Saturday, July 22, 2017

AMERICAN RIFLEMEN AT THE SIEGE OF BOSTON



 (Rifles & Riflemen in the Revolution Part 6)


Boston Besieged: 1775



At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the rebels’  siege of British-held Boston had already lasted nearly three months by the time the frontier riflemen began to arrive even though, as we have seen, they covered vast distances in a surprisingly short time. During that period the pickets and outposts of both the British and American armies had settled down opposite each other just out of musket range. Even the cannon dueled sparingly.
          Unknown to the British, as it was perhaps Washington’s most closely guarded secret, the Continental Army was woefully short of gunpowder. Even after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Henry Knox’s Herculean journey dragging 59 cannon through the wilderness to Boston, the Americans still lacked the powder to put their new artillery to work. Though a call went out through the Colonies for whatever powder was available, such shortages would haunt the Continental Army throughout the war. At one point during the Siege of Boston, Washington had only enough powder to issue nine rounds per man, while a British soldier’s basic issue was 36 paper-wrapped cartridges.
          Now, however, General Washington could unleash the riflemen upon the cooped-up British garrison while burning only a tiny fraction of the powder an artillery bombardment would. Long-range sniping could only inflict a relatively small total of casualties when it came to actual numbers in the grand scheme of things but, perhaps even more important, it could wage a form of psychological warfare upon the enemy’s confidence and morale, both in Boston itself and even back home in England.
            On August 5th, at Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge, the canny general arranged for a deliberate demonstration of skill by the frontier riflemen at an event attended by several units of New England militiamen and a large crowd of public spectators which, Washington knew full well, would include a few Loyalist spies who would pass along what they witnessed to the British in Boston. Washington’s Surgeon General, Dr. Thacher, noted in his journal, “At a review, a company of them [riflemen], while on a quick advance, fired their balls into objects of seven inches diameter, at the distance of two hundred and fifty yards.” Against this trick of cutting down 7-inch wooden posts at 250 yards, recall again that even the most expert marksman had a less than 50/50 chance of hitting a man at 100 yards with the conventional smoothbore military musket of the era.
Initially, the sniping of the frontier riflemen proved to be a great success. Unsuspecting British soldiers who had formerly been safe in exposing themselves in their fieldworks little more than a stone’s throw away from the rebel positions were suddenly falling at the echo of distant rifle shots. Sentries, reconnaissance parties, and officers in particular were singled out by the riflemen.
Captain James Chambers of the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment wrote from Cambridge on August 13, 1775 that as soon as his company arrived on the 7th they had immediately gone to view the British lines. “Whilst I was standing there, some of our riflemen slipped down the hill, about a gun-shot to the left of us, and began firing. The regulars returned it without hurting our men. We thought we saw one of the red coats fall. Since the riflemen came here, by the latest accounts from Boston, there have been forty-two killed and thirty-eight prisoners taken at the light-house, twelve of the latter tories. Amongst the killed are four captains, one of them a son of a lord, and worth £40,000 a year, whose name I cannot recollect. The riflemen go where they please, and keep the regulars in continual hot water.”
On August 18th, a letter from a rifle company officer at Cambridge appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal saying: “The riflemen from York County have annoyed the regulars very much. By a gentleman who left Boston yesterday, we hear that Captains Percival and Sabine, of the marines, Captain Johnson of the royal Irish, and Captain Le Moine of the Train, were killed on Monday. Captain Chetwyn, son of Lord Chetwyn, is mortally wounded. The number of privates killed this week we have not heard. The regulars have thrown up a breastwork across the neck at the foot of Bunker’s Hill, to secure their sentries and advanced guards. Yesterday Captain Morgan arrived from Virginia with his company of riflemen; but they are grown so terrible to the mercenaries that nothing is to be seen from their breastworks but a hat.”
Soon to be Colonel Robert Magaw wrote on August 13, 1775: “It was diverting some days ago to stand on our Ramparts on Prospect Hills & see Half a Dozen Rifle Men go down to the Water side, & from Behind Stone Walls, Chimneys, etc., pop at their floating batteries, at about 300 yards distance—‘tis said we killed several. A few Shots from the Rifles always brought on a fire from the floating Batteries & Bunker’s Hill, where the enemy are entrenched, but without any other effect than to afford us amusement, as they seldom knew where to fire, & when they did their great Guns threw the balls so wild and uncertain that there is very little Danger.”
Although the artillery of the day could indeed slash great swathes of casualties through closely-ranked infantry formations, especially with grapeshot and canister, against individual “skulkers” sniping from under concealment and behind cover the cannon tended to roar futilely. Since the riflemen fired from well beyond musket range, however, only the big guns had enough range to reach them, and a great deal of British powder and shot was wasted in trying to silence them.
As the siege of Boston dragged on and supplies within the city began to run low, on November 9th the British decided to mount an amphibious hit-and-run raid to capture a herd of beef cattle being kept by the American Army at a farm on a grassy spit of land called Lechmere Point; the point actually became an island at high tide. A company of red-coated light infantry attempted to row ashore in approximately twenty open long boats, covered by long-range cannon fire from three separate shore batteries as well as the guns of a Royal Navy frigate hovering only 300 yards offshore. Only six American riflemen were guarding the stock on Lechmere Point when the British appeared, but Colonel Thompson raced to the scene with his Pennsylvania Riflemen, encamped nearby.
Lieutenant Colonel Hand participated in the action and wrote a first-hand account of it in a letter to his wife dated November 10, 1775:
"I give you the particulars of the fun our regiment had yesterday. About one, p. m., a number of regulars, taking advantage of a high tide, landed from twenty boats on Lechmere Point to carry off some cattle. Six men of our regiment were on the point to take care of our horses; they did their utmost, and partly effected it. One poor fellow was taken; he was of Capt. Ross' company. I think his name was Burke. When the alarm was given, Col. Thompson was at Cambridge. I had gone to Watertown to receive the regiment's pay, but thanks to good horses, we arrived in time to march our regiment, which was the first ready, though the most distant of our brigade. Col. Thompson, who arrived before we had crossed the water, with
thirteen men only of Ross' company, but not being supported by the musqueteers, before I could get up with the remainder of our regiment of duty, returned, and met Major Magaw and myself on the causeway; the whole then passed with the utmost diligence, up to our middles in water. David Ziegler, who acts as adjutant, tumbled over the bridge into ten or twelve feet water; he got out safe, with the damage of his rifle only. As
soon as the battalion had passed the defile, we divided them into two parties, part of Capt. Chambers,' Capt. Miller's, and Lowdon's, with Major Magaw and Col. Thompson, marched to the right of the hill, with part of Cluggage's, Nagel's, and Ross.' I took the left, as the enemy had the superiority of numbers, and the advantage of rising ground, with a stone wall in front,
and a large barn on their right and flank, aided by a heavy fire of large grape-shot from their shipping and batteries. We had reason to expect a warm reception; but to the disgrace of British arms, be it spoken, by the time we had gained the top of the hill, they had gained their boats, and rowed off. We had but one man wounded, I believe mortally, by a swivel ball,
Alexander Creighton, of Ross' company.”
According to another account, the British managed to capture only ten beeves at a cost of 17 men killed and an unknown number wounded. In addition to Creighton being killed, the Americans also lost one man captured, one of the original six guards. At least some reports allege that the sole POW in question had been heavily imbibing in strong drink at the time (i.e. was drunk off his ass) and was thus rather easy for the light infantrymen to catch.
Accounts of the martial prowess of the frontier riflemen had continued to grow rapidly long before the skirmish on Lechmere Point. On August 6, 1776, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported, “…the riflemen picked off ten men in one day, three of whom were Field-Officers, that were reconnoitering; one of them was killed at the distance of 250 yards.” When the Pennsylvania Packet ran the same story, the editor embellished it a bit, claiming that the officer was killed at 250 yards, “when only half of his head was seen.”
The tales continued to grow, each editor adding a bit to the original report, until some of them became rather improbable. A few days later, the Pennsylvania Gazette ran a story claiming that the frontier riflemen had, “…killed three men on board a ship at Charlestown ferry, at the distance of full half a mile.” Later, some writers even attributed this feat entirely to the work of a single rifleman.
A half a mile equates to 880 yards. Assuming an initial muzzle velocity of 1,600 feet per second, at such ranges a typical .45-caliber round ball projectile would be traveling around 200 feet per second and delivering roughly the equivalent of a modern .177-caliber air rifle in foot-pounds of striking energy. If the rifle was zeroed at a hundred yards, as was typical, the rifleman would have needed to aim 440 feet high to hit such a distant target.
Regardless the newspapers' tall tales, embellishments or outright fabrications (which the media proudly continues to use to this very day) to the rank-and-file British soldier in Boston, armed with a Brown Bess smoothbore musket that was only moderately accurate to 75 yards, seeing his commanders and comrades fall to single rifle balls delivered from 200-300 yards was a rather disheartening and unnerving experience. After the initial surprise and spate of casualties, the furor over riflemen soon began to die down as the British fighting men in Boston simply kept their heads down and didn’t expose themselves from behind their breastworks, and actual casualties from rifle fire became fewer and fewer. As early as September 11th, a letter from an American rifleman at Cambridge appeared in Gaine’s Mercury complaining that, “There has not a random shot of a rifleman done any execution lately, worth mentioning.”
The psychological and propaganda damage, however, was not so readily negated. No less than the Boston garrison’s commander General Lord Howe complained back to London about the “terrible guns of the rebels” during the siege, and another British officer referred to American rifles as “cursed twisted guns, the most fatal window-and-orphan makers in the world.”
Soon, even the heavy British casualties at Bunker Hill were being blamed on the riflemen, although none of them had even been present at that particular battle. One British officer went so far as to claim that each rifleman was attended by two other men who did nothing but reload for him so that the marksman had only to aim and fire as fast as a weapon could be put into his hand: “…and this is the real cause of so many of our brave officers falling, they being singled out by these murderers, as they must appear to be in the eyes of every thinking man.”



