Got it!

The Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” automatic pistol– if anything I own is “iconic”, it is.

I have wanted one for many years. I will add Arthur Wilderson’s excellent short essay when he sends it, but it was the gun of Churchill at Omdurman and Lawrence of Arabia; Walter “Karamojo” Bell supposedly shot down a German fighter with one in WWI; the great Indian ornithologist Salim Ali, referred to affectionately by his friend Meinertzgagen as”you treasonous little Wog”, had one, as well as a 20 bore Jeffery shotgun bought by his wife, a Mannlicher Schoenauer carbine like mine, and various bolt- action Mausers (and, unusually, Winchesters!)

Ali shooting swallow specimens in the 50’s with his Jefferey

Various versions, including the shorter barreled “Bolo” (for Bolshevik), were used by both sides up and down the Trans- Siberian Railway in the Russian Civil War, and Chinese bandits and government troops both favored them  in .45 ACP, to match their American Tommy guns, which led to the destruction of many in the Cultural Revolution of 1968, for possessing a “bourgeois caliber.” You can’t make it up..

They were also used by two favorite fictional protagonists, Charles Dennim in Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows, and Jane Doe in Michael Gruber’s Tropic of Night.

I was in Ron Peterson’s guns for other business when I beheld a clean Broomhandle on the table in front of my friend Mel Merritt, the manager.  I am afraid I behaved badly– I swooped down on the young customer, who was comparing one to a Luger, and said “THAT one is MINE!” Mel looked injured, saying only “I thought you already found one!”

Luckily the kid didn’t have any historical interest, and I ended up with it and all the bells & whistles– a holster/ shoulder stock made of walnut, a pigskin shoulder holster, a set of stripper clips– all for less than any I had seen on the Internet. It is a “Red Nine”, so called not because of any revolutionary associations but because of the big red “9” burned into its side to denote its caliber, the still- popular 9 mm Luger.

That is it on the right of course, beside my S & W  .38 and my Hi-Standard target and rabbit .22.

Everyone has been worried by my absence. I had a tough few weeks with the implant, but it IS a learning process, and my latest setting is the best yet. Unfortunately, I felt so good today that I cleaned out two year’s worth of detritus from the yard, leaving me utterly exhausted. This is all for tonight; I won’t even add links til later. But later this week: new book reviews, a new coursing book, more Beebe, Microraptor, Phillott on falconry; more and worse…

And here is Arthur:

“The Mauser C 96 was not the first automatic pistol, but it was basically the first that worked well.   Its predecessors were curiosities and toys.   It emerged in the last days of the  belle epoque; that last, glorious sunset of European civilization before the blood dimmed tide and mere anarchy were loosed.   As such, it was the sidearm of choice for the roguish heroes and heroic rogues of the era; Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, and Chinese warlords all favored the type.   In that strange, bygone era officers were socially stratified gentry and bought their own weapons.   Very few nations officially adopted the Mauser pistol, but many of their armys’ officers bought them on their own initiative.

“I have spoken to a number of gunsmiths, industry officials and machinists about making reproductions of these things.   A century and change of advances in manufacturing, and these sorts of weapons would be thousands of dollars per piece.   The entire structure of economics, and the price of skilled machinists at the time was incomprehensibly different.

 “Men worked in satanic mills to make the steel billet that would be painstakingly whittled and hand-fitted to form these beautiful, utterly decadent weapons.   A modern combat handgun is completely soulless and utilitarian by comparison.   It is truly an artifact of Hesiod’s golden age.   It’s like a pair of marching boots with gold trim.   Putting that much personal effort, especially into a weapon as unimportant as a handgun, is unthinkable today.

“Our culture is a descendant of theirs, but in some ways it’s unrecognizable.   Wittgenstein said that if a lion could talk, we could not understand him.   Sometimes I think the same is true of the Edwardians.   Their children roamed with incomprehensible freedom.   They lived in cultures with incomprehensible levels of social stratification and thought it (generally) normal, just and natural.   Our science would have few secrets with which to shock them; Einstein’s General Relativity is a hundred years old now!   And yet their medicine barely worked…”

Pedersen Rifle

But for  the preferences of General MacArthur and a big supply of WWI Springfields, we might have had a more elegant, if complicated, rifle for WWII than the Garand. Nathaniel F, gunblogger, scholar, and expert on military weapons and their history, first showed me a cartridge for the legendary Pedersen when he visited with Arthur last year.  They brought lots of odd long guns, and posed with us in our library.

Now there is a YouTube of shooting the Pedersen, with Nate providing some info and perspective.

