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  • October 30, 2006

    Just for Kicks

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    This little film clip (created by the folks at, a web site out of South Africa) is making its way around cyberspace, and it shows a shooter firing a .577 Tyrannosaur, a cartridge that was designed in 1993 at the request of two African PHs who wanted something really convincing in the way of backup rifles. The T-Rex, as it’s affectionately known by those who haven’t shot it, is loaded by A-Square, and sends a 750-grain bullet on its way at 2,400 fps, with 10,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. When fired in a 13-pound rifle, this produces 158 foot-pounds of recoil—nearly three times that of a .458.

    If this is not enough for you, may I recommend the .700 Holland & Holland? This creation shoots a 1,000-grain bullet at 2,000 fps for 8,900 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The only one building rifles for this beast is H&H, and they weigh 19 pounds. Oh, and the price is $200,000.

    Too much for your pocketbook? There is always the .460 Weatherby and the .475 A&M magnum. They don’t carry nearly the cachet of the .700, but they are amusing nonetheless. In the 1960s, I saw a very expensive .475 A&M magnum split its stock on the very first shot. It was cloven down the middle as if by an axe.

  • October 27, 2006

    A Shovelful of Salt, Part III

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Terry Weiland, who writes about guns for Gray’s Sporting Journal, has come out with a new book called Dangerous-Game Rifles, which is published by Countrysport Press, and is full of excellent information on rifles that will bankrupt you and scramble your brains both.

    However, in his otherwise exemplary chapter on expanding bullets, there is the following:
    “…In August, 2005—twelve years [after its introduction]—Winchester finally admitted that the Fail-Safe [bullet] was a failure and announced its replacement, the “Supreme XP-3...” Now that the Fail-Safe is on the way out the company is no longer reluctant to condemn both its accuracy and terminal performance.”

    This is so wildly out of sync with what I know that I called Glen Weeks, who is in charge of Winchester rifle ammo development and read him the above quote.

    “The only part that’s true,” he said, “is that we’ve stopped making Fail-Safes.”

    The Fail-Safe is a complicated bullet that was difficult to manufacture and expensive to sell. Not enough people were buying Fail-Safe ammo, so it was dropped. Fail-Safes were not the most accurate bullets ever, but they were plenty accurate enough, and their performance on game, from my experience, was exemplary. I’ve used them in .270, .30, and .338, both here and in Africa, and regard them as the top of the heap for a controlled-expanding bullet. In fact, I just spent a bunch of my own money on six boxes of .270 WSM Fail-Safe loads which I found in a Bass Pro Shop near Denver.

    My gun-writing colleague Ross Seyfried flatly says that the Fail-Safe is the best hunting bullet around. If any of you have Fail-Safe experiences, I would appreciate hearing of them.

  • October 25, 2006

    Get Trigger Happy: Meet Remington’s X-Mark Pro

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    The Remington 700 trigger is one of the most maligned and abused pieces of machinery created by the hand of man. It is actually a brilliant design, but it fell afoul of clods with small screwdrivers, no mechanical ability, and no sense. And lawyers. Years ago, Remington included directions for adjusting the Model 700 trigger with every rifle, but enough people botched the job that the company was forced to set the triggers with so much weight of pull and so much sear engagement that an accidental discharge was impossible. And so, of course, you couldn’t control the damn trigger.

    It was an unhappy situation, especially with outfits like Tikka and Sako and Savage selling guns with superb triggers. So Remington has done a redesign, taking full advantage of machinery that was not in existence when the Model 700 trigger was born, and they have come up with a doozer, the X-Mark Pro.

    Although this trigger looks the same (superficially), it is a complete redesign. Because all its little parts can be finished so smoothly, the factory can adjust it for up to 45 percent less weight-of-pull than the 700 trigger and still keep it safe. The safety blocks both the sear and the trigger, and if it’s still too heavy for you it can be adjusted lighter by any authorized Remington repair center. As it comes from the factory, The X-Mark Pro has a dead-clean release. No creep at all, and manageable weights. I tried about a dozen rifles with the new trigger, and liked every one.

    Remington has also addressed the other weakness of the 700 mechanism--its susceptibility to rust. The X-Mark Pro is coated with a Teflon/electroless nickel finish (similar to NP-3, if you must ask) that is pretty much impervious to rust. And, by crackey, you can retrofit the X-Mark Pro. It will function in any Model 700 or Model Seven rifle.

    Terrorists lust for our blood. Fools are running our country. Hillary looms on the horizon. But take heart--this is truly good news.

  • October 23, 2006

    Ammo Shortage: Panic Now! Beat the Rush!

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In case you haven’t noticed, the price of ammunition has been rising slowly, and it is not about to stop. Not by a durn sight. The reason is that the prices of the metals that go into almost all ammo—lead, copper, and zinc—have risen exponentially. Here are some examples:

    In 45 days this year, the price of lead went up 31 percent.

    In one day this year, the price of copper went up 7 percent.

    The prices of lead, zinc, and copper have gone up 300 percent in the last three years.

