for slugs is the DDupleks-USA Steelhead solid-steel shotgun slug. This slug should allow for maximum penetration, and the testing done at this class showed the slugs shot through heavy brush with no deflection. You will be hearing more about DDupleks-USA slugs.
Hornady rifle ammo received major kudos at this class for the Dangerous Game Series ammunition in both .375 Ruger and .375 H&H. Federal Premium in the .454 Casull was used on the firing line, as well as a lot .45 Colt in the .454 guns.
So what is the bottom line? OK, I know what you are thinking: Which gun of each type, shotgun, rifle, and handgun came out on top? I prefer to avoid comparisons like these because there are so many variables involved (including shooter’s preference), but since you are pressing me, here goes.
For the shotgun, the Remington 870 Tactical model came in first with the Mossberg Scorpion way up in the running. The Ruger Guide Gun was first in the rifle category and the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model got the blue ribbon for the handgun. So there it is. I hope you are happy.
In conclusion, I will tell you something that most of you already know. There is a world of advice out there about what is gun is best for you for everything from shooting bad guys to prairie dogs. And when it is all over, and the plump lady has sung her song, the best gun for bear defense for you personally is the one you shoot the best, period.
The people who believe in unicorns and Sasquatch – you know, the ones who think no bear would ever hurt you – may not agree with all this, but I certainly do.
Revolutionary War patriot comes alive in the annual creations of Contemporary Longrifle Association artisans
STORY BY FRANK JARDIM • PHOTOS BY DAVID WRIGHT
This October, the Contemporary Longrifle Association will hold its 25th anniversary annual meeting and art show in Lexington, Kentucky. Dedicated to preserving the artisanal skills of American craftsmen and -women spanning the colonial era through the start of the 1840s, the CLA encompasses artists working as gunmakers, horners, leather workers, weavers, embroiderers, clothing makers, blacksmiths and bladesmiths, potters, furniture makers and more, with virtually all professions, as well as the conventional decorative arts, represented among its membership. If it was made by skilled hands in America before 1840, there’s someone in the CLA who’s still doing it that way.
To commemorate the event and raise funds to support CLA programs, 47 artists have contributed their skills to create 23 unique individual objects and sets that will be auctioned at the show. As I examined some of those wonderfully executed auction lots, the authenticity of their details took my imagination back in time. With a little photographic help from CLA artist and respected painter David Wright, I offer you a glimpse of where nine particularly evocative pieces took me.
Just after his sixteenth birthday in June of 1776, Private Joshua Meade, the educated son of a successful surgeon, eagerly presented himself to fulfill his civic duty with the militia of Westchester County, New York. In the not-too-distant past, before his constitution failed him, Joshua’s father served in the militia as a lieutenant and some of the older men recalled him as a competent and dedicated officer.
On the morning of Joshua’s arrival, the regiment’s 459 men were preparing to make the day-long march down the Hudson River Valley to New York City to join General Washington’s Continental Army. Joshua kept his mouth shut, as his father advised, and did his best to follow orders.
He had never marched before, or done any soldiering of any kind, but the other men assigned to his mess were quick to help him. They seemed to like him, and immediately bestowed upon him the obviously mock honor of carrying their iron cooking kettle. As the newcomer, and the youngest of his mess, he felt obliged to accept. He was strong and the extra weight was little bother to him at first, but that changed after the first mile. Various experiments finally revealed the cartage of the awkward pot was the least objectionable when it was harnessed in his leather blanket carrier and slung on his back over his knapsack with his untethered blanket stuffed inside.
The kettle notwithstanding, compared to other men in the regiment, he did not think himself over equipped. Some carried large swords, thick bedrolls and huge sacks whose seams were stretched to contain he-knew-not-what. To meet his militia duty requirements, Joshua had his father’s long 10-gauge fowler, a supply of cartridges loaded with lead balls instead of bird shot, 37 extra balls (all he could cast with the lead on hand the night before), a pound of gunpowder in an artisan-made, weather-tight, screw-top powder horn, a leather hunting bag instead of a cartridge box for his finished ammunition and small items to service his firelock, and a small belt axe instead of a sword. The axe was a more practical and useful tool than the sword, and, according to his father, a hand axe was about as useful in a fight as a sword would be in the hands of a man untrained in swordsmanship.
To this, he added a few more items. From the tanner, he bought a new lightweight, formed-leather canteen. It was more durable and easy to carry than a water skin, much more compact than a wooden canteen, and, he imagined, quieter to carry on patrol than the ones made of soldered sheet tin. On his belt he had a sharp and well balanced, bone-handled sheath knife, cleanly shaped and polished by a whitesmith.
It was small enough to eat with but still big enough to fight with. On his back he wore his father’s waterproof knapsack containing an extra set of small clothes and stockings, a hunk of soap, a tinderbox, the compass his father used as a militia officer, and six pounds of dried, salted pork, cheese and bread. From the weaver, his mother purchased for him a heavy wool blanket to keep him warm in the night and cold. Wool kept in the body’s warmth, even if it was wet. Before he’d taken on the kettle, he’d slung his blanket in its leather carrier on his back under the knapsack.
ALL ACROSS THE colonies, militias were being called to arms. The actions of King George III and his Parliament showed, again and again, that they regarded colonials as much less than full English citizens. When the crown turned to naked force to bring the colonies to heel, the colonial response was to meet force with force to protect their communities from British redcoats and their loyalist Tory allies.
Joshua, on this first march to his first campaign, was in high spirits over the prospects of adventure that lay ahead and the pride he felt doing his part for their Glorious Cause of independence.
Two and a half months later, Joshua’s view of his prospects was bleak. He stood on the Brooklyn shore of the East River shivering and soaked to the skin in the night’s rain. Although he could barely see anything beyond a few rods, another 400 or so of his fellow Westchester militiamen from 16 to 50 were crowded mutely around him, equally wet and chilled. There were no fires to warm them.
The only light to see by came from a sliver of crescent moon. Two hours earlier, they were ordered out of their posts in the earthworks overlooking British engineers slowly digging their way toward them. Their sergeants and corporals ordered strict silence on the march from the fortifications as not to alert the British of their movements.
The lack of the usual conversation, jokes and even complaints left Joshua unexpectedly lonely. The loneliness and darkness added a sense of acute isolation to his present despair. His thoughts turned inward to recollections of the momentous battle of the preceding day. It was the largest military engagement in the history of the Americas.
GENERAL WASHINGTON STARTED with nearly 20,000 men, some of them newly organized into equally new Continental Army regiments, and the rest state and local militias like Joshua’s. Most had never been to war. Some had experience in frontier-style war against the Indians, and a small measure were veterans of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill and the siege of Boston. But almost no one in America had fought a professional army in the European manner. On the water, Washington had but a handful of sloops operating as privateers.
The British arrived with an awe-inspiring fleet of unprecedented size. It included 10 fearsome ships-of-the-line with 100 or more heavy cannons each, 20 swift frigates, and hundreds of transport ships. Any one of the warships had the firepower to completely destroy New York City. Only nature could limit the scope of the Royal Navy’s operations on the water, and the present battleground was surrounded by navigable waterways!
The transports reportedly brought Howe as many as 32,000 men, all seasoned, disciplined troops … all with bayonets. There was nothing Joshua feared more than British bayonets. He wasn’t alone in that respect. Many of the militia carried their personal firelocks, and many of these guns were not even capable of mounting a bayonet, had they had any.
