Hemingway's Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway

Hardcover(2nd Edition)

$36.00 $40.00 Save 10% Current price is $36, Original price is $40. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, September 25


Ernest Hemingway’s friend A.E. Hotchner once described a “yellowed four-by-five picture of Ernest,” shown him by Hemingway, “aged five or six, holding a small rifle. Written on the back in his mother’s hand was the notation, ‘Ernest was taught to shoot by Pa when 2½ and when 4 could handle a pistol.’”
Firearms and shooting infused Hemingway’s existence and thus his writing. He was a member of his high-school gun club and went to war when he was eighteen. He hunted elk, deer, and bear in the American west and went on two extended African safaris, which figured hugely in his writing and changed his life. To the day of his death, Hemingway remained an avid hunter, first-class wingshot, and capable rifleman.
Following years of research from Sun Valley to Key West and from Nairobi, Kenya to Hemingway’s home in Cuba, this volume significantly expands what we know about Hemingway’s shotguns, rifles, and pistols—the tools of the trade that proved themselves in his hunting, target shooting, and in his writing. Weapons are some of our most culturally and emotionally potent artifacts. The choice of gun can be as personal as the car one drives or the person one marries; another expression of status, education, experience, skill, and personal style. Including short excerpts from Hemingway’s works, these stories of his guns and rifles tell us much about him as a lifelong expert hunter and shooter and as a man.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781586671594
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 10/14/2016
Edition description: 2nd Edition
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 766,430
Product dimensions: 8.22(w) x 10.42(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

A writer, editor, and publisher for more than 30 years, Silvio Calabi lives on the coast of Maine and hunts around the world. Roger Sanger, from California and Idaho, is an aficionado of fine guns and the founder of the California Side By Side Society. Steve Helsley, also from California, is a consultant to the National Rifle Association and a firearms historian and photographer. They have collaborated on many articles for shooting magazines and they founded and produced the Gold Medal Concours d’Elegance of Fine Guns and the Western Side By Side Championships.

Read an Excerpt

Hemingway's GUNS

By Silvio Calabi Steve Helsley Roger Sanger

A Shooting Sportsman Book

Copyright © 2010 Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsley and Roger Sanger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-89272-720-9

Chapter One

A Firearms Vocabulary

The word "gun" loosely refers to any firearm, but strictly speaking it means a shotgun, not a rifle. The term is sometimes used interchangeably in this book, but the context should clarity whether the reference is to a shotgun or a rifle. As a hunter of gamebirds as well as animals, tiniest Hemingway had both.

A rifle (or a handgun) fires a single projectile—a bullet. The word comes from "rifling," the half-dozen or so grooves cut along the bore, the inside of the barrel, in long spirals. The bullet is a tight fit in the bore; the rifling makes it spin in flight, for stability and accuracy. A hunting rifle should put its bullets into a one-inch circle at a hundred yards, but in the field the shooter's skill and steadiness contribute more to accuracy than the rifle's mechanical consistency. The practical maximum range for a hunting rifle is about 400 yards, but most hunters are well advised to stay within half that distance—depending on visibility, weather, the animal and the rifle, and again personal experience and ability.

The diameter of the bullet/bore is the caliber, expressed in millimeters for Continental rifles or modern military weapons (8mm, say, or 5.56mm) and in decimal fractions of an inch (.308, for example, or .303) for American and British rifles. There may be many proprietary versions of a given caliber, such as .300 Weatherby, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 H&H Magnum, .300 Dakota and so on, all different in certain dimensions and performance and none interchangeable.

A shotgun is a "smoothbore"—no rifling in the barrel—meant to shoot clusters of pellets, usually lead, that spread out in flight. This makes it possible to hit a bird on the wing out to about 50 or 60 yards. Shotguns are inherently short-range weapons; while a high-velocity rifle bullet may carry for several miles (if the barrel's muzzle is elevated enough), even the largest birdshot pellets fall to earth within 300 or 400 yards. At very close range the ounce or so of pellets in a typical shot cartridge doesn't have time to spread out much, so inside 20 feel a shotgun blast is highly lethal and destructive, no matter whether the gun was loaded with fine birdshot or large buckshot. Beyond that distance the spread of the pellets can be cont rolled somewhat by "choking" the barrel at the muzzle—constricting its bore slightly. A full-choke barrel delivers a tighter cloud of pellets downrange than an open barrel—putting most of the shot inside a two-foot circle, approximately, at 40 yards.