 A rather inaccurate depiction of the dreaded American riflemen from a period British newspaper...the media has a long and proud tradition of just making things up when they lack anything so trivial as facts and information.

A Philadelphia printer wrote to an English publisher a letter which appeared in the London Chronicle of 17 August 1775. “This province has raised 1000 riflemen, the worst of whom will put a ball into a man’s head at the distance of 150 or 200 yards; therefore advise your officers who shall hereafter come out to America to settle their affairs in England before their departure.”
In Great Britain, American riflemen were even being openly discussed in the halls of the English Parliament, with one legislator inquiring, “…about those strange rifled arms used with such deadly certainty by several regiments of the American army.” Edmund Burke, the eloquent if sometimes long-winded champion of the American colonies, delivered a particularly scalding invective, mentioning Generals Washington, Lee and Putnam and exclaiming, “These men know much more of your army than your return can give them. They coop it up, besiege it, destroy it, crush it. Your officers are swept off by the rifles if they show their noses!”
When a thousand British Army reinforcements bound for America were reviewed by the King at Wimbleton common on March 19, 1776, The Scots Magazine observed, “The officers and soldiers were dressed in the same uniforms; as ‘tis said, all the officers serving in America are to be dressed, because the riflemen take aim at officers.”
In December 1775, the British government finalized the first treaty that would allow them to “contract” auxiliary troops from the various allied German States of the Holy Roman Empire. More than 30,000 German troops would eventually serve with the British Army in America during the Revolutionary War. Since the first and the largest number of these auxiliaries came from Hessen-Kassel, the Americans would come to universally refer to all German troops as “Hessians.”
From the German princes the British government sought to employ as many Jägers or Chasseurs as possible. These were woodsmen, armed with Jäger rifles and specially trained in skirmishing. One English Parliamentarian explained, “The settlers from the backwoods of America used their hunting rifles with so much effect that the only effective rejoinder was to pit rifle against rifle; for this purpose Jägers were recruited on the Continent."
An account in the Constitutional Gazette in May of 1776 said: “Government have sent over to Germany to engage 1,000 men called Jagers, people brought up to the use of the rifle barrel guns in boar hunting. They are amazingly expert. Every petty prince who hath forests, keeps a number of them, and they are allowed to take apprentices, by which means they are a numerous body of people. These men are intended to act in the next campaign in America, and our ministry plume themselves much in the thought of their being a complete match for the American riflemen.”
Like the frontiersmen, the Jägers’ rifles lacked bayonets so they were issued a small, straight hunting sword called a Hirshfanger with a 14-inch blade and an overall length of two feet. The Jägers were also, however, trained in conventional line tactics as well as skirmishing and, according to the diaries of Jäger Captain Johann Ewald, usually operated in close conjunction with a company of grenadiers with muskets and bayonets.
As will later be examined, the British Army would adopt some rifles of its own. A thousand Pattern 76 rifles would eventually serve in America. These were conventional Jäger-influenced muzzle-loading rifles designed to shoot a patched .615-inch carbine ball and were issued only to a few small, specialized units and to the ten best marksmen in each line regiment.
The other British rifle, the Ferguson, was an innovative breech-loader that had the potential to be a real “game-changer” but never saw much service primarily because the manufacturing technology of the era made its production extremely slow and very expensive. This was the handiwork of Captain Patrick Ferguson, whose knowledge of and abilities with rifles surpassed even George Hanger’s expertise. While muzzle-loading rifles and muskets pretty much had to be loaded in the standing position, the breech-loading Ferguson rifle could be loaded in any position and could easily achieve a then unheard of firing rate of six rounds per minute.  
In the meantime, back in the Colonies, another much darker side of the frontier riflemen was being revealed in the Continental Army bivouacs around Cambridge. The rifle companies had their own separate camps, were paid more than the ordinary militiamen, and, as elite units, were excused from the more tedious aspects of military service, such as working parties and guard duty. This special treatment soon bred resentment among the rank and file soldiers and militiamen of the other army units encamped nearby.
The churlish behavior of many of the riflemen themselves hurt their own cause as well. Skirmishes against the enemy had become few and far between, and a lack of targets led snipers to attempt ridiculously long shots that proved utterly ineffective and, in the long run, began to negate British fear of the rifle. Their egos bloated by all the media hype about their prowess, some of the enlisted men grew bored, sullen and insolent, becoming in some cases almost as petulant as children. Even George Washington himself complained that, “there is no restraining men’s tongues, or pens, when charged with a little vanity, as in the accounts given of, or rather by, the riflemen.”
Restraint and discipline, whether self or military induced, had never been a strong point amongst the frontiersmen in general and the Scotch-Irish in particular. Theodore Roosevelt in The Winning of the West noted that when such men gathered to fight Indians on the frontier, not even their own officers could truly “command” their independent charges.
“There was everywhere a rude military organization, which included all the able-bodied men of the community. Every settlement had its colonels
and captains; but these officers, both in their training and in the authority they exercised, corresponded much more nearly to Indian chiefs than
to the regular army men whose titles they bore. They had no means whatever of enforcing their orders, and their tumultuous and disorderly levies of sinewy riflemen were hardly as well disciplined as the Indians themselves. The superior officer could advise, entreat, lead, and influence his men, but he could not command them, or, if he did, the men obeyed him only just so far as it suited them. If an officer planned a scout or campaign, those who thought proper accompanied him, and the others stayed at home, and even those who went out came back if the fit seized them, or perchance followed the lead of an insubordinate junior officer whom they liked better than they did his superior.”