    There are a couple of reasons for this: China and India are now manufacturing stuff that requires the three metals, and they want their share. And, as with oil refineries, there are only so many smelters that can transform ore into metal.

    So if you think that ammo and components are expensive now (actually, they aren’t), YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET!  And if that isn’t depressing enough, consider this: It seems highly likely that the Democrats will regain control of Congress in November, and it is also probable that Hillary will run for President. And when that happens, you will see a wave of panic-buying of firearms and ammunition that will beggar the imagination.

    And so: Beat the rush and begin hoarding now. And remember that you read it here first.

    (On a somewhat brighter note: A young West Virginia lady named Hannah whom I know went to see the moronic movie Open Season. Her reaction to it was that if bears were as dumb as the one in the cartoon, she wanted to go bear hunting.)

  • October 19, 2006

    The Second Life of Old Betsy No. 1

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    It’s very possible that between 1950, when it was made by Mashburn Arms Co., and 1972, when its owner Warren Page resigned as Shooting Editor of Field & Stream, that the 7mm Mashburn Magnum called Old Betsy No. I was the most famous big-game rifle in America. Of all the guns Page owned, this was his favorite, and with it he took 475 animals, all over the world, on heaven knows how many hunts.

    Betsy_swisscheeseOld Betsy was, in some ways, a radical rifle. For one thing, she weighed only 8 pounds with scope, sling, and three rounds of ammo aboard. Page was among the first gun writers to recognize that 10-pound guns were not the thing to carry up mountains, and to this end, Art Mashburn drilled, routed, and hollowed out every last bit of wood and metal that Old Betsy owned. The stock is hollow, and the sight rib, and the magazine has been swiss-cheesed, and even the bolt knob has been scooped out (see photo--click to enlarge). The barrel was 22 inches long, not 24, and even the sling was a special lightweight model.

    Page died in 1977, and Old Betsy was auctioned off. It vanished from view until 2004, when I got an e-mail from her third owner, a Page fan, gun nut, and engineer who wished to remain anonymous, and shall be. His e-mail was a request for information on Page, and later, via snail mail, came numerous photos of Old Betsy.

    She was scarcely recognizable as the worn, battered rifle I had groped and fondled in 1972. Her new owner was, as people say, clever with his hands, and had transformed her into a thing of beauty. He steamed out all the dents and dings and refinished the stock. He replaced the buttpad, which had cracked, and removed the whiteline spacers at the fore-end tip and grip. He filed the chips from the grip cap, and made a brand-new set of screws for the scope rings. Her old Kollmorgen 4X scope was replaced by a new 6X Leupold.


    Old Betsy actually looked better than when she was new, and I had to look very hard at the photos to recognize the rifle I had read so much about. Her bore, her owner says, is still bright and in fine condition, and she is still as accurate as she ever was.

    I wish I had gotten the chance to buy Old Betsy, but I’m glad she’s where she is, and has an owner who shows her love and affection. May all our treasured guns have similar fates when we are no longer here to shoot them.

  • October 16, 2006

    Some Last Words of Advice from Chairman Jeff

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In a previous blog, I mentioned a book by the late Jeff Cooper called “Custom Rifles," which I first read in 1958 when I was 15 years old. At the end there’s a chapter titled “Field Marksmanship” and part of it bears repeating here. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now I do. A lot.

    “One of the most tiresome platitudes heard when guns and hunting are discussed is “I’m no target shot, but I can always deliver on game.” This is so common, so irritating, and so silly that this book will have accomplished its purpose if it can contribute to the elimination of such remarks.

    “There’s only one difference between a good target shot and a good field shot. The field shot is a little quicker. Hitting game well is so much harder than hitting a target that I am absolutely amazed that anyone could have the gall to suggest that while he can perform the difficult, he can’t deliver when the task is easy….A game shot but not a target shot? Not even in a joke.

    “I had occasion, during WWII, to associate closely with a real field shot. His profession was guide and outfitter in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, but he signed up with the Marines when war broke out and he came to my attention as a sergeant-instructor on a rifle range where I happened to be in charge. The M-1 is not a precision arm, but Sergeant Sandona could make it talk! His scores were not always the best in the detachment, although they were regularly up near the top, but he would always be finished with his string before the rest of the line was half through. He not only shot excellent target groups, but he shot them fast. When a man tells me he is a good “game shot,” this is what I think he means.”

    Say amen.

  • October 13, 2006

    A Shovelful of Salt, Part II: Trigger Weight and Gun Safety

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A friend of mine shoots a Weatherby Vanguard in informal competition and asked an acquaintance who is a fine rifle and pistol shot to try it out.

    “This rifle has a disgusting trigger,” said the marksman. ”It’s 3 pounds, which is a good weight, but it’s creepy. You pull and pull but nothing happens. Have a gunsmith get rid of the creep and take it down to 2 pounds.”

    The creep part of this was good advice. A creepy trigger is as useful as a poopie-flavored lollipop. But a 2-pound trigger is a proposition for experts only. In the hands of a less-than-expert shooter, it is an invitation to an accidental discharge.

