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.)

comments

  1. avatar jwm says:

    Double rifles and stopping cartridges are fun to read about. Try to find a 20 round box of these rounds for less than a hundred bucks. I am not a poor man by any standard. But buying enough ammo to get good with these rifles is something that gives pause.

    I understand that it was a business with these ‘great white hunters’ and their rifles were used to make money. I like reading of their experiences. But I’m not going to try and re-enact them.

    1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

      Definitely ammo I would want to be casting for and reloading my own rounds. .405 rifle bullets seem as if they’d be a bit of an oddball.

    2. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

      Same, I’ll leave that for guys like Tom in Oregon. When I was younger and the first Jumanji movie released I liked the rifle the hunter used, Winchester M1901 with brass case 10 guage slugs.

    3. avatar StLPro2A says:

      Quit worrying about the ammo cost. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. You obviously can’t afford the rifle. It works this way. If you can’t afford the rifle, you don’t need to buy the ammo. Move on.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I’m not a poor man because I pay attention to long term costs for a given item. It’s nice not having to worry about debt.

      2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

        but i got the ammo in a lot i traded for. so i toy with the idea of a ruger no1 in .375h&h.

        dysp. gnsmth went on long enough about belted cases and headspacing that i became less enthused with the prospect.

        i’ll never need more than .308 or .444. but i want something which the though of shouldering makes me wince. there is a 10ga ithaca on harmfist… or i could have my unfired red label (old version) converted.

        1. avatar RGP says:

          Well… about that No. 1…. I have a .375 No. 1 and technically it’s great. Accurate, easy to shoot well. Just one wee little problem…. the day I had a 1700 lb bovine that decided to turn me inside out, I was by myself, and the only gun I had with me was my .375 H&H Ruger No. 1. On that occasion, I pretty much instantly decided it’s a good idea to be packing something other than a single shot rifle. Taylor and others had it right when they concluded that bolt actions and double rifles are the way to go when you’re in a mess.

        2. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

          Converted to what?

  2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    I’ve read Roosevelt and Hemingway. Roosevelt’s African Game Trails is on my nightstand. Along with Hunting With Hemingway. A collection of short works. The Green Hills of Africa is in my pickup. Never read Taylor. Have to put him on my short list.

  3. avatar GS650G says:

    Good book to read if you have a dinosaur problem on your property

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      GS650G, I actually do have a dinosaur problem. I was watching my sister’s cat when a T-Rex scarfed him up. Found the .375 H&H a little lite.

      1. avatar RGP says:

        .375 H&H works wonders on coyotes. It works on water buffalo and everything else I’ve used it on too.

        1. avatar Toni Smith says:

          it would darn near skin, gut a fillet and coyote for you wouldn’t it 🙂

        2. avatar RGP says:

          Using Sierra 300 gr Spitzer Boattails (aka big varmint bullet) it made them feel as jiggly as a water balloon. Those were about the most useless bullets ever available for a .375. They’d practically blow up on anything, no matter how small.

  4. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I may have to pick that one up again. I remember it being a good read.

  5. avatar chork says:

    what? no youtube video from a 20-year-old with a ring in his nose whose education consists entirely of Common Core Ebonics, Youtube and Wikipedia? need someone to read the book to me, please. or a brief summary.

  6. avatar SKP5885 says:

    I’m going to post this here since I can’t post it on the “sponsored content” for guns.com. That website is expensive as shit. I don’t mind paying good money for firearms, but paying way more than they are worth is not in my wheelhouse. TTAG, please add some better advertisers like gunbroker or PSA or grab a gun. I will give you kudos for the keltec advertisements. They have some very innovative stuff.

    1. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      Classic Firearms has some good deals.

      1. avatar SKP5885 says:

        Good call! I don’t think I have ever been on that site before. Browsed for a little bit and ended up buying a firearm off of it. Assuming no issues in shipping or transfer, I will make this a regular site to visit. Thanks for the recommendation!

        1. avatar Marc says:

          Just an fyi; figure in another $45-$50 for shipping and tax to the total. Guns are a little pricier than they first appear.

    2. avatar GS650G says:

      Yeah the ammo wasn’t on sale compared to cabellas reg prices

  7. avatar Toni Smith says:

    saw one really interesting double rifle in a magazine here in Australia a while back. not only was it a double rifle but it was bolt action as well with a magazine holding (from memory) 5 rounds for each barrel. It was also an exquisite piece of art with some beautiful engraving and checkering on it as well. The price tag…. from memory it was something that while i would love to have the money for a probably never will.

  8. avatar possum tracks says:

    Another hero of mine

  9. avatar Richard Taylor says:

    I have a copy of this book and have read it several times through. Great book along with Capstick and J.A. HUNTER well worth the money. Rick Taylor

  10. avatar RGP says:

    Ok so somewhere about 3 dozen people bought all that famous stuff and they spent a ton of money doing it. BUT if you want “the” 20th Century African rifle, go buy a Mauser 98 in 9.3×62 or 8×57 or a Winchester Model 70 in .375 H&H… or for a big one, a Mauser in .404 Jeffery.

  11. avatar Texican says:

    A Wild West Guns Marlin 45-70 with Underwood ammo will get the job done as well for a lot less money, weight and recoil than just about any double rifle.

  12. avatar Porridgeweasel says:

    Reminds me of the 470 Nitro Express I’ve shot. Side by side big game rifle of beauty and quality. The owner buys the ammo….at over 100 bucks per box.
    Cool gun but way outta my range.

  13. avatar jimmy james says:

    Not my favorite Taylor book but for $15 if you are an African big game hunting book fan, get it. Too encyclopedic and not enough action for my tastes but my copy is not going anywhere until I go to the great safari in the sky.

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