Wednesday, December 12, 2018


(OR) Why I Always Carry Survival Gear

(Or-Or) What we do for public land bulls...

I always carry a lot of crap, and thus a lot of weight, even when I’m just day hunting in the mountains, just in case. You have to respect our mountains and the weather that goes with them. In just over a quarter century of hunting Montana, I’ve only had to spend an unexpected night on the mountain twice, but both times made me very thankful I carry all that survival gear.
A head-on collision with a drunk driver some years back buggered up my neck pretty good so I can’t carry a conventional backpack anymore. Eventually, I wound up with an old set of military LBE (Load Bearing Equipment), a belt-and-suspenders kind of deal that allows me to carry most of the weight on my hips. I have a buttpack on the rear of the belt with survival gear, a canteen on either hip (one with the nesting canteen cup), and two magazine pouches in front for items I want to keep ready and handy; range-finder, camera, journal. Since I often hunt alone, for a worst-case scenario I also have a satellite beacon “panic button”.
          A few weeks ago, schlepping all that weight paid off. I still had about 40 minutes of shooting light left when I dropped the hammer on a decent 6x6 bull. At just over 400 yards, it was one the longest hunting shots I’ve ever taken, but I’d been playing around with seating depths that summer while reloading my .30-’06 with 180-grain Sierra GameKings. I’d found the magic recipe that put them solidly over 2,700 fps even in the cold and into one ragged hole at 100 yards. Just prior to season while verifying the BDC hold-overs on my Leupold Rifleman I’d gotten a 3-inch group at 400 yards. Not bad for a World War Two vintage Czech ’98 Mauser, although I’m sure the pristine Belgian Fabrique Nationale .30-’06 barrel I’d found is a big part of that accuracy.
          I had a rock solid hillside shooting position with both elbows well supported in addition to a pair of shooting sticks embedded firmly in the snow, and the shot felt just right. As I worked the bolt I could hear the wet meaty slap of a solid hit echoing back across the canyon. Later, I would find out the 180-grain Sierra had entered just behind the shoulder and double-lunged him, but with only the small entrance wound there was virtually no blood on the trail. The bull went behind a big open-grown Doug fir on the hillside where he’d been feeding beneath some cows and a couple of 5-point bulls. When he re-emerged from behind the tree he was obviously hard hit but he still started hobbling away, head down and lurching his front legs forward in short, jerky steps. I learned a long time ago an elk isn’t down until you’ve got the tag hung on him, so I gave him another 180-grain .30-’06 behind the near shoulder as he quartered away. He went down in a small hollow full of skeletal snowberry bushes and all I could see was his rack sticking up. After watching for less than a minute, the antlers slowly sank down out of sight.
          Of course he was on the opposite side of a large, steep draw which took me at least fifteen minutes to negotiate, dropping down a couple hundred feet in elevation, hopping a little stream, and then climbing back up 300 feet. When I got there, the elk was gone. As the light rapidly faded and it began to snow, I followed his trail. The rest of the herd had milled through, but I could stick to my elk’s tracks in yesterday’s snow because he was stumbling a bit and kicking specks of black dirt up on top of the snow with almost every step. I was concerned that I only saw one or two drops of blood but soon found out that was simply because there were no big exit wounds. Twice he went down and at both of these places there were large splatters of crimson. I had to get the headlamp out to continue tracking. He’d gone not quite a quarter mile before diving off the ridgetop into the steepest, darkest, nastiest timber on the mountain and expiring upside down, wedged between a tree trunk and the ground by the steepness of the slope.
          By the time I was done field dressing him, it was pitch black with a full blown blizzard coming down and temperatures dropping fast. Up until then, I had been enjoying my new GPS with OnX; it had allowed me to determine that the elk had indeed been on public land in the first place, since they were feeding close to an unfenced section line. Shooting an azimuth from my position to the elk confirmed they were on the right side of that invisible but important line.
As I started following the little arrow back to Waypoint 1, aka “the truck”, I had to weave around or bust through all kinds of brush and thorn thickets and occasional blowdowns, all on steep inclines covered with a few inches of snow. In the middle of all that, the cold killed the batteries that I had put in fresh that morning. Digging through my ammo pouch, I was not happy to discover that the spare batteries I had were Triple As for the headlamp and not the Double-As I needed for the GPS.
          So I pulled out my trusty Silva compass and navigated with that for awhile. When I reached the creek, though, I knew I had missed the brushy and poorly maintained USFS trail in the dark and snow. I probably could have kept hiking and eventually found it, and I was within a mile or so of the truck, but it’s impossible to find recognizable landmarks under such conditions, the snow was really coming down, and I was wet and tired to the point I was starting to slip and occasionally fall on the steep slopes.
          I decided it would be best to bite the bullet and spend the night. I found a nice thick stand of Doug fir that blocked a lot of the falling snow. Beneath one there was also a thick clump of juniper. I knocked all the snow off the branches, then cut out the lowest ones to make myself a little hollow. I roofed it over with the branches I’d removed and my brightly colored VS17 Signal Panel Marker. Then I cleared the ground below it down to bare dirt and moss.
