In the late 1940’s two men were known for the rifle barrels they turned out. P.O. Ackley in Trinidad, Colorado, and John Buhmiller in Eureka, Montana. I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned rifles with barrels made by both men – and still have the Buhmiller 257.
If you look John Buhmiller up on the internet, you will find him associated with Kalispell – but he moved there from Eureka in 1949. I’ve kind of researched Buhmiller following a conversation with Laird Beyers, where he sold me his cherished 257 Roberts. Laird was losing the fight with Leukemia, and trying to leave as much cash for his widow as he could. His brother-in-law wanted the rifle, and told Laird that there was no point in buying it, that his sister would give it to him. My dying friend got a message to me – “Come by for a last visit, and bring $250.” I did – in a visit that I enjoyed, in which I unknowingly foiled the brother-in-law, chatted with an old friend, and left with his rifle. The rifle with the Buhmiller barrel.
John Buhmiller made barrels. He didn’t even thread them for an action or chamber them. His rifling pattern is distinct – I showed the rifle to John Bull at TSJC, and his response (his time was in Kenya) was “I didn’t know he made barrels this small. That square rifling is definitely John’s.” After Kalispell, John Buhmiller had landed in Africa, hunting elephants in a land of large calibers. Before Africa, his barrels were popular at the extremes – bench rest rifles and varmint shooters. Mine is one of over 40,000 barrels he made, and most were small calibers from Eureka and Kalispell. He didn’t do the gunsmithing for the rifle – the few rifles Buhmiller made personally are kind of famous for being functional rather than pretty.
Buhmiller’s writings are available in Ackley’s Volume 1 – though I once owned an Ackley barrel, and put it on a Steyr action, I don’t have a copy of Ackley’s writings.
These comments are excerpts from Buhmiller’s “African Notes No. 3”, and provide a little understanding of the man’s retirement line in wildlife control hunting.
Elephants Are Varmints
When I took-off last March for Nairobi, on my third trip to the Dark Continent, it was mainly for the purpose of shooting varmints in a newly organized farming area, where I had done about three months shooting two years previously. My first shooting there was in an almost virginal territory. Buffaloes, rhinos, elephants, and lesser game were there in abundance.
Varmints were fairly well controlled at that time by an electric fence that surrounded the cultivated fields. As time passed, this fence lost its effectiveness. Baboons and elephants became great pests. The baboon is very difficult to deal with, but all his foraging is done by daylight, and watchmen can at least partially cope with him.
The elephant comes by night, when it is nearly impossible to shoot effectively. He soon becomes accustomed to all the noises, spotlighting, and ineffective shots fired for his benefit, and by daylight may be ten or more miles away and still going. Appeals to the game department usually produce no results.
On my arrival there, two years ago, I was assigned native guides who knew about as much English as I knew of their language – practically nil. But we got along pretty well, and in no time were hunting successfully. At this time, elephants were seldom molested unless they were too near the crops, when a large herd could easily be forced through the electric fence by crowding from behind. Meat was shot for the farm laborers, who numbered well toward one hundred, some with families.
Arriving this last April, I found things vastly changed. The electric fence had become ineffective and had been allowed to go to pieces. The majority of the game animals had been shot-up to the extent that they had become exceedingly wary. One of the main crops being maize, corn to us, from the time the ears are formed until ripe, is a very luscious tidbit for old Tembo and the trouble is on, for a period of some two to three months. The elephants just can’t seem to pass-up a field of nice juicy corn.
We would take-off at daylight, looking for fresh signs, and then follow the tracks until overtaken or it is time to turn back, at times finding ourselves ten or fifteen miles from home. Elephant hunting is well known to be very hard work, on account of the necessity for traveling on foot and the fact that elephants are almost continually moving.
There are still many rhinos in this area, since not many of them have been shot. Some of us thought that the sight of an occasional living rhino adds much to the landscape, and as they stay mostly in the deep forest they do little if any harm, other than scaring the daylights out of the native guides now and then, when happening onto them unexpectedly.
The buffaloes there are now very wild, staying in the heaviest cover during the day and seldom coming out except at night. Our elephant trails frequently took us through heavy brush where at times buffaloes would spook from very short range, crashing through the brush, and it was seldom that they could be seen or offered us a shot.
Snakes are an ever-present possibility, but not many are seen, since the grass is very heavy most everywhere. Snakebite is rare. Most snakes seem to be interested only in getting away, except the adder, which just lies still, if stepped on, might bite through a leather shoe, as he has very long fangs. Some of the world’s most dangerous snakes are found in Africa, and it is fortunate that they don’t seem to be looking for trouble.
Insects? Lots of ticks, ants everywhere; during rainy season, plenty of mosquitoes (which carry malaria), tsetse flies, which are very annoying, harmless to man in most areas, but kill cattle and horses. Houseflies are not too bad.”
It was easier to research gunsmiths and barrel makers when I was close to the collection at Freudenthal Library (Trinidad State Junior College).
An article in Gun Digest 2000, by Bob Bell, titled Buhmiller’s Big Boomer covers Buhmiller’s African hunting in the mid-fifties – where he hunted elephants that were destroying crops – and he had “eight solitary hunts over there from 1955 to 1964. He took an assortment of rifles that he had built himself.” I suspect it was in the sixties when Leonard Bull met him – Leonard was 15 years older than I, and competed in the Olympics in 1964, 1968, and 1972 – probably the best shot from prone I have ever encountered, and a great gunsmith. John Buhmiller took 165 elephants, 53 Cape Buffalo, 17 rhinos and one hippo in his hunts. Born in 1893, John Buhmiller was 62 when he started hunting African game without safaris or professional hunters – just walking the forests.