Of Colonel Thornton and inedible quarry

My circle of friends has been talking about hunting predators, something I was for a long time reluctant to do for reasons (it now seems) I had not thought out. While I think all quarry should be treated with respect, a coyote skin or a big carnivore skull can be a magical object– as can a plume from a catch and release heron caught by a falcon in the last days of the old- fashioned air battles described below. We are not  going to talk here about why some predators MUST be killed in bad situations, as Cat has covered that subject better than I could hope to. Also, I think that predators capable of killing humans should be kept polite, and hunting enforces manners on everyone. The predators become wary of humans, and those who follow them must respect their quarry, and  learn more than any mere observer, to be successful.

Much as I love and enjoy food, I wonder if, especially for nuevo hunters, the prejudice against hunting predators has both class and utilitarian connotations. In America, such things as predator calling are considered blue- collar and “redneck”. Meanwhile, our educated ruling class culture is still touched with Puritanism: if you can’t EAT it, it is of no use. I could veer off now into tales of stir fried chile ginger mountain lion and such, but thought instead I will come at it from another angle, maybe more amusing.

The zenith of falconry is probably the aerial battle, extending over miles, with large, high- flying , often dangerous- to- the- hawks quarry: the largest herons, cranes, and (most difficult if not most dangerous) at one of two species of high- flying, agile scavenging raptors, the red and black kites (Milvus). Emperor Frederic II hunted all three in the south of Italy in the early 1200’s, and the Craighead brothers may have seen the last of it in India just before WW II; they were both the first, and so far the last and only, to film the kite flight. Despite the dubious utility of the quarry (most contemporary sources advise substituting pigeon meat for the bird’s reward before the falcon tastes it!), the flight was  dramatic and protracted; the seemingly endless series of stoops and evasions could go on for six miles. It was probably loss of land that did it in in Europe, even for emperors.

Colonel Thomas Thornton of Thornville royal (1757- 1823) was one of those larger than life humans that drive some people to madness while delighting others. The short version: Colonel Thornton was the last modern WESTERN master of the gyr until Ronald Stevens in Ireland and the westerners of my generation who hunt the Big Sage. Rich, profligate, arrogant and funny, he squandered a fortune, lived long, drank “like a hero”, dressed his mistress as a jockey, put her on his horses and bet on her in the races, then horsewhipped a cur who insulted her in the stands. He loved gyrs and greyhounds, and died old and content in Paris, having spent all his money.

He wrote two good books, his Northern Tour, which I have, and one with at least as good a reputation about a French “expedition”, which I have never seen. (Expedition? He traveled with nearly the baggage of Emperor Frederic; a contemporary journalist described his caravan: “Fourteen servants with hawks on their wrists, ten hunters, a pack of stag hounds and lap- dog beagles, and a brace of wolves formed the advance guard. Two brace of pointers, and thrice as many greyhounds in rich buff and blue sheets, with armorial bearings, followed in their train.”)

But the point of all this was that he was among the last westerners to pursue the kite, with a cast of gyrs at that. His amusement with the middle- class practicality of a guest who could not appreciate the high art of the flight at the kite comes across the centuries.

“The southern [meaning south of the borders between England and Scotland] gentlemen, particularly those in the vicinity of the metropolis, never see game of any kind without expressing, instantaneously, their inclinations for a roast… every alderman expresses, on occasion, the same emotions… A Mr. A A, attended by a little humpback servant with a large portmanteau, joined our party, ranging for kite near Eden Gap. At length one was seen in the air, and I ordered the owl flown.[ Eagle owls are hated and ‘mobbed’ by other birds, and one abroad by day will lure an angry kite– SB] He came, as we wished, at a proper distance. The day was fine, and the hawks, especially Javelin and Icelanderkin, in the highest order, and with them Crocus, a favorite slight falcon. [ Peregrine–SB] Never was there a finer day, keener company, or, for six miles or more, a finer flight. When he was taken, in an extacy [sic] I asked Mr A how he liked kite hawking. He replied, with a sort of hesitation that implied but small pleasure, ‘Why, pretty well.’ We then tried for hare, with a famous hawk called Sans Quartier. After ranging a little, we found one, and in about two miles, killed it. Mr A coming up again slowly, unwilling or unable to leave his portmanteau, I repeated my former question; and though the flight of a hare is fine, yet, being in no way equal to that of a kite, was surprised to see his countenance brighten up, and to hear him express himself with uncommon pleasure. ‘Ay,  that ‘  he said ‘was a nobler kind of hawking; the hare would be of use–a good roast— the kite of none.”

He hardly needed to add: “I leave every sportsman to guess the observations that were made by a set of lively young men on the occasion.”