          After getting a good fire going in front of my cave, I went around gathering firewood and fir boughs. The latter I knocked the snow off of, then waved over the fire a bit to dry them before building a browse bed to insulate me from the ground. In addition to a skinning knife, I also carry a compact Gerber survival hatchet I use on an animal’s ribs and pelvis when field dressing. Of course it came in handy getting wood. Breaking off the bone-dry dead lower Doug fir limbs I gathered a good pile of wood where I could reach it from my “bed” and was lucky enough to find a couple of down logs I could move, ten or twelve feet long and eight or ten inches in diameter. I put them both in the fire right in the middle of their lengths and built the blaze back up over them. Once they burned through, I could just push the ends back into the fire.
          Only when all that was done did I wiggle into my shelter. I stripped off my upper body clothing, an Under Armor long sleeve base layer and a white snow cammo parka, both soaked through from either snow or perspiration. On went the spare, dry base layer from the fanny pack, a wool sweater, a fleece vest and finally a wind and waterproof lightweight Gore-Tex outer layer, as well as a balaclava to replace my hat.
          With double-walled leather mountain troop boots that I had freshly Sno-Sealed the previous day worn beneath knee-high wool gaiters, my feet were cold and damp simply from my own perspiration. I took off my gaiters, noticing a few minutes later that they were frozen flat and stiff like cardboard. My boots came off and were laid on their sides with the open mouths facing the fire, but not too close. Then I put on two fresh dry pairs of wool socks and tucked my feet into a trash bag. I huddled there cross-legged for awhile soaking in the heat of the fire, surrounded by sticks propped up at all angles to hang shirts and socks from. My legs stayed warm enough thanks to a thick pair of wool pants even though they were wet enough to give off steam when I got close to the flames.
          I had hot tea in a Thermos-like double-walled Arctic canteen, but it was hardly lukewarm by then so I poured a folding handle USGI canteen cup fairly full and put it on the coals to heat up. The hot liquid really helped me warm up my core. After the tea, I took water from my other canteen and fixed myself an instant soup packet in the canteen cup.
          Due to the cold it seemed like I had to go pee every ten minutes. I tried putting my boots on as loosely as possible, just kind of wrapping the laces out of the way, but even with dry socks my feet got cold immediately.
          Finally, I broke down, waddled down to the creek, and gathered a bunch of smaller smooth stones in the canteen cup and a sock. Back at “camp”, I’d get the rocks dry and piping hot in the fire in the canteen cup, then clumsily pour as many as I could into a sock, then insert the sock into a boot to let it steam. When it cooled, I’d pour the rocks back into the canteen cup, heat them up again, and have a go at the other boot. It took three treatments per boot before I could finally slip them on without my feet becoming instantly cold and clammy. I probably should have done it a couple more times but I wanted to at least try to get a little sleep.
          When I tried to snooze, however, the emergency Mylar space blanket proved to be a big no-go. It was only about three feet wide. You could either lie on top of it or drape it over top of your body, but you couldn’t in any way wrap it around yourself, so there was always plenty of cold air leaking in at multiple points. It did me virtually no good. The next day when I got home I ordered a compact Mylar survival sleeping bag to carry in my pack instead.
          It didn’t quite get down into the single digits that night, but it came pretty close I think and was certainly cold enough for me. Eventually the snow finally tapered off and somewhere around two or three the skies cleared completely and the stars came out. I didn’t miss the wet falling snow but with the clear sky I could actually feel the temperature dropping even more.
          I sure didn’t get much sleep that night. I’d build up the fire and curl up in a ball near it on my browse bed. Soon I’d be warm and comfortable enough to catch a short cat nap before the fire died down and I woke up shivering. Then I would repeat the whole process over again. Once I just couldn’t seem to warm back up even with the fire blazing so I heated up the other half of my quart of tea and that seemed to do the trick.
          As soon as there was the first bit of pale light to the east I was getting packed up. When it was light enough to see, I found I was much further west than I had thought I was, so I decided to hike out on a different USFS trail that followed a tributary creek back to the parking lot. That didn’t go so well. There had been a pretty significant wind event sometime in the past year and the trail obviously hadn’t been cleared since. There were all kinds of hillside Doug fir and creek bottom spruce all piled up on each other in impenetrable jackstraws.
          After fighting this for awhile and making really poor progress, I finally climbed up out of the mess. I wanted to go south, but I had to go a half a mile east first, climbing up a long and steep linear ridge that was at least clear of timber on top. Then the going was finally good again as the top of the main ridge is open and grassy and I eventually came to an old two-track jeep trail I could follow back to the truck.
          You guessed it. This was all the easy part. It took me two very long and hard days to get my elk out. The first day I bagged meat and boned out the quarters, packing it in a cargo sled with the head on top, initially all well secured with p-cord. It took me better than two hours to drag and yank and lift that sled one mile down the bottom of a timbered draw littered with blowdown, boulders, and brush, with several live springs along the way so the footing could vary from snow to ice to open water to deep muck. By the time I got to the trail, I had all I could do to just walk back to the truck and go home for a hot bath and a fistful of Tylenol.
          Day Two went much better. A friend came along with me to help, as did my four pack goats. I balanced loads of meat in plastic bags between the pairs of panniers, the biggest goat carrying 52 pounds total and the rest taking 48 pounds or less. My buddy walked ahead, the goats plodded along behind him, and I brought up the rear with the sled hauling the head and a couple more bags of meat. Even so, we’d hit the trail at ten and didn’t get back to the truck until nearly five.  

