Thursday, 17 August 2017

Bushcraft Napalm And How To Make It

Quite a few of you probably pride yourselves on your skills with fire by friction, and I salute you for you dedication. This stuff is for the times when you actually need a fire blazing NOW!

Perfect Example: When Mr Grendel and myself were dropped off by The Ghillie at the lodge and told "there's a wee stove make yerselfs a fierr" sure there was stacks of wood, in the kind of sizes you'd use as props to hold a mineshaft up, but no axe and we only had skinning knives with us. It was snowing, we were soaked from hats to gaiters. Without any kindling to speak of we had to rummage about a bit to get a blaze on.  A few bits of cardboard from the bin and a couple of candles from a kitchen drawer, and we were soon drying out. As we were huffing and puffing the fire into life I'd remarked "I wish we had some Bushcraft Napalm this would be a piece of piss". 

Mr Grendel enquired "WTF is Bushcraft Napalm?"

I've not made any Bushcraft Napalm in ages, but as I promised him I'd do a How To [about eighteen months ago], here it is. 

Bushcraft Napalm is cheap soap and petrol, mixed into a paste, and here's the clever bit, stored in an old toothpaste tube.

You need a bowl you can heat up, without causing an outburst of rage to intrude on the peace of your dwelling.

 You need the cheapest soap you can get - this was three bars for one Great British Pound

 Chop the soap up a bit

 Chop the soap up a bit a bit more. It would be even better to use a cheese grater.

Soften it it in the microwave - our microwave has lost the facility of the number one button, two mins and twenty two seconds was way too long, twenty two seconds not long enough. Your mileage may vary.

As the soap softens its time to start adding petrol, the great thing about using the microwave is its much less likely to burst into flames than using the stove top. Don't ask.

In preparation you'll have carefully sliced off the sealed end of your old toothpaste tubes, soaked and washed them until clear and clean, then left them to dry out.

 When you can let the mix cool but still remain a paste, you'll know you've got the soap to petrol/gas mix right. Milage will vary. Spoon the gloop into the tubes, trying to keep the cut edge gloop free.

It helps to use a bit of brown paper to stop molten plastic from ruining the iron. Don't ask.
I've also had good results using a old pair of pilers heated in a gas flame.

 Heat seal the cut end of the tube, with an iron. Pretty soon you'll have sealed the end of the tube, thus.

Probably a good idea to label the tubes to avoid accidents.

 A little squidge is all you need

Spark it up with your ferro rod, and it smells like VICTORY

More Soon
Your pal

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Choosing A Pack Frame - For Heavy Loads

Pack frames are not a new idea, here's a recreation of the wood and hide pack Oetzi the iceman was carrying when he met his end on that alpine pass.
When I decided that my old internal frame Berghaus was too broken up to continue as my main pack I'd intended to buy a pack frame, cut the straps and semi-frame out of the old Berghaus, and lash it on to a frame.  As you've already read the title of this post you'll know I feel there are two main choices, Kifaru and Mystery Ranch.

Both have developed a system of adjustments that let you fine-tune the fit of the pack to your skeleton and posture.

Good packs last a long time, I'd had the last one for years and years before it finally succumbed to plastic fatigue with its clips and buckles giving up the ghost. Still usable, but without proper adjustment, a terrible carry and even when new its design hailed from the days when 20-50% of the load was expected to be born on your shoulders. These days we know better - 100% of the weight on your hips - seeing as they are the only part of your body designed to bear weight. As packs last so long they are something worth taking your time over choosing, which is fun, and strangely cost effective.

The opportunity to buy a G2 Kifaru Longhunter came up first so I got a pack and frame at the same time. One thing led to another; I found some bits and pieces of junk lying around to trade online and you know how it is, I later bought a Mystery Ranch Mountain Ruck. Two different approaches to load management. Both streets ahead of the packs of yore.

That consummate outdoorsman, climbing guide, and Alpinist historian BoB (my bro) tells me that back in the day the pack frames were soldered copper tubes (yep from the plumbing store) to which the plumber/pack-maker used to add a filling point at the top and a drain cock at the bottom. So the frame could also be a fuel canister. I saw this recreation in the Nat Geo store. They've missed out the padding so you can see how the forces are distributed across the shoulder blades, the pack must have been pretty wobbly and tiring to carry.

With characteristic contempt for the well being of their employees the british army issued this, er, 'super ridgid' and I guess super-heavy frame to radio operators. You can buy one HERE should you feel your back-guy is under employed or you don't have enough scrap metal in your life.

