There is a theme of a bear, on a cliff trail, meeting a hunter with rugged snow capped mountains in the background, that has caught on in the firearms world. Sometimes you’ll see it for the made up brand of Lester’s Ammunition, other times for the real brand of Jarrett Rifles (and they make a fine rifle).
This theme, of a human, a bear and a cliff trail started out back in the 1900s with an artist by the name of Philip Goodwin. Much like the more recognized names of Frederick Remington or Charles Russell who glamorized an idealized version of western life, Philip Goodwin (a friend of Russell’s) found commercial success as an illustrator of outdoor themed publications from the “Call of the Wild” to Teddy Roosevelt’s “African Game Trails” and his art translated well to selling products by Winchester, Marlin, and Remington Firearms. Philip Goodwin also designed the Winchester “running pony” trademark that has endured the test of time.
In a time when radio was the next big thing, and the United States was still sparsely populated by today’s standards, being an avid outdoors-man was relatively cheap recreation for many Americans. Additionally the protein brought back from hunting and fishing was something many Americans going through the Great Depression found necessary for feeding a family. So it became natural that the myths of rugged Americans from fur trappers to cowboys became part of the nostalgia of the time. It made sense that consumers would willingly buy into the idea of the old west as a time of adventure and opportunity, rather than backbreaking labor and heavy risk.
On a somewhat related side note, the movie poster painters of India were replaced by digital artists and industrial printers many people lamented the change of style and how the old ways represented the “glory days” of Indian film advertising. Sometimes a stye of art just defines a generation.
Modern firearm and ammunition manufacturing has largely gone to photograph and Photoshop for their advertising needs. Much like the India movie poster scene.
So throwbacks like Lesters Ammunition and Jarrett Rifles harken back to the days when consumers were harkening back to a mythical western existence during the hardscrabble days of the Great Depression. Essentially it is nostalgia about nostalgia.
As far as I can tell, the original use of Philip Goodwin’s “The Right of Way” to advertise a firearm was for the Remington AutoLoading Rifle. The “Remington AutoLoading Rifle” became a commercial reality in 1905, and was renamed the “Model 8” six years later in 1911. It has the unique distinction of being the first commercially successful semi-automatic rifle sold to the American public. Given that the Remington AutoLoading Rifle was designed by John Moses Browning himself, it isn’t a wonder as to why it was a commercial success.
Now the advertisement does reference the words “The Right of Way” which is the name of the original painting by Philip Goodwin, created only a few years before in 1902. While I wouldn’t recommend a 35 Remington as a Grizzly round, unloading an entire magazine of them from a Remington Model 8 into a Grizzly would either fix the problem or make it much worse, as the Lesters satirical poster shows. However the 35 Remington is a fine sporting round for normal hunting ranges out to a few hundred yards, a 200gr bullet at just over 2,000 fps is perfectly acceptable for cleanly harvesting big game, which is why of all other cartridges Remington offered for the Model 8, only the 35 Remington is still commercially loaded.
To understand why Remington would advertise “Big Enough for the Biggest Game” we need to look at contemporary competitin. In 1905, the 9.3×62 Mauser designed by Otto Bock in Germany was brand new, and the 375 Holland and Holland Magnum still a few years into the future. The 30-03 Government cartridge was definitely more powerful, but I know of no commercial hunting loads for it at that time. The lever action rifles familiar to sportsmen seeking a rapid second shot were mostly of similar power levels save for the 1895 Winchester (also designed by John Moses Browning) which could handle the big 405 Winchester, which was introduced in 1904 for that rifle.
The theme of a bear, cliff trail, and someone with a rifle has taken a few turns. Winchester used art that added a horse, and added dogs but subtracted the “someone with a rifle” and invited that missing element to be you.
The symbolism of a cliff trail is twofold. First, you can only go forward or back, limiting your options. When a bear is in front of you, snarling or grumpy, going forward is definitely a less attractive option. So the cliff trail properly conveys the decisiveness of the moment, options are limited, and violence is imminent. Only the Lesters satire and Winchester tracking dog variations break from the “impending action” to after action that happened to some other poor sucker and impending action should you choose to participate.
The second part of the cliff trail is the idea of ruggedness and remote wilderness. I know of no mountains east of the Mississippi river which are snow-capped year round, so a cliff with snow-capped mountains in the background has to be “out west.” This conveys a sense of wilderness, adventure, and calls back to the rugged individualism that the radio Westerns were imbuing into the public consciousness.
Whether or not hunting bear with dogs is ethical is beyond the realm of what I want to discuss in this blog post, but it should be clear that by the time the Winchester model 70 came on the scene in 1936 American consumers were well acquainted with the bear/cliff/man formula for selling firearms and ammunition. Thankfully the Model 70 advertisement is including the 30-06 cartridge, which is still a fine choice for a rifle that may need to take down a Grizzly.
To sum up this post, you could say that this is a prime example of an inter-generational meme, one that is at least 116 years old. Man, bear, cliff, gun.