          1. Always carry survival gear and have the means to build a fire in the mountains.
2. Where you shoot it ain’t necessarily where it’s gonna go down.
3. Always make sure you have spare batteries.
4. Carry a compass for back-up just in case.
5. Make sure your survival blanket is a blanket and not just a beach towel.
6. A little hot liquid and/or food goes a long way on a cold night.
7. Next year concentrate on shooting a cow close to the road.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


 Up where the billy goats screw the eagles.

After more than a quarter century of unsuccessfully attempting to draw a Montana Special Tag (moose, goat, sheep) and acquiring the accompanying collection of apparently useless “Bonus Points”, I broke down and did an unlimited bighorn sheep hunt this year just so I could say I at least got to hunt one.

Montana’s five “unlimited” bighorn sheep districts represent the only chance in the Continental US to simply purchase rather than draw a sheep tag. This opportunity exists only because the districts in question are in some of the roughest, steepest and most isolated grizzly-infested wilderness areas in the nation outside of Alaska. Outdoor Life once called this the toughest hunt in the country.  

I solo scouted and hunted District #300 up Tom Miner Basin which, unlike the other unlimited districts, has an early hunting season running the first ten days of September. I went northwest of the main drainage to avoid what I found out in 2016 was a bit of a circus further south along the Yellowstone National Park boundary line. I did come down out of the hills twice to take a day off, rejuvenate and eat like a starving bear. I took in a food cache with my pack goats on my last scouting trip and while hunting packed as light as humanly possible. It would have been too light if it had been colder but we were blessed with good weather that allowed me to just sleep out under the stars. I managed to waddle around up in the high country pretty well for a fat guy over fifty with a long list of injuries, but the furthest distance I went in one day was only four miles and even then the goats had to schlep all the weight. Normally I didn’t cover more than a mile or two when I did move camp. I had tried to get in condition with mountain hikes all summer but should have tried much harder. Some of the slopes kicked my butt physically but I still had a ball.

Quite a few years, pounds and miles have passed since I last spent much time above timberline. With the cool, clear air, high viewpoints and seemingly endless vistas it’s kind of magical up there. Even crusty old Elmer Keith felt it and waxed poetic about the high country.

“Have you ever seen a mature bighorn ram silhouetted on the sky line of his rugged domain? If so, then you know that no word picture can ever quite do him justice. Ranging at or above timberline, no other animal so typifies, or is so symbolic of, the rugged grandeur of the lofty snow-covered peaks, beautiful glacier-fed lakes and alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountain chain. Some of the wildest, roughest and most beautiful country that God ever made.”

I put in many hours of glassing with high quality Swarovski binos and spotting scope but still only saw four other hunters off in the distance the entire trip. I actually glassed sheep every morning and/or evening, spotting them anywhere from the thick timber way down below the cliffs to the very tops of the peaks and ridges. Of course, every last one of them was a ewe, lamb or juvenile. I never did see a mature ram the whole time despite all the intense glassing.

 Mostly below me there were tons of wapiti full in the rut everywhere I went, including a 5-point and his harem way the hell up on South Twin Peak (10,181 feet) just below the communication site one morning. One night with a good moon I slept atop a knife ridge and had bulls bugling away on either side of me most of the night. I saw some mountain goats most days as well, from loners up to one bunch of nine, but I only saw one or two stray mulies per day up that high. The only grizzly I saw was better than two miles away and at least 2,000 feet below me on Rock Creek. I never even saw any fresh grizzly sign up high; they all seemed to be down low in the main creek bottoms going after the berries and chokecherries. Other than learning some of the country much better and finding out where the rams were not, I did recall some old and/or re-learn a few new mountain hunting lessons.

  1. A Forest Service road listed as a “Dirt Road Suitable For Passenger Cars” actually requires a high-clearance, armored and fully-tracked “passenger car” along the lines of an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier. I bottomed out my F-150’s work duty suspension and hit the frame on more than one occasion and I’m pretty sure I was throwing up a good bow wave with my bumper in one particular mudhole. I used the granny low side of the transmission both up and downhill just to keep my pace down to a slow enough crawl that I didn’t rattle the fillings out of my teeth. A saw and a tow chain came in handy on a couple of particularly big blow-downs.
  2. Good boots are priceless: They were rather heavy, since they say one pound on the foot equals four pounds in the pack, but I did good with some seemingly indestructible all-leather Austrian Army surplus mountain troop (Gebirgsjaeger) boots.

    All my wife got out of this picture was that I hadn't worn matching socks.