By noon the day before, the battle was done and the British had driven them from the field with bayonets, overwhelming General Sullivan’s troops so quickly, Joshua’s regiment was never even called to the line. Without realizing it, he said aloud to himself, “August 27th in the blessed year of our Lord 1776, we lost our Glorious Cause.”
HE WAS JARRED back to the present when a strong callused hand cupped over his mouth, while another clutched the back of his neckstock tight. Then he was nose-to-nose with Elijah Oakley. The old man released his neck and gestured for silence with his finger to his lips. At home in Westchester, Old Man Oakley worked as a wood cutter. Here, he was called Corporal Oakley.
At 50 years old, he was at the upper age limit for normal compulsory militia service. Most men under 40, and that was the majority of the militia, had never served beyond the four or five muster days a year legally required for drill and training. Oakley had actually fought in the provisional regiments raised by the colony to support British regulars, against the French and their Indian allies in the Seven Years War. At that time, Joshua was a babe at his mother’s breast. A lot had happened since that time to turn Old Man Oakley against his red-coated former comrades-in-arms.
Standing on the dark shore, Joshua became aware that men were moving around him and looked up. Silhouetted against the moonlight dancing on the water, he saw the black outline of barrel-chested Corporal Oakley pushing and pulling the shoulders of other human outlines to get them walking up the shoreline. Joshua, along with the rest, fell in with them.
It was a short distance to a ferry landing, where they boarded a small sloop docked there minutes before. Once as many as the vessel could carry were aboard, she efficiently and quietly pulled away and made sail for Manhattan Island, navigating without landmarks or light. To Joshua’s surprise, the vessel’s crew were the very same Massachusetts Marbleheaders of Colonel John Glover’s regiment who had manned a section of the Brooklyn Heights perimeter near his militia regiment during the day. These men were professional seamen and handled their commandeered boats with great skill and what looked to Joshua like perfect confidence and discipline.
Aboard with nothing else to do, there was some whispering now among the militiamen, mostly of relief, but also troubling questions about their obvious defeat yesterday on Long Island. They were the same questions Joshua had asked himself since the British and their green-coated Hessian mercenaries turned the Continental Army’s left flank and drove Major General Sullivan’s troops from their main line of defense until only Brigadier General Alexander’s regiments on the far right held the line. The American retreat from their forward defenses was anything but orderly. It was more of a panicked rout than a retreat and he was shamed and terrified to see it.
In the early morning hours of the battle, it seemed from their breastworks on the Brooklyn Heights a few miles behind their forward positions, like the main British attack was focused on the right flank and Alexander’s men were at least holding their own. They drove off repeated frontal attacks, and when they realized the enemy was at their back, fought a valiant delaying action, allowing most of their line to retreat to the 2-mile-long defense perimeter on the Brooklyn Heights.
Joshua wondered how much of the Continental Army crossing the river tonight owed their escape to Alexander’s men on the right flank, who held their ground and kept up a vigorous fire. Reports were that the Maryland Continentals had fought nearly to the last man at the Old Stone House, repeatedly counterattacking so other troops could fall back to safety. There were few to tell the tale and General Alexander himself was feared captured or killed. Tonight, American morale was at its nadir.
AFTER A FEW minutes on the river, another soldier took up a spot against the hatch next to Joshua and let out a familiar sigh of exhaustion. It was Corporal Oakley.
“Have you still got your canteen, lad?” he asked. Joshua unslung his leather bottle and handed it to the old man. It was nearly empty.
“Keep your canteen full, lad,” Oakley added, and poured the contents on the deck. Then he pulled a small bundle from under his coat and put it to the mouth of Joshua’s canteen.
“I obtained this restorative libation from the first mate,” he said. “How a Marblehead fisherman came to possess such a fine brandy, I dare not speculate, but I hope when its rightful owner discovers it missing, he will not curse us too harshly. I suspect it will do the Glorious Cause more good warming our bellies than his. Have a sip, lad.
“Thanks, Corporal Oakley,” Joshua said, and took a stout swig from the canteen. Then he took two more and reslung it around his chest. The brandy did as the old man promised and they sat in the near silence without speaking. Others on deck, as suggested by their snores, had probably fallen asleep, and what little quiet talking he still heard was terse commands to sailors. In short order, the brandy loosened Joshua’s tongue.
“Corporal Oakley? Are you awake?”
“I am now, lad,” he replied.
“I … I …,” he uttered with a shaky voice, “I’m worried our Glorious Cause is lost … that we can’t win against the British in a test of arms.”
“What makes you think that, lad?”
“Howe is a better general than Washington. The redcoats know how to fight and we don’t. The colonies are rotten with Tories spying for the enemy, sabotaging our plans and betraying us at every turn. We spent months building forts and earthworks that did us no good yesterday and our shore batteries are just as useless to impede the British fleet.
Had we stayed in Brooklyn Heights, sooner or later the wind and tide would favor them and they’d have sailed up and blasted us off the hilltop. Now we’re sailing to another island we can’t defend against their navy. We’ve slipped one trap by jumping into another. I fear the Continental Army is broken, and what’s left of it won’t last past the next time Washington is outfoxed. I fear that if I stay, I’ll be killed, and if I’m captured or surrender, I’ll be bayonetted to the trees like Sullivan’s men. If I go back home, I’ll be given up to the British by our Tory neighbors and hanged in due time.”
“Might as well fight then, lad,” the old man replied.
“But we can’t win.”
“You worry a lot for such a young fellow. All we need to do to win, lad … is not lose.”
“What do you call this disaster?!” Joshua asked, gesturing with his hands at the tired men all over the deck, dozing where they sat, firelocks embraced against their chests, hats pulled low on their heads.
“I’d call it a greater failure for General Howe than Washington. Howe is a soldier by profession. Washington is a planter. Howe could have cleared us all off the Brooklyn Heights by storm before supper yesterday.
He could have destroyed over half of the fighting strength of this new Continental Army. Had he killed or captured all 10,000 of us yesterday, instead of just a thousand, he probably would have killed any hope of our independence from England. But he did not, lad. Instead, thinking us trapped in our own breastworks with a river his fleet could control at our backs, he stopped his advance to lay siege. And here we are, lad.”
“All night we’ve been ferrying our soldiers away right under their noses to fight another day. We won’t tarry long on Manhattan either. Washington may not be half the General Howe is, but he’s no fool. Mark my words. We’ll outlast them because liberty is our Glorious Cause and to them this war is just another grab for colonial treasure. Those Hessian troops aren’t fighting for King George for love of their cousin. They’re mercenaries, and mercenaries don’t fight unless they are paid. I know you have not been paid a cent of the $6 you’re due monthly. I’ll venture it’s the same with most of the men in our patriot army. If they quit the field, it won’t be over coin.”
“How are you so sure we’ll outlast them?” Joshua asked.
“Because, in one way or another, patriots have already been fighting for their liberty a dozen years, and we’ve not been dissuaded of its virtue yet, lad,” the old corporal answered. “The Declaration of Independence was forged slowly from a hundred insults to our rights as Englishmen. You’re too young to remember the crown’s first moves to put a boot on the neck of the colonies, but I remember the Stamp Act well.”
