The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Friday, April 21, 2017

Clay Shooting: The Beginning

A Bogardus Glass Ball from the Karl Hampel Collection

Note: This article first appeared in Hooks & Bullets Magazine March/April 2017 issue.

The day I first met Kevin Speer, the heart and soul behind Hooks & Bullets, we talked about many different subjects, one of them being my on-going efforts to write something that is readable without too much pain and discomfort to the reader. Another was that Kevin thought it would be nice to have some articles on clay shooting, since many readers showed interest in the subject, but were not familiar with the different forms of the shotgun sports.
But before we go any further I must make it very clear that my shotgunning parallel my writing: I am an enthusiast at both, but not really good, or just good, at either. And although I have published three books and written twenty or so magazine articles, I never shot a single registered shotgun target in my life, so…thread these lines with care!
Nowadays we have an apparently ever-increasing variety of shotgun sports, also called "Clay Pigeon Shooting", but the most common forms are Trap and Skeet. The basic difference is that in Trap the “birds,” as we call the four-inch diameter clay saucers lunched by a machine also called a trap, flies away from the shooter in a somewhat random pattern, while in Skeet the “birds” fly across the Skeet field in trajectories that are supposed to be fixed, unless wind plays tricks on the “bird,” or the shooter.
The other way of telling the difference between Trap and Skeet is by the behavior of their respective shooters: if everybody is hanging together, talking and laughing out loud you are in the middle of Skeet shooters; and if everyone is serious, concentrated, looking solely at their guns, and not saying a word besides “PULL”, the universal command to release a bird, now you find yourself among Trap shooters.
Since I shoot both Trap and Skeet, along with Sporting Clays, Five Stand, Skrap, and in more distant fields Bunker Trap (also called International or Olympic Trap) and Helix or ZZ-Birds, you could say that I must suffer from multiple personality disorder. C’est la vie!
But it amazes me is that with all the variety of clay shooting modalities that we have available in our modern times, many of us either forget or choose to ignore how the sport of shooting flying began.
Shotgunning as we know it today began in the later part of the XVIII century when the first practical shotguns came to light. By practical shotgun I mean a smooth bore long gun that was light enough that it could be handled relatively easily, ergonomically enough that a person could swing it while pointing at a moving target (for all practical purposes, a bird), and with a fast enough lock time (that is the time elapsed between pressing the trigger and the main powder charge being ignited and eventually the shot charge leaving the barrel) that would make it possible to hit a moving or flying target (again, a bird).
Bird hunting as a formal social activity originated in France, but was adopted by and perfected in England or the United Kingdom, and it is more than fair to say that shotguns first achieved perfection in that land, and a master gunsmith by the name of Joseph Manton is regarded as the creator of the first "Best Gun" and the forefather of the world-famous London Gun Trade.
The problem was, and continues to be, if you ever try shooting flying, is that once practical shotguns were available and hunting seasons were over, gentlemen of means, or of no means, still wanted to use them and demonstrate their newly acquired skills to the world, so friends began shooting at each others hats, thrown in the air for safety and to better imitate a bird (there is no historic evidence of that), but I imagine that they soon got tired of shooting at their hats, probably because it was boring and could become sort of expensive, since the beaver pelts to make those top hats had to be imported from America.
So they put their hats to use in a slightly different way. After digging a shallow hole on the ground, and place a live pigeon in it, they covered the hole and the pigeon with those hats. A long string was attached to the hat and the shooter (not a hunter anymore, but a shooter) would call "PULL" for whoever was manning the string to free the pigeon, and then shoot at it. In order to make the sport more challenging pigeons could be released from different positions, generally five.
Apparently those shooter had plenty of old hats (at least that is my assumption as they may have shot them before the pigeons became the accept flying target, again, no historic evidence), and they probably used those old hats, since one of the first famous Trap Clubs in England was called OLD HATS.
As the game evolved the old hats were replaced by wooden boxes that had a trap mechanism to release the birds and compel them into taking to the wing, therefore the name of the sport.
Eventually Trap reached the United States of America and the once abundant passenger pigeon became the target of choice, but once they became scarce (that was before they became extinct), and even in the XIX century animal rights activists began to make noise, the typical and unparalleled American ingenuity put itself to work to find suitable replacements for live pigeons.
First a Captain Adam Henry Bogardus invented the "Bogardus" glass ball in 1866. The glass ball was launched by a spring loaded trap with an arm that looked almost like a big spoon, but they made less than perfect replacement for pigeons: they were hard to see, hits were difficult to spot, so people started to fill them up with feathers, and many times shot would just slide around the smooth glass surface without breaking the targets. To correct that, the glass balls were made with textured surfaces, but the design proved to be a dead end.
Some years later, in 1880, the Cincinnati, Ohio, trap shooter George Ligowsky created the discoid clay pigeon, and we continue to shoot it today, launched from manual throwers or highly sophisticated automatic traps that hold hundreds of birds in their magazines.
From the humble beginnings (or maybe not so humble, as the first live pigeon shooter apparently were either of noble blood or had enough money to spend time with them), the multitude of "Clay Pigeon" sports evolved, but every single time I pull the trigger I envision my shot charge connecting with the feathers of a fast flying live pigeon against the blue sky.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Flag

The WWII Brazilian Flag

Early this January, around the time that I started operating my new business, Hampel's Gun Co. in Traverse City, Michigan, Pete Zimmerman, a long time Hampel's customer and family friend, came to store to meet me. And at that first meeting he presented me with a most unique and dear gift: the Brazilian Flag that you see in the photo above.

Pete, owner and operator of Rediscovered Shooting Treasures, that provides faithful "Reproductions of Classic Original Factory Firearm Manuals, Instructions, Boxes and Hang Tags", explained to me that both his parents were in active service during World War II, his father being a bomber pilot and his mother a nurse, and that they were based in Natal, northeastern Brazil.

Once his father was done with bombing missions he started flying casualties between North Africa and northeastern Brazil. Just to refresh your geography, the straight line between Natal - Brazil and Dakar - Senegal, is the shortest distance across the Atlantic, and during World War II this airway was called "The Bridge to Victory."

Anyhow, sometime during their war services, bomber pilot Zimmerman and soon-to-be nurse Zimmerman. met and fell in love and were married in Brazil, when they received this flag as a gift.

And so, the Brazilian flag was kept in the Zimmerman family for over seventy year, until it was gifted to me!

I must say that receiving it was a very emotional moment to me, and immediately I knew that I had not only the obligation to continue to preserve it, but also that it would be an opportunity to display a symbol of love and friendship.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Letters From Famous Big-Game Hunters

The "Corresponding" Hunter

Continuing my quest to read all volumes of the Peter Hathaway Capstick's "Library of African Big Game Hunting and Adventure" (I currently have seven of the fourteen volumes) I just finished reading "AFRICAN ADVENTURES - Letters from Famous Big-Game Hunters", originally published in 1935 by Denis D. Lyell (1871 - 1946).

The limited information that I was able to find shows that Denis David Lyell was born in Calcutta, India, and that his family was originally from Dundee, Scotland. In 1893 he moved first to Ceylon and then elsewhere in India where he established himself as a tea planter. In 1899 he moved again to South Africa and then in 1913 he went to Nyasaland, currently Malawi, a landlocked country bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, and by all accounts some of the greatest big-game hunting grounds in Africa.

After World War I Lyell moved again, back to his family homeland of Scotland. From the time he came to Africa until his death he became immersed in the hunting world and became a renowned author, writing eight books between 1909 and 1935.

In his last book Mr. Lyell presents extracts from his vast correspondence with other famous British big-game hunters, such as Selous, Karamojo Bell, Stigand, Millais, J.A. Hunter, Sir Alfred Pease, Abel Chapman and others, and from this collection of private documents many unique insights from their more mundane aspects of their lives like how it is almost impossible to make a living from writing hunting books (believe me, I know this very well), to discussions on financing hunting trips, extensive discussion on the merit of the small-bore repeating bolt-action rifle versus the large-bore express guns, quality of ammunition and the amount of field failures, common in English made ammo, but unheard of in German made DWM (Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken), and going on and on and on.