  3. Slow and Steady. I learned a long time ago to sidehill back and forth up steep slopes and to proceed slowly with short steps, just so long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other. And it’s often better to take the long way around the head of a drainage following the contour lines than lose and regain all that altitude dropping down to cross it. Once you gain the top of a ridge stay with it as long as you can.
  4. Walking stick(s)/Trekking Pole(s): I don’t know how I managed to ever get along without these for the first forty years. I think they reduce fatigue a great deal simply by helping you keep your balance. And my wife used hers as a dandy bipod when she filled her ewe tag over by Anaconda about ten years back.
  5. Never miss a chance to fill your water bottles whenever you come across any water source. They are few and far between up high and it can be a real balancing act when it comes to carrying enough water without adding too much weight. I wound up lugging a gallon in three canteens…that’s 8 pounds in case you were wondering. I carry an old folding handle USGI canteen cup, too; it comes in handy for dipping out of tiny rivulets too small to submerge a water bottle in. I brought powdered Gatorade mix and drank one quart of that for every two quarts of water. On one scouting trip I got water from a big snowbank tucked into a hollow high on a north-facing slope…ten days later while I was hunting it was all gone. On another scout I filled water bottles directly from a beautiful tiny spring in a small meadow at the edge of the whitebark pines; a week later, it was one big muddy reeking elk wallow that plugged my filter.

    Never miss a chance to fill up with water in the high country.

  6. It’s colder than you think. On average, you lose 3-5 degrees of air temperature for every thousand feet in elevation gain. In very dry air, and we often have extremely low humidity in August and September, the temperature can drop as much as one degree for every 150 feet of elevation gain. When you get up to elevations approaching 10,000 feet, on a bright, sunny day the air temperature in the sun versus the air temperature in the shade can vary by as much as forty degrees. The clear air up high undergoes both rapid heating and cooling; as soon as the sun dips down behind a peak to the west, one immediately feels the heat loss. Winds are common in the mountains as well, adding the effect of wind chill. I always carry a Gore-Tex jacket in my fanny pack. When you stop hiking and start glassing on some high point, the wind may get to you quickly. In such cases I don the Gore-Tex mainly as a windproof layer as well as a shell to hold in body heat. In some cases, if it’s warm and you’ve worked up a good sweat hiking in, it’s worth the effort to strip down and change into a fresh, dry base layer. I usually use Under Armor as a base layer. Despite the very good weather, on some exposed points in the evenings I had to add a vest, stocking cap and wool gloves.

     Pack light, freeze at night.

Sunscreen and chapstick are two other good items to have, and maybe a hat with a broad brim. I live at 5,500 feet and am out in the sun all summer and I still got some sunburn on my face and arms.

I have to put back in a drawing for a limited bighorn district next year or lose all those valuable bonus points which have yet to do me any good but I plan on doing the #300 unlimited again in 2020, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. I will, however, be doing many, many more pre-season conditioning hikes prior to the next go-round. The better shape you’re in, the more you’ll enjoy it. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

College Millennials on 80's Action Movies

Here at das blog we are always trying to advance the social sciences. To that end we recently used our huge budget to conduct an experiment. We screened several classic 1980's action movies for some millennials at a local liberal arts college not far from the blog's Eastern Command Bunker. We then asked these sheltered young commie snowflakes for their summaries of the movies. Here's a few of their answers:

Die Hard: "A white male cop engages in police brutality against a diverse group of immigrants seeking economic opportunity in America."

Predator: "A white male neo-Nazi type beats and bullies an undocumented immigrant until it eventually kills itself."

Lethal Weapon 2: "A white male... and black... cop violently harass a group of AFRICANS... who are white supremacists?!"  (Millennial's head suddenly explodes.)
It's alright kids. Go watch "The Social Network" and "High School Musical." You'll be okay.

Saturday, June 30, 2018


Eight hundred miles from the Falkland Islands and roughly the same distance from the Antarctic Circle, South Georgia Island is a desolate, isolated and wind-swept spit of rock, snow and glaciers some one hundred miles in length. Even during the height of the Antarctic summer, from January to March, the average high temperatures never even manage to reach fifty degrees Fahrenheit. During the depths of the Antarctic winter in June, it receives only 12 hours of sunshine for the month. The vast majority of the island is covered with steep, rugged mountains whose peaks rise up to 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level and remain perpetually shrouded in winter beneath an eternal blanket of permanent snow fields, ice caps and glaciers. The topography is slashed and crumpled by deep, twisting stone gorges whose bottoms have never seen the light of day beneath the numerous glaciers…roughly 160 of them…that fill the mountain valleys. In summer, the snow line only retreats to around 300 meters (984 feet). No trees or even small shrubs can manage to survive in the rocky soil of this polar tundra, only a few species of grasses, rushes and sedges. The majority of the plant life consists of various mosses, lichen and liverworts that grow low and cling to the very rock itself. 

 Grytviken, the only human habitation on South Georgia Island in 1982, seemed an unlikely prize over which two world powers would go to war over.