Riflemen "recreating" in bivouac at Cambridge, 1775: Some things never change in the infantry.


By September, the reputation of the frontier riflemen had grown almost sinister in the Colonial Army camps. Tempted by rich bounties the British were offering for turncoats who would bring with them their rifled barreled guns, some even deserted to the enemy. Virginia riflemen under Colonel William Thompson twice broke into the guardhouse to release friends being held on minor disciplinary charges. One Sunday, the adjutant clapped a popular sergeant in the guardhouse for neglect of duty and, when another malcontent riflemen began stirring up the other men to break the sergeant out, he too was clapped in irons and confined as well. After dinner that evening, a mob of riflemen broke the two men out of the guardhouse. The colonel and several officers arrested the ring-leader again and escorted him to the Continental Army’s Main Guard at Cambridge. In less than a half an hour, more than thirty riflemen with loaded weapons had gathered in a mob and were threatening to break into the Main Guard by force.
After reinforcing the guardhouse’s contingent heavily with nearly five hundred militiamen bearing loaded muskets with fixed bayonets, Generals Washington and Knox personally confronted the mutineers directly, berating and shaming them into dispersing. Considering that mutiny could be punishable by death, Washington handed down rather lenient punishment when the ring-leaders of this mob were court-martialed; mainly short jail terms and fines. The real punishment came from the shame and disgust of their comrades and peers as even Charles Lee damned them and General Washington himself exclaimed he wished they had never come. The riflemens' special status as a whole was revoked along with their exemption from fatigue details and camp duties.
Frontier riflemen were obviously never going to be spit-and-polish garrison troops fit to perform dog and pony shows in front of visiting foreign dignitaries. It also should have been obvious that with their slow-loading rifles and lack of bayonets, they would not fare well in set-piece close-order conventional European-style battles against British regulars. That lesson, however, would have to be learned the hard way…and more than once…before it finally became obvious to the fledgling American Army’s leadership.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK


Well, this has been bugging me a little since our trip to Europe. Can anyone tell me why exactly the AMERICAN taxpayer, via the UNITED STATES Fish & Wildlife Service, is helping to fund exhibits for AFRICAN and INDIAN elephants in ZURICH Switzerland? There's plenty of shit they could and/or should be working on right here in the US where they're getting paid to do it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

