Friday, July 3, 2009

Over the years (since the 1950s), I notice the American gun writers do not spend much time on the double rifle. Do you know why this is? (question fro

Over the years (since the 1950s), I notice the American gun writers do not spend much time on the double rifle. Do you know why this is?

Don: This column was generated by a phone conversation a short while ago. Also, as mentioned in the article, would you like the double rifle info in Keith’s book for an article? I’d have to copy and mail it to you via the post as I’m unsure how to scan and e-mail.

Dear Cal:
Over the years (since the 1950s), I notice the American gun writers do not spend much time on the double rifle. Do you know why this is?
Walt Kephart

Dear Walt:
I can only guess at an answer. The double rifles (and the English mentality toward firearms) are specialty items used for specific hunting purposes. The English went of safari with a battery of rifles and shotguns. The Yanks, on the other side of the pond, were fond of the all-around rifle (or shotgun) concept. Hence the popularity of the .30 caliber. (With bullet weights from 110 to 250 grains the ‘06 could handle all hunting situations in North America and most African hunting as well.) Look at the publication “Cartridges of the World”. The majority of American calibers are .22 to .35. The majority of English calibers are in diameters of .40 and up.

In the Golden Age of American gun writers, the 1950s to 1970s, the Big Four were: Warren Page, Jack O’Connor, Charles Askins, and Elmer Keith. The first three wrote very little on the double rifle and, they all had their “pet” guns or calibers--such as O’Connor's love of the .270. More modern writers such as Capstick and Craig Boddington write on doubles as part of the African experience but not much on the rifles themselves. One notable exception would be Boddington’s Safari Rifles. But Elmer Keith was a large bore, heavy bullet man when it came to rifles and handguns so it was only natural he would gravitate toward the double rifle.

Of all the American writers, it was Elmer Keith who loved doubles and wrote extensively of them. Here are some examples from my files. In Guns and Ammo, January 1965, Elmer writes of doubles in his article “Rifles with Stopping Power”. In the November 1964 issue of the same magazine, his article, “Put Your Double Rifle Into Action” tells the reader how to load and shoot doubles. Pictured are nine of Elmer’s doubles from .303 to a sidelock Holland and Holland .577 Royal. In Guns magazine, November 1959, “Keith’ Last Two Shots in Africa” details his buffalo hunt with his .476 Westley Richards. Likewise in Guns and Ammo, August 1962, in his article, “Shooting Dangerous Game” Keith shows his lion, buffalo, rhino, and elephant taken with his doubles. In the February 1962 issue of the same publication, Keith’s “Rifles For Africa” shows the following doubles: .450-400 Westley, a .475 by the same maker, a German over and under in .475 no2, a Rigby .470, and a Purdey .470. The September 1956 issue of Sports Afield, “Rifles for Dangerous Game” Keith shows his Westley .476 and .465 and a Jeffery .600. Guns and Ammo, May-June 1959, details four of Keith’s best quality doubles: a.300 and .476 Westley, a .303 and a 16 bore rifle, in the article “The African Battery”. The December 1961 issue of the same publication shows the .577 Holland and 450-400 Westley Richards in the article “Elmer Keith’s Favorite Guns”. The 1967 issue of Gun Digest has the article “The Dependable Double”. And, the list goes on and on. Yes, Elmer was a double rifle man! At one time he owned a .600 Wilkes (as do I).

In his autobiography, “Hell, I Was There”,Keith spends a great deal of time on his African safaris and highlights his doubles--the .476 Westley and a .500 Boswell. His excellent book, “Big Game Rifles and Cartridges” (1936), has an entire chapter on doubles (pages 91-107) and sections in three subsequent chapters on double rifle sights, scope use, and stocks. He states the best rifle for hunting the big Alaska brown bears in the thick alders would be a double in .450-400. (If the editor agrees, perhaps the African Hunter can publish Keith’s double rifle chapter. It would make interesting reading.)

I seems the days of reading about doubles are just about gone except for the occasional article in the ‘one-size-fits-all’ generic magazines. There you may find story about an African hunt with or without a double rifle, a lightweight titanium handgun, the highest velocity magnum whiz-bang rifle (with some ridiculous names), etc.. And, I would guess that is the reason for the existence of this column--where like-minded folks can read about and discuss issues about the finest rifles on earth--the double rifle.

Good shooting.


PS. Notice to all readers. I am looking for any and all information about the .600 caliber. The feedback form the Doubles Column in issue 5 of last year encouraged me to write a comprehensive book on the .600: technical data, past and present owners and the experiences they had, and the rifles themselves from the ledgers of the makers. So, I would appreciate if readers can direct me to any and all known sources where the .600 is mentioned. Thanks!