It’s only industry, a whaling station, closed in 1966. In 1982, the resident population of penguins out-numbers the human inhabitants by a ratio of perhaps tens of thousands to one and the only real settlements were the tiny town of Grytviken, with ten year-round residents, and a British Antarctic Research Station, two handfuls of buildings huddled along the shores of King Edward Bay. It seemed a rather unlikely place to fight, let alone start, a war, but that is exactly what happened. What may or may not have been a simple misunderstanding by an Argentine salvage crew who came to dismantle some of the derelict whaling station soon escalated into the Falklands War. The salvage crew, which included some Argentine Marines dressed as civilians, landed at Leith Harbor on 19 March 1982 and promptly raised the Argentine flag. The leader of the British Antarctic Survey team, on instructions from London, demanded that the Argentine party lower their flag, depart, and check in with official British government representatives in the Falklands proper. The Argentinians did lower the flag but refused to leave.
The only Royal Navy presence in the South Atlantic at the time was the HMS Endurance, a fifteen-year-old 3,600-ton icebreaker whose bright red hull led to her being nicknamed the Red Plum. She was hardly a warship, mounting only two 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon, but her two small 1960’s vintage Westland Wasp helicopters proved deadly later in the conflict when they helped disable the Argentine Navy submarine ARA Santa Fe with hits from their 1950’s-vintage AS.12 anti-ship missiles.
Receiving word of the situation on South George Island, Endurance sailed from the Falklands with her contingent of 22 Royal Marines under the command of 22-year-old Lieutenant Mills. Before landing the Marines, the ship’s long serving career Captain Nick Barker cautioned Lt. Mills. “In three weeks time this place is going to be surrounded by tall gray ships, but we are not going to be able to help you if you’re dead.” In case of Argentina landing military forces, the Marines’ job was to put up “enough of a show” to make the Argentineans use force but not to get men killed needlessly. Barker opined that half an hour’s resistance should be sufficient to satisfy British honor. But as Mills went down the gangplank, he was supposedly overhead to say to one of the ship’s crewmen, “Fuck half an hour; I’m going to make their eyes water.”

 It was significant that the 22-man British Royal Marine garrison on South George Island was armed entirely with 7.62x51mm NATO rifles and machine guns.
The British Royal Marine contingent on South Falkland Island, all 20-odd of them, were armed primarily with L1A1 SLRs, the British version of the Fabrique Nationale (FN) FAL, a 7.62x51mm battle rifle used by 90 nations (including Argentina) around the world during the Cold War. Some say the Argentine troops had the advantage since their FAL rifles were capable of full automatic fire while the British SLR was semi-automatic only, but with the 7.62x51mm cartridge’s recoil, shoulder-fired full-auto fire from an FAL is of dubious value except at rock-throwing distances. One man, Command Sergeant Major Peter Leach, was a crack shot trained as a sniper and had an L42A1, a sniper version of the venerable Short Magazine Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle, converted to 7.62 NATO and fitted with an L1A1 telescopic sight, basically the old No. 32 3.5x scope retro-fitted with a thousand meter bullet-drop compensator calibrated for the trajectory of the new caliber in 50-meter increments.
They were well provided with crew-served weapons since the Royal Marines had only recently decided to supplement the single General Purpose Machine Gun in each rifle squad with an additional light machine gun. Thus Mills’ force had two L7A2 “Gimpy” GPMGs and two L4A4 Brens, bipod-mounted LMGs converted to fire 7.62x51mm ammunition fed from a top-mounted 30-round magazine. The solid and reliable belt-fed GPMG could be fired from either its own integral folding bipod or from a tripod, the latter often used in conjunction with a telescopic sight. It was essentially a license-built version of the Belgian FN MAG-58 that has been used by some 75 nations around the globe since its introduction in 1958. After a few decades of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, even the US Army finally dumped the old M-60 “Pig” and adopted the MAG-58 in the form of the M240B. 

Although the Royal Marines apparently lacked any armor-piercing ammunition, the standard British L2A2 7.62x51mm NATO ball round proved capable of doing considerable damage to aircraft and ships.

All the British small arms fired the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, essentially the same as the .308 Winchester. If the British possessed any armor piercing ammunition it must have been in small quantities and I have never found any reference to any being issued or used. The standard British 7.62mm service load was the L2A2 cartridge, firing 144-grain boat-tailed full metal jacket or “ball” bullets at a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second. An “Old School” recipe dating back to the 1950’s, these projectiles consist of a soft lead core surrounded by a gilding copper jacket and are intended primarily for anti-personnel use. Even so, the standard ball projectile is still capable of penetrating ¼-inch of sheet steel at 300 yards, the old “steel pot”-style army helmet at 400 yards, and a 3.45mm NATO standard steel plate at 620 meters.

The Marines’ only “heavy” weapon was one Swedish-designed 84-mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, commonly called the “Charley G” in British service. With an empty weight of over 31 pounds and each round of ammunition adding an additional 5.7 pounds of weight, the Charley G gunner’s slot was not a coveted position in the infantry. The weapon was, however, and effective bunker buster and its 1982-issue 84mm 3.75-pound shaped charge High Explosive Anti-Tank warhead was capable of punching through nearly 16 inches of main battle tank armor.