Shotguns are measured in gauge. While for a rifle a higher caliber means a bigger bore diameter, on a shotgun a higher gauge number is a smaller bore. Gauge is the number of balls that could be made from one pound of lead that each just fit the inside diameter of the barrel. This comes from early cannon designation. A 12-pounder cannon (a cannon is a gun—no rifling) fires a 12-pound ball; a 12-gauge gun is a 1/12-pounder. Twelve is still the most popular shotgun gauge. A 1/12-pound lead hall is 0.729 inches in diameter. Hence 12 gauge measures .729 caliber—nearly three-quarters of an inch, far larger than any sporting-rifle bore because of the need to accommodate the several hundred pellets in a typical shogun cartridge.

A cartridge, also known as a round, is a single unit of ammunition. For a rifle or handgun, this is a bullet wedged into the mouth of a metal case, or shell, that holds the gunpowder and has, in its base, a primer. A shotgun cartridge is much the same, but its shot charge is contained in a plastic (sometimes waxed cardboard) sleeve with a metallic base for the powder and primer. Both kinds of cartridges can usually be reloaded and reused.

A cartridge is a precise fit in the chamber, the first section of the gun barrel. Inside the action, the firing pin, driven by a spring-loaded hammer, strikes the primer, which ignites the powder that propels the bullet or shot charge down range. After a cartridge has been fired, the empty shell must be removed (extracted or ejected) before the chamber can be reloaded. There are at least five basic mechanisms that accomplish this clearing-reloading process in modern rifles and shotguns: bolt action; pump, or slide, action; break action, with single of double barrels arranged side-by-side or over/under; semi-automatic; and lever action. Each has its pros and cons as well as its fans and detractors.

By law and by sporting tradition and ethics, a rifle, shotgun or handgun for hunting or target shooting fires one round at a time; the trigger has to be pulled once per shot. A firearm that shoots as long as its trigger is held back is an automatic weapon—a machine gun, forbidden to unauthorized civilians in America since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The Model 12 Pumpguns

I bought a 12 gage winchester which will come in handy around Key West. —10 Waldo Peirce, 9 August 1928, while Hemingway was in Big Horn, Montana

Exactly why a 12-gauge Winchester would be especially handy around Key West never becomes clear, but Hemingway made very good use of this gun for many years to come, in Cuba, Idaho and even East Africa:

Ngui had been loading the Winchester 12-gauge pump with SSG which is buckshot in English. We had never shot anything with SSG and I did not warn any jams so I tripped the ejector and filled it with No. 8 birdshot cartridges fresh out of the box and filled my pockets with the rest of the cartridges. At close range a charge of fine shot from a full-choked shotgun is as solid as a ball and I remembered seeing the effect on a human body with the small hole blue-black around the edge on the back of the leather jacket and all the load inside the chest.

Here, on his second African safari, in 1953-'54, Hemingway is preparing to follow a wounded leopard into thick brush. In anticipation of a close-quarters encounter, he has exchanged his rifle for a shotgun: his Model 12 Slide Action Hammerless Repeating Shotgun, manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut, by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Unlike traditional double-barreled guns from Britain or Europe, which were largely handmade for the carriage trade and could fire only two rounds before reloading, multi-shot pumpguns are a uniquely American design, one that put mass-produced firepower into everyone's hands. They have a single barrel with another tube, usually shorter, underneath: the magazine, where the ammunition is stored. The gun's foregrip is attached to an actuating bar that slides back and forth. After a shot is fired, pulling the grip back a few inches ejects the spent shell through a port on the side of the action, lets a fresh round feed backward out of the magazine tube, and recocks the gun; pushing the grip ahead again brings the new cartridge up and into tine firing chamber and locks the action. Now the gun is ready to shoot once more. A skilled hand can work this pull-push pumping action in an eyeblink.

Winchester's Model 1912 shotgun made its debut in that year; the name was shortened to Model 12 in 1919. It was offered first as a 20-gauge and then, two years later, in 16 and 12 gauge is well. The civilian version held up to five rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber.

Before the First World War, much of the United States was a still-raw land of vast wild-bird populations, market hunting and no bag limits, and many people relied on shotguns for self-defense as well as food, not mere sport. The more cartridges a gun could fire between reloadings, the better. With its exposed-hammer Model 1897, Winchester—already renowned for its rifles that had helped "win the West"—had staked a claim to the pump-action shotgun market too. Just 15 years later the company achieved an astonishing leap forward with the beautifully streamlined and simplified Model 12, lighter and quicker-handling than the '97. Thanks to its speed, reliability and durability, not to say a certain industrial elegance, it became known as the Perfect Repeater. It is arguably still the best pumpgun ever made, and it is no accident that the Model 61, Winchester's successful pump-action .22 rifle, resembled it so closely. (It was probably no coincidence either that Hemingway owned an M61 also.)

