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Book Review: ‘African Rifles and Cartridges’ by John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor

John "Pondoro" Taylor

Courtesy Amazon.com

The first edition of John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor’s African Rifles and Cartridges appeared in 1948, but today’s gunwriters continue to reference his conclusions in support of their own findings. Craig Boddington, both in his books and articles, as well as in his videos, often refers to Taylor when discussing large calibers designed for dangerous game.

In a recent review (Africa’s Sportsman Magazine, September 2019), I too turned to Taylor when discussing my results from a review of a Verney-Carron double rifle chambered in the venerable .450-400 3″ Nitro Express.

Though known as a hunter who advocated the heaviest calibers for hunting dangerous game, Taylor had only great things to say about the relatively mild-mannered .450-400 3″ N.E. He stated,

“I’ve done a lot of shooting with the .400…I killed practically all species of African game and my experience was such that I would not hesitate to follow any dangerous animal into any sort of cover if armed with a double [.450/.400].” And, again, “Just because a [.450/.400 or .404 Jeffery] looks small when compared with an 8-bore, or even a .577 is no argument…practical experience has shown that it’s a simply splendid weapon for all heavy and dangerous game anywhere…”  (Taylor’s emphasis)

John Taylor African Rifles and Cartridges

Michael Arnold for TTAG

The continuing attention of readers and writers to his writings, even after 70+ years, suggests that there might be a combination of factors that have transformed African Rifles and Cartridges into a classic of the hunting and shooting genre.

Some of those factors include:

  1. The author’s knowledge of his subject
  2. The time period in which publication took place
  3. The quality of the writing

Vast Knowledge

Taylor possessed an enormous data set from which he derived his conclusions. Though his conclusions resulted from both theory and observation, he mainly relied on witnessing how the various rifles and cartridges performed in his own hands.

His theoretical data were provided by rifle manufacturers who provided the ballistics, etc. for various cartridges. He also relied somewhat on reports from other experienced hunters to provide the reader with assessments of how a caliber should perform on a certain category of game animal.

It’s apparent that Taylor drew on the experience obtained largely through his own exploits, but also from manufacturers and colleagues. This was the basis for the host of well-supported conclusions presented in African Rifles and Cartridges.

Perfect Timing

I actually think of this as ‘right-time-right-place’. This factor is easier to diagnose retrospectively. What about Taylor’s masterpiece? Teddy and Kermit Roosevelt’s epic Safari, Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa Safari, and the end of World War II preceded Taylor’s publication by 40, 15 and 3 years, respectively.

Each of these events led to an upsurge of interest in all things Africa, particularly hunting. It would seem, looking past the publication date of Taylor’s classic, that he not only rode the wave started by these paradigm-shifting journeys and conflicts, but caused his own Tsunami of interest by describing to African hunting enthusiasts how they should be armed.

As an aside, I wonder if Taylor – along with other notables like J.A. Hunter – was not also responsible for the fact that all of us who have since gone on our own Safaris felt naked when we didn’t enter the African bush with a double rifle.

Quality of Writing

It’s understandable for someone to expect that a text with the title African Rifles and Cartridges contains a bone-dry rendition of, well, rifles and cartridges used to hunt in Africa. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor was in fact an excellent writer. So, though Taylor’s text does indeed discuss the gamut of cartridges available for us in African game fields in the late 1940’s, his descriptions are adventure-laced and engaging.

His prose acts as a wonderful historical lens for those of us interested in what firearms and calibers the great hunters of that time period were using to take various types of game. He tells engaging stories of how these cartridges were used, how they performed, and his conclusions on what species of game animal they could be expected to take down.

African cape buffalo, AKA black death (Bigstock)

The reader learns Taylor’s methodology for deciding whether a particular rifle or caliber is useful for thin-skinned or thick-skinned game animals. Many of the firearms reviewed by Taylor, like the .450/400 3” Nitro Express discussed above, are once again available from manufacturers. This makes Taylor’s conclusions relevant again for today’s Africa-bound hunter/huntress.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in reading a wonderfully-written description of rifles and cartridges present during the final transition from black powder to smokeless, authored by someone actively involved in epic pursuits for African game, this book is for you. Likewise, if you need a book that will help you choose among some of today’s calibers for African hunting, particularly for the dangerous game species, take a look at this classic text.

A cost of approximately $15 for a facsimile of the 1948 edition seems well worth the investment.

(Mike Arnold writes for a number of outlets; links to other articles can be found here.)

Source: The Truth About Guns

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