IT'S CRAZY ACCESSING THE CRAZIES




Sometimes, being number one isn’t such a great accomplishment. For example, Montana is the number one Western state when it comes to public land that the public can simply not access.
A legacy from the days of building transcontinental railroads, some public land is “checker-boarded” in with private land and only touches at the corners. “Corner crossing” is now legal access in Wyoming, but Montana legislators continue to drag their feet and shoot this issue down quickly every time it is introduced. The result? Some 724,000 aces of public land the public cannot utilize.
A more difficult to resolve issue arises from some large tracts of public land completely surrounded by private lands. These “land-locked” sections amount to an additional 1,231,000 acres of public land being effectively “off-limits.”
The grand total between these two issues alone amounts to just a hair shy of two million acres of public land inaccessible to said public.
The trend seems to be for more of this happening rather than less. Although the very latest incident in our area instantly led the Federal Employee’s Union and some journalists to essentially ignore the core issue in order to get in on some additional Trump-bashing, the trend has been going on for multiple Presidential administrations.
Difficulties most often arise when new owners, usually rich and from out-of-state, buy a ranch or other large section of land. Even though there was a public road or trail running through said land which had been used as a public access to National Forest land for generations or even a century or more, some new owners have arbitrarily decided to simply gate off and/or close the road/trail. With very few exceptions, the Forest Service generally just throws their hands up and says, “Oh well. We’re not gonna touch the issue. Let the county fight it.” Although Montana counties don’t have the budget federal agencies do, they often do fight the closure in court and sometimes even get it resolved. On the other hand…and Sweetgrass County springs immediately to mind here…the county can sometimes be part of the problem.
The Forest Service, as big as it is, is actually only a tiny sliver of the Department of Agriculture, which in total has one federal employee for every eleven farmers actually left in the United States. Budget allocations, when redistributed, never ever seem to touch administration, bureaucracy, or fire. Partially, I suspect, by design, when budgets get tight the first departments to fall under the hatchet are basically anything which might be of benefit or use to the public…roads, trails and recreation. Fighting for public access to public land doesn’t even register on the radar of the vast majority of public servants paid to “manage” said lands. Not that managing resources like timber even happens anymore.
I shit you not, I’ve sat through more than one Forest Circus meeting, briefing, or training session in which some grand new master plan, or even an annoying, stupid, and petty local policy change, was presented. At the end, when the presenter asked if there were any questions, as the proud fly in the ointment I would ask something like, “What about the public?” or “How does this affect the public?” More often than not, the response was an open-mouthed deer-in-the-headlights look and an awkward silence because, when it came right down to it, these public servants hadn’t even considered us pesky taxpayers and citizens.
Every now and then, though, an individual who actually gives a damn about the pesky old “public” in public lands, manages to squirm their way through the labyrinth of bureaucratic and political filters (think of the Maginot Line without an exposed flank) and land in a leadership position where they can actually do some good for the public.
IMHO, Alex Sienkiewicz was one of those good guys. He was District Ranger for the Yellowstone District of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest…we’ll go down the rabbit trail of “combining” ranger districts and national forests some other time.
I met and talked to him on two separate occasions when I went to the USFS office in Livingston with questions. Even though I probably couldn’t spell or pronounce his last name correctly to save my life, he impressed me with his pro-public stance on access issues and he was very articulate about how and why historic and/or prescriptive easements were accesses.  
This is all very important in our neck of the wood because of the Crazy Mountains. The Crazies are an island range surrounded by vast sagebrush flatlands, roughly forty miles long and fifteen miles wide. For all of that area, which was once administered by two national forests and three ranger districts, there are three public access corridors on the west side, one on the north, and one on the east, with really nothing on the south.
The end result is that there are vast tracts of land that are essentially inaccessible to the public. Additionally, an adjacent landowner who cuts off access to the national forest can essentially use it as private land since no one else can get in there. Some land-owners want to keep it that way and some want to cut off even more public land. Outfitter-guides especially like having hundreds of acres of public land which only their clients can access and hunt.
Alex Sienkiewicz tried to keep the relative handful of public access routes and trails open, and he has been punished and banished for his sins. By the serving the public rather than special interest groups, he ran afoul of the Montana Stock Growers Association and the Montana Outfitters & Guides Association. These entities went straight to Senator Steve Daines and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue complaining about Alex’s stance on prescriptive easements. First, Alex was forbidden to testify in a Sweetgrass Countrytrespassing case involving a hunter accessing the National Forest via Forest Trail # 115/116. Then the Forest Circus just plain shit-canned him as districtranger, no doubt to be replaced with someone more pliable.
As usual, no good deed goes unpunished and the only thing an R-D election changes is the particular special interest groups who count for more than the public the government "serves."

Monday, June 26, 2017

WHEN IT'S TIME TO CLEAN THE TRUCK








Since our black lab sheds approximately 3,427,912 hairs in the course of an average day, we vacuum with a big ass 6-1/2-horse 14 gallon shop vac in the vain hope we’ll get at least the majority of it. I started to give it a whirl today right after lunch, but it wasn’t sucking very well so I took it outside to empty it in the trash can and clean out the filter which was, of course, covered with a fine inch-thick mat of dog hair.
          Well, there sat my pickup truck and it occurred to me that I hadn’t given it a proper cleaning inside and out since before last hunting season. SO I changed gears and decided to clean the truck “real quick.” True, I might actually need a parka in mid-June in Montana (sure enough, we had a late frost the next night)  but it really was a long overdue project. Five hours later I was wondering if the job would ever end and a few thoughts had occurred to me.
          In back, I have an enclosed topper for hauling live goats, dead deer, and hay bales. First of all, you know you’re long overdue on cleaning out the truck when you find mushrooms growing in the matted hay under the particle board you use as a bed liner.
          Second, there was still quite a bit of crusted elk blood on the big piece of cardboard I threw in during hunting season. It was good to get rid of that before a highway patrolman someday started asking pointed questions and nervously fingering his sidearm. Besides, if you do happen to have any cardboard in the back of your truck when you haul your goats somewhere, you won’t have it anymore by the time you get where you’re going. 
          Third, in some parts of the country having 4x4 is a big deal. Here it is essentially standard and you don’t think anything of it. Four-wheel-drive is just part of the average commute. In fact, you don’t start to feel truly comfortable driving  around in winter (October to May) unless you have tire chains for at least one axle, a tow rope or chain, jumper cables, a extra jack, a 4-way lug wrench, a shovel or entrenching tool, rain gear, wool blanket, and fire-starters. I do have a pre-paid cell phone in the glovebox that I occasionally remember to take in and charge, but I can’t think of a single time when I ever needed to use the damn thing that I actually had cell coverage.
          If you have a dog who likes to ride shotgun sometimes, it’s just as important to wash the inside of the windshield as the outside. Usually the first topic of conversation that comes up when I have a passenger, especially my wife, is, “How can you see to drive with all these nose prints all over the windows?”  
          The best part was all the treasures I found that I figured I had lost a long time ago, to include the missing ratchet strap, my ski waxing cork, a good pair of gloves, two predator calls, and ammo. Hoo-boy the ammo. Well over thirty rounds, to include two center-fire rifle calibers, .22 rimfires, 12-gauge shotgun shells, and a stray .45 ACP pistol snake shotload. Plus about five bucks worth of assorted change from the ash tray, floor and glove compartment.
          I can’t wait to see what I find when I clean it out again before hunting season.

Friday, June 02, 2017

HUNTING THE SWISS ROEBUCK



My wife, also an avid Montana hunter, is a naturalized US citizen but grew up in Switzerland. My Mother-in-Law Gerda and her late husband Traugott were long-time hunters in Switzerland. Unfortunately Traugott passed away shortly before I met my wife, but I got to know Gerda well. She has an impressive array of shooting medals herself and is the only person I know who has participated in a hunter’s biathlon at age…whoops, sorry, I can’t reveal that particular information. Suffice to say it was a credible performance for any age. She still hunts in her home canton (state) of Zurich, but no longer pursues chamois and ibex high in the Alps in the canton of Graubünden.

A Swiss hunter's home.

You have to really love the hunt to become a licensed jaeger in Switzerland. When my wife took the class many years ago, they had to learn and were tested on a wide variety of subjects. These included both game and non-game species of animals and birds and their habits, identification of trees and shrubs, hunting dogs, firearms including the inner workings of various actions, ammunition and ballistics, and optics. If you failed a single topic you could re-take that particular topic over, but if you failed more than one you had to re-take the entire test. Today the exam focuses on the most practical subjects, but a new hunter must first serve a 3-three year working apprenticeship with a hunting lease group. Members of these groups have a variety of other conservation-related tasks to perform besides hunting.
Game where Gerda lives includes roe deer, wild pigs, fox, badger, hare and the quail-like wachtel. Up in the mountains they also have Hirsch, which are related to our wapiti or elk, the nimble little gams or chamois, and the noble king of the heights, the Steinbok or ibex.
The Swiss also have some traditions that go with their hunting. When an animal is killed, a ceremonial “last meal” of local vegetation is placed in its mouth, a tradition my wife and I carry on with our own deer, pronghorn and elk. It is also a widely-practiced custom to eat the testicles of one’s first buck, properly cooked, of course. Some hunters also share a bit of “medicinal” mountain schnapps from a hip flask at the conclusion of a successful hunt. Others, when they haul away their Hirsch, turn its head back for one last look at the mountains. In many areas, most notably Graubünden, the mountain hunting season ends with the celebration of the St. Hubertus Festival, where thanks are given to the patron saint of hunters. I learned fellow hunters were wishing me luck when they said, “Weidmannsheil.” The proper response is, “Weidmannsdank.”
           During our last visit to Switzerland in May 2017, Gerda was able to take me hunting for roe deer as a guest, but before I could get a hunting license (Jagdpass) and insurance I had to first pass the shooting test. For this, we drove to the Jagdschiessandlage Embrach where the shooting range is nestled in the bottom of a deep draw surrounded by forest. A slight breeze rustled the three banners on the flagpoles out front, the Swiss flag in the middle, the Canton of Zurich to the left, and the City of Embrach’s crest to the right.
         Inside the main range building, various European mounts and a few full heads hung high on the walls, including some nice moose and caribou bagged long ago, I was told, by the founders of the range. There was the traditional schutzengarten where you could sit down at a table and order a brat and a beverage. We signed in at the front desk and got hearing protection. Outside, to the left, the trap and skeet shooters were banging away with their shotguns while to the right the more infrequent but sharper bark of rifles sounded.
We donned our shooting earmuffs and opened the door to the rifle firing line, which was protected by a low-hanging roof in front and walled in on three sides. Along the front, the rifle shooters were firing from benches. Along the back wall, I glanced at the weapons leaning into individual slots within a long, communal gun rack running the entire length of the line. Typical high-end European hunting rifles with plenty of scrollwork and expensive, quality optics were most common, and virtually all of the shotguns were double-barrels, primarily over-and-unders. There were a few drillings as well, the traditional European break-action guns with multiple barrels incorporating both shotgun and rifle into one. But there were very few old war horses here, just one lonely sporterized Swiss K-31 and a couple of German ‘98 Mausers. A lone Mossberg Patrol rifle with an extended magazine really stood out on that rack with its cammo finish. Traugott always shot competition and hunted with his "Army rifles", customized K-31s, one in the standard 7.5x55mm Swiss cartridge and one converted to single-shot and re-barreled for the oddball 10.3x60mm Rimmed cartridge, roughly equivalent to the old British .450/400 Express, which is the only legal caliber for big game hunting in the Canton of Graubünden.
          The canton shooting test I had to pass before hunting big game consisted of putting four out of four shots within the 8-ring on a 10-ring target. The target itself, the Jagdshutzen, most commonly depicts a life-sized picture of a roebuck standing at the grassy edge of a woodline. Shot at 100 meters, the subdued, concentric rings of the scoring bullseye cannot be distinguished by the shooter even through a scope, just as if you were shooting at a real deal. A similar target depicting a chamois is shot at 150 meters. The target is 86x122 cm, or roughly 2 feet 9 inches by four feet.

 The 100-meter rehbock qualification target.




          I watched the action and some of the other shooters while we waited for a lane on the firing line to come open. On the far right, there was also small game practice and qualification going on. This consisted of shooting shotguns with lead shot at a running rabbit target consisting of three separate metal plates, any or all of which will fall if hit, at a range of 30 meters. There is also a moving wild boar target shot at 50 meters but no one was doing that particular course on that afternoon.
In all honesty, having grown up wing-shooting pheasants and quail, I thought the running rabbit was partially lame and moving rather slowly and was surprised at how many people couldn’t hit it. Likewise, watching a few of the riflemen score their targets, I was also a little dismayed by some of the dinner-plate-sized 3-shot groups fired at 100 meters. Then Gerda explained that Wednesdays were partially reserved for the newest and youngest hunters who were practicing or preparing to take their tests. 
          I had borrowed Gerda’s main hunting rifle, which I was only passingly familiar with, so when a lane came open I settled into position with it to do a few dry-fires. It was a bolt-action Blaser SR 850/88 Repetierbüchse, old enough that it is stamped “W. Germany” on the barrel, and decorated with scrollwork. It was chambered for my own favorite hunting cartridge, the good old .30-06 Springfield, or the 7.62x66mm in Metric, which also remains fairly popular in Europe. It wears a variable-power Leupold VX-3i 4.25-10x scope with the big light-drinking 50-mm objective bell and “Max Light Management System” with the adjustable illuminated Duplex reticle. Gerda got it specifically to shoot wildschwein under low light conditions.
          I worked the butter-knife Mannlicher-style bolt handle and closed the bolt on an empty chamber, after which I had to push the bolt handle forward to disengage the safety. A 3-position manual safety switch in front of the bolt handle allows one to lock the action and safety, work the bolt and have the handle safety re-engage after every shot, or work the bolt freely without the safety re-engaging. Gerda prefers to have the safety re-engage after every shot, but this proved to be more inconvenient for me since I shoot left-handed. The trigger was nice and crisp, but much lighter than I am used to, so I dry-fired and worked the action a few times to get a feel for the controls.
When I felt I was ready, I nodded to my wife and she handed me a single .30-06 cartridge. Gerda’s friend Robert reloads ammunition for her and I had checked the multi-national recipe on the box; American 168-grain Speer boat-tailed softpoints and CCI Large Rifle Primers, German RWS brass, and Finnish Vitori powder.
At the range, all rounds were single-loaded; one wasn’t supposed to load the magazine. I snuggled down into a solid shooting position, disengaged the safety and laid my finger alongside the trigger guard, and centered the crosshairs to squeeze one off. Still not quite “at one” with the light trigger, I called a flier right and the recoil surprised me as seeming fairly stout. My wife and I both hunt with fairly lightweight .30-06s firing 180-grain loads.
We decided to check the target after only one shot just to find a starting point for zeroing it for my eye. The range, of course, ran like a Swiss watch. The big game targets were suspended on rollers from overhead steel cables. With the push of a button, a big electric motor kicked in and one target rode back from the 100-meter berm to be marked or scored at the firing line while another passed it going out-bound in the opposite direction, ready for the next shot. My first round was roughly three inches to the right but exactly where it needed to be for elevation so, considering the flier, I decided to fire a 3-shot group.
          I did a little better this time, with no fliers called, and while the group was just a hair shy of one Minute-of-Angle it was neatly centered right in the middle of the ten-ring. I decided to call it good and put away my notebook. I was pleasantly surprised that Gerda’s zero was the same as mine; I had been expecting to have to adjust the windage and elevation and wanted to write down the clicks so we could return it to her zero afterwards.
By then, however, the young hunters in training were beginning their attempts at qualification, and there were a considerable number of them. It would be quite some time until the 100-meter lanes opened up again. Rather than wait, I was given the option of shooting my test at the 150-meter chamois target.