Sportsmen bought the M12 mostly to shoot gamebirds such as pheasants, ducks and geese and to compete in clay-target games such as skeet and trap. Unlike many other off-the-rack repeaters, the sleek Model 12 had the balance and liveliness necessary for this kind of dynamic gunning. The M12 could even be "slam-fired," simply pumped as fast as possible while the trigger was held back. This feature didn't much benefit hunters, but it helped make the Model 12 a favorite also with police officers and soldiers who relied on shotguns in buildings, trenches, tunnels and other close quarters. (In the 1970s slam-firing was deemed a safety hazard, or! at least a legal liability, and thereafter all pumpguns were fitted with interruptors so the trigger has to be pulled separately for each shot.)

The Model 12 had one more feature, one especially useful to the traveling shooter: With no tools and in just seconds, the barrel, magazine and forend could be detached from the receiver for easier packing into case or duffel. Winchester even made accommodation for any possible wear on the mating parts by providing a range of adjustment in the takedown mechanism.

From 1912 to 1963, when Winchester discontinued regular production of it, and then again in the 1970s, close to two million M12s were produced—in 14 styles and 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge (in a variety of chamber lengths) and with plain, stippled or ribbed barrels from 25 to 32 inches long and bored in all possible chokes. There were even, briefly, barrels made of stainless steel. If the variety of factory-issue models didn't suit, the Winchester Custom Shop stood ready to make anything a client wanted, for a price. Hemingway's Model 12 was a plain 12-gauge, dated by its serial number to 1928, with a solid rib and what became known as the "corncob" forend. Patrick recalled that years later, long after his father had become world-famous and well-heeled, he liked to shoot his Model 12 even in situations where, because it was so utilitarian, it offended other people. By virtue of more than three decades in his hands and hundreds of thousands of rounds fired through it, this otherwise ordinary hut excellent shotgun became a Hemingway icon.

In Hemingway's time almost every serious American hunter owned a Model 12, had owned one or wanted one—a situation that Winchester aided and abetted by sending professional shooters around the country to demonstrate the gun's capabilities. It was not inexpensive; in 1914 a field-grade 12-gauge cost $32 (the equivalent of $685 in 2010), a working man's wages for a week or more. By 1963, the final year of regular production, the same gun cost $110—only slightly more, adjusted for inflation. That year an internal audit revealed that Winchester was losing money on several of its most popular products and that machining the receiver of the M12 was especially time-consuming and expensive. Instead of raising prices, the company's new management chose to cut corners with its legendary quality instead. In 1964 the standard Model 12 was replaced by a more cheaply built gun called the Model 1200. A few M12s were made as late as 1980 but, as historian Ned Schwing wrote, "The finesse of the old craftsmanship was gone. They simply cast the parts, assembled and blued them, and out the door they went." Today a pre-1964 serial number on any Winchester adds to its value, and original Model 12s are prized, although not expensive. Even the plain-jane versions long ago transcended their utilitarian roots.

There is little mention of his Model 12 in Green Hills of Africa, the "nonfiction novel" of his first safari, in 1933-'34, but a year earlier Hemingway had written to his pal Mike Strater, "I am taking [to Africa] 30.06—10.75 Mauser—12 ga shotgun (pump) and 6.5 Mannlicher—also my Colt 22 cal Woodsman" and on page 70 in the book he writes, "I fed shells into the magazine of the old Winchester pump," so it is safe to say that he had this gun with him on his first as well as the second safari, 20 years later. Its serial number, 525488, determined from Abercrombie & Fitch records, dates it to 1928. It was not, in fact, "old" yet in 1933, but its owner was already then noted for his fiction.