These three paragraphs in a letter from Leslie J. Tarlton dated March 11, 1926 pretty much summarizes all discussions in hunting calibers since the advent of smokeless powder was adopted for small arms ammunition in the French 1886 Lebel 8mm rifle:

"On the much vexed question of small bores, do you not think it so greatly depends upon the skill and knowledge of anatomy possessed by the individual user as to what constitutes the best rifle?

"Karamoja Bell, I believe, swears by the .256. Personally I use a .275 high velocity, but I also think a great deal of the American Springfield, which with a 220 grain bullet is, I rather fancy, the best all round small bore in the world.

"I think the tendency to go in for 'Magnums' is being overdone, because they sacrifice smashing power for velocity and low trajectory. I have killed one or two lions with my little .275, with shots I did not expect to do harm, but at the same time it seems to me that with these very light pointed bullets one is always a trifle uncertain just what they are going to do in heavy muscles of the larger mammals. Take for example the brain shot at an elephant. I think if you got hold of Bell he would probably tell you that the reason he is so keen on the .256 Mannlicher is that the solid bullet, in addition of being very long and slender, is round tipped instead of the sharp Spitzer tip."

And in a letter from J.A. Hunter dated March 23, 1928, the final verdict is pronounced on the 30-06, despite the apparent British contempt for the so-called Colonials:

"Have used practically every make and calibre of rifles, and have good faith in the .256, .275, .280 Ross (in a Mauser action), .318 and .300 Springfield cartridge. The latter I was loath to try, being American, but the genuine Mauser with 24 in. barrel taking the .300 cartridge and 180 grain bullet is a most perfect small bore weapon with great stopping power."

And who can argue that the 30-06 is the best all around hunting cartridge in the world?

In other chapters there is extensive discussion on hunting ethics, where Theodore Roosevelt behavior while in the "African Game Trails", both regarding the amount and quality of shooting is severely criticized, and game conservation, where the USA is applauded: "That is a country where people have awakened to the value of the big game, and where they are now taking wise steps to the protect it."

Well, this is getting too long, so I will stop before I quote all the book, and deprive you the pleasure of reading the book yourself.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hampel's Gun Co.

Traverse City, 2nd December 2016

Hampel's Inc., a traditional family owned Michigan company established in 1919, has reached an agreement to sell its guns & gunsmithing business to Meirelles Industries LLC, effective 31st December 2016. The new entity will do business as Hampel's Gun Co. and will operate in the facility located at 104 Mackey Drive, Traverse City, MI.

Mr. Karl Hampel has successfully led Hampel’s Inc. since 1977 and will continue to participate in the future of Hampel’s Gun Co. in advisory and consulting roles.

Rodrigo Meirelles, president of Meirelles Industries LLC, will be leading day to day operations of Hampel’s Gun Co.

“Hampel’s Inc. has an impeccable reputation and is the oldest firearms retailer in continuous operation in North America. We believe that by combining the profound industry knowledge and extensive customer relationships of Hampel’s highly professional staff with our proven track record in marketing and business strategy we have a very robust business,” said Rodrigo Meirelles. “We are honored to have been selected by Karl Hampel and the Hampel family to lead Hampel’s guns & gunsmithing in its second century of successful operations.”

Karl Hampel                                                                            Rodrigo Meirelles
President                                                                                  President
Hampel’s Inc.                                                                           Meirelles Industries LLC

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Trespasser

Help me identify this trespasser and possibly poacher!

This morning my son and I spent a couple wet hours at Neverland, and decided to leave before we got really wet, but on the way out we stopped to remove the memory cards from a couple of trail cameras.

Once we arrived home we had some cassoulet to warm us up and I downloaded the pictures to my computer and as I moved through them, showing mostly smallish antlerless deer and a couple "illegal" bucks I came across the photo above that made me angry and upset.

Neverland is a small property, posted, and kept as undisturbed as possible. Except for some tree stands, one feeder, ten or twelve beehives and the bridge over the Mann creek, and of course the take of a couple deer each season, we let it be.

So, why would the trespasser in the photo think that he has the right to intrude in my domains and disturb my minuscule deer refuge, and that two days before Opening Day of gun season?

I found the following definitions at Google:

  1. a person entering someone's land or property without permission.
    "a trespasser on his land"
    synonyms:intruderinterloper, unwelcome visitor, encroacher
    "trespassers will be prosecuted"

  1. a person who hunts or catches game or fish illegally.

