In a jam in the jungle (or elswhere)? Grab that howdah

 Howdah. No that’s not a greeting, but a noun. It’s an object, to be precise.

Do you know what it is? I’ll bet you’ve seen one, probably multiple times – maybe in real life, maybe just in the movies.

The howdah is the basket, many times covered with a canopy, strapped onto the back of a beast of burden, usually a camel or elephant.

To bring this discussion around to firearms we will have to put ourselves on the back of the pachyderm.

It’s the 19th century in the Indian jungle and you have spent days looking for the elusive striped cat, in fact the biggest of all cats. Your rich, fat uncle has brought you along on this hunt and you are loving every minute despite the heat, humidity and insects.

Of course, your chances of any action are slim since you are really just an observer of his hunting exploits. The game is abundant and many trophies have been bagged, but they have all been herbivores – you know, the usual stuff – water buffalo and assorted deer species.

As usual, hunting another predator proves to be much harder. There are thousands and thousands of Panthera tigris available in this time period but predators are constantly on the alert, always waiting for another, possibly larger or meaner, beast to come along and take them out to reduce competition for prey in the area or just out of pure aggression.

This day is exciting, though, as the locals have reported a man-eater on the prowl.

It’s an absolute fact that some individual tigers have killed hundreds of people, so it is likely that this giant cat has been at it for a while and the natives would be more than just happy to see the beast brought down.

Suddenly, the brush ahead erupts in boiling activity. Native brush-beaters and trackers stream in every direction as an Indian elephant rushes out with a tiger on its back!

This Dumbo, a few minutes ago, carried your uncle and the cat looks every bit as big, no, definitely larger! As time slows down due to the stress, you worry about your out-of-shape uncle as there hasn’t been a gunshot.

Simultaneously, as you look right in the beast’s eyes, you realize, with no doubt whatsoever, that  he has decided that you will make a nice target of opportunity due to your equal elevation.

With no time to waste, you reach across yourself with your right hand to the wooden grip carried in a combination scabbard/holster that is probably the most effective close-range weapon ever invented: the Howdah pistol.

HOWDAHS, pictured from top to bottom, are: Mossberg 20 Gauge, Rangemaster Howda; Mossberg 590 Shockwave 12 Gauge; Savage/Stevens Side-by-Side 12 Gauge, similar to but much larger and heavier than an original Howdah; and Mossberg 12 Gauge Rangemaster Howda.

Basically a hand-held, side-by-side double-barrel shotgun, it has always been intended to be used as a sidearm, and built as one from the ground up, usually in 20 gauge or thereabouts.

These days, there is even a current black powder version available. Of course, one could be created from a standard modern side-by-side or over/under shotgun and have the decided advantage and convenience of using fixed ammunition, but that would require a $200 tax and months of waiting for the OK from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

We’ll get to that below.

If you can legally possess/own a firearm, and are 21 or over, there is one way to get a modern Howdah and it’s an interesting story.

Some 20 to 25 years ago the BATFE ruled that pistol grip-only shotguns were not legal for 18- to 20-year-olds to purchase. The reasoning was that the firearm was not a shotgun, as the definition of a shotgun is that it be “designed to be fired from the shoulder.”

Obviously, the PGO “shotgun” had no provisions for shoulder firing. It was/is perfectly legal to obtain a shotgun and install a pistol grip on it, since that original shotgun had a stock and was legally a shotgun as manufactured. Adding the pistol grip later does not change the status of its manufactured state.

In 2010 Len Savage, of Shockwave Technologies, figured that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and did some genius reasoning. Since the PGO “shotgun” is not a shotgun, barrel-length requirements don’t apply to it.

You see, for many decades a rifle had to have a 16-inch barrel and a shotgun had to have an 18-inch barrel. Why the discrepancy? I have no idea, whatsoever!

They both have to be 26 inches in over-all-length. Why the same? I have no idea, whatsoever!

Both also were designed to be fired from the shoulder. Because of these legal definitions, and the ruling that PGO “shotguns” are not shotguns, the barrel length is completely irrelevant.

The overall length still has to be 26 inches or the firearms would then be a smooth-bore pistol which would require all of the paperwork and time – but only a $5 fee, since it would be classified as an “any other weapon.”

Then, since this is a pistol, it could never have a shoulder stock attached, as that would make it a short-barreled (sawed off) Shotgun and require all of the paperwork and $200 fee.

Confused yet? Maybe you had better read all of that again, and again, and again…

Boiled down and simplified: If you buy a pistol grip-only “shotgun” that was manufactured that way, the barrel length is not restricted at all – but, the over-all length has to be 26 inches or longer.

I built one of these guns for myself a few years ago (the bottom one in the photo above) and immediately called it a Howda ( I dropped the last “h” to make it mine, and I like it better “Americanized”).

It is one handy, intimidating weapon.

The recoil is not bad at all, as the Shockwave pistol grip design doesn’t recoil into your hand like a standard pistol grip does (which hurts). The gun just recoils back and your hands and arms go with it.

I would venture to say that just about anyone could shoot it comfortably. Hitting something with it is a different issue, as the shot doesn’t spread extremely fast (contrary to what Cousin Billy tells you), yet it doesn’t hold a good pattern for any kind of serious distance, and distance requires aiming.

Firearms in this category would benefit from a laser but I don’t want mine cluttered up as it rolls around (with an empty chamber) on the floorboards.

I did build one in 20 gauge as well (at the top in photo) but, to be honest, the 12 gauge is easy to handle and pretty much makes the 20 irrelevant.

Just recently, Remington and Mossberg have brought out factory versions of this concept. In honor of the originator, Mossberg calls theirs the 590 Shockwave, which is fitting, I think. These firearms are completely legal, both at the federal level and in the state of  Oregon.

Some states may have a different definition of a “shotgun” and one of these might not be legal there, so if you decide to get one you might keep it in Orygun.

Also, don’t ever attach a buttstock to it!

So how did your tiger encounter work out? You’re reading this, aren’t you?

Good thing you had that Howdah – in your Howdah.

How about a Howdah in your Honda?