They also had a few American-designed LAWS rockets, essentially collapsible lightweight throw-away one-shot bazookas. In fact, the LAWS rocket’s 66-mm warhead was the same diameter as the WWII-vintage 2.36-inch bazooka. Capable of penetrating up to 100 mm of armor plate, the 2.36-inch bazooka was a wonder weapon in 1942, but by 1944 it was proving ineffective against the new generations of German tanks and during the opening weeks of the Korean War in 1950 it was essentially useless against the North Korean Soviet-made T-34-85 medium tanks. Emergency supplies of the new 3.5-inch “Super Bazooka”, with its 90-mm warhead and 250 mm of armor penetration, had to be flown in directly from the Continental US. Yet when the US Army adopted the LAWS, it went back to a 66-mm warhead. The weapon proved quite useful against enemy field fortifications but on the few occasions it was actually used as an anti-tank weapon it failed, even against the thinnest-skinned armored vehicles in the Soviet arsenal, the PT-76 amphibious light tanks encountered in Vietnam.
The Argentines had earlier landed a small, mixed ground force of Marines and sailors thrown together at the last moment, but the main South Georgia invasion force was Task Force 60.1 under the overall command of Captain Carlos Trombetta. It consisted of the Argentine Ice Patrol Ship ARA Bahia Paraiso, which transported a detachment of Marines and a 15-man team of special naval commandos under Lieutenant Commander Alfredo Astiz. This vessel was escorted and supported by the corvette ARA Guerrico. The two vessels also carried at least one (some sources claim two) Argentine Navy Aérospatiale Alouette III light helicopter and a larger, heavier Argentina Army Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma.

Argentine Navy Corvette ARA Guerrico; not the kind of target ordinarily engaged by infantry.

The ARA Guerrico (P-32) was a thoroughly modern warship only five years old at the time of the Falklands War. A French-built Type A69 Drummond-class corvette, she carried a crew of 84 men, was 260-feet long and displaced 1,320 tons fully loaded. Twin screws each powered by a SEMT Pielstick Diesel engine could drive her through the water at a top speed of 23.3 knots and she carried enough fuel to have a range of 4,500 nautical miles. On her foredeck she was armed with a single turret mounting a 100-mm dual purpose gun and she also carried two triple-tube torpedo launchers, depth charges, a 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannon, two 20-mm Oerlikon AA guns, and a pair of Browning .50-caliber heavy machine guns. In the eyes of naval authorities around the world, however, her real firepower came in the form of her four rocket launchers, each of which contained a French-made MM38 Exocet guided anti-ship missile.
But she carried essentially no armor. Much of her superstructure, in fact, was constructed of aluminum to save weight. The Fletcher-class destroyers the US Navy entered the Second World War with carried ½ to ¾ of an inch of armor and they were still quite realistically called and considered “tin cans.” Modern warships, however, carry very little, if any, armor. This would be a crucial factor in the highly unusual “naval” battle that occurred.
The Argentine Marines were armed very much the same as the British, with FN FAL rifles and bipod-mounted heavy-barreled FN FALO versions of the same, which served as squad automatic weapons, as well as their own GPMG FN MAG-58s and they also landed a mortar crew with a light 60-mm mortar. The plan called for landing the Marines by helicopter rather than by small boat.
When the ships appeared, Lieutenant Mills had walked down to the jetty to inform the Argentineans that if they tried to land troops they would be resisted. The first lift of Argentine troops aboard the Alouette thus landed unscathed nearby as the British Marines initially hesitated to fire without direct orders what could very well be the shots that would ignite a war. Then the Argentine Marines open small arms fire on Mills, who sprinted back to his platoon’s entrenchments.
A few minutes later, the second Argentine lift arrived in the larger SA 330 Puma, carrying fifteen more Marines. As the big helicopter flared and hovered to land about twenty feet above the helipad at the Antarctic Research Station directly in front of the British field fortifications, Lieutenant Mills shouted out the command to, “FIRE!” One Royal Marine fired a LAW, but it missed. But numerous semi-automatic rifles and four machine guns poured out a hail of 7.62x51mm fire and at least 500 rounds perforated the helicopter within the first few seconds of fire being opened. Inside the Puma, the control panel blazed with red lights and warning alarms rasped in the earphones as hydraulic fluid sprayed throughout the interior, mingling with the blood of six wounded Marines, two of whom would die from wounds received within minutes.
Fortunately for the Argentine Marines, the man at the controls, Lieutenant Alejandro Villagra, proved to be a superb pilot with quick reflexes. He instantly dipped the Puma’s nose down and fought for speed and altitude as he limped the smoking, shuddering bird across the cove and out of range of the British guns. Even as the last of the riddled hydraulic system failed for good and the bird began to die, Lt. Villagra managed to set the crippled Puma down almost gently in a forced landing on the far side of the bay. With a lesser pilot at the helm, all eighteen men in the Puma could have been killed when the bird crashed.

Although heavily damaged by hits from some five hundred 7.62x51mm bullets, Lieutenant Alejandro Villagra managed to safely land this riddled Aérospatiale Puma out of range of British fire.