Hemingway brought his M12 to East Africa as naturally as he would have packed a toothbrush, and "Pop" (his white hunter on both safaris, Philip Percival), although English, surely recognized it instantly. Its primary purpose was to shoot waterfowl, francolin and guinea hens for the table and as a diversion from big game, but because of its short-range lethality and lively handling the gun was also a superb self-defense weapon. From Under Kilimanjaro again:

Ngui came to say ... would I put the Sten gun together. The Sten gun was the old Winchester Model 12 pump gun and the threading of the aged barrel and receiver together was a mystery. They all believed it was an automatic weapon since it could be fired faster than any automatic shotgun ... and they would never assemble it for fear of cross threading. It takes twenty thousand cartridges to break in a pump gun so that it handles quicker than your eye can follow and this gun had shot around two hundred thousand cartridges.... it was regarded as a straight witchcraft gun and it was never used unless we needed meat badly or for backing up or forgoing in as for me leopard. It was a goose, guinea, and leopard gun and a back-up gun on lion. (391)

High-quality pumpguns are like any well-made machine. Overtime, given maintenance and lubrication and thousands of cycles, the moving parts mesh together and rough spots disappear. (His father, Patrick recalled, was a believer in Marvel Mystery Oil and used it liberally on this gun: "You could work the slide with one finger.") In the right hands, a well-broken-in Model 12 could literally be made to shoot faster than a Sten, the British police and military submachine gun of the time, despite the Sten's cyclic rate of around 500 rounds per minute. By the 1950s, Kenyan law demanded that repeating shotguns befitted with plugs to reduce their magazine capacity (and their capacity for slaughter) to two rounds. However, such a law is difficult to enforce in the field, and plugs are easy to remove. The Winchester, with its seven-round capacity, could be "shot dry" much quicker man the 32-round Sten, and Hemingway's 12-gauge shotgun loads were far more powerful than the Sten's 9mm pistol ammunition.

Under Kilimanjaro and its shortened edition, True at Tint Light, are about the safari that Ernest and Mary Hemingway took from September 1953 through January 1954. Toward the end of the trip and hunting alone with his .30-06 rifle, Hemingway knocked a stock-killing leopard off a branch some 60 feet up in a tree. As he tells the story, the shot looks and feels good and the cat crashes to earth. But when he and the trackers go to the spot, there is no dead leopard. Instead they find a blood trail that leads into a thicket so dense a man can only crawl in after it. This is when Hemingway exchanges his rifle for the shotgun and replaces the untried buckshot cartridges with shells that had proven they wouldn't jam in the gun. And then:

I was not very easy to go to the leopard. Ngui had the Springfield .30-06 and he had the good eyes. Pop's gun bearer had the .577 which would knock him, the gunbearer, on his ass if he shot it and he had as good eyes as Ngui. I had die old, well-loved, once burnt up, three times restocked, worn smooth old Winchester Model 12 pump gun that was faster than a snake and was, from thirty-five years of us being together, almost as close a friend and companion with secrets shared and triumphs and disasters not revealed as the other friend a man has all his life.

Today, no Professional Hunter will let a client hunt alone, much less deal with a wounded leopard. "Pop" could allow his client so much freedom in part because Denis Zaphiro, a Kenya Came Ranger, or warden, was with the Hemingways while he, Percival, was away. As well, the Game Department had appointed Hemingway an honorary warden for the Kajiado District of southern Kenya—something Hemingway was proud of and took seriously. Hence his pursuit of this shamba-raiding cat.

(Honorary wardens were intended to augment Kenya's woefully understaffed game-ranger corps. The title conferred real authority and the power to shoot "on control"—to kill problem animals, on license or not. It was highly unusual to appoint a visiting safari client lo the position, but Hemingway was, well, Hemingway; he was in the bush for months, instead of weeks; and both Percival and Zaphiro must have supported this. In addition, EAPHA, the East African Professional Hunters Association, voted at its 23 December '53 meeting to make Hemingway an associate member.)


Excerpted from Hemingway's GUNS by Silvio Calabi Steve Helsley Roger Sanger Copyright © 2010 by Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsley and Roger Sanger. Excerpted by permission of A Shooting Sportsman Book. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


A Firearms Vocabulary....................10
The Model 12 Pumpguns....................13
The Browning Superposed....................23
Two Browning Automatic 5s....................33
The Winchester Model 21 Shotguns....................38
A Pair of Merkel Over/Unders & a Single....................60
The Beretta S3 Over/Under....................60
The Griffin A Howe .30-06 Springfield....................68
Mannlicher-Schoenauer Rifles....................82
The .577 Nitro Express & Other Double Rifles....................93
Three (Four?) Colt Woodsman Pistols....................109
The Model 61 Winchester & Other .22 Rifles....................121
A Thompson Submachine Gun....................130
A Big-Bore Mauser, or Two....................134
The W. & C. Scott & Son Pigeon Gun....................140
Various: Adamy, Darne, Sarasqueta, Arrizabalaga, 'Alba'....................154

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews