Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 09, 2018

A Gun For Dinosaur

As the rest of the family has moved into rehearsal-every-night mode, I've been spending my evenings with the one and four-year-old members of the family, who are not yet old enough to be reliable on stage.

Young Pog knows what he wants: he wants to be held all the time, and not while I'm doing anything as upsetting as reading or even sitting. But his older brother is at one of the stages of life where nothing fascinates quite like a dinosaur. We've sampled a number of dinosaur specials, and this has brought important concerns to his mind such as the one he stated while getting ready for bed tonight: "Dad, I don't know how to kill a dinosaur. Is it tricky to kill a dinosaur in real life?"

Well, it's for questions like this that we have classic Science Fiction authors. L. Sprague de Camp tackled the question memorably in his 1956 short story "A Gun For Dinosaur".

No, I'm sorry, Mr. Seligman, but I can't take you hunting Late Mesozoic dinosaur.

Yes, I know what the advertisement says.

Why not? How much d'you weigh? A hundred and thirty? Let's see; that's under ten stone, which is my lower limit.

I could take you to other periods, you know. I'll take you to any period in the Cenozoic. I'll get you a shot at an entelodont or a uintathere. They've got fine heads.

I'll even stretch a point and take you to the Pleistocene, where you can try for one of the mammoths or the mastodon.

I'll take you back to the Triassic where you can shoot one of the smaller ancestral dinosaurs. But I will jolly well not take you to the Jurassic or Cretaceous. You're just too small.

What's your size got to do with it? Look here, old boy, what did you think you were going to shoot your dinosaur with?

Oh, you hadn't thought, eh?

Well, sit there a minute . . . Here you are: my own private gun for that work, a Continental .600. Does look like a shotgun, doesn't it? But it's rifled, as you can see by looking through the barrels. Shoots a pair of .600 Nitro Express cartridges the size of bananas; weighs fourteen and a half pounds and has a muzzle energy of over seven thousand foot-pounds. Costs fourteen hundred and fifty dollars. Lot of money for a gun, what?

I have some spares I rent to the sahibs. Designed for knocking down elephant. Not just wounding them, knocking them base-over-apex. That's why they don't make guns like this in America, though I suppose they will if hunting parties keep going back in time.

Now, I've been guiding hunting parties for twenty years. Guided 'em in Africa until the game gave out there except on the preserves. And all that time I've never known a man your size who could handle the six-nought-nought. It knocks 'em over, and even when they stay on their feet they get so scared of the bloody cannon after a few shots that they flinch. And they find the gun too heavy to drag around rough Mesozoic country. Wears 'em out.

It's true that lots of people have killed elephant with lighter guns: the .500, .475, and .465 doubles, for instance, or even the .375 magnum repeaters. The difference is, with a .375 you have to hit something vital, preferably the heart, and can't depend on simple shock power.

An elephant weighs—let's see—four to six tons. You're proposing to shoot reptiles weighing two or three times as much as an elephant and with much greater tenacity of life. That's why the syndicate decided to take no more people dinosaur hunting unless they could handle the .600. We learned the hard way, as you Americans say. There were some unfortunate incidents . . .

I'll tell you, Mr. Seligman. It's after seventeen-hundred. Time I closed the office. Why don't we stop at the bar on our way out while I tell you the story?

[continue reading]

The .600 Nitro Express here mentioned is a real rifle round, the grand daddy of all the turn of the century big bore safari rifles, with a cartridge as big as your hand.

Here's someone firing it.

Given my historical fascinations, I was intrigued to discover that Wikipedia even had a World War One angle for me:

WWI service
In 1914 and early 1915, German snipers were engaging British Army positions with impunity from behind steel plates that were impervious to .303 British ball ammunition. In an attempt to counter this threat, the British War Office purchased sixty-two large bore sporting rifles from British rifle makers, including four .600 Nitro Express rifles, which were issued to Regiments. These large bore rifles proved very effective against the steel plates used by the Germans, in his book Sniping in France 1914-18 MAJ H. Hesketh-Prichard, DSO, MC stated they "pierced them like butter."

Stuart Cloete, sniping officer for the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, stated "We used a heavy sporting rifle - a .600 Express. These had been donated to the army by big game hunters and when we hit a plate we stove it right in. But it had to be fired standing or from a kneeling position to take up the recoil. The first man who fired it from the prone position had his collar bone broken."

So, if you find yourself needing to hunt a Tyrannosaur, you'll now know how to equip yourself.

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