Monday, February 22, 2016

The Father of American Firearms

Firearms are an important part of the outdoors world. They are what we primarily hunt with. They are what we protect ourselves with when in dangerous and potentially dangerous areas. One man’s ingenuity and innovation is primarily responsible for all the firearms we have today.
Known as America’s Gunmaker, John Browning is that man. The son of a devout Mormon, the Brownings moved from Iowa to Ogden, Utah to escape religious persecution. John’s father was a gunsmith and had moved his business twice before. Living during the settler days, children often spent more time working than going to school, and John was no different. John began working with his father at six years of age.
At the age of ten (some stories have John at the age of thirteen), a man gave his rifle that had severe damage to the barrel to John, figuring it was beyond repair. John worked on the barrel for several days, and soon after tested the firearm. It fired perfectly. A few months later, John wanted to try something different.
John collected damaged and spare parts from the shop’s trash and began trying to build a firearm from scratch. He did not let his father know, but shared what he was doing with his brother Matt, even telling Matt that he would give it to him when he was finished.
When John finished the firearm, he and Matt took it out to test it. They carried a can of hot coals to ignite the powder. While John and Matt were walking to a site to try the firearm, they came across some prairie chickens. John quickly had Matt come over with the coals and ignite the powder. The firearm fired perfectly. To add even more to the legend, not only did it fire, but he took two chickens with one shot.
They proudly walked back to town with the firearm built by a ten year old boy and two prairie chickens over their shoulder.
John later began tinkering with various designs and mechanics and was awarded his first patent at the age of 24.
As an inventor, he was not interested in manufacturing firearms. He was most interested in creating a design that was better than the last or developing a design for a particular purpose, and then moving on to the next project. Because of this, he would sell his designs to firearm manufacturers. His first design sold to Winchester Repeating Arms for $8000 for the Model 1885 Single Shot Rifle.
Winchester purchased many designs including lever action rifles, pump shotguns, and a long recoil semi-automatic rifle design from John Browning.
Arguably, John Browning’s most notable design came in the early 1900’s when partnered as a designer for Colt Firearms.
The United State military primarily used revolvers as sidearms and were looking to upgrade to a new design after failures and ineffectiveness in jungle warfare. Colonel John Thompson put together a competition set of trials between six firearm manufacturers.
Early on, three of the six failed early and were eliminated from further trials. Savage Arms, Colt Arms, and DWM remained. They were asked to go back and work on the designs a little further and return for more testing. DWM dropped out leaving Savage and Colt as the remaining contenders.
When the next round of testing occurred, the designer of Colt’s entry decided to do the testing himself. In front of military officials, John Browning proceeded to fire his semi-automatic pistol design for 6000 rounds over a two day period. When the firearm would get hot from the all the shooting, he would simply dip it into a bucket of water, reload, and fire some more. Over the two day period Browning’s design never failed firing and rechambering once and his model M1911 pistol became the staple of the military from that point forward.
His designs for both the pistol, shotgun and rifle became the basis for nearly all center fire firearms from the early 1900’s up to this current day. While Browning firearms has a large following, it is likely that any firearm you have from any manufacturer has a John Browning influenced design and build.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Run and/or Die