Both Kifaru and Mystery Ranch are US based, low to lowish volume manufacturers with devoted followings (Kifaru actually have fan-boy meet-ups). Both boast of sales to elite military units, and have great reputations on the hunting forums. Both companies make a frame which is the foundation of a system, with different packs for different loads. Both companies sell their packs online or you can visit the factory to be measured up. Most important to me - Both companies are still run day-to-day by the guy who founded them; Dana Gleason [Mystery Ranch] and Patrick Smith [Kifaru] - you can ring up and ask Patrick Smith as many daft questions as you like!

There are now a couple of other options; unfortunately the new kid on the block stopped being an option after an outdoorsman and blogger whose opinion I value bought one; took it for a walk in the hills, and didn't review it - I wrote to him privately asking what happened and he complained of 'squeaking' a crime so bad that no pack accused of it will grace this blog or see any of my hard earned cash.

or if you like it Retro-Tec Vargo Titanium have brought out a frame & pack, but I've not tested one yet.

Cumbersome loads, are what Pack-frames are all about, the ads and 'when-I' pics on the hunting forums show a trophy Elk, but far more likely loads are a chainsaw, a Jerry can, an MDPE barrel, and lazy offspring. All of which are a bugger to carry without the gleefull adrenalin provided by your trophy Elk.

Kifaru Vs Mystery Ranch

Frankly I would recommend either of these frames: when you want to cart a portable tree-stand into the woods, portage your dry-barrel on a canoe trip, take your chainsaw to somewhere inaccessible by ATV or truck, take half a Fallow Doe on the bus, or be able to carry lazy offspring with ease - a pack frame is what you need and these guys have it down to a fine art. If your budget is tight I still maintain that my plan to buy a frame and either recycle a pack or just strap an old feed bag to the frame is a good one.  Designing and making a whole pack [that carries well] is beyond most of us, but letting your needs design the 'bag' part for you, getting a seamstress or tailor to run it up, and putting it on a really well thought out frame is totally do-able. If that all sounds like a drag Hill People Gear make some nice, and reasonably priced, bags that are intended to fit either frame.

I've humped both frames around a bit here are a few observations which, all other factors being equal, may be important when making your choice.

Probably the most important factor Load Stability.
Kifaru's proprietary delta straps that snug the load against your back are a very design solution, they do make a massive difference.

Potential for Adjustment
It takes a while to get the best possible set up for your Kifaru pack but once its done its done. There's a tutorial on how to bend the frames stays to the exact contour of your spine for the ultimate fit. Mystery Ranch's system isn't as adjustable, the frame stays stay the way they came, but the adjustment you can make is easier to do. If you were adapting the packframe to fit a different guest each week this might be the clincher, for most of us once the pack is set up it stays that way.

Ease of Adjustment
Mystery Ranch have come up with a very simple way to do this, very neat design. If you were sharing the pack with someone or keeping it as the 'clients pack' this would be a more important factor. If its only you using it both packs are fit and forget.

The Buckles
Mystery Ranch have the grippiest buckles I've ever seen on any bag, the buckles all other buckles are to be measured against. When you want the straps to stay done up a blessing, when you want to adjust them with one hand they can be quite annoying.

Pack on - Pack off
Mystery Ranch make this look easy in comparison. Neither is really well attached but how often do you really need to take the bag off the frame?

Load Management
Dana Gleason and Patrick Smith have divergent views on this; with the Kifaru design aiming for rigid, and MR still allowing for an amount of flex. Kifaru now make a lighter 'bikini' version without the xxx plate that gives so much of the rigidity.   I'm slightly on the side of rigid as load stability seems to have a big effect on fatigue.

Kifaru offer a Cargo Chair which is excellent creating a rigid shelf to support the load, and a wrap which I've not got yet [we all know its yet].

Mystery Ranch offer an excellent Load Sling, which is a bit more svelte than the Kifaru Wrap but could benefit from some attachment points.

Mystery Ranch offer a whole host of different pack options for their frame, from 3 day sized to packs designed to carry a Pelican rifle case, or military communications rig.

Attachment Points
After the Kifaru, when I got the Mystery Ranch I found myself wondering 'where are they?'

What I'd do differently?