A little over a month later, Argentine troops would do much the same. When the British made their amphibious landing at San Carlos Water to re-take the Falklands on 21 May 1982, a small detachment of about forty Argentine troops, again armed entirely with 7.62x51mm small arms, in short order shot down not one but two British Gazelle helicopters that overflew their positions.
Having determined there was an apparently sizeable British ground force on South George determined to fight it out, the Argentine Marines from the first lift called for naval gunfire support from ARA Guerrico. An experienced career naval officer who had attended the Argentine Naval Academy, Captain Carlos Luís Alfonso responded immediately but as the corvette entered the bay she had to greatly reduce speed to avoid the semi-submerged and hard-to-see beds of thick kelp that grew in the restricted waters. Shallow shoals on either side of the main ship channel also restricted the vessel’s route. Even so, it was expected that the mere presence of the corvette, dominating the bay with its heavy guns, would be sufficient to secure the surrender of the British defenders ashore. After all, what lowly foot soldiers in their right minds would attempt to slug things out with small arms against a modern naval warship?
At 11:55 the first naval gun opened up on the British Marines when Guerrico’s starboard Oerlikon 20-mm automatic cannon cut loose. One of the most widely-used light anti-aircraft guns of the Second World War, the Oerlikon L85 should have been able to sweep the British shore positions with an entire 60-round drum of 20x128mm High Explosive shells. This particular weapon, however, fired only twice before it malfunctioned and ceased fire.
Almost a minute later, the twin Bofors guns mounted directly aft the bridge came to bear. These Swedish-designed L60 guns were supposed to belt out 2-pound 40-mm High Explosive shells at a rate of 120 rounds per minute from each barrel, but the Bofors crew didn’t do much better than the Oerlikon gunner. The left barrel spat out four HE shells before it jammed and the right gun got off only five shots before its extractor broke.
At 11:59, with the Guerrico approximately 550 meters off the point, Lt. Mills ordered his Marines to open fire on the ship. They did so immediately and with great enthusiasm; even half a klick away, they could clearly hear the ringing cracks and pings of their 7.62mm bullets striking the ship. On the ship’s bridge the starboard windows were shattered by bullets and the walls of the adjacent radio room were perforated. In the 40-mm gun tub amidships, Petty Officer Patricio Guanca and his gun crew were huddled around the twin Bofors guns desperately working to get the malfunctioning weapons back into action. Royal Marine machine gunner Steve Parsons opened up with his Bren gun and, once on target, emptied the top-mounted 30-round magazine into their midst. Petty Officer Guanca was killed instantly, with two more of the gun crew wounded, and everyone had to sprawl flat on the deck to avoid more fire.
Up on the bow, the turret-mounted French modèle 68 100-mm L/55 automatic multi-purpose main gun opened fire and lobbed a single 30-pound HE shell at the Brits before it packed up as well. Having ploughed through staggering waves during a storm in the notoriously rough South Atlantic seas en route to South Georgia, the complex automatic loading system for the ship’s main gun had become encrusted with sea salt deposits and the crew had not had the time to completely disassemble and clean it before the Guerrico went into action. While the crew was clearing the jammed loader, a Royal Marine fired a LAWS rocket that scored an incredibly lucky hit to the turret itself, jamming the 100-mm gun’s elevation gear in place.

The Swedish-designed Carl Gustav 84-mm recoilless rifle made its debut as an anti-ship weapon during the Falklands War.

Lastly, Royal Marine Dave Combes, in peacetime the steward aboard the Endurance, took aim through the 2x sight of his Carl Gustav recoilless rifle and fired at the corvette. The 84-mm rocket, staggering away at a velocity of only a thousand feet per second, actually skipped momentarily off the surface of the sea before slamming into the side of the ship’s hull near the waterline. The corvette’s hull plates, non-armored steel less than a half an inch thick, could do little to stop the blast of a HEAT warhead designed to penetrate 400 mm of tank armor. The Gustav blew an appreciable hole in the side of the corvette near the waterline and sprayed the interior compartment with blast, spall and shrapnel that severed cables and damaged the ship’s electrical system.
Then the Guerrico’s course took it behind the buildings of the British Antarctic Survey Station and out of the Marines’ field of fire. Once safely out of range, the corvette coasted to a full stop while damage control parties attacked and assessed the warship’s wounds and medics did the same for injured crewmen. Still unsure about the total strength of the enemy forces ashore, Captain Alfonso was faced with a difficult choice, but no naval commander wants to be trapped in restricted waters unable to maneuver; if Endurance returned with her two missile-carrying helicopters, Guerrico would be a sitting duck in the harbor. His only real course was to continue deeper into the harbor where there was room enough to turn the corvette around and then run the gauntlet again through the single, restricted ship channel to once again reach the open sea.
The Royal Marines on King Edward Point, now also trading intermittent small arms fire with the Argentine Marines who’d come ashore, readied themselves for Round Two of their match with the warship.
With only Captain Alfonso, the helmsman and the quartermaster remaining on the bridge, Guerrico began its run back down the ship channel.
Armed with his L42A1 bolt-action Lee-Enfield sniper rifle, Command Sergeant Major Peter Leach had run up to the second floor of the Shackleton House to gain a clear field of fire at the warship. With single well-aimed shots, he systematically shattered every remaining window on the corvette’s bridge, forcing the three Navy men at the helm to crouch and duck low behind the thickest parts of the ship’s superstructure as they steered the corvette through the shallows and kelp beds.
Then the Guerrico once more cleared the buildings of the research station and the rest of the Royal Marines opened up with another hail of rifle and machine gun bullets. Combes got off another well-aimed 84-mm rocket from the Charlie G that hit and destroyed one of the corvette’s blocky Exocet missile launchers topside; fortunately for the crew, the Exocet’s own warhead did not detonate too. Then the ship passed out of range and gained open water again.

 With the shoot down of the larger Puma helicopter, Argentine Marines could only be shuttled ashore six at a time in the much smaller Alouette III.