To save time, I qualified on the gamsbock (chamois) target at 150 meters.
 

 Hardly my best group, but good enough to pass the test on the first go-round.

          Qualification was shot from a rectangular frame representing the window of a shooting stand. Not sure off the top of my head exactly where a strange load would hit at 150 meters, I held the crosshairs approximately two inches high. That, and a flier called low, loosened up my group a bit. Still, I did qualify on the first go-round with two 10s, a 9 and an 8 (the flier). I’m pretty confident I could have gotten a perfect score had I been able to shoot the rehbock at 100 meters.
          Just on general principles, I am very much against any and all addition government regulation with regards to the Second Amendment…they already have far too much trouble interpreting even simple phrases like, “…shall not be infringed.” But the idea of a shooter qualification for hunting does have some merit. Even in Montana I’ve occasionally seen some abysmal marksmanship and almost painful ignorance of rifle ballistics over the years.

 The beautiful countryside of the Zurich Oberland near where we hunted.

          A couple of evenings later, Gerda took me out to the hunting area she leases with a group of hunters. She lives in the Zurich Oberland. The area consists of rolling green hills topped with hardwood dominated forests alternated between villages, farms, and fields and on clear days the snow-capped peaks of the Alps gleam in the sun across the horizon. As we drove along the narrow gravel road between farm fields, I was reminded that back home in Montana we are much further north latitude-wise. The local crops were more than a month ahead of ours. It was the 9th of May but many farmers were already getting their first cutting of hay and the field of peas we passed were knee-high and in full blossom.
          We were seeking the western rhe or roe deer (Capreolus capreolus…hey, I had to memorize the genus and species of a bunch of critters in college almost thirty years ago and have never once had the opportunity to actually use it so…Capreolus capreolus.)
Anyway, the roe deer is fairly small, perhaps half the size at most of the North American whitetail (Odocoileus virginianus), being just over two foot high at the shoulder and weighing, on average, about 66 pounds. There aren’t known for wall-hanger racks; three points per side is normal for an adult, and four-pointers are rare and considered really something. Roebucks actually grow their horns in winter rather than summer, scraping off the velvet in March to be ready for breeding in late July and early August. This gives them a chance to fatten back up before winter. So that the fawns are born in May when the vegetation is greening up, the fertilized eggs of the bred doe form a blastocyst (look it up…I had to) so that the embryo does not begin to develop until early January.
          As we were driving down a narrow gravel farm two-track towards the hunting stand, I said, “Well, lookie there.” Out in the middle of a hay field were two roe deer and their summer coats really did shine red in the slanting rays of the late afternoon soon. Gerda braked her Subaru Outback to a halt and whipped out her Swarovski 7x42 binoculars, focusing on the deer and informing me that one was a legal buck. Then they were gone, bounding like a pair of dogs through the tall grass and disappearing into the forest. Their tails are small and you don’t see the waving white flag of the whitetail as they flee. Silhouetted against light green leaves for a moment, I could just make out the rehbock’s forked antlers with the naked eye as he gained the timber.
          Even though we’d spooked the deer, it was still quite early, about 1530, so we took a chance that they would be back. Gerda said reh tended to only sprint a short distance and then hide up in thick cover. She parked up a gravel lane well into the forest and we walked back to the hunting stand, approaching it cautiously and quietly and glassing ahead…just in case.

 The stand we hunted from.