I am not sure when a trespasser becomes a poacher, but the person in the photo is carrying a gun, uninvited, in my property! So, Monday I will be filing a report both at the local Sheriff's Office and the DNR.

In the meantime, please, help me identify this trespasser and possibly poacher!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Very Strange Opening Day

Del and his "monster" 9 pointer

Today is the most important unofficial holiday in Michigan, opening day of firearm's deer season, the Orange Day, when we are supposed to see hunter's clad in orange perched in tree stands all across the state.

Well, this was a very strange opening day.

Although I could not hunt the morning I was up quite early, and there was a dense fog covering Grand Traverse Bay, and maybe a lot of our northern lower peninsula, that could have come from one of the best Sherlock Holmes adventures, perhaps the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Sometime during early morning Del texted me BBD, which he translated as Big Buck Down. I told him I would help him drag it out later in the morning. When I drove from my home at Old Mission Peninsula to Neverland I could not see any activity in the new constructions and renovations, which would be an indication that people were out deer hunting.

After meeting Del he told me that according to Neverland tradition he shot his buck three times, the first shot at well under forty yards, and that apart from that deer and those shots he heard very little activity and saw nothing else.

We dragged the heavy monster through remains of last's year August storm, and eventually got back to our cars. Buck loaded Del drove home and went to my tree stand by the powerline. And then it started, or should I say, never started.

Initially the day was unseasonably warm, and even the sun showed up threatening to cook me inside my camouflage clothes, but eventually the wind turned one hundred eighty degrees, from a south to a north wind, and clouds obscured the sun and the temperature started dropping.

The only action I saw was when the crows discovered the gut pile, but at about 250 yards, it was a bit far away to partake in any details, and apparently they left rather soon.

And I waited, and waited, and waited, until the light gave away to darkness, when the clear shapes of the day are replaced by eerie and uncertain forms that shadows present us during twilight.

During the five or six hours that I afield I don't remember hearing a single shot or seeing another orange clad hunter perching from another tree. Since my first opening day in 2002, this is a first for me!

Maybe the fog combined with the on going Super Moon could explain some of today's almost unnatural weirdness.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"The Heart Of The Hunter"

A book truly from the heart!

Last week Thursday I had a meeting in Kalamazoo, MI, and arriving too early I decided to go hunting...for hunting books, in used book stores, which is one of my favorite forms of prospecting for potentially forgotten gems.

At Bicentennial Bookshop Inc. (820 S. Westnedge Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI) I spent a good hour spot and stalking their overflowing shelves, and finally decided on taking three new specimens home and at least one (for I have not yet read the other two) proved to be a great trophy!

I had never heard of Edison Tesla Marshall (1894-1967) before, but after researching a bit I found him to be a prolific writer sold his first story to Argosy magazine while a freshman in college, giving him confidence to pursue writing as a career, and later in life "he traveled around the world and earned a reputation as a big game hunter and adventurer in search of story material." It looks to me that Mr. Marshall worked very hard to create and sell fantasy stories to others so he could live a full life as if in a fantasy story!

There is no bravado in "The Heart of the Hunter," but an honest discussion of the anguishes and contradictions of the chase, the pursuit of big and many times dangerous game, the excitement and fear, but never cowardice. Mr. Marshall takes us from his native Indiana where he first started hunting small game with a .22 rifle he received as a birthday gift in the first decade of the XX century, and moving to Oregon, to where his family relocated in 1907, and where he fell in love with ducks, which he hunted with an old Winchester hammer pump gun, the same gun with which he accidentally shot himself losing his left hand thumb and a piece of his left ear. According to him "Ducks are the big game of small game."

He started his big game adventures in the Yukon and Alaska, where in three different trips he hunted caribou, moose and grizzly and brown bear in ever more desolated and wild places. For all his hunts in the Northern Wilds Marshall used a Springfield 30-06, which he called .30 U.S.