    Moreover, every factory trigger I can think of is incapable of holding the sear safely when diddled down to 2 pounds. (The sole exception is the Savage Accu-Trigger.) You can get them to that weight, but eventually the rifle will go off accidentally. If you’re lucky, you’ll merely scare yourself to death. If you’re unlucky, you’ll kill someone.

    If you must have a 2-pound trigger, get one that’s designed to operate at that weight. There’s no shortage of them. Then, buy lots and lots of ammunition and learn how to use it.

  • October 10, 2006

    A Shovelful of Salt

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    This past Saturday, I was discussing the architectural philosophies of Sir Christopher Wren versus I.M. Pei around the campfire when a friend of mine joined the conversation. He had, it seemed, taken my advice and bought a .375 H&H from a gunmaker who has my highest regard. This rifle was to go to Alaska to hunt deer in brown bear country, where the bears often come at the sound of a gunshot to argue about who should eat the deer.

    The gunmaker had recommended that my friend use Federal Premium Vital-Shok ammo loaded with 260-grain Nosler Accubond bullets. When I heard this, I nearly urped up my quiche. I asked my friend the reasons, and he said the gunmaker told him that high velocity bullets like the 260-grain .375 carry more shock to the bear than heavier, slower ones.

    Let us consider the following:
    1: The 260-grain Nosler Accubond is a fast-expanding bullet that’s meant to be used on thin-skinned game, not on 1,000-pound-plus brown bears.

    2: There is no such thing as shock, on any animal, with any gun. If you want to stop a massive animal like a brown bear you do it by destroying vital organs and, hopefully, by breaking the shoulder. And the .375 bullet you use for this is any tough 300-grain slug such as the Nosler Partition, Swift A-Frame, or Barnes XXX.

    The moral to all of this is that when you get advice, you always ask “How do you know?” Very often, it turns out that the wisdom is based on the flimsiest of assumptions. I can tell you about rifles, but my opinions on handguns and shotguns are of the most rudimentary kind because there is a ton to know and I don’t know it.

    Advice should not be taken with a grain of salt. A shovelful is more like it.

  • October 9, 2006

    Breaking Up is Hard to Do (With apologies to Neil Sedaka. Remember Neil Sadaka?)

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    One of the great truths about investing in stocks is that you should never get attached to one of them, because the sucker can lose all its value and cost you a bundle. (“Packard? Great car. So they’re in a little trouble. My dad gave me his stock, and I think I’ll hang on.”)

    Same with guns. Once in a while you get one that is highly desirable, and you’ve invested a lot in it, financially or emotionally, and the thing just won’t work right. Nine times out of ten no amount of work or alteration will fix it. It's snakebit. There is only one thing to do: Bail out. Send it on down the road.

    About a year ago I sold a gorgeous little 7x57 Mannlicher carbine that would not group much better than 2 inches, and was generally an erratic shooter, given to throwing shots. I shot it and shot it and could not cure it. So for once, I did the smart thing--I sold it. Now, I could have kept it just to admire, or I could have used it as a 100-yard deer rifle, for which it was plenty accurate enough, but I like accurate rifles, and if they ain’t, they go.

    And when you sell a flawed rifle, make it plain to the dealer or the friend or whoever is buying it just what is wrong. Because if you don’t tell them, then you really have a problem. Play it straight, or regret it.

  • October 4, 2006

    Open Season: My 90 Minutes in Cinema Purgatory

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In 1973, I was in Beverly Hills with an afternoon to kill, so I went to see Billy Jack, starring a non-actor named Tom Laughlin. It was so surpassingly awful that I decided to see if I could sit through the whole thing just as a test of willpower. I made it, and until yesterday it had been the worst film I'd ever seen.

    Until yesterday, because yesterday the operators of this blog forced me to go and watch Open Season. This is an animated (in the sense that it uses cartoon figures; there is nothing else animated about it) Sony Pictures movie in which a tame grizzly bear goes back to the wild, makes lots of new animal friends, and routs a mob of hunters. Because it is anti-hunting, some people have their bowels in an uproar over the thing. They needn’t worry.

    I went to see it just after noon on a weekday so that I would not have to sit in a theater full of kids. I had never been in a multiplex before, and in theater 14 (out of 15), I found myself in the company of a meth freak, an out of work phrenologist, and two muggers who were killing time until dark. There was also a young dad and his daughter, whom I would guess to be about 6.

    Now this is a kids’ movie, so I am hardly the one to decide whether it’s funny or not, so I listened to the little girl. If she laughed, I would assume that something was funny. She laughed once in the course of the entire movie. Otherwise the theater was quiet as a tomb. All you could hear, aside from the din on the screen, was the rustling of sleeves as people looked at their watches every five minutes.

    It’s simply amazing what you can do with lack of talent. This thing was devoid of wit, charm, originality, and emotional content of any kind. Inevitably, you have to compare Open Season with Bambi, which was a true work of genius, whatever you may think of it, done by the Disney Studios at its creative peak. It moved people, and still does.

    Open Season moved me—into the men’s room, where I nearly lost my lunch when I thought about the $10.50 I had spent to see it.

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