I've read that there's a crew in Oz who are making MR under licence and fitting the packs with quick release buckles on the shoulder straps, Kifaru put them on the Tactical packs but not the hunting packs. I think its an oversight that they're not standard equipment across the range of both brands. QR buckles weigh nothing when your not using them, but when you need them, you really need them.

Mystery Ranch need to add more attachment points to the pack frame and load sling so you can really bind a load to it.

Kifaru would benefit from making the pack-on-pack-off procedure simpler.

I like the way the Mystery Ranch pack adjusts easily for back length, but its not something you'll need to do too often so its not a deal-breaker. A hybrid of the two would be awesome.

If you are tall, or like me most of your height is in body length (short legs) the height of Kifaru's frame lets you pull the really big loads on to your  back from above your shoulders, this makes a massive difference. Its an oversight that Mystery Ranch have addressed with an add-on to their fames and I've seen an aftermarket offering too. I've not tried it yet but its a welcome rectification of the design.

For a shout at second hand frames: Ebay has the odd bargain but lots of packs go for most of the new price, Bushcraft USA, Bushcraft UK, the Kifaru forum (mostly US based sellers)  are all good places to look. When buying second hand you're looking for a seller in the same size range, and most importantly the same proportion as you: taking into account that while you may have the legs of a super model, the seller could have the legs of a Hobbit while your overall heights could be the same. You need to know the length of your back rather than your overall height to get a proper fit.

In the end I sold my Mystery Ranch NICE frame and kept the Kifaru.

Have fun out there, and if you'd be so good as to take a few bit of other peoples rubbish home with you, the world will literally be a less rubbish place next time you visit mother nature.

For more about traditional pack frames through the ages, this site is a fantastic resource. click HERE

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Unboxing Review: Hunter Balmoral Wellies

Hunter 'Balmoral' Wellies.
Zip Sides, aka 'Technical' Wellies. Like all english people I've had a few pairs of welly's over the years, from 'paddingtons' the red wellies I had age six, several pairs of Dunlop's simple unlined black wellies, and as the welly came of age, couple of pairs of excellent neoprene Muck Boots.

The Field Blazer's from Muck Boots I reviewed a while back were the best by a country mile, thick neoprene certainly made them a lot warmer that the Dunlops of the 1970's and 80's which kept you feet dry but stone cold. The soles were designed to shed mud, but lost a little in grippyness in the process.

Neoprene Wellies are next to the perfect tree-stand hunting/ woodland stalking boot; you're not walking that far, and you'll be sitting still for long periods of time.  Shooting in the club competitions there's a lot of hanging around to be done, much of it in inclement conditions. Warm dry feet go a long way towards keeping your spirits up on the windswept plains of Bisley.

The one thing that's always annoyed me about wellies is they're either a hassle to get off, or too lose to be comfortable to walk in. At the Archery Camp The Northern Monkey and I have in the New Forrest the precarious and slippery steps to the shepherd's hut are a less than ideal site for welly removal. When I saw Zip Sides, I knew I'd end up getting a pair.
There are a whole host of different brands, the Ex Mrs SBW and The Littlest Bushwacker both have pairs of Hunter wellies and they seemed a lot better made than the wellies of yesteryear.

So far I've only unboxed them. They are certainly more sculpted to your feet than the non-zipped /non-technical wellies I've had before. The tread is a lot deeper than the Field Blazers.

Lennox, The Northern Monkey's Labrador, and I are committed to a mass reduction program, and while TNM's mum is trying to feed us both up, we're going to be walking it off morning and evening for the next few months.

In truth I got the Hunter's on Amazon because they were half the price of the brand I'd been hoping to get, the bargain basement brand I'd been planning to get, are perpetually out of stock in my size, and I had a amazon voucher. These are without doubt the most middle class thing I own, and walking a Black Lab in them pushes me over the edge. I'll let you know how I get on.
More Soon
Your Pal

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Review: Helikon Backblast Shooting Mat & Bisley: 600 Yards On Century.

With the weather scheduled to be warming up the [even] older boys at the club were levering themselves out of their armchairs and waddling down to Bisley to put a few down range. 
It's that time of year, my offspring are hitting their school books. So I found myself at something of a loose end, and as Bisley is the last place I was described as 'young and keen' I thought I'd join them. Club shooting is both fantastic value, you're splitting the range fees amongst a few of you and if not many turn up the club is subsidising the day, and best of all some of the chaps have been teaching other members longer than I've been alive, so the standard of tuition is high. 
Did I mention the lunch? The club matriarch lays on a really great lunch.  Churlish not to attend.