After that he traveled to then British East Africa on safari with the famous expatriated American white hunter Bwana Cottar with whom he hunted "plains game," rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion, but not elephant as he considered the fifty pound extra license fee as so high. To The Whispering Veld he took the Springfield and a 9,5x57mm Mannlicher-Schönauer that he had won on a bet. He clearly did not like the later rifle due to his fierce recoil, and eventually used Cottar's Winchester 1895 in .405 for much of the dangerous game hunting. During his African safari Marshall starts to question his quest for big game trophies and his passion for conservation, leading to discussions and potentially disagreements with Bwana Cottar.

A couple years after Africa Marshall travelled virtually halfway around the world to the Big Jungles of French Indochina to where he took a Mauser .404 Jeffery, "shooting sixty grains of cordite and a four-hundred-grain bullet - much more powerful than Cottar's lever-action .405, well-balanced, stoutly fashioned, and one of the most positive if not foolproof arms I had ever put to my shoulder." In the luxuriant jungles of Indochina Marshall hunted for saladang, water buffalo, sambar deer, wild boar - as big, if not bigger, than the ones that destroyed the fields of France - leopard and his special kind of Golden Fleece, the tiger! "Without tigers it could not fill the bill. Tigers were the incarnation, the titulary goldhead, of the jungle." Besides the .404 Mauser, he also took a Remington .35 pump-action rifle, Model 14, as requested by "an American manufacturer."

Two years after his return from IndoChina, he traveled overland from the Gulf of Tonkin all the way down to Bangkok, and two years after that he arrived at the Jungle of Mowgli, where he hunted the Duars of Bhutan specially for tiger, sitting for countless hours over malodorous baits, and not shooting from the back of trained elephants while local villagers drove fields and forests., but also for water buffalo and other smaller antlered game.

Twenty two months afterwards he returned in the Pursuit of the Giants, hunting not the younger jungle tigers, but older and bigger tigers that grew to heavy to hunt wild game and now feasted on domestic livestock and eventually on their herdsmen in the fallow fields around villages. In pursuing this most dangerous game he again brought the .404 Mauser, but also another rifle. "This was no less than the double-barreled .470, made by the great George Gibbs of Bristol, and the grandest piece of ironmongery I had ever seen. Its long cartridge contained a five-hundred-grain bullet propelled ninety grains of cordite."

During this shikari Mr. Marshall first shot a smaller jungle tigress, and then a gigantic Grandfather of Tigers that measured a full ten feet in between pegs, as large as the famous Bachelor of Powalgarh, hunted by the dean of all tiger hunters, Jim Corbett. He shot another male tiger almost as large, and then during a drive for deer and boar a tiger - Kala Bagh, the black tiger, so called because of his black soul for he always killed the herdsmen prior to killing the cattle - appeared from nowhere and mauled one of the beaters, that probably had his life saved by Marshall due to the first aid provided and him taking to a hospital for treatment.

Marshall then had to travel to Burma where he was unable to collect much material for his book, but where he hunted a gigantic rogue elephant that was fully ten feet tall and had twenty inches tracks. Its broken tusks were eighteen inches in circumference and weighed just short of sixty pounds apiece.

He then returned to India, to find that during the previous five weeks Kala Bagh had set a blood record, killing six cattle, one buffalo, one pony, and oddly enough, three goats in the same night, and probably in the same minute. "And the great tigers of the grasslands had been piling up that kind of slaughter for years." Eventually both hunters met in a fierce battle.

Edison Marshall in Indochina with a "small" tiger (1931)

I am not sure if Mr. Marshall ever met Robert Ruark (1915-1965), both being accomplished writers as well as hunters, but both had enough sense to use enough gun. By the end of "The Heart of the Hunter" Edison Marshall writes the following: "I had hunted enough big game that when I told of it, or wrote of it, I would receive a respectful hearing. Never again would I remain silent when hunters urged the adequacy of light rifles against heavy game. These made for straighter shooting at long ranges. But let the hunter take more time and care in the stalk; and then hit as hard as he can, for surely noble quarry deserves a quick dispatch. This is the least we can give."

I had great pleasure reading "The Heart of the Hunter," even if I know that am unable to write nearly as well as Edison Marshall did and I am certain that in our rather stupid times I will never hunt the beautiful and elusive tiger, but I can at least try to live as full a life, turning my dreams and fantasies into reality.