So begins one of the most popular lines from Hollywood films. If you haven’t guessed already, Clint Eastwood is speaking to a wounded bank robber (played by Albert Popwell) in the opening action scene of Dirty Harry. Clint repeats the same lines at the close of the film but with a more dramatic ending. In both instances, the wounded criminal is down with a bullet wound in the shoulder from the .44. However, the mighty .44 Magnum didn’t blow anything “clean off”.
No doubt about it, hype sells. Ask most publishers today and they will say that “Just the facts, ma’am” are too dull to sell hunting articles, books and DVDs. I think most consumers of such media knows hype from truth, but most (myself included) enjoy hype on one level or another.
For this article I define hype as mild to gross exaggeration of the facts. This includes animal charges, terminal bullet performance, recoil and the perceived dangers of hunting big game. Please don’t get me wrong. The hype didn’t begin in the modern era. Over one hundred years ago writers were stretching the truth a bit to increase readership. It continues today many times over.
I became interested in hype when my hunting and shooting experiences did not come close to what I’d read. The buffalo didn’t charge. The venomous snakes slithered away from me. The brown and grizzly bears seemed to mind their own business. When shot correctly, the animal went down and when shot incorrectly, the animal ran off. They didn’t get bowled over nor did their insides get blown to the outside. When shooting the biggest vintage guns and rifles (4-bores and .600s) I remained on my feet – and lived to tell the story. So, with respect to writers over the past generations, as well as today, let me shed some light on hype by quoting various writers:

“There wasn’t a body to fall out of the tree.”
An excellent book on Winchester rifles, titled The Winchester Lever Legacy, is filled with reloading data for all of the lever-action pieces of American history. The author’s premise is that the rifles can be loaded to impressive ballistics and not just kept at anaemic black-powder velocities. Using the example of shooting a raccoon out of a tree with a .45-90, the author states that the force of the impact of the 300-grain bullet, traveling at a bit over 2 000 fps, was so great that the raccoon just blew up on his perch! The reality is that a 300-grain bullet traveling at 1 500 fps (black powder load) to 2 200 fps (high-velocity smokeless load) will put a .45 calibre hole through a raccoon. That’s all.

“The recoil will spin you around 1/2 to 3/4 of a turn”; “After three shots (his) ears began to bleed”; “I have to rest ten minutes between shots (to recover)”; “The fillings in my teeth began to come loose”; “(It) was designed to knock an elephant flat on his butt”; “The buffalo did a somersault backwards”; “He shot from a prone position and the recoil lifted him up and over – a complete turn” …
There are countless more examples I could quote where writers refer to the .600 Nitro Express. The fact of the matter is best described by a fellow Alaskan double-rifle shooter, who is rather new to the double-rifle scene (being only 27 years old). He said: “When you first let me shoot your .600, I was a bit afraid of the kick because of what I had read in the past. After the first shot, it wasn’t so bad. Now that I’m used to it, it is no problem at all.”

“A 4-gauge would weigh thirty-five pounds and fired a four-ounce bullet.”
Quite a misstatement about the rifle’s weight! One can’t shoulder a 35-pound rifle, much less shoot it with any accuracy. The heaviest 4-bore I’ve seen is 24 pounds, with most in the 21–22 pound area. Some single shots made for lighter charges and round balls, tip the scales at 16–17 pounds but shoot 2–4 drams less powder.

“… Sir Samuel Baker’s monster rifle, called ‘Baby.’ This brute was …”
Over the generations many have written of Baker’s rifle as a 2-bore due to his statement that it fired a 3 500-grain projectile. A bit of history and a bit of common sense and logic will prove otherwise. First, a 2-bore would have a bore diameter of 1.325″ (approximately) and a shoulder-held rifle would weigh far more than anyone could reasonably manage to hold and shoot. 2-bores were common punt guns for waterfowl hunting from small boats, and they were mounted in the boat semi-permanently. Holland & Holland records have not revealed a 2-bore being produced as a sporting rifle. Also, Baker’s writings about the 3 500-grain bullet describe an explosive shell, weighing eight ounces. For a true 2-bore the 8-ounce projectile would have to be a round ball. Anything longer would equate to a heavier weight. Most likely what Baker had was a 4-bore firing a heavier than normal projectile with 10 drams of powder. 4-bores were fairly common and not “monster(s)” or “brutes”.
Dangerous Game has replaced Big Five over the past years. I guess “dangerous” sounds more intimidating than “big.” It’s dangerous game this and dangerous game that. Books carry the title. Ammunition carries the title. Even rifle rests (for those who want a dangerous-game rifle but don’t want to feel any recoil when sighting in the rifle) carry the title. While numerous stories abound about the dangers of the Big Five and countless hunters return from Africa with tales of life-threatening charges (many from canned hunts in South Africa), I can’t help wondering how dangerous these animals really were?