          Her hunting group builds and maintains the stands. It was a nice new elevated stand on a lattice of poles, the floor ten or twelve feet above the ground. Inside, it had a swivel chair and the floor, walls, and window sills were all carpeted to muffle noise. Facing south, we opened the shooting windows on three sides to look out over a field of hay and an adjoining one of peas, with a field of flax bearing bright mustard yellow blooms beyond. Past the crop fields stood the red-tiled roofs of a cluster of farm buildings, with brown and white Guernseys grazing nearby. Behind us and to our left, running along the edges of the fields, was the forest, predominantly hardwoods in full leaf. Some of the flora I recognized as being the same or very similar to species found “back home” in Montana; mountain maple, raspberry, and alder. Others were new to me and I had to ask Gerda what they were; buche (beech), schwarzdorn (blackthorn) and hartriegel (dogwood).  
A few other things were different from what I was used to, most notably being on the approach route to a large international airport and having fat-bodied jetliners roaring overhead every few minutes. Back home, the nearest airport (Bozeman) is sixty miles away and on the other side of a mountain range. When the breeze was just right, I could faintly hear cowbells tinkling in the distance and once, on the hour, I heard the low gonging of church bells rolling across the landscape.
          We dug out Gerda’s Bushnell range-finder, for I like to range several landmarks within my hunting area when I take a stand so I will know where the deer will be within shooting distances, but the battery was dead. Range estimation was done the old-fashioned way with the Mark I Eyeball but, checking out the field afterwards on Google Earth, proved pretty accurate.
I was happy using the old pair of binos I had found hanging in Gerda’s garden shed, well-used black Swarovski Habicht 7x42s of probably 1970’s vintage, but she insisted I take her new green rubber armored SLC Swarovskis. I glassed the edge of the woods intensely. As an old armored cavalry scout, we call it looking through the “wall of green.” By constantly and minutely fine-tuning the focus on your field glasses, you can train yourself to look through thinner intervening foliage and see deeper into the forest itself. It wasn’t easy here for hazel brush, maple and seedlings crowd the edges of the woods, reaching for sunlight with their leaves.
Within the first few minutes, however, I just happened to spot a deer. A shaft of sunlight from the setting sun angled through the leaves into the woods to briefly illuminate the rump of a deer before it stepped behind the smooth gray trunk of a large beech tree. Watching that edge intently, twice more I saw movement, only a patch of hide visible for a moment through the leaves, but it was the proper color and moved right, as a deer would while slipping through cover.
          Something told me the deer would come back out. I watched the projecting finger of forest where the movement had been, but nothing ever came out; the deer must have turned left to stay inside the wood line. I think Gerda wondered if I was seeing things. After about an hour passed with no further movement, I began to wonder a bit myself. At one point I was surprised to see a couple of wachtel fly out of the edge of the forest and coast across the field. For awhile after that I glassed harder, wondering if the deer had flushed the birds out. As is so often the case, no matter how hard I sought to spot the deer en route, in the end they simply appeared.
          After a long stretch of silence, around 2000 hours the doe dashed out of the far woodline and into the tall grass and hay where she stopped abruptly, looking around. Several seconds later, the buck ran out of the trees to join her, and now his little forkhorn antlers were readily visible. We watched intently through the binoculars. Where the deer emerged from cover was well in excess of 200 meters from the stand. Back home, with my own rifle zeroed for maximum point blank range and fired from a solid rest, it would have been an easy enough shot, but it was too far for the particular circumstances with an unfamiliar weapon zeroed at 100 meters.
          Fortunately, the deer worked their way straight out into the field, and as they did so they brought themselves steadily closer to us. They would feed freely for a minute or two, then the doe would get fidgety and run 30 or 40 meters before stopping to eat again, and the buck would soon follow suit each time. Their course took them down through an otherwise unnoticeable draw where the grass appeared to come up past their bellies. As we waited, I noticed the wind start to pick up a bit, blowing from right to left and full deflection, but as yet not a considerable factor. It was also darkening quickly as black rain clouds crept closer and thunder began to mutter and rumble off in the distance, slowly but discernibly growing closer.
          Finally, the deer approached the point that would bring them closest to the stand. I rested the forearm of the rifle on my hand on the carpeted shooting window and studied the buck through the scope. I was steady and could keep the crosshairs on the vitals area. The range was right about 150 meters, I judged, and although the wind was again on the increase it wasn’t too brisk yet. The time had come, I thought, where I could make a clean shot and I reached to disengage the safety.
          Just then, something on the far side of the fields spooked the deer and they took off running, bounding gracefully through the tall grass and weaving back and forth. From their initial trajectory it looked like they would pass almost directly beneath our stand before they reached the woodline. Many thoughts raced through my head; excitement from having a chance to hunt on another continent mixed with a sinking heart that this buck would get away. No matter how close they came, I had already decided I would not take a running shot with a rifle I had only put eight rounds through. Back in Montana, when the deer run I imitate the cough-like alarm call of the whitetail, and this usually causes them to stop, look, and listen long enough to get a good standing shot in. I briefly considered making my deer call but wondered if hollering out in "'Murican" to Swiss-speaking deer might just spook them further. So I only watched the action excitedly and gave a small mental sigh that they would get away.
          Fortunately, they both stopped to look back while only fifty meters away from our stand. I could no longer shoot from the sitting position in the chair, but had already risen into a crouch. I was still able to rest the rifle securely on the padded sill between the fingers of my support hand and settled the crosshairs just behind the buck’s shoulder; he jumped into focus, looming large, since the scope’s variable power was still set on 10x magnification.
Everything froze for that unique moment in time when the hunt all comes together. I took a quick breath, let half of it out, and paused before stroking the trigger. This time, when the Blaser cracked, I did not notice any recoil at all. The buck made one slow motion jump forward then faltered attempting to make a sluggish second hop with his front legs and piled up lifelessly, disappearing from our sight in the high grass. As I had trained for many years, I instinctively worked the bolt smoothly but rapidly and forcefully through its cycle to chamber another round in case a follow-up shot was needed. Gerda said it was not and she was right; the deer was down before I finished working the bolt. Only peripherally did my mind register the doe bounding away.

My little rehbock with Gerda's Blaser .30-06.

I was ecstatic and for a moment couldn’t speak, checking the safety and leaning the rifle up in the corner. Then I was thanking and hugging Gerda and we were both laughing excitedly. Silently, in my head, I thanked God for the chain of events which had led up to a perfect shot. Honestly, I had been happy to just have the opportunity to hunt a rehbock in Switzerland; actually getting one on my first hunt was unbelievable.
          Picking the rifle up from the corner, I cleared it and then found the empty case on the floor. Collecting our gear, we closed the windows and door and climbed down from the stand. For the last hour the sky had been growing increasingly threatening and now, just as we left the stand, the first drops of rain began to pelt down upon us as we headed through the high grass towards the buck’s final resting place.
There he was, dead, with a tiny, neat entrance wound behind the shoulder. The exit wound showed that the 168-grain Speer had indeed expanded well even at close range on a small deer. My first thought was that I was a little amazed at just how small he was; I've had bigger dogs. But that was just a passing observation and didn't interfere with my happiness at bagging him.

It's tradition to give the animal a "last meal."

          After a few quick photographs, I dragged him to the two-track gravel road skirting the edge of the field while Gerda went to get the car. Reaching the stand and the woodline, I finally remembered to give the buck his traditional last meal, pulling up a handful of lush green grass and placing it in his mouth. As the rain began to increase, I shucked off my coat to cover the rifle and binoculars while I waited and stood there looking down at the buck, still more than a little stunned and euphoric at our success.
          We put the buck in a large plastic tote in the back of Gerda’s Subaru Outback and drove one of the narrow gravel roads through the darkening forest to the Jadghutte, the neat little cabin the hunters of that area use and share. Nearby, a chain was stretched between two trees, with gambrel hooks hanging from it. This was the first deer I ever lifted straight up in front of me and hung with ease. It made me think of my wife’s fat, stocky four-point mule deer buck of the previous hunting season back home. I had had to tie its feet together, hang the rope around my neck, and lift with hands and legs both just to get him up onto the tailgate of the pickup truck.
          We weighed the rehbock whole at 15,29 kilos (33.71 lbs) and field-dressed at 13,9 kilos (30.6 lbs). Gerda tagged him and recorded the information, which is incorporated into a monthly report by her hunting group that is sent in to the canton, whose officials determine the harvest numbers.
I met several of Gerda’s fellow hunters at one of their many informal get-togethers at the Jadghutte a few nights later, two other women and six men, including a father and son. Despite the language barrier (what little German I learned in the Army in 1986-1988 is awful rusty) everyone was very friendly, welcoming me to their jaeger fold, and all seemed genuinely happy for my success. I could only thank Gerda and a healthy dose of good luck. One of the other hunters had just retired and expressed an interest in coming to Montana to hunt elk with us someday. I hope he does so I can return the favor, although we all knew full well that my success two hours into the first hunt is definitely the exception rather than the rule. Gerda's friend Ursina has come here rehbock hunting eight times now and has yet to get a shot.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY DEMONSTRATED



Remember back in the day when you sent letters and packages via snail mail and they took an inexplicably long time to ever get there or simply disappeared altogether? I used to imagine them ending up on some desert island with Tom Hanks and a soccer ball. Now, thanks to the wonder of the internet and tracking numbers, I can see what really happened.