“I hope you are right,” Joshua replied, with more concern than challenge. He had no other response. As their sloop plied the East River toward the temporary safety of Manhattan, he thought hard about Oakley’s perspective on the rebellion. The more he thought, the more it seemed to ring true.
JOSHUA WAS FOUR years old when Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1764, but its infamy was still fresh in the minds of patriots. It required every legal document and everything printed, like books or pamphlets, to bear a royal tax stamp. To do this, royal tax collectors were commissioned. Because of open defiance from every colony, and in more than a few cases a sound thrashing at the hands of an angry patriot mob, within a year, every tax collector resigned his commission and the act was repealed.
The Stamp Act spawned the Sons of Liberty in Boston. Its credo, “No taxation without representation,” spread from colony to colony. In their defiance of the Stamp Act, Whig patriots, Old Man Oakley and Joshua’s father among them, took a stand against tyranny and demanded their rights as Englishmen be respected. Unfortunately, what followed showed that mother England saw them as colonial children unworthy of a voice in Parliament. In 1766, with not one legally elected member in the House of Lords or Common representing the three million English citizens in North America, Parliament voted it had the right to tax them as proof it had the right to tax them.
Parliament tried again with the Townsend Acts in 1767, taxing all imported British lead, glass, china, paper, paint and tea. Patriotic merchants in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York defied the laws with coordinated boycotts of English imports. In Boston particularly, merchants with English goods in their stores ran the risk of becoming the target of patriot mobs who were not above destroying their property and treating the Tory shop owner to a new suit of tar and feathers.
Parliament resorted to musket and bayonet to enforce its authority in Boston and sent 2,000 British redcoats there to suppress the Sons of Liberty and protect loyalists.
Protests and defiance continued around the colonies, and in 1769, all the Townsend taxes, except the most lucrative one on tea, were rescinded. True to what Oakley had told him, that partial success didn’t much dissipate the passion of the American patriots. In Boston, violent confrontations between patriot mobs, Tories and British troops escalated. Events there finally lit the fuse to a powder keg of festering colonial grievances against England. Those events in Boston pushed young Joshua ever closer toward the belief that King George III was no paternalistic protector of the colonies.
In 1770, British troops fired on a patriot mob, killing and wounding 11 of them. The news of the Boston Massacre was for Joshua, and many of his Whig neighbors, a tipping point in their attitude towards royal authority in the colonies. But it was Parliament’s response to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 that convinced Joshua they had no future as free men under English rule.
When Boston Sons of Liberty destroyed a fortune in taxable tea in Boston Harbor, Parliament responded by passing the Coercive Acts to punish the city. The port was closed, local government suspended, crown officials placed above the law, and the private homes of citizens could be seized for the quartering of troops. Boston was essentially under military control. Rather than frighten the other colonies into compliance with Parliament’s edicts, the Coercive Acts unified their resolve to oppose British rule.
The more authority the crown sought to exert over the colonial patriots, the more they resisted until, finally, they could stand no more. Joshua had decided to take up the Glorious Cause of independence sooner than many, but he was young, a third-generation New Yorker, and had no ties to England. He realized for others, a break could be harder, and some would simply remain unwaveringly loyal to the crown for personal or business reasons uniquely their own. The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 would be a bitter pill for loyalists to swallow.
A MONTH AND a half before the battle, on July 9, Joshua’s regiment was among a few thousand soldiers assembled with arms for parade on the New York City commons. General Washington was present, as were all the locals who could crowd in to watch. After the parade, the full text of the Declaration of Independence was read to them. At the conclusion, the troops let out three cheers. After they were dismissed, there was no joyous revelry.
Joshua walked to the piers at the southern foot of the city, where he could see the huge British invasion fleet anchored miles down the Hudson River between the western shore of Long Island and the eastern shore of Staten Island. It was the largest ever deployed to North America and its combined masts made it appear that forest had grown up where a river had once been.
It was a sobering sight. With the Declaration of Independence, Joshua knew there was no going back. Regardless of what the Tories or the fence-sitters thought, there were enough patriots to create a new Continental Congress to rule them, a new Continental Army to defend the united colonies, and finally enough to declare themselves a new and independent free nation. Soon he would be called on to back up those words on the battlefield. As he sat near the southern docks, he carved “1776” into the lid of his father’s compass.
ON THE DIMLY moonlit East River, Joshua’s sloop closed in on the Manhattan piers. He noticed two other sloops glide silently past them heading back toward the Brooklyn shore. Minutes later, their sloop docked as expertly and quietly as it had embarked. In 10 minutes, they were all ashore and it was pulling away again into the night for the next load of soldiers. The Westchester militiamen formed into small groups and made their way to their quarters. Joshua’s path took him past Bowling Green, where a big, gilded-lead equestrian statue of King George III once stood. Right after hearing the Declaration of Independence read, the locals gathered and pulled the statue down with ropes to melt down for bullets.
Joshua trudged ahead wearily under the waterlogged weight of his clothes and gear with his big fowler cradled against his chest by both tired arms. Passing the empty pedestal, he smiled and thought, “Our Glorious Cause makes patriots when they are needed.”
For the Contemporary LongRifle Association’s fundraiser, eight artisans recreated Colonial-era weapons, clothing and accoutrements, and this might be those items’ backstory
In a time of Looming war, a young boy is thrust into a man’s shoes in colonial North Carolina to protect his family farm with a 40 Caliber Rifle & Tomahawk.
Twelve-year-old Wilbur Bowling had a smile on his face as he emerged from the forest that fringed his family’s 25-acre farm on a cold March afternoon. He felt like a man. He looked like one too, at least in the opinion of Ruthie and Mary, his younger half-sisters. They were especially impressed with the stag-handled hunting knife he’d traded John Colby’s wife for in exchange for his squirrel hunting services while her husband and oldest son were gone with the militia. Wilbur thought it was really his well-worn, homespun-wool blanket coat that made him look seasoned. In truth, the blanket it was made from was rather worn before his mother cut and sewed the best sections into a garment for him. She said he was growing so fast it would be wasteful to make him a coat from new cloth, and that the cost of wool was too high with no more imports from England. Likewise, his feet were growing too fast to warrant the expense of new shoes. He wore Indian moccasins. Indians were not common in this part of the county, but white Indian traders passing through sometimes stopped by their farm to buy or trade for a jug or two of their corn whisky.
He’d watched with fascination as his father and five hired slaves built the small log building for their distillery five years earlier, not understanding at the time what a lodestone it would become. According to his mother, it was a profitable side venture before the war, and a moderately profitable one now. If not for that distillery, his present manly image would have to suffer him wearing his father’s old shoes, which were absurdly big for him. He passionately objected to wearing Father’s “snowshoes” when his mother first suggested it, but she would not give ground and he had to wrap his feet in sacks until the whisky-moccasin barter option presented itself.
On top of his moccasins, Wilbur wore supple but durable brain-tanned deer hide leggings that their slave Joshua had made for his father and him to protect their calves from the thorny underbrush and copperheads while hunting. At Father’s instruction, Joshua made a pair for himself and their other slaves, Phillip and Will, to wear when they were cutting trees for firewood in the forest. The latter two slaves were field hands his father brought with him from Virginia when he first came to North Carolina. Joshua was purchased from a neighbor three years prior. What Wilbur hadn’t already learned about dressing, salting and smoking from his mother and father, he learned from watching Joshua. Now he knew the means to render any creature from farm, river or forest, in a manner it would stay fit to eat for months. However, tonight the Bowlings were eating fresh meat, thanks to his marksmanship and hunting prowess.
Two huge rabbits hung tied to the muzzle of Wilbur’s rifle. He carried the gun over his shoulder like a militiaman so the success of his hunt wouldn’t go unnoticed. He knew his father would be proud of him. He would probably say, “Why, those look more like mules than hares, boy!” Wartime in the North Carolina backcountry brought with it the weight of a somber and anxious spirit. The absence of his father’s good humor, and the way he could use it to cheer a heart, or calm one, was one of the many things he sorely missed when Father was away serving in the militia. He was glad to have him home again.
THE BOWLING FAMILY’S life, and Wilbur guessed everyone’s life in the 13 American colonies, had turned upside down in the last nine months. Much had changed since the spring of 1775, when British soldiers trying to seize the arms and powder of the Massachusetts militia were met with armed resistance at Lexington and Concord.
As he walked toward home across their bare corn fields, Wilbur recalled the day in early May of ’75 when he and his father first learned of the armed clashes in Massachusetts from a wagon driver they passed on the road to the county seat at Salisbury. By then, the news was more than a month old. Wilbur was confused about why the British soldiers who fought to protect them from the Indians and their papist French allies were now shooting at colonial militia. He asked dozens of questions, which his father patiently answered after pondering them over silences so lengthy, he sometimes thought his father had forgotten him.
That spring, his father decided to plant no tobacco. That led to a terse exchange with his mother. She was business-minded, and Father credited a good share of their family’s prosperity to her. Tobacco was their most profitable crop. She didn’t want to let it go, but Father convinced her. He said, “A good many people of this colony are Whigs who’ve decided they won’t bow to a government an ocean away that treats them like subjects rather than citizens.
The Provincial Congress they formed wants the Royal Governor to go back to England. Do you think the crown is going to just let us go our own way? Why would they do that when there are probably just as many Tories in this colony who think the Provincial Congress is treasonous and want to see John Harvey hanged? Remember in ’71 how Governor Tyron marched a thousand militia troops here and shot down the Regulators? Remember how he hanged Captain Ben Merrill and five more of our neighbors for supporting the Regulator revolt? In the eyes of Governor Tyron, the real crime those men were guilty of was challenging the corrupt royal tax collectors and judges that do the bidding of the big landowners. What’s happened in New England shows the scourge of war is already on us and God knows when and how it will end. You and the children can’t eat tobacco.”
Corn it was to be, and events before the fall harvest proved Father right. The royal governor dissolved the North Carolina general assembly elected by the people. The patriot Ethan Allen, leading Vermont militia, attacked the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga on the Canadian border and captured it. A second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, voted to raise a Continental Army to follow their orders and put a big Virginia planter and French and Indian War hero named George Washington in command of it. Combined New England militias fought a pitched battle with British regulars outside Boston at Bunker Hill and left more than a thousand Redcoats dead or wounded on the field.
That September of 1775, word reached the Bowlings, and the other dispersed farmers of Rowan County, that their Provisional Congress had authorized the formation of 35 militia companies and able-bodied men from 16 to 60 years old must present themselves for duty if they were not otherwise pledged to military service with the colony. Father joined the 1st Rowan County Militia as a rifleman. Rowan County’s western edge faded into wilderness and the call to muster drew in not just the farmers and tradesmen from the settlements, but the rugged and unruly men from over the mountains who trapped and hunted for skins and lived cheek-to-jowl with the unpredictable and dangerous Cherokee.
To the east, the pacifist Moravians, wherever their true loyalties may lie, refused to serve. Likewise for the dyed-in-the-wool Tories. The Moravians stayed in their communities but a good share of the Tories slipped away to the west and south. They sought to stir up the Cherokee against the Patriots and to form up Loyalist fighting units of their own in South Carolina.
AT THAT TIME, the prospect that his father would be called off to war had filled Wilbur with dread. He was 11½ years old then, the oldest male child. The thought of taking on his father’s duties was overwhelming and frightening. He’d wondered, how could he manage a farm, a distillery and their three slaves, and keep them and his mother and younger sisters fed and protected? When, almost in tears, he confessed these fears to his parents, he was surprised by their beaming smiles. As long as he lived, he would never forget the embraces, and the exchange of words that followed. Revisiting them in his mind helped to bolster his spirits in the face of challenges.
“Wilbur,” his father said, both hands on his shoulders and looking him in the eyes, “You are not in this alone. I am flattered that you believe I actually do all those things on my own, but truth be told, your mother was doing quite well as a widow before I came along and married her. Though you aren’t my blood, I consider you my son and I have endeavored to teach you the things you need to know by example.” “But, Father, I don’t even know how to hunt!” Wilbur blurted out, revealing the depths of his lack of confidence. “Yes, you do,” his father replied. “You’ve hunted with me hundreds of times. What you don’t know how to do yet is shoot, and that is one of the easiest parts of hunting.”
With that, his father presented him with his old bedroll blanket, rolled loosely around some long, slender object and tied with three thin strips of red wool stroud that he recognized as the scraps from the new capes Mother had sewn for herself and his half-sisters. Mother had already used one of those scraps to make him a decorative band for the crown of the hat she’d bought him in Bethabara at the store the Moravians set up to sell to the “outsiders” who didn’t share their strange faith. But this roll wasn’t another hat. It was heavy in his hands and inside he found a beautiful new rifle scaled down to his stature. The extravagance of the gift left him speechless.
“I had a gunsmith in Salisbury make it for you,” Father said. “You have always admired my rifle so I had the gunsmith model yours after it. It’s part tidewater Virginia gentleman and part frontier over-mountain man. It shoots a 70-to-the-pound ball that you can use on small quarry or deer.” Then he paused for several seconds and finally added, “And if you must, God forbid, any Indian or man bent on doing the family harm.” “Thank you, Father,” was all Wilbur could manage, still partially stunned by the surprise.
The rifle surely cost Father as much as his own and he must have commissioned it during their trip to the county seat when they learned of the fights at Lexington and Concord. The furniture was iron instead of brass, but it was well sculpted and engraved with a hinged patch box, a setting western sun on top of the buttplate, and just enough carving on the stock to make it elegant without seeming like something too fine to be used for food or fighting. A boy too small to handle man’s rifle usually had to wait until he grew up enough to do so.
To have a rifle made to fit the boy was a rare thing. Wilbur raised it to his shoulder and pressed his cheek on the buttstock’s carved rest. The rifle fit him well, and being three-quarters the length and weight of Father’s .54-caliber, he had no trouble holding the muzzle up to aim.
