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?