On March 16th I sent Ben a package 1st Class mail from my hometown in Montana to his in Iowa. From there it went, as usual, to Billings and then on to Des Moines, who sent it back to Billings, who promptly sent it straight back to Des Moines, who then sent it to Denver. Now, on the 25th, it is for some reason in Cheyenne, WY. That little package is getting one hell of a tour of the country and I'm not even trying to predict where it will go from there.

Only good ol' fed.gov could possibly attempt to prove that the shortest distance between two points is a tetrahedron.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REVISITING THE REVOLVER AMMO DROP POUCH



Yet another reminder that I’m rapidly approaching Old Fart status is the fact that when I took a Police Firearms training course in college, we were still using the old Smith & Wesson Model 10 “Barney Fife Special” and I learned how to properly use speed-loaders with said revolver.
          Training with double-action revolvers later did come in handy since I moved to Montana. With very few rather expensive exceptions, semi-automatic auto-loaders just don’t come in calibers sufficient to deal with a grizzly bear. So, since we live, hunt and recreate in grizzly country, both my wife and I pack a S&W .44 Magnum revolver when we’re out and about. I used to reload my own special anti-griz ammo, but now we’ve taken a real shine to Montana’s own HSM Ammunition and their .44 Mag Bear Loads. They launch a 305-grain hardcast flat-nosed “Keith”-type bullet at good velocity but cost less than half the price of the Federal or Buffalo Bore bear loads. Naturally, we still practice all the bear country precautions to avoid the need to use a gun in the first place but for reasons I'll detail in a separate post we don't rely on mere pepper spray.
Back when I had vision in both eyes, and 20/15 in the good one, I used to decapitate occasional mountain grouse for supper with my 6-inch Model 29 during my travels. In the summer, especially when fishing along the Yellowstone or the Missouri, we also have to contend with rattlesnakes. At the ranges involved, .44 Mag CCI shot loads full of #9 splatter ‘em good. We also use these shot loads around the yard so we can whack gophers in the vicinity of the rock retaining wall without worrying about ricochets.
          For spare ammunition, we used to carry six-round HKS speed-loaders in a double belt pouch. Over the years, I found these to be both heavy and bulky to carry on the belt; after all, they are the same size as the revolver’s cylinder. In addition, they were designed for law enforcement officers back in the day when revolvers were standard issue so that, in a gunfight, if a policeman emptied his gun, he could rapidly reload all six rounds at once. On my own, in the woods, I’ve never actually emptied my revolver nor needed a combat reload. I think that if I lived in a place where I had to routinely administer some critter six 305-grain .44 Mag slugs and still needed another six immediate follow-ups, I would probably just move back to Iowa.
          Almost without exception, when I actually do use my revolver I never fire more than one or two rounds, say to finish off an already downed game animal or take care of a rattler in the vicinity of my feet. In such cases, especially since I save my brass, speed-loaders are more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to replacing only one or two rounds in the cylinder.
          So I recalled the old drop pouches used in the really old pre-speed-loader days. With nothing more than the idea rattling around in my head, I began experimenting. The goats have long since outgrown the training soft packs I made for them out of some old Army surplus gas mask cases, so I had plenty of stout canvas and nylon material to work with.
          The old gas mask carriers also yielded Velcro I could re-use to keep the top flap down. I had a bunch of Swiss surplus OD green nylon cargo straps, so I sacrificed a couple to make cartridge and belt loops. I sewed it all together with my C.A. Myers “Awl for All”, which I actually get a whole lot of use out of for my various projects…goat soft packs, rifle stock shell holders, made-to-fit belt pouches for odd-sized objects like a range-finder.
The beauty of this design is that it requires nothing more elaborate than a simple rectangle of material, folded roughly in thirds, to start with. I folded over a little less than a quarter of an inch of material and hemmed it with the awl on the top and bottom edge to prevent fraying. I did the same with the sides after I completed the shell loops, sewing down the seam through the ends of the cartridge loop straps. Then I sewed on Velcro strips to hold the top flap and voila, I had a drop pouch. Later, I treated the fabric with a spray-on water-resistant shield.

The Mark I pouch with the cartridge loops sewn directly to the canvas was simple, functional and compact.
On the first example, I simply sewed the nylon strap into loops around empty cartridge cases directly to the canvas of the drop pouch. This worked, and made for the lightest and most compact “model” but tended to curve and bunch the material a bit. Plus, once I get to tinkering, it’s hard to stop. Afterwards, I took to cutting a piece of leather from an old rifle sling and sewing to shell loops to that while simultaneously attaching both to the canvas backing. This may or may not be necessary, it’s more a matter of personal preference. One modification I did really like was the attachment of a small tab on the top flap to make for easier and quicker opening. 
Just playing around, I backed the cartridge loops up with a piece of leather and made a big 12-shot version. The little tab for opening the top flap actually was a pretty nice addition.
 
Various attempts were also made for belt loops, the most simple and effective being simply a length of webbing or nylon strap formed into a circle and sewn to the back of the case. When I used the thinner nylon material for the body, I also backed the points where I sewed on the belt loops on the interior with small square pieces of strap for reinforcement. With nylon strap material, the cut edges should be melted with a lighter to keep them from fraying.  

Belt loops were easily made with a loop of webbing or strap sewn on. I put ALICE clips on the big 12-shot model so I could put it on the LBE that I wear hunting and hiking.





For the fun of it, I made Ben a 5-shot model for his puny .357, using some old .38 Special cases I had to get the size of the loops right.
 

          Once complete, the drop pouch goes on your belt in front of the revolver holster. When folded up, the cartridges are actually upside down. When it comes time to reload, you simply pull open the top flap, the flap holding the ammunition drops down, and you can pluck out one, two or three rounds; whatever is necessary. I use my index finger to push upwards on the tip of the bullet from below while grasping the rim of the case with my other fingers. I've carried them around on my belt during the day and they've stayed shut and the ammo remains secure. Nothing fancy or revolutionary but it works. I'll keep a couple for myself, let my wife chose one, and give the rest to my hunting buddies who carry hoglegs.