“That’s not all, Wilbur,” his father added. “Your mother has something from your late father for you too.” The rifle came as a surprise, but this was a shock. Wilbur had few memories of his real father. His mother told him his name was Andrew Townsend and he married her in Wilmington in 1763 and took her west to the North Carolina frontier to settle on this farm, but died of fever before Wilbur was two years old. Other than to say he was kind to them, his mother never spoke of him, and the man standing over Wilbur now was the only father he had ever known. To actually touch something that was connected to his real father was akin to seeing a ghost. Wilbur was impressed and perplexed when his mother handed him a light, slim and finely made tomahawk with a long, slender handle. The handle’s remarkable grain figuring had evenly spaced bands of light and dark. The metal was cleanly filed and polished with no hammer marks on the perfectly proportioned head. As he turned it in his hands, he noticed a temper line at the edge! The smith who made it gave it a hard steel bit so it would hold its sharpness. Like the rifle, it was a perfect size for him. “How did he get it?” Wilbur asked, captured by the unexpected link to his distant past. “He told me he killed the Cherokee warrior who had it and took it as a trophy,” his mother answered. “Andrew Townsend had a reputation as a capable Indian fighter.” “The handle is so slim, it doesn’t look strong enough for chopping wood,” Wilbur observed. “It’s not for chopping wood, boy,” his father interjected. “It’s for fighting. You need to keep that on you all the time. If you have your rifle with you, and you have to put it down because you need both hands to work, it can be hard to keep an eye on it so that a person bent of mischief doesn’t get hold of it when you’re distracted. You can’t be as trusting of people you meet now that we are at war, not even of our own slaves.
I’m not saying this will happen with Joshua, Phillip and Will, but slaves have revolted and murdered their masters in times more certain and peaceful than ours. Keep that tomahawk in your belt and don’t pull it out lest you mean to use it. And if you have to use it, hit them as hard as you can and keep hitting them so that if you don’t kill them outright, they’ll know you’re full of fight and no easy target.”
THAT SEPTEMBER AND October, Wilbur’s father taught him how to shoot, cast lead balls from the mold with the recovered projectiles, maintain the rifle’s barrel, lock and stock with judicious cleaning after firing, and how to keep it always ready and reliable outdoors so it would fire when he needed it.
From Joshua, the slave entrusted to operate their distillery and the smoke-house, Wilbur got some scraps of groundhog, deer and cowhide left over from those tanned at Father’s direction for use by the family or the slaves. With these pieces, and some direction from Joshua, he cut and sewed himself a shot pouch of his own, which his father dubbed “the Bag-Of-The-Three-Beasts.” When Wilbur countered with, “I already named it the Hunting-Bag-Of-The-Boy-Without-A-Shilling,” his father let loose one of his familiar peals of laughter.
Joshua had a mind for making and fixing things, and Father had him fashion a small powder horn for Wilbur that wouldn’t weigh the boy down like a ship-of-the-line’s anchor. In the colonies, and especially the backcountry, rifles were of large caliber and a resupply of powder often uncertain. For a peaceful mind, a man wanted a big horn to hold 2 pounds or more of gunpowder.
Never having made a powder horn prior, Joshua accidentally drilled the spout too deep and punctured the side of the cow horn. Father was not angry with him. It was a common failing and worth correcting in light of the fine carving work Joshua had already done on the spout neck. Joshua nipped a small piece of brass from his shoe buckle with a chisel and hammered it flat to patch the hole. Then, to distract from his error, he engraved the body of the horn with unexpected artistic skill, using the tip of a carving knife. Wilbur thought it distinctive, like his hunting bag, and was delighted to have it.
As Wilbur approached the low log huts where the slaves lived, he half expected Joshua to be there splitting wood, but he was not. Phillip told him that Master Bowling had given Joshua leave to visit his wife Annie on their neighbor’s farm. It had been his father’s intention to buy Annie last summer, but the frugality imposed by war delayed those plans, much to Joshua’s disappointment.
When the comforting and familiar sight of their two-room log house came into view, smoke drifting up from its stone chimney, Wilbur began to wonder when his father would be called away to war again. The first time he’d been nervous, even though there’d been ample time to prepare their farm and distillery for winter. When Father and the rest of the men of the Rowan County Militia marched off in late October, just over four months earlier, their families hugged them goodbye and pleaded to God for their safe return. In January, the prayers of the Bowling family, and all of their neighbors save one, were answered. A single Patriot had been killed, and 14 wounded, chasing down and fighting Loyalist miitia over a hundred miles of South Carolina backcountry.
The culmination of the campaign was a long march through a 30-hour snow storm that reached a depth in places over a man’s knee. In three engagements with Loyalist units, the Patriots laid 64 Tories in their graves, captured 280, and broke their organized resistance in the backcountry. Then they marched home.
The second time Father left, Wilbur was only worried for him. In late February of 1776, the 1st Rowan County Militia was called to muster again and marched all the way to the east shore to challenge a Loyalist force of 1,800 men raised by the ousted Royal Governor. To the surprise of everyone in Rowan County, they were back in the time it took to march the 350-mile round-trip. The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge was over before they arrived. Father said the stories that the men who were in the action told him seemed like something from the English Civil War. The Patriot force on the scene at the time numbered 1,100 men armed with muskets and rifles. The Loyalists, largely Scottish Highlanders, chose to attack, armed mainly with broadswords and pikes.
“Perhaps they mistook our men for Roundheads,” Father joked. “When it was over, we had a man dead and another wounded, while the foolish bravado of the Loyalists cost them 30 dead, 20 wounded and the capture of 850 more.” Wilbur heard a lot of stories about the South Carolina campaigns from the victorious militiamen in January of ’76 and came to appreciate his father’s talent for telling a great story without reducing it to fiction. It was clear North Carolina’s patriots had done well so far, but it was also obvious that their opposition was light, and the British Army, or even a substantial, well-organized and capably led Loyalist force, had yet to challenge them. Last night, Father pointed this out again to temper Wilbur’s expectations of easy victory and prepare him for hardships he feared lay ahead should the enemy carry the fight to their doorstep.
For now, though, Wilbur was nearly at his doorstep and he chose not to dwell on troubles to come. He and Father had hunted together almost daily last fall and in the month between his service with the militia. Since Father’s return from the long Moore’s Creek march the day before, he was too weary to join him in the woods. Wilbur left him resting by the hearth and went out confidently on his own. Now, as he opened the latch on their iron-strapped door, the wild giggling of his sisters assured him Father was awake. As the hinges squeaked the news of his arrival, a familiar voice called out, “My son, the over-mountain man, returns!”
The Saga of the Longknife Collection Wilbur Bowling’s fictional story was inspired by the real-life Saga of the Longknife art collection, comprised of a fully functional rifle, powder horn, knife and sheath, shot pouch, tomahawk, hat, and the supporting wooden sculpture, clad in coat, leggings and moccasins. Representing thousands of hours of work, Saga of the Longknife is the collaborative creation of eight uniquely talented artists of the Contemporary Longrifle Association (CLA). You can imagine your own backstory for these one-of-a-kind, authentically styled, handmade creations. Since the collection is up for auction, you can even own it! On August 17, buyers will bid in person, by phone and online for Saga of the Longknife, and many other original pieces from contemporary artists, in Lexington, Kentucky, at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the CLA.
Auction proceeds are used to preserve and expand the study and practice of early American artisanal methods through scholarships awarded by the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation (CLF). Traditional skills such as longrifle-building, leatherwork, hornmaking, blacksmithing, and knifemaking are among the many areas of study artists can pursue.
It’s All About Generational Traditions The long-bladed steel swords that the early colonial settlers in North America armed themselves with made a distinct impression on the native Indians who began to refer to all colonials as Longknives. The term stayed in use for generations, long after firearms largely replaced edged weapons. Artist Matt Fennewald based the Saga of the Longknife collection on a generational theme.