A few days ago a friend of mine shared this awful plight of his on social media. “After I run for over an hour, I am an emotional wreck. It doesn’t happen on short runs, just the long ones.”
I cannot imagine the distress and duress he is under after running an hour amongst the mountains of North Carolina. After all, I was one of those in high school who was always at baseball practice first. When the coach would come down to the field and everyone else had just started running their laps, there I was, sweat soaked in my practice clothes, water curling my hair (yes, I had lots of hair then) like a golden retriever’s coat after swimming 400 yards in search of downed duck. And then, at the perfect time (I calculated this many times in my head to make it work) I would finish running as I approached Coach and pronounce proudly and while trying to catch my breath, “Two miles!”
The coach would use me as an example as to how to get to practice early and be hyped about the session coming. Little did he know how much work and brain power was exerted to make that one lap that everyone saw me finishing was my only lap. I often tell people, the reason I played baseball as a kid was because I only had to run 90 feet at a time.
And here is my friend, someone I had grown up with, stating that he was an emotional wreck after running for longer than an hour. I mean, just how much endurance does a bear have in order to chase someone for over an hour? That would be the only reason I could think of to run for that long of a period of time.
But maybe there is more. I would assume there has to be.
We recently had a death in the family and my cousins and I discussed how this is the new way to have family reunions, since we do not really get together anymore like we used to. Catching up on what has been going on in our lives other than the hearsay from our parents was nice. Even sharing the memories from days in the past would bring smiles to our faces in the time of mourning.
Yet, in doing so, I realized that we are all still the same people. Different dreams, activities altered slightly in order to compensate for our family changes as we went from kids, to adults, to having our own households.
Two of my cousins, brothers, love the outdoors. Well all of us do, but this story in angling towards them, so bare with me. In our discussions, we began to talk about hiking and the mountains. At one point in my life, I would have said a hike should only be something used to get from one point to another. Very similar to climbing a mountain, I would say. There has to be a point other than just climbing a mountain, right?
My whole idea of climbing mountains changed while reading the book Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer. I realized there was a purpose. It was the same, or maybe more, than the way I felt sitting in a deer stand even if nothing came out in range.
Linville Gorge did the same for me with hiking. It may not be the most beautiful place on earth, but if not, to me it is one of the most beautiful I have been able to see.
My cousins shared they have hiked most of the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. We were discussing the gorge when they shared that information. While it may see like just a hike, or actually many hikes over different parts of the trail, it is something more. Let me restate that. It IS something more.
There is the one on one with nature, and sometimes it is many on one with nature. A bond occurs. Not necessarily between people, but between one and nature. A bond between one and God. You realize you are something, and you realize you are nothing. The paradox continues. Is it you conquering nature or is it nature working in synch with you?
The work, effort, sweat, and even tears breaks you down and builds you up at the same time.
That is why people climb mountains. That is why people hike mile after mile on the world’s toughest terrain.
Running for hours on end though, it has to only be because something was chasing you. No wonder he was an emotional wreck.

Monday, February 8, 2016


A little history never hurt anyone. The thing is, we always learn the basics of a story, but not the intricate details. These intricate details are often the most fascinating parts of tying the story together.
Hidden stories in President Washington’s success at Valley Forge that helped a nation to prominence, or how a young son of a gunsmith in the 1800’s developed a sidearm that changed the face of war forever are some of those that are worth knowing, yet are forgotten or not told.
But even smaller stories of things we never question have interesting facts.
At one time, birding was the sport of the developed world. Developed world is used loosely here, as I am referring the times of the 15th and 16th centuries. Upland game such as pheasant, quail, grouse and woodcock were the prey of the hunters of the times. Firearms were not used, instead the methods of falconry and hawking were the standard.
Man was already working with both birds of prey and dogs to achieve their sporting goals. A favorite dog for this type of hunting was the spaniel.
Spaniels were divided by size and weight. The smaller dogs were used to hunt woodcock. The ‘cockers’ as they were called, would hunt the brush and grab the bird. The woodcock preferred to stay hidden in brush or even dart from one place or another beneath a canopy of grasses. By being small, the cockers were close to the ground and were able to hunt the woodcock with ease.
The larger spaniels were named springers. The springer’s purpose was to find birds such as pheasant and quail. Once they found them, they would pause, wait for a command, and then flush, or spring, the birds into the air. Again, unlike today, there were no firearms, so once the birds launched the falcon or hawk would then be released to snatch the flushed bird and bring back to the handler.
Cocker spaniels and springer spaniels were born of the same litters. As breeders worked the genetics, the two were eventually separated into two different breeds. However, even into the 1900’s the only requirement to be a cocker spaniel was to be less than 25 pounds. The Kennel Club of the UK and the American Kennel Club listed rules for the cocker and springer as different breeds.
Essentually the same breed of spaniel became two different breeds based on how big one may grow because of how well it could hunt a certain species of bird.
Remarkably, the breeds do not stop there. The cocker for instance, has been divided into two separate breeds as well. One breed is the English cocker spaniel, the other is the American cocker spaniel.
In the kennel clubs attempts to track the lineage of different breeds, the English cocker spaniel is widely recognized as begin fathered by a single dog, Ch. Obo. Obo was born of a Sussex and field spaniel and was considered a cocker because at the time only size restraints were in place for cockers and springers.
Obo’s son, Ch. Obo II, was born on American shores, and is considered the father of the American cocker spaniel. The American version is slightly smaller than the English version, and the head is domed with a shorter muzzle than the English cocker spaniel.
But this is not without purpose. The Euroasian woodcock is a somewhat hearty bird, at least compared to the American woodcock. Because the American woodcock is smaller, the American cocker spaniel’s smaller size and head and muzzle shape makes it more adept at sniffing out the bird.
And you thought they were just dog breeds.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Am PETA (yes, I said it)