Thornton with Gyr and greyhound; and his 16- bore double muzzle- loading gun, which resides on extended loan in the Archives of Falconry in Boise Idaho. Its owner, in England, has tempted me by offering to let me shoot it if I get up there, but though I have written about it, I doubt it will be easy to convince its guardians. Probably made in the late 1700’s and converted to percussion, it last killed partridge in the 1980’s… that is nine teen!

Finally, what may be the best painting Joseph Wolf ever did- and puzzling because he lived a bit late for seeing the almost medieval flight outside of Asia: a red kite brought down by a cast of gyrs:

Gun Quiz Solution

It was (obviously?) an 1895 Winchester, most famed as Teddy Roosevelt’s lion gun in Africa, using its odd heavy load, the .405 Winchester. It was a relatively strong action, and because it had a box magazine* rather than the typical tubular ones on most leverguns, it could shoot modern spitzer type loads like the .30- 06.

But what this specimen looks like is the front of an old bolt action military rifle grafted on to a “cowboy” rear. Because that is exactly what it is. It is ’95, but one made for the Czar’s army before the Russian revolution, in the old Mosin Nagant caliber, 7.62 x 54 Russian.

The interesting thing to me is that they made 300,000 or so in this caliber, 70 % of all production, more than they did of .405 Winchester, .30-06, .30-40 Krag, and .303 British COMBINED. They sent almost all of them to Russia– and they flat- out disappeared. Those that don’t know Russia say, well, the Soviets had strict gun control. But though that is to an extent true, I have seen SKS’s, Mosins, AK’s “Baikal” shotguns, and even CZ Mauser sporters everywhere in Central  Asia and never a hint of a 95 Winchester. I think there must still be a stack of crates in a cave in the Urals…

(More negative evidence for what it is worth: the Chinese have even harsher gun control, up to the death penalty, AND the demented sixties youth movement known as the Red Guard once tried to destroy all 45’s because they were a “bourgeois caliber”. But I have seen more Chinese Broomhandles in .45 ACP for sale, albeit for absurdly high prices– $5000!– than I have Russian Winchesters).

The owner of this one has a theory. He writes in part: ” [My girlfriend’s grandfather]… in Finland passed away a few months ago. He acquired the firearm during the 1950s or 1960s as his first moose-rifle… you may be wondering how a Finn acquired the 1895. Well, 70% of the rifles were produced for Imperial Russia before the model was discontinued in 1936. The rejected rifles were resold on American commercial market. The 1895 can use the same stripper clip as the 1891 Mosin Nagants. However most of them ended up in Finland and Baltic states before the October Revolution of 1917. Some of them were reissued by the Soviets for the Spanish Civil War. This particular rifle produced in 1907 survived World War I, Finnish Civil War, Winter War, Continuum War and Lapland War. “

He adds: “…  after the Civil War, many of ’95 were converted to 8.2x53mmR or 9.3x35mmR during the interwar period for moose-hunting because of the hunting laws they had during that time period which only allowed 8mm or larger calibre. Those which survived to serve in the Winter War without being modified into hunting rifles were either converted to 7.62x53mm or left intact… My Finnish contact said one can still find a lot of people still hunting with them in Lithuania or Latvia… “

Correction: Dave, the owner, writes: “The 9mm round is: 9.3x53mmR, not 9.3x35mmR.”

Which I believe.  But surely not all 300,000! See comments for more thoughts.

UPDATE: Bruce Douglas (he appears a few posts below with two flavors of Broomhandle Mausers) reminds us that the rifle makes an appearance in the last great work of Akira Kurosawa, Dersu Uzala, carried by  Captain Arseniev. Arseniev’s Dersu the Hunter is also in my new book of one hundred books.

*Elmer Keith disliked the protruding magazine and said it looked like the belly of a poisoned pup.

Drinkable…. MAUSER?

When I got to the last wrapping of an anonymous package last week, the outline of my last unfulfilled firearm desideratum appeared: the unmistakable profile of a ’96 Mauser “Broomhandle”. Could some anonymous admirer have sent me (illegally, but I wasn’t worried– it had passed inspection)  the gun used by Winston Churchill in the “River War”, the sidearm of T. E. Lawrence, of  Karamojo Bell (he shot down a German plane with one in the Great War);  of ornithologist Salim Ali, and of two fictional heroes: Geofffrey Household’s Charles Dennim (in Watcher in the shadows),  and Michael Gruber’s Jane Doe  (in Tropic of Night)?

It was a bottle of Vodka!

Sent by the ever- stylish adventurer and firearms scholar Bruce Douglas, here seen with liquid AND steel broomhandles.