His goal was to draw focus on the importance of passing on, from father to son, the traditions and skills of what today many involved in the practice of early (sometimes called primitive) American history-based shooting sports, artisanal work and reenacting refer to as the Longrifle Culture. However, in using that jargon, we run the risk of underestimating the full magnitude of this generational knowledge transfer’s importance. The anxiety parents feel today about the life-or-death consequences of failing to teach their child to cross a street safely was magnified a hundred times for colonial parents, who had to teach their children, and especially their boys, what amounts to basic, and then advanced long-term, survival skills to allow them to literally live off the land indefinitely. Today’s Navy Seals aren’t even trained to do that! Colonial frontier parents taught their kids to use guns and other weapons for hunting and fighting, how to make and maintain fire, dress game, tan leather, fish, trap, preserve food, find edible plants, grow food, how to avoid dying from exposure, how to make a shelter in the wilderness, how to cross a river, animal husbandry, etc. In addition to that, many of them also taught their kids to read, write and do arithmetic. They also did it over a span of about two centuries of our history. That’s an impressive accomplishment. It makes the gradual decline in hunting sports we’ve seen in the last few generations really look like just plain laziness on our part.
Best known as “Lugerman,” the man who brought back the M1907 U.S.Army Test Trials Luger and perfected it, Eugene Golubtsov ranks as one of the best master gunmakers in the world today. Not only does he make the Luger to the same standards of fit and finish as the originals, he also restores fine firearms to new condition. ere are very few men who can do this job properly and he is one of the best. His is the inspirational story of a hardworking young man who made good, showing what keeping your nose to the grindstone can do for you.
EUGENE WAS BORN in Siberia in 1975, but not even the draconian anti-gun laws of the communist Soviet Union could stifle his interest in firearms. At 12, he read his first gun book, an encyclopedia with every new handgun by name and caliber. At 14, he built his first handgun, a matchlock, out of copper pipes and plywood. He used the heads of matches for powder and melted down lead fishing weights for bullets. Desiring to entertain his 10- and 12-year-old guests one day, he bolted the gun to a chair and fired it inside the house with a long fuse that gave everyone time to leave the room. The bullet penetrated the two layers of plywood put in front of the gun, the window curtains, two balcony plywood doors, and came to rest in the wall of a metal balcony. Realizing that creativity must be encouraged and a boy must be allowed to be a boy if he is to grow up into a real man, his parents did not punish him.
Every summer from 12 to 16 years old, Eugene fired 200 to 300 rounds a day from an air-powered BB gun pistol at moving targets at a local arcade. Throughout his childhood, he also spent 10 hours a week at night school studying art with emphasis on oil painting and sculpture. We sculpture work proved effective for training his hands for steady, precise work. He learned to use milling machines in high school, where he also had military training, rifle shooting, and assembly and disassembly instructions for the AK-47 and PM, or Makarov, pistol. He finished high school at 16, having taken extracurricular classes in math, physics and chemistry in preparation for college.
At 16, Eugene started college in the military division “Tracked Heavy Machines,” code word for tanks. College was very intense, with classes six days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for 10 months. Eugene finished with a degree at 18. Later that year he moved to the U.S., and at 19 began a 23-year career as a computer programmer.
AT AGE 21, Eugene began collecting handguns and within three years had accumulated over 300. These were from World Wars I and II, as well as modern handguns of different designs and models. Eugene was buying them cheap and having local gunsmith John Robinson help him fix and refinish them. Being a practical man and serious student of handguns, every gun was purchased to feel it out, fire it, note the accuracy and recoil, disassemble, and study how good or how bad the design was.
The guns were carried and every aspect of them duly noted. At 23, he restored his first revolver, a German Reichs revolver, for his father. His gun can be seen on his website: lugerman.com/restorations/reichs-revolver. The next restoration was a Luger that he traded the gunsmith for. It was nickeled and in parts. Eugene removed the nickel plating, hand polished it, and restored it to original condition. Two years into gun collecting, he purchased an American Eagle 1900 model. Eugene carried and shot a Luger extensively and found that he could hit a target better and faster with it than with any other handgun. Like most everyone who has really become familiar with Lugers, he loved the product line very much. In his fifth year of gun collecting, he decided to focus on Luger models, specifically on 1906 Contract variations. He sold most of his other handguns and collected over 50 Lugers of different types with a large number of grip safety models of all styles, including two of the M1902 Luger Carbines. As he was collecting, trading and selling Lugers, he began restoring them for himself. But as word got around the collecting circuit, others began calling upon him to restore their Lugers. Pretty soon he was restoring Lugers as a part-time gig alongside his full-time computer programmer job. Luger restoration work began to fill 15 to 20 hours a week and soon that was not enough. Eugene hired a good machinist who persuaded him to buy a milling machine so they could begin making the parts they needed. Over the next 15 years they made most of the parts for the 9mm Luger except the frame.
BACK IN 1907 when the U.S. Army tested the M1907 Luger in .45 ACP in the beginning of the series of tests that led to the adoption of the M1911 pistol, the Army had a set of dimensioned drawings made of the .45-caliber Luger. Mike Krause had gotten a hold of a copy of these and was making guns to these prints. He had not fine-tuned the guns to get them working to perfection, but merely followed the drawings. Eugene managed to convince Mike to sell the blueprints to him, as Mike was planning to stop production and was down to his last two guns.
Eugene and his father went in together 50/50 to make the .45-caliber Lugers. They already had 20 years’ experience restoring guns. The restoration work continued but they stopped working as computer programmers, as there was no longer time for that. Their restoration and repair clients now number about 3,000 and they annually restore about 100 firearms and repair another 150. It took over two years to produce the first .45-caliber Luger prototype and about six months of blood, sweat and tears to make the prototype into a functional and reliable weapon. The company, Lugerman, now turns out 50 of the .45-caliber Lugers a year. Each gun is tested with 10 different manufacturers’ ammo and about 200 rounds fired through it to ensure perfect functioning before it is delivered. These are usable guns, despite their price, and because the Luger is so fast and easy to hit with, it can be the best life insurance in a gunfight. Lugerman also makes a .45-caliber version of Georg Luger’s personal carry gun, the Baby Luger. Because of the Luger’s superb accuracy, there is a 7-inch barrel target version as well. Having seen the M1907 shoot a 1-inch group at 50 yards, this seems an obvious choice for match shooting.
The small scale of production results in a higher price than a gun mass-produced on the scale of a Colt or S&W. The M1907 costs $6,975 in carbon steel and $7,775 in stainless steel, the Baby Luger costs $8,275, and the 7-inch barrel target Luger costs $7,775. There is also a 16-inch barrel M1907 Luger carbine for $12,975. You are not only getting the original Luger’s standards of fit and finish, but you are also getting hand-tuning of each gun just like you would at a “best quality” gunmaker in Scotland or England. There is a 5-percent discount for active duty or retired military or police. It is good to see Eugene keeping the Luger in production, even if it is only on a limited basis at the resultant higher price, as this is not only a piece of history but also one of the most effective fighting handguns ever made. When it’s your life and the lives of your family at stake, the price really doesn’t seem important anymore.
Story by Jim Dickson Photos by Eugen Golubstov Editor’s note: You can contact Eugene Golubtsov at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit lugerman.com.
Ever since I was a little boy, I can remember spending many days with my grandpa. His name was Ray. It was actually Walter Ray, but he simply went by Ray. I would spend summers with him at the beach fishing, digging clams and an occasional trip shooting. I can still remember the smell of his den. It always had the aroma of Hoppe’s #9, the gun-cleaning solvent. He had a desk set up to reload, and his rifles were stacked in a gun cabinet. It was in this room I learned many things. I learned to assemble cartridges, how to clean a rifle and the endless love of a grandfather to his grandson.