Century 600 yards. Century is the first range where I shot out to 600 yards, but its been a while so I was keen to get back into it. Talking over my plans I mentioned that we were going to be lying-on-the-floor shooting, and my pals at Helikon stuck their latest shooting mat, the BackBlast, in the post for me to test. The world and his brother make a shooting mat. So the guys at Helikon have their work cut out trying to design something that stands out. 

I think its fair to say things started tolerably.  With the first sighter landing on the edge of the 14.4 inch V Bull. Once the beginners luck was safely out of the way I started reciting the usual litany of excuses: Wind, Variable Wind, Non-Existent Cheek-Weld, Inconstant Ammo, Dehydration, Sore Neck, Existential Angst, Not my Lucky Hat, the Gods Displeased, Etc

Club Rifle: Remington 700 Police in 5.56 Nato

The package that had landed on the doormat was smaller and lighter than I expected, all the club mats are bulky affairs. The Helikon boys include a  pouch for ten rounds, and a windowed pouch, both of which velcro on to the mat. 

The mat's got grippy sections for your knees and elbows and a moveable velcro backed grippy bit for the hand that supports the rifle's butt. 

There are pockets for your tent pegs; so you can keep the matt flat. Obviously I could have used any old tent pegs from the gear pile, but I've ordered some poncey titanium ones to keep in with the lightweight theme.

Automation hasn't made it to Century range yet and behind and below the butts there's a manual raising and lowering mechanism for the targets.  We took turns providing the muscle power to lift the targets into place and mark the scores.   
There are two parts to scoring. A spotting disc, which is actually square, which is pinned to the face of the target marking the bullet hole and the scoring panel that runs along the bottom edge of the board. Your best potential score is five points for a Bull, but to serve as a tie-breacker the Bull has an inner 'VBull' ring which scores separately. So a ten-shot competition has a highest possible score of 50.10. Ten 5's and 10 VBulls
The scoring panel is at the bottom of the target board. There are four holes which the markers are pushed into. They are black on one side and orange on the other.

Orange in the hole on the far left would be a score of - One Point
Black on the far left a score of Two Points
Black left a 'magpie' - Three Points
Black right - Four Points
Black far right - Five Points
Orange on the far right a VBull.
On the upside: scoring is 'inward', touch the line to get the higher score.
On the downside: you'd better hope the person doing your scoring is taller than five feet, if they're not you could end up having one of your shots marked as a miss. 

Handy if you need just one more excuse. 

more soon
Your pal 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Ten Years Of This Blog!

Mental. I just go an alert to let me know that it's ten years yesterday that I sat on the sofa, at the now Ex-Mrs SBW's house, and mused that there was a dichotomy between my life in the suburbs and my thirst for a life of adventure and wild food. The Suburban Bushwacker was born.

From that first post:

To awake from my comfortable homeostasis, rediscover my physical self and embark on the adventure of reconnecting with the natural world. Fat and lazy as I am, I get the feeling it’s going to be a rude awakening! I live in one of the most highly urbanised societies on earth, and it shows. Mainly around the middle!

Hunt, and kill a massive Elk with a bow. To skin it, butcher it, put it’s meat on the table and in the freezer, hang its skull and antlers on the wall, spread its hide across our bed and love-wrestle Mrs Bushwacker on top of it in its honour.

Between here and there:
Lose quite a lot of weight, gain quite a lot of muscle, develop endurance, learn archery, learn bushcraft and stalking skills, choose then buy (or trade for) all the kit needed to trek out into the wilderness, kill and bring back the body of my noble prey.

Why Hunting?
Ever since I started eating meat again, I was vegetarian for a few years in my teens and early twenties, I have felt a growing need to have an honest (and some would say blood thirsty) relationship with my dinner. 
I’ve noticed a lot of hunters refer to killing an animal as ‘harvesting’, just as there is no polite word for a euphemism, on this blog killing is called killing. I’ve met too many people who can/will only eat something if its origin is obscured. Fish, but only if it does not have a head, prawns without their shells, chicken but only when it comes from a plastic tray, and then only the white meat. These are people are afraid of their dinner. Our food deserves our respect. On the days when our skill and tenacity overcomes the animals guile and awareness, we earn the right to eat the flesh of another being. If you cant (or won’t) kill it, gut it, cut it, and cook it what gives you the right to eat it? I believe in celebrating and honouring the life that is taken so we may live. 

A couple of million readers later I'm still in touch with a few of you, and still reading what you're writing. I've shot a few deer, and eaten a few more, I've seen the highs and lows of accuracy with a variety of rifles, fallen in love with some amazing handmade outdoor equipment. Some of which I've been lucky enough to own.

If real life didn't keep getting in the way, I reckon I would have bow hunted that Elk by now, but ho-hum perhaps its the journey that's been important rather than the freezer full of Elk.

Still to come from the laptop of SBW:

I'm going to continue with the gear reviews, and possibly be designing a few bits too.

Target shooting will continue apace. I've not posted nearly enough on this blog about my .22LR and 7.62X51 adventures. Might even get some .50 cal mini-cannon in!

I'll be going back to Scotland: more Roe, more Reds, Goats, Boar, Mountain Hare and that so far so elusive Sea Trout

There's still the possibility of some bowhunting for Rabbits in Spain

Finland for Beaver and panning for gold

The Kiwi grand slam

And my long, long, overdue return to the US of A.

Thanks for reading
more tales to tell very soon
Your pal

Friday, 12 May 2017

Review: Helikon Patriot

Who is the apex predator who will ruin your day, your week, and even your year?
Who has no respect for tradition, and will rob future generations of their tweedy sartorial inheritance? Tineola bisselliella my nemesis, the common clothes moth. If you like your bushcraft and or traditional Scottish Deer Stalking, you probably like the comfort, warmth, and indeed elegance of wool, and more specifically Tweeds. Not cheap, but with potentially generations of wear in every garment, an investment. Or so I thought. I've lost count of the number of jackets and suits that have been ravaged by the evil that is the clothes moth. So I started all over again with synthetics, and in fairness never looked back. You can buy fleece clothes at every price point from free chuck-ables branded by tool companies to NomadUK. I've got a NomadUK set of breeks and smock for hill stalking and they are fantastic, they were also a fantastic price, even though I got mine at a significant discount on Ebay.
I reviewed their gear a while back and I've now put it to even harder tests and I still love it. A few of you wrote in with variations on 'How Much!?'

Then for not a lot less dosh there's the 'tacti-cool' guys, there are a few companies making 'issue replacement' gear in the tactical/military contractor style; from complete junk, to very well made. Triple Aught Design [TAD Gear] probably being the best. They have their retail outlet in San Francisco so you can imagine the prices. Plus shipping, plus import tax, plus handling charge etc. Really well thought out and made though.

A few weeks back I met up with a friend who has mentored me in Lightweight Sporting Rifle. He has; a very good job, no kids, and as you might expect, a wonderful collection of toys that go 'Pew-Pew'.  The was wearing one of the most substantial, and best cut fleece jackets I've ever seen. As he'd just come back from the US of A I assumed it would be some super niche brand to rival TAD Gear. Not a bit of it. Helikon-Tex of Poland. When I found out you could have one list price for £60 I was intrigued. 

A few emails later the lovely people at Helikon were kind enough to send me a fleece for testing. I've got a few base layers that work well enough, so I chose a heavy fleece hooded jacket they call the Patriot.

Straight out of the bag I like the Patriot. 390g/m2 is a fairly substantial weight of fleece giving a comforting jacket-ness to it. The design detail is right up there with the three times the price American brands and quite a bit better than my much-loved NomadUK hill smock. 

The zips are full spec YKK’s and the pulls don't look like they’ll fail even in heavy use. 

The pull-cords that snug-up the bottom of the jacket are better than the usual junk and have a little bead to stop the quick-locks from getting lost. Me likee.
The chest pockets have inner pockets made of a 'silky' material to hold a pen, your phone, and glasses. They also have clips to keep things that mustn't be lost, like your cast ear defenders secured. The jacket is what's sometimes called 'media enabled' which in the real world means there are little grommets for headphone cables to pass through in the pockets. I had a jacket like this before and I did actually use them, another nice touch. 

Helikon have gone with a semi-rigid velcro closure for the cuffs which are actually nicer to use than having a cloth tab, and very convent during the gralloch or when costal foraging where you want to keep the muck off your cuffs. 

The way the jacket is cut; no hand pockets and pit-zips that you can actually do-up & un-do while still wearing the jacket, mean its going to be my first choice to wear with a pack. 

