Monday, March 24, 2014

SMLE sporter

Well, this one is late. As some may know, Gerry Cox made me an old English sporter out of an SMLE, the kind most fine English makers offered in the early 20th century. He did this out of kindness, friendship, and the challenge, in return for a minor favor. I am not only touched-- it is a useful rifle; the biggest rifle cartridge I have at the moment, in an action that, unaltered, may have, as Dave Petzal said, killed more big game species than any other. (Bonus lit point: Geoffrey Household's English agronomist used an SMLE and a "16 bore from Eibar" in Dance of the Dwarfs). Here is a typical page from an early 20th century catalog:

Gerry obtained a functional but not pretty specimen with a Fajen 50's style stock, took my measurements, and proceeded to work magic. Several people who know something have complimented him on the nice wood in the stock, not knowing he had to patch and blend more than one spot, invisibly. And though he didn't fake grain, he did stain it to the perfect color (colour?) And then he checkered it, doing rather better than some custom gunmakers I know.

His understanding of fitting was such that when I raise it up swiftly my eye comes to rest on the bead in the center of two concentric rings, the peep and the sight hood-- that is, it fits perfectly.
I'm keeping this one.

And then I remembered that the hand -embroidered gun slip from Uzbekistan that textile scholar- falconer Eric Wilcox had given me years ago was made for an Enfield (obvious from the hole for the bolt handle). Full size military rifles were right for length but too bulky; Jungle carbines so short you folded over a couple of inches. But my new sporter, like Goldilocks' porridge, was just right-- the slip covers it entirely.

I like to imagine the slip was a gift to some player of the Great Game who was also a sportsman, like Shipton. Or a naturalist- hunter, like Salim Ali. His friend Meinertzhagen like to call him a "treasonous little Wog", a fact recorded by Ali in his autobiography with great good humor. History at the moment is kinder to him that the Colonel.

Gerry was here this week with his wife and companion Caroline. The wind was up and we didn't go to the range; in fact, we talked so much, and the talk was so good, that we never took pics; I am hoping that somehow they did. Gerry?


mdmnm said...

What a very fine thing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all those pix!

I've always found the Lee-Speed sporters very attractive. One is featured in "The Ghost and the Darkness."

Jim Cornelius

Chad Love said...

Oh, man, that's nice.

Lucas Machias said...

Boone and Crockett
Club is extremely
pleased to announce a
new World’s Record
Alaska-Yukon moose.
A Special Judges Panel
convened on January
24, 2014, during the
Wild Sheep Foundation
convention in Reno,
Nevada, to certify the new World’s
Record—an Alaska-Yukon moose that
was taken only five months ago and
accepted in the 29th Awards Program on
December 24th.
The new World’s Record moose was
taken by Heinz Naef along the Yukon River,
Yukon Territory, on September 25, 2013,
while hunting for meat with eight friends,
including his son Brian. Naef’s bull scores
263-5/8 points, which is two inches larger
than the previous World’s Record (261-5/8
points) taken by John A. Crouse in 1994 near
Fortymile River, Alaska. Naef harvested this
bull with an old .303 British Enfield with
open sights after a brief cat-and-mouse stalk
through the trees.

Proof the old .303 still has the goods.

Steve Bodio said...

THAT is cool.

Anonymous said...

That is, indeed, cool. The "still has the goods" comment is kinda amusing. Duh. As though a venerable cartridge with such a record could be somehow quaint. How ever did we kill things without magnum cartridges? ;)

Jim Cornelius

Steve Bodio said...

The only magnum I have ever owned (.22 mag doesn't count (;-)) is the .375 H & H ,in two pre- 64 Model 70's, and that is a venerable "medium", not a modern magnum.

The .303 killed elephants (see the novel within a novel in Hemingway's Garden of Eden) as did the ".275 Rigby" (7 mm Mauser, 7 X 57) and the 6.5 x 54 Greek or Mannlicher Schoenauer. We don't need no stinking magnums !

Gil said...

Pretty is as pretty does. The spirit behind the creation and gift is equal to the beauty of the gun. Both are treasures. Gil

Anonymous said...

Last summer I was shooting near a fellow who was sighting in his .300 Win Mag. He was probably in his 60s, medium-sized and after a few shots he asked me to verify his zero for him — he couldn't take anymore.

(I did, of course. Shooting other peoples' guns is like riding other peoples' horses — all the pleasure, none of the upkeep).

I get that in the field you are only going to take a shot or maybe two — but such episodes still perplex me. Whey shoot a gun that hurts you? You WILL build in a flinch.

.300 Win Mag is obviously a great cartridge, but you don't HAVE to have it. Much better to shoot a rifle you can manage comfortably shot after shot. When I worked for Pachmayr, we had many (wealthy) customers who bought over-powered magnums and spent major $$ porting them and installing elaborate stock-weighting compensators and such. My boss always told them, just use a .270 or a .30-06, but they were all convinced that those cartridges were "obsolete."
People are funny.
Jim Cornelius

P.S. A portion of the Pachmayr crowd was also seduced by Robert Ruark's injunction to "use enough gun." They didn't get that "enough" didn't mean "more than you can handle."

danontherock said...

Wonderful rifle. Really nice

Dave said...

Very beautiful rifle.

I should pick one up next time I see a Lee-Enfield.