As he aged, his memory failed and his attention to detail waivered. Once when we went shooting, I was just 8 or 9 years old, and his rifle almost knocked me down. It was a Winchester 94 in 30.30. He couldn’t believe it did that to me.
There was no recoil pad, just the steel plate on the butt to rest against my shoulder. I tried again and the results were the same. He took it in disbelief, shouldered it and let it bark. He never thought of that rifle acting like that.
We put it away and went back to the .22LR I always enjoyed. I can remember him pulling the bullets and weighing the powder. Low and behold, the ammo had been loaded with enough powder for the .308. It was a wonder we didn’t get hurt. Time went by and he always told me that when I got my hunting license I would receive his hunting rifle. I loved this rifle. It was just like my dad’s rifle. I didn’t understand the nostalgia of this rifle for quite a while. All I knew was it had a silly name. My dad’s had a cool name. We called it “Black Widow.” It had a super dark stock, almost black, and it had a reputation of filling the freezer. My rifle to be was called “The Pea Shooter.” Not quite as manly but I couldn’t wait.
At age 12, my dad put me into hunter’s education classes. I passed with 100 percent and couldn’t wait for my rifle, though it didn’t come right away. Hunting season came and my grandpa pulled out his new rifle. I then got to hunt with my new rifle. No, it wasn’t new by any means but it was as nice as I could ever want.
The rifle is a 1952 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .308. My Grandpa had sanded the stock to remove the varnish, and loaded it up with Linseed oil to bring out its natural grain.
I CHERISHED THIS RIFLE. Cherished it as much as a 12-year old could, that is, until I was tired and fell asleep while hunting. I let it lay on the floor, as I was told not to many times, and something fell on it. The first time out and there was a gouge in the stock.
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I was sad, I was mad, I was embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say. He had this rifle for 35 years and not a mark. I have it for a couple of weeks and now it was ruined. At least I felt like it was ruined. All I can remember getting was a hefty “I told you not to leave it on the floor;” nothing more, nothing less.
I continued to visit through the years and take time out of school to hunt with my grandpa. It was just the two of us many times. We spent weeks away from town covering the hillsides looking for deer and elk. My trusty rifle at my side and his trusty grandson at his.
23 years have passed since I was given this token of his love. I have since lost my grandfather to gain something more. A deeper relationship with my dad and the chance to see another generation learn from what my grandfather taught me. Seeing my kids with my dad takes me right back to when I was 9 years old. Seeing my dad tromping through the brush with my daughter on his heels stirs emotion I can’t explain.
I have since retired the “Pea Shooter” and replaced it with something new. It makes it to the range every now and then, and even made a trip afield this past year. I will always treasure this rifle. I will always treasure the time I spent with family while learning its use. As I get older, I will have the pleasure of passing it down and sharing the stories again.
Editor’s note: Send your story about a gun being handed down through your family to us at email@example.com.
Engineering vs Sales Hype On The the Primary Weapons Systems MK1
Article and photos by Robert Strickler
As the AR-15-style rifle becomes more and more popular, a few companies have emerged to improve upon this iconic firearm. One of the companies at the forefront is Primary Weapons Systems (PWS) in Boise, Idaho. PWS was started in January of 2008 and was initially based out of a 2,400 square foot, roll-up door building. Today, PWS has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers of piston-operated AR-15 platform rifles in the country. They employ 84 people who are all passionate about providing incredible rifles and excellent customer service.
During a recent visit to PWS, I was able to take a tour of their expansive facility. At one point, I asked Stacey of dealer development and sales what parts they actually produce themselves. He replied, “It would be easier to tell you the parts we don’t make here than those we do.” It is fantastic to see a company produce the majority of their components in-house, and as the PWS website states: “Any components that are not produced by PWS are purchased from only the best manufacturers to ensure the highest quality products are delivered to the end user.” One look at their rifles and this fact becomes immediately apparent.
While at PWS, I was able to get my hands on a brand-new MK1 rifle. The MK1 comes in a variety of barrel lengths; my test rifle was the MK116 model featuring the 16 ½-inch barrel. The first thing that stood out to me was the well-balanced and lightweight feel of the rifle and its sleek design. This is partially accomplished by their 12-inch, free-floating key-mod hand guard produced in-house on one of their many CNC (computer numerical control) machines. Another nice touch that also shaves off weight is the Enhanced Buffer Tube that comes standard on all their rifles. Lastly, as mentioned above, the components on this rifle are top-notch, from the Magpul furniture and flip-up sights, to the Gunfighter charging handle. PWS rifles are one of the nicest “off-the-shelf” rifles I have seen.
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A FEW DAYS LATER, I found myself out on the range so I could put the MK1 through its paces. Being a fresh, clean rifle, I was able to get a good feel for the benefits of the piston-operated system. The main benefit of the piston-operated system versus the standard direct impingement (DI) system is that it keeps the action of the rifle cooler and cleaner.
This is accomplished by keeping the majority of the gas and carbon out of the receiver. With a DI rifle, the gas travels all the way down the gas tube to meet the gas key on the carrier, but with a piston-operated rifle such as the MK1, the gas enters the gas port and actuates a piston causing the action to cycle. This results in significantly less hot gas and carbon entering the receiver itself.
“That’s neat, but how does that help me?” you say. Well, the piston operating system on the MK1 has several significant benefits in “real world” application. As competitive shooting accompanied by countless hours of practice, and weekend defensive training courses become more popular, people are firing a lot of rounds in a short amount of time. With a piston-operated rifle like the MK1, this means less time cleaning and more time shooting.
During my time spent at the range, I put 150 rounds through the MK1 without even the slightest hiccup. It performed flawlessly during slow and rapid fire. The MK1 points nicely, and the balance and feel I immediately noticed days earlier once again became apparent on the range.
While firing, I also took note of the quality ALG trigger PWS specs on their rifles; it had a crisp break with almost no creep.
Lastly, another key component of the rifle produced by PWS is their Flash Suppressing Compensator (FSC). Not only did this slick-looking muzzle device reduce felt recoil, it also did a good job at minimizing muzzle flash. When I finished firing the final magazine, I immediately pulled the takedown pin to inspect the inside of the receiver, the bolt and carrier. I can honestly say it was almost like I hadn’t fired it. Very little carbon had accumulated and the entire system was dramatically cooler than a standard DI rifle would have been. I was very impressed how well the piston system works on the PWS MK1.
In conclusion, the MK1 was an all around pleasure to shoot; I didn’t want to take it back to PWS when I was finished with this article. If you’re looking for a light, sleek, high-quality, piston-operated AR-15 platform rifle, whether it be for varmint hunting, 3-gun competition, or personal protection, the Primary Weapons Systems MK1 is an excellent choice. See the rest of their line up of MK1 and MK2 series. Editor’s note: In addition to being a writer, Robert Strickler is also the owner and founder of Modern Musket, ModernMusket.com. To learn more about PWS and their rifles visit their website PrimaryWeapons.com.
Story and photographs by Robert Spunga * Photographs by Danielle Breteau
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women working overseas on various contracts and making good money, probably two to three times what they can make in the United States. On top of that, they may even be eligible for the foreign earned income exclusion, which in 2018 meant that the first $99,200 of their total income earned overseas was excluded from being taxed at the Federal level (it’s higher for 2019). However – and I can’t emphasize this enough – they are earning it!
Naturally, the best-paying jobs are in high-threat environments such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. Yes, these places can be dangerous. Since 2001 over 3,300 civilian contractors have been killed, and almost 95,000 were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. The vast majority were third-country nationals, or TCNs, from places like Peru, Colombia, Philippines, Fiji, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan and so on. There were thousands of casualties from the US as well. In reality, the odds are that you will not be injured, but you need to be aware that the possibility certainly does exist.
On the other hand, there are thousands of jobs in less risky places such as Kuwait, Qatar, India, Saudi Arabia, Africa, Antarctica (no kidding! – there are actually waiting lists) and South America. It all depends on your skills, your sense of adventure and what you are willing to put up with.
As an overseas contractor you are often working in “austere environments.” This can range from living in a large tent with 15 other people and eating MREs (meal ready to eat) all the way up to enjoying individual rooms with a private bathroom, Internet, satellite television and access to gymnasiums, movie theaters, tennis courts and well-run dining facilities. It all depends on the company you are working for and where the contract is being performed.
Let’s talk about the pay. Again, this is all dependent upon where you are working, what you are doing, how long you are expected to be away from home and the living conditions. Generally, as a contractor you can expect that your living accommodations and food will be included as part of the deal. Pay can be as low as $15 per hour for unskilled labor or simple administrative functions. But remember, this is usually based on a 12-hour day and six days per week. That works out to $1,080 per week, $5,400 per month. Not bad for those who have very few skills, plus there isn’t much in the way of expenses to pay either. At the other end of the spectrum, there are contracts currently paying more than $1,800 per day! Do the math and you can see that that is a butt-load of cash. However, you need very special skills and experience, plus there is probably a very high risk of being seriously injured, captured by bad guys and having to wear those unflattering orange jumpsuits, and/or killed. Is the risk worth it to you and your family?
Getting a job and how much you can earn comes down to several things:
What documented skills you have?
Whether or not you have or can obtain a security clearance;
What you are willing to put up with?
Were you in the military? If so, what was your MOS or occupation specialty? If you were in combat arms, were you in special operations, a grunt infantryman, military police, sniper, artillery? What about military aviation – pilot, jet engine mechanic, helicopter crewman? How about a background in intelligence – analyst, collection specialist, interrogator, translator? There is also combat engineer – plumbers, machinists, surveyors, draftsman, masons, and carpenters. Similarly, logisticians are highly desired – warehouseman, inventory specialist, shipping, motor pool, etc. You get the picture. Almost anything you did while in the military is desired by contractors.
But what if you were never in the military? Not to worry. If you were in law enforcement (preferably some form of SWAT) and there is a verifiable record of that, there are many options, especially if you are looking for security positions.
Almost any job you can think of can be found overseas, but companies are going to need proof that you can do what you say you can. This is mostly due to liability potentials, not to mention the company does not want to hire someone and pay for their travel, only to find out after a few weeks that they are not what they originally claimed to be. There are enough posers out there – don’t be one because you will be exposed eventually!
Security clearances are huge, especially with government contracts. At a minimum you will have to be able to pass a basic background check. One of the biggest disqualifiers is heavy debt. Why? The thinking goes, if you owe a great deal of money, you will be more likely to be tempted by bribes. Yes, it doesn’t make sense because you want to get the money to pay off those debts but then they won’t hire you. It has never been said that government logic makes any sense.
Now, pay attention because this one is important: Do not lie on the forms. Let me say it again: do not lie on the forms. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The investigators will find out. Don’t be embarrassed. The investigators have seen everything before. They also know that no one is perfect and that we humans all make bad decisions at some point in our lives. If you have a reasonable explanation of why you were arrested 15 years ago for indecent exposure/urinating in public, just tell them what happened. (“I was drunk, came out of a bar at 2 in the morning, and peed against the door of another car thinking it would be funny. Unfortunately, the officers sitting in that unmarked car failed to see the humor of the situation!”) We’ve all done stupid stuff.
Of course, there is no guarantee that you will receive the clearance, but if they find out something that you didn’t disclose, that is an almost automatic disqualification. Even if the job doesn’t require a security clearance, any legitimate company is going to run a background check prior to employment.
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It is also highly advisable to clean up your Facebook account and any other social media sites where you have posted pictures and information. Those hilarious photos of you passed out at a party next to the toilet in a pool of vomit may invoke wonderful warm memories for you, but your future employer isn’t going to look at them in exactly the same light. Or you could just put some strict privacy settings in place. However, in the long run, it is probably better to do a good scrub of your life on the Internet. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to dig up information about someone online.
What are you willing to put up with? Can you live in a tent with a bunch of other guys in a remote, hot, dusty location for weeks on end, peeing in bottles or sharing a drafty wooden outhouse, enduring occasional rocket and mortar attacks and eating only military rations or local food?
Can you work with people from foreign cultures who are very strange to you? How about personal space? Again, the idea of personal space is different in every culture. Some of these folks will stand right up next to you while they talk. If you keep backing away they are going to think something is wrong and be offended.
Personal hygiene is also different. Many people around the world don’t bath nearly as often as Americans and have some pretty strong body odors. And even if they are clean, they may smell different due to the foods they eat. You also may or may not be allowed to talk to the local women. What is a common occurrence in America may be highly insulting to other cultures, such as exposing the bottom of your shoe when crossing your legs.
Do your homework about where you want to work and decide what you can and cannot tolerate. Remember, you are in other people’s country, and as the old saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
How about the hours? Many overseas contracts expect a 72-hour work week. Yes, you read correctly: a 72-hour work week, usually 12 hours per day, six days per week. Some might have you work every day of the week for 30 or more days before you are given a few days break. Contracts pay well, but they expect you to work hard. You will be away from home, meaning away from family and friends for months on end. Can your marriage survive that? What about your kids? Then again, some couples without children or who have an empty nest can double their income with both husbands and wives earning money by working on the same contract. This is an excellent way to quickly build a retirement nest egg.
You have to have thick skin and a high tolerance for huge egos, and general stupidity because you will run into a lot of that. You may have supervisors who you think are complete morons, and they may very well be. They may only be a supervisor because they have been there longer than you. However, they may also have some reason to enforce a policy, which, while not making any sense to anyone on the ground, makes perfect sense back at corporate headquarters, so the supervisor has no choice but to push it down. Hopefully, they argued the point, but most likely they just rolled over and implemented the new guidance from HQ without so much as a whimper because they want to keep their job. If you really don’t like working for a company, and especially if you think they are asking you to do something illegal or unsafe, start looking for another company to work for. Be fair warned, though: The grass may look greener on the other side, but when you jump that fence, you may find that’s only due to an overwhelming amount of BS.
Overseas contracting is not for everyone.However, it will give you the chance to make pretty good money, you will see and experience things and places you probably never would otherwise, make some great friends, probably meet some people who you will hate for the rest of your life, and give you some bragging rights with the folks back home. Like many things in our lives, it is all up to you and how you make the best of it. Take advantage of the opportunities, get some experience to put on your resume, and have a good time. Always keep a sense of humor. It will be an adventure. But remember the old saying: “Adventure is never fun while it is happening!”