Friday, May 02, 2008

Guns for dinosaurs.

If you're at all into guns, hunting, dinosaurs, and science fiction, know that L. Sprague De Camp wrote your ultimate short story back in 1956. Entitled "A Gun For Dinosaur", it takes the form of a narrative, told by a professional time-travel hunting guide explaining to a potential client why he won't take him back to the Cretaceous in pursuit of a thunder lizard head to mount on his wall.

You see, he refuses to take clients who aren't large enough to handle the ferocious recoil of a .600 Nitro Express double rifle, due to an unfortunate incident involving an earlier client and a .375 Magnum Winchester Model 70, an incident that he goes on to describe in great detail and which is, actually, the meat of the story. No pun intended.

I read the story in a collection of his shorts, The Best of L. Sprague De Camp, and have re-read it literally dozens of times since. It's fun on so many levels, with an interesting viewpoint character, a good feel for hunting and firearms, and a terrifically detailed look at pre-Robert Bakker dinosaur paleontology, with lumbering tail-dragging lizards and aquatic apatosauruses. I'd often wished he'd reused the mileu for other stories in the years since I first read it.

While browsing RobertaX's bookshelves yesterday, imagine how happy I was to find that Jim Baen apparently had the same idea I did. Rivers of Time, published by Baen in the early '90s, contains "A Gun For Dinosaur" as well as eight more stories of Reginald Rivers, time-travelling Aussie and professional hunter extraordinaire and all up to date with the changes that the intervening 30 years between the writing of the original story and the last decade of the 20th Century have wrought on society, hunting, and paleontology. If you are at all interested in dinosaurs, hunting, shooting, or SF, read it. You will not be disappointed.


GeorgeH said...

I hadn't thought about that story in years.

At least one of the Holland & Holland 700 Nitro doubles is engraved with tyranosaurs instead of the traditional African "Big 5".

og said...

Me, I love the recoil of the big guns. The biggest I've shot personally was the 500 nitro, but I'd love to get my hands on a 12 bore, like one of the Westley-Richards "Explora" doubles.

Ben said...

Wow, I hadn't thought about that story in years! Thanks for word of the newer collection of stories, Tam. That sounds worth checking out.

You know, the first time I experienced "A Gun for Dinosaur" I actually didn't read it, I heard it on NPR's revival of NBC's old radio show "X Minus One." That would have been in the late 70s or maybe 1980. Around the same time you could catch The Hithchiker's Guide and the Star Wars radio dramatization on NPR. I remember being blown away by it at the time-- adventure, time travel, and dinosaurs all in one story. I bet it would be fun on many levels to experience again as an adult.

Bob Hawkins said...

The mere fact that a movie adaptation of "A Gun for Dinosaur" is not on the schedule for this summer, proves that Hollywood is braindead.

The title alone is an elevator pitch!

rick o'shea said...


I used to read a lot of L. Sprague DeCamp, and that book and that story in particular is my favorite.

Thanks, Tam. You just made my day.

Blackwing1 said...

If I recall correctly, David Drake's protagonist in his time-travel/dino-hunting series preferred an M1 Garand, modified to accept 20-round BAR magazines.

The villian in the first story brought some 50-caliber monstrosity along, and was so scared of the recoil from it after the first shot he fired that he wouldn't use it anymore.

"Time Safari", I think it was. Too lazy to look it up.

Anonymous said...

That's what recoilless rifles are for! Dinosaurs!

Time to amend the NFA.

ironpacker said...

If I were hunting T-Rex I think something along the lines of a 105mm self propelled howitzer would be the hot ticket.

Robert Ruark wrote a classic on big game called "Use Enough Gun".
Seven tons of carnivore makes even a .600 nitro seem like a mousegun.

ironpacker said...

og, I've fired a custom rifle chambered for a .50 BMG and the recoil wasn't pleasant but tolerable. The worst part was the muzzle blast and concussion

Firehand said...

'Time Safari' is the book, three or four short stories as I recall.

I didn't care that much for 'Rivers of Time', precisely because of the BS about guns: "The only gun that can physically knock a tyrannosaur down", etc. ad nauseum.

wolfwalker said...

The Drake book is indeed "Time Safari;" the protagonist is Henry Vickers. It appears to be a collection of three novelets, slightly edited to form a single narrative.

A third book that blends time travel and big-game hunting is Mastodonia by Cliff Simak. Far and away the best of the three, IMHO. Short, pretty good characters, fun to read, and ends with a really, REALLY nice potential hook for a sequel ... which, alas, Simak never got around to writing.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

You saw this link, right?
A Gun for Dinosaur

or here if I mess up the HTML:

HTRN said...

A certain forum has been known to have "which caliber for Dinosaur" threads on occasion(although they don't get nearly as out of hand as zombie threads, or God forbid, Bear threads)

Basically, if your talking Tyrannasauroids, they're less heavily built than bull elephants, so getting a heart shot is a straightforward deal - think .458 Winchester.

But where's the fun in that?

Now a .550 RNS Magnum, that's a dino stomper - 700grn bullet@2400ft/sec=9000 ft/lbs. And best of all, it can be built on a "cheap" action(CZ 550 Rigby action), and "cheap" brass(can use reformed 460 Weatherby, about $3.25 each, or actual brass from Qual. cartridge for about $4 each).

I want one for squirrels.

Trebor said...

I'm surprised no one mentioned "A Sound of Thunder."

I was going to plug Drake's "Time Safari" as well, but someone else already mentioned it. It's worth a read.

Weer'd Beard said...

Haven't read it...but as a biologist, I'd think a .300 Win Mag, or even a .300 WSM would be more than enugh to drop a T-Rex.

Maybe I'm wrong.