There's a map sized pocket on the back, for when you need the paperwork, but don't need it to hand. 
I took the Patriot for a spot of coastal foraging, unfortunately it didn't rain, but the wind blew up a fair bit. Just wearing a t-shirt underneath to give it a fair test, unlike most fleeces the jacket was almost totally windproof [which its not described as by the maker]. It’s shrugged off some light rain in town and I’m thinking about getting another one  

Its worth noting that the sizing is pretty generous, if I got some of Helikon’s base layers I’d order them in a size smaller than the sizing chart shows.

More soon
Your pal

Friday, 31 March 2017

More Bisley: 5.56mm at 100m

Most of the time my target shooting looks like this, 22LR at an indoor 25m range with varying degrees of success, some weeks I even make it down there twice, some weeks not so much. 

Once the weather warms up my club rents out target at Bisley - the national shooting ground and we gather to shoot a little further. This year's outing started at 100m with most people shooting 5.56mm my results were, er um, undistinguished and so shall remain unmentioned.
One nice thing about Bisley is you'll often get to see iconic rifles in action, here's a
Steyr SSG 69, which its owner tells me he's shot it for the last 20 years. These rifles are arguably the precursor to the 'sniper rifles' of today, SSG = sharp shooter gun, although one wouldn't be my first choice for hill stalking, they are a smashing target rifle and chambered in .308 not too spendy to feed either.

As its still early in the year shooters are getting back into it after the inclement weather, some of the crew are preparing for the Target Rifle season, and the Civilian Service Rifle crowd are working out the reliability issues that seem to plague the AR15 owner.

There are dozens of people who will be described to you as "Bisley Types" usually by people who would fit the description themselves, and 'engineering buff' would defiantly be one of them. A few lanes away we met a gent who had brought this spectacular scope with him. He managed to underplay his own expertise by telling a series of amusing anecdotes about his brother's engineering obsession. 'Buy a lens for three grand and then polish it'. This scope was a cast-off, his brother makes them as binoculars for bird watching at ranges of a couple of miles or more!

More tales to come, 
Your pal 

Book Review: A Fly Rod Of Your Own

John Gierach still has it. The original trout bum is back for his 21st book, and for me his laconic storytelling style never gets old. Whereas he was once young and keen he's now older and wider. Still bouncing along over dirt tracks and bumping down in small planes to reach the trout others only see in magazines he's made a life for himself living wild and free, fishing wild places.

In a world where all outdoor activities now seem to need to be "extreme" he manages to hang on to the idea of The Gentle Art, he fishes for the sake of fishing, sure he'd like to bank the big one, but I can't help get the feeling he'd be happier if he saw a newbie catch it. He's owned all the best gear a fly shop can offer, and yet at the same time he can't help but poke fun at the way 'simplicity' always seems to come with such an eye watering price tag.

Best of all he has the good graces to make himself sound delighted with life, without being smug. One of the great outdoor voices.

Much more to come
Your pal

Monday, 12 December 2016

Book Review: Tracking the Major

The blogger known as the Bambi Basher and myself have a sort of yule-ish end-of-year catch-up tradition. Last year we stalked the Highlands. This year our December catch up was to return to its regular venue. Holts host their bi-annual london auctions - it's the nearest thing to an American gun show central london has to offer. You can 'view' by which I mean 'pick up and handle', firearms from £500,000 to £50. Did I mention it’s catered? You can see the appeal. This year BB couldn't make it, and worried that the excess provisions laid on would go to waste I stepped up to the plate[s], loosened my belt a notch or two, and headed for Hammersmith. 

There were some very nice things on offer: at least three Mannlichers, one with the famous rotary magazine, all with the 'double set trigger' mechanism, that can both aid accuracy and render the consumption of roughage unnecessary. For me the star of the show was a rather scruffy and well used Rigby take-down [obvs chambered in .275]. 
Back in the day when a sport could pop down to the Army & Navy department store and equip himself for everything from a weekend in the country to a multi-year expedition to untraveled lands, Army & Navy’s gun department kept a stock of off the shelf Rigbys, this one delivered to the store in 1901.

As you can imagine it’s been about a bit. The stock has some scratches, while in two pieces it's been dropped onto something hard denting one mating plate where the two parts meet, it had been re-barreled in the 90's and had a chamber sleeve added sometime after. One of the more lived-in Rigbys.
Like a wand in your hands, the stock's semi-pistol grip worthy of the name, super petite, and svelte at 7 lbs 2oz. Now 115 years old the bolt's travel has worn as smooth as a smooth thing's smooth bits. Not, perhaps one for a collectors safe, but a real traveling sportsman's rifle that would earn you a hit-tip from any aficionado, and derision from anyone with an ounce of fiscal probity.

The Victorian-Edwardian transition, the second surge of industrial revolution, must have been a great time for the rifleman. When adventurous english gents would embark on expeditions to far flung corners of the world with a realistic expectation of adding to the sum of human knowledge. For the gentleman explorer it was considered, if not an act of devotion, certainly one's patriotic duty to record the whole escapade. As Queen Victoria passed and Prince Edward sat in the big chair. A new age of recording the moment had begun. The birth of more portable photography, cinematography, the telegraph, audio recording for broadcast, and an age of prolific taxidermy. Newsworthy moments were transmitted by Reuters and Pathe back to the public; samples and specimens were preserved and prepared for display in cabinets of curiosities and diorama, in sizes from desktop to needing to build an extension on to your house.

By the 1970s and 80s the baby had been chucked out with the bathwater. Explorers were still just about ok, fur coats and taxidermy were out, and big game hunters, unthinkable! The once heroic figure of the sunburned Englishman in a pith helmet wasn't a passionate naturalist and ethnographer, he'd become a figure of fun to be mocked and derided. The life stories of these intrepid eccentrics were only remembered at places like Bisley, the reading rooms of moth-eaten gentleman's clubs, and the Bambi Basher’s bookshelves.

Taking a break from leaving greasy paw-marks over the merchandise I happened to be at the right end of the room (funnily enough where the free champagne was being served) to hear someone from Holts announce that Andrew Joynes was launching his book 'Tracking the Major - sketches from the Powell-Cotton Museum'. Then he mentioned Quex Park the major's estate. Theres a street not too far from where I grew up called Quex Rd, which is an unusual sounding place name, my ears pricked up.

'... In my attempt to fathom the mind of the Major, I began to think of his archive, with its variety of objects and documents, as a kind of lair to which a rare animal had retreated...
In the room behind the baize door, I had embarked on an exercise in historical fieldcraft. I had begun to track the Major... “
Andrew Joynes

Curiosity peaked I learned Major Percy Powell-Cotton was a massive celebrity of his time. On over 26 expeditions between 1887 and 1939 he hunted, collected, wrote and was an early pioneer of wildlife film making. He brought back over 2400 specimens and a plethora of artefacts. His collection out-grew his house and he built extension upon extension to house enormous diorama of full size taxidermy.
It’s not so much that his life was like something out of a boys own adventure, it’s more like the boys own adventures were based on him. His zeal for adventure was matched by his abilities as a self-publicist, he was news and he knew it. By sending regular(ish) dispatches from his trips he became a fixture of the newsreels and in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. His books best sellers, the public first saw the charismatic mega fauna of Africa in his films shown on the weekly newsreels. 

Such was the scale of his collecting that some of the skins he shipped across the world didn't get incorporated into his museum for more than 30 years. 
The most famous taxidermist of the day, Rowland Ward, wanted to mount Powell-Cotton's elephant, which has the second largest tusks ever recorded, and mount it life-size. This would mean raising the height of the roof at Quex Park. Powell-Cotton felt there had to be an end to the expenditure somewhere and declined. Rowland Ward was adamant, perhaps guessing correctly that the days of the really big elephants were at an end, and made his case that the mount could be life-size if he did the work for free, and Powell-Cotton paid for the raising of the roof. They shook hands and the elephant is still there today.

Andrew Joynes has done a great job of sifting through the major's meticulously notated stories behind many of the exhibits. A favourite anecdote: 

Whilst on honeymoon,  Powell-Cotton was being mauled by a lion he had failed to dispatch with the first shot. His death was postponed when a copy of the satirical magazine Punch resisted the lion's claw. Which gave a few vital seconds for his guides to save him. News of this near-miss reached London before he did, adding to his living legend status. 

The lion in question, as mounted by Rowland Ward & Co.

If that wasn't enough, he added a dash of panache by putting the lion, the safari suit and the copy of Punch on display in his museum. Which the public flocked to see.

It gets better.

A museum in his garden he’d been wise enough to commission, while on his travels, leaving his brother to deal with the builders. 


Andrew Joynes tells loads more great tales in 'Tracking the Major - sketches from the Powell-Cotton Museum’ , it's well worth a read.

I’m hoping to make it over to the museum in the next few weeks
I’ll post a field report obvs. 
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