Potentially, they are all dangerous. However, one should subtract the number of actual charges and the number of actual victims from the total of animals hunted to see if the danger factor is not stretched a bit.
One of my favourite writers is John Taylor. Perhaps he is my favourite. However, I did pick up some interesting ideas about Taylor’s writings over the years. (I am fortunate to have first editions of both African Rifles and Cartridges and Pondoro.) There is no doubt Taylor was broke financially throughout most, if not all, of his African career. And there is no doubt of the soundness of his knowledge of ballistics, terminal bullet performance and penetration, and quality double rifles. As you read his works, do what I did: make a list of all the fine double rifles he wrote about that he used. To me, it just does not add up – a man with limited income (and one who gave much of his money to the Africans when he did have any) living in remote Africa, owning dozens of the finest and most expensive rifles then in production?! I know I could be completely wrong about this and it is just my opinion, but it still does not add up.

Elmer Keith shooting Dr Sutton’s .600 Jeffery in the 1930s (Photo Credit: American Rifleman). As much as I like Elmer’s writings on double rifles and large-calibre rifles in general, .600s don’t recoil this much. They just don’t.

I also enjoy reading Peter Hathaway Capstick. I believe he is credited with reviving the African safari industry after a lull in the 1970s and early ‘80s. He had a magical way with words, describing the details of the African experience as no other author then, before or since. (Kind of like the way Bob Dylan’s word and phrase usage was far above anyone else in his industry.)

As you read Capstick’s books, make a list of all the near-death experiences he had, the animals that were the most dangerous, and the gory details of the kill. Compare those instances with the number of years he was a PH, and talk to other PHs with similar experiences. As much as I like Capstick, I think you will find (as I did) that his facts are a bit blown out of proportion – but they do make for great reading!
I have a few photos of well-known shooters in full recoil with .577 and .600 rifles. When I shoot mine, the muzzles rise about 8 inches on average. Photos of these shooters (with more shooting experience in a year than I will have in a lifetime) show the muzzles pointing to the sky as if they are shooting ducks with the elephant rifle. There must be a mathematical formula that will equate distance of muzzle rise to the distance the rifle recoils to the rear. If such a formula exists, it would be interesting to use it when looking at a photo of super recoil, and compare the muzzle rise with the rearward movement of the rifle.

I read with interest the writings of probably the most famous gun writer and shooter in American literature. He describes shooting a flying hawk with a revolver at a 100 yards distance, and hitting wooden doors at ⅓ of a mile with a Colt .45 SAA revolver. I wasn’t there. Neither was anyone else.
These days I read about all the gadgets shooters use to make killing easier,

while hunting far less: endless one-shot kills, shooting Cape buffalo at 900 yards with a .50 BMG, shooting via a video cam, using a rifle rest in the field for 500+ yards shots. Yes, technology makes such shots more possible than in the past but where has hunting – tracking, spotting, stalking, and finally making the shot – gone? While many use hype to bring readers to the edge of their seat, modern-day writers use technology-hype to thrill readers.
“They don’t know how to hunt, and most can’t shoot worth a damn, but they can quote ballistics and range-finder yardage from memory,” said a well-known professional hunter who wishes to remain anonymous. If he publicly denounces the super-fast wiz-bang Magnums and the foolish practices of clients, he may lose business. So, like most true PHs, he smiles and keeps to himself the truth he knows.
In closing, I must admit I enjoy reading hype-filled articles as much as the next guy but I also enjoy separating hype from truth. Perhaps the reality of hunting and shooting is too dull for factual articles. Maybe I need to think of some hype-filled statistics for my next piece on reloading or shooting for double rifles. Some examples: