Like any serious rifle enthusiast determined to establish a reference "library" of firearms, Jim Carmichel cultivated an instinct about certain guns that he felt would enhance his collection. In his position as shooting editor of Outdoor Life magazine, Carmichel was responsible for dispensing advice about guns, shooting and hunting to millions of readers, having taken over the job in 1971 while in his early thirties from no less a rifle and hunting authority than Jack O'Connor. So when it came to sporting rifles, even the obscure and unusual, Carmichel was always willing to add a worthy example to his collection.
One such rifle was the Ross straight-pull sporter. The Model 10, chambered in .280 Ross, was accompanied by a warning in the form of a handwritten tag that hints of a dark chapter in the story of Ross military and sporting rifles. Carmichel acquired it many years ago from a fellow rifle collector and former NRA president, the late Richard Riley, with whom he shared more than a passion for guns. The friends were equally devoted to the preservation of Second Amendment rights-Carmichel himself served on the NRA's board of directors for a dozen years. So, recently, when Carmichel began to notice that too many rifles had taken up residence in his office, he decided to divest himself of portions of his hard-earned collection. He donated the Ross to a much larger gun library: the National Firearms Museum.
Now in his seventies and retired from the magazine, Carmichel explained, "I had quite a few rifles to start with" before accepting the job at Outdoor Life. "If you were to look at my gun collection now what you'd see is a bunch of old guns." So when he decided to sell off "just a couple of hundred of them," he "cleaned out the corners" and, fortunately for the legions of NRA members who are also rifle cranks, the Ross was among them. It can now be seen along with many other treasures at the NFM in Fairfax, Va., Sundays through Fridays 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The rifle Carmichel donated is a sporting model of the Ross straight-pull design. Few guns could have better served the purpose as a reference piece. The Ross uniquely represents the inventiveness and intrigue that so often accompany stories from its era. It was one of several iterations developed and promoted by a wealthy, flamboyant Scottish engineer named Sir Charles Ross, who, at the turn of the last century, had been endeavoring to market a straight-pull sporting rifle to American shooters when he saw much greater potential for success making and selling a military model to the Canadian government.
Ross developed several revisions, Marks I, II and III, that, from the outset, exhibited numerous parts failures and malfunctions up to and including bolts that, for a variety of reasons including incorrect reassembly, could detach themselves from their receivers at particularly inopportune moments, such as during firing, or seize within them while cycling. The bolt's complex design included helically arranged threads on its body that meshed with corresponding threads in its sleeve to rotate it, and locking lugs that resembled the angled threads of a cannon breech.
Despite success as a target rifle, the military Ross gained such an unenviable reputation as a widow maker in the mean and dirty business of combat between Canadians and Germans fighting in the trenches of Europe during World War I that its inventor lost considerable national respect. He left Canada, little reputation remaining, for the relative anonymity of America, where he died in 1942.
The donated Ross exhibits remarkable care in its manufacture and blueing. Unfortunately, any romanticism that shouldering it conjures up is quickly lost after reading its accompanying tag. As Carmichel said, "It tells the story of the rifle pretty well." The tag reads:
"Very Dangerous. Given to me by Ross in 1915 - fired by my guide Pete Nordquist at a Grizzly in the Teton Range - the bolt shot out backwards and tore the side of his face away from the mouth to the ear - the bolt was picked up 20 yards back. I reported this and all later models had different bolt action - as several other people had same accident. .280 Ross Rifle N. Whitehouse
Carmichel surmised, "The owner must have been an important person to have been ‘given' a rifle by the Ross company." Indeed, that possibility exists, but subsequent Internet research by NFM Senior Curator Doug Wicklund, while confirming a listing for Pete Nordquist as a hunting guide headquartered in Wyoming prior to the accident's date, shed no further light on the identity of the rifle's owner who penned the note.
Those who wish to donate interesting firearms to the NRA and/or the National Firearms Museum can find answers to commonly asked questions about such donations at www.nraplannedgiving.org. In addition, any member who believes he or she has a unique firearm that the museum staff should evaluate can contact the NRA Office of Advancement at (877) NRA-GIVE.