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  • February 28, 2006

    Are good gun writers a dying breed?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    One of the most consistent threads of conversation I pick up in my Internet wanderings is that gun magazines are not what they used to be. The writers, it’s claimed, are a bunch of pissants compared to the giants of yesterday, and the magazines themselves are nothing but advertisements supported by whoring from the writers.

    In fact, a fellow gun writer sat down next to me at the SHOT Show and gave me a grilling on this very subject. Here’s what I told him:

    Old-time gun writers were a lot more colorful. Many of them had military experience, and this lent a certain cachet to their names: Colonels Townsend Whelen and Charles Askins, Major George C. Nonte, Captain Phil Sharpe. Pete Brown and Warren Page were Navy officers. Today, the only writer with any rank is Colonel Craig Boddington.

    Today, it seems, gunwriters start very young—in their 20s and early 30s. I started in my 30s, and although I thought I knew it all, I did not know ca-ca. The time to start is in your 40s when you’ve had time to get some experience, and found out you can’t make a living doing anything else.

    Old gun writers were far more distinctive. If you look at the copy the current guys turn out, you can’t tell one from another. I could have my incisor teeth pulled without anesthesia after reading most of it. People like Elmer Keith and Askins were great stylists—even when they were talking b.s. they were always readable.

    As for magazine honesty, my hero, Jack O'Connor, dealt with the question over 30 years ago, telling the terrifying tale of the gun writer who did an honest review of a new firearm in Shooting & Blasting. He then had the facts of life pointed out to him by the editor-in-chief, who explained that the maker of the new gun was a major advertiser. "Do you want to tell the truth," he asked, "or do you want to keep your job?"

    What do you think? Are the new gunwriters a collection of pissant punks? Are gun magazines as truthful as the government (which is to say not at all)? Your opinion is solicited.

  • February 27, 2006

    Have We Hit The Wall?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A note of warning to all you bloggers and bloggerettes: What follows  is a subject of such luminous, transcendent importance that you are going to see it in different form in the pages of Field & Stream at some future date. If this annoys you, complain to someone who cares. I don’t.

    The most illuminating single comment at the 2006 SHOT Show (aside from “Wow, have you seen the booth babe two aisles up?”) was made by my friend and colleague Dick Metcalf, a man who operates at the very highest intellectual level. (He has a PhD from Yale, and taught at Cornell, for God’s sake. How he tolerates the gun biz is beyond me.) We were sitting next to each other at a press conference at the Leica booth, viewing the latest in multi-thousand-dollar teutonic optical marvels when he said:

    “We’ve gotten to the point where you can buy an over-the-counter gun that’s beyond the ability of even a good shot to get everything out of it.”

    Or words to that effect. And he’s right. There were probably a dozen exhibitors in that hall who make rifles that will shoot down to around a half an inch or better, starting with the lowest-priced (Savage) and progressing up to Nesika, Ed Brown Precision, Les Baer, New Ultra Light Arms, Weatherby, and on, and on.

    Benchrest competitors, who can put five bullets through one hole as a matter of course, will tell you that no one has an edge in equipment in any given match—the winner is determined by skill. Who reads the wind the best? Whose nerves are strongest? Who can crank five shots downrange before conditions change even slightly?

    It will be very interesting to see if we develop a new breed of shooters to go with the new rifles. From what I’ve witnessed, we have a way to go in that department, but as Orphan Annie says, “There’s always tomowwow.”

  • February 24, 2006

    The New Bushnell Yardage Pro: A laser rangefinding riflescope for the masses?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    About 10 years ago, Swarovski Optik brought forth upon this continent a new riflescope, equipped with a laser rangefinder, weighing almost as much as a rifle, and costing as much as a trip to Africa. But so appealing was the idea that the scopes actually sold. And those of us who were paying attention knew that it would be only a matter of time until someone developed a rangefinding scope that was light, simple to use, and affordable.

    And now, by crackey, that time is here. At the 2006 SHOT Show, Bushnell announced its Yardage Pro 4X-12X riflescope, which will tell you not only how far off the animal is, but allow you to adjust the reticle for the yardage and hit the damned thing. The Yardage Pro is about the size of a 4X-12X by 42 riflescope, weighs only 25 ounces, and mounts pretty low on Weaver-type mounts. (Bushnell is working on getting it even lower.) It ranges from 30 yards to 800 yards, and comes equipped with 6 detachable elevation knobs, five calibrated to common trajectory profiles, and one left blank for you to fill in.

    In use it works like this: Pick the knob that matches the trajectory of your cartridge and screw it on the scope. Next, sight the rifle in at 100 yards. When it comes time to shoot something, you first range it with the laser and crank