I have renounced my ways. I believe I will become a vegan and member of PETA. Yes, you have read that correctly. Bill Howard, the hunter/gatherer and sometimes hunter/didn’t gather anything’er  is going the opposite direction.
Why you ask? Well I am glad you asked actually. That is of course if you actually read the opening to this outdoors column and thought to yourself, “why is Bill doing that?”. Yes, you may not have asked, and yet I am carrying you down this road anyway, but that is perhaps the advantage of being a writer. I get to lead you where I wish.
There is an old joke, and it varies at times as far as who the actual people are that are involved in it, but I am going to tell you one of the variations I like. You see, three people walked into a bar. They were a vegan, a politician, and a photographer. We all know, because they told everyone in the bar. Twice.
Yes, typically if you meet one of the three, or several other people types, they generally let you know as soon as you meet them. They are proud of it. And now I have told you that I am becoming a vegan and member of PETA. I am proud of it.
It was hard for me to make this choice. One problem is I am not a big vegetable eater. Once, at a corporate meeting in a past career, I had a boss sitting down the table from me when we all received our meal for the day. He asked what I was eating, knowing I do not eat vegetables. I told him I had chicken and two pieces of corn on the cob.
“Two?” he asked, one eyebrow raised as if he were a classic cartoon of Batman.
“Yes. I didn’t really want fries today.”
“Do you eat anything green?” he asked.
“Yes, of course. Some M&Ms are green.” Needless to say, that became the running joke whenever we had our meetings, including a candy dish of M&Ms at one of the meetings.
So what is one to do who does not like vegetables yet has vowed to become a vegan? That’s an easy answer. You can learn a lot in elementary school. For instance, I learned that sticks and stones can break my bones. However, words on the other hand, will never hurt me physically. I also learned that rain, yes rain, will go away, but it usually does come on another day.
But the one I am referring to in this column is this lesson; I am what I eat. You are what you eat too. And since I like eating such things as cows and deer, I can extrapolate and determine that since cows and deer eat vegetation, that they are in fact, vegetation also. Hence, when I have a big ole sirloin, I am eating what could be loosely determined as a protein filled salad.
As far as becoming a card carrying, shout-from-the-highest-mountain member of PETA, well, this is simple as well. Why would I be against treating animals ethically? I love animals. I have four dogs, two cats and a frog. Well, the family has all that. I am just living under the same roof. I have my dog, and my dog has three doggie roommates, and two kitty roommates, and a frog that kind of just waits for his weekly feeding of 25 unsuspecting crickets. But I love them all.
I also love the deer, the ducks, the geese and even the fish I spend countless hours pursuing. Although those big balls of feathers called turkey never play nice with me during April and May, I love them too.
Would it be ethical for me to allow an overpopulation of deer, which would destroy and devour cover vegetation that protects quail and other wild fowl and beasts? No. That is how wildlife and resource conservation came about. There is a balance the world needs, and nature sometimes cannot completely control that balance.
There are those that argue nature can balance things out, but if that were the case, we would never have had extinctions before humans. Dinosaurs could be found in places other than museums and the big screen.
Yes, I believe in treating animals ethically. However, I may have to reconsider becoming a member of PETA. PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If I consider cows and deer vegetables, and I eat them, I may be considered a vegetable now. I guess I will join VETA instead.