Meanwhile, the Alouette III had been shuttling Argentine Marines ashore a half a dozen at a time as quickly as it could, landing them safely out of range of British small arms on the south shore of the bay at a place known locally as “the Hummocks.” One lift included a 60-mm light mortar, which the crew set up to lob bombs at the British positions. The remaining Argentine Marines hustled along the open shoreline to Grytviken to link up with their mates and advance on the Royal Marines. The lead squads had already closed to within small arms range. When British Corporal Nigel Peters had risen up from his foxhole to fire a LAWS rocket at Guerrico on her outbound run, a sharp-shooting Argentine Marine quickly hit him twice with his FAL.
Back at sea, Guerrico’s crew had managed to quickly get the 100-mm main gun’s turret and loading system operational again. Now, from far beyond the range of any British weapon, the ship could bombard the Marines’ positions with impunity.  They quickly got the range and bracketed the Royal Marines’ field fortifications and began laying in a barrage of 30-pound High Explosive shells upon them.
For another half an hour the Royal Marines hunkered in the holes when the shells fell, in between trading small arms fire with the slowly but steadily increasing number of Argentine Marines, who were using what cover there was to flank and eventually surround the British. The medic informed Lieutenant Mills that loss of blood had made Corporal Peters’ wounds life-threatening, their ammunition had started to run low, and the Alouette continued to increase the odds against them with every lift.      
Although by all accounts, including Mills’s, the NCOs and enlisted Marines were raring to continue fighting, the young lieutenant recalled his orders to avoid unnecessary casualties and felt that the fight they had put up was enough to satisfy British honor. Waving a white flag, Lieutenant Mills got up and advanced towards the Argentine Marines. An officer met him halfway and he requested to see the Argentine commander to arrange the surrender of his command.
When the Royal Marines emerged from their trenches, the Argentine officers were momentarily stunned to find out that a mere 22 men had put up such a stout fight and inflicted so much damage, but the Brits’ plucky stand against impossible odds also appealed to the Argentine Marines’ own culture of machismo. The CO himself saluted the POWs and shook hands with many of them as he exclaimed “Magnifico!” and “Bravo!”  The Sunday Times of London later wrote that a more junior Argentine Marine officer also congratulated Lt. Mills personally for the stand, telling him, “You took on two ships, five hundred Marines, and three helicopters! There are no kamikazes left in Japan—they’re all here.”
When the shooting stopped, most of the animosity between the opposing Marines also seems to have ebbed considerably. The single British casualty, wounded Corporal Peters, reported that he was given the very best medical care and treatment aboard the Bahia Paraiso. Although not required to do so by the rules of war, the British Marines disarmed the land mines and the improvised fougasse and booby-traps they had rigged on the jetty and at the research station. In a newspaper interview after the war, Royal Marine Andrew Lee noted a feeling of mutual respect between victor and vanquished and said, “They bore us no malice. They did understand the job we did. They were Marines, like ourselves.”
Argentine casualties amounted to three men killed and nine wounded as well as the loss of the Puma helicopter and the damage done to ARA Guerrico. In addition to the damage done by the anti-tank rockets, the bridge and radio room alone had sustained approximately 200 hits from 7.62x51mm fire. The Sunday Times post-war book claimed the Argentine Navy counted a total of 1,275 hits on the entire ship from small arms fire and several other accounts speak of “more than a thousand” total hits. 

 Rear view of ARA Guerrico after the battle. The raised platform mounting the 40mm Bofors guns was where one sailor was killed and two others wounded by British machine gun fire.

All this could not have been done with the 5.56x45mm NATO round the British adopted a few years later. Even without special armor-piercing ammunition, the rather elderly 1950’s-vintage “first generation” 7.62x51mm lead-cored FMJ projectile still demonstrates fairly impressive material penetration. British Army tests in 1960 determined that, at 100 yards’ range with 90-degree strikes, the 7.62x51mm FMJ bullet could penetrate a ¼-inch thick homogeneous steel armor plate (and five sheets of ¾-inch plywood behind it) and it achieved partial penetration (bulged out the rear) of a 3/8-inch armor plate. Against urban battlefield media, more recent US Marine Corps tests revealed that the old M80 7.62-mm ball round still penetrated about twice as much concrete and wood as did the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge, even with the latter using the improved SS-109 62-grain round with penetrator core. In Iraq, the latter round even had difficulty in penetration automobile bodies and doors.
Some have scoffed at the number of hits reported, 500 plus for the Puma and more than a thousand for the Guerrica. At the time, however, the average British soldier was required to individually hit man-sized targets out to 300 meters and to fire collectively as a unit out to 600 meters. The Royal Marines, of course, are not “average” soldiers, either. Just like the United States Marine Corps, they have a long-held tradition of and pride in their excellent marksmanship skills. And rather than a small, elusive man-sized target, a Puma represents a target 16 feet tall and almost 60 feet long, while the Guerrico was only forty feet shy of the length of a football field; either would qualify as the “broad side of a barn” category.
 Whatever the exact number of hits, they proved sufficient to destroy a 15,000 pound twin-engine medium helicopter and, after the action, ARA Guerrico had to return to the mainland naval port of Rio Grande where she spent three full days in drydock undergoing repairs to the damage she had sustained.
The entire story from the British point of view can be found in the book Too Few Too Far by Malcolm Angel, one of the 22 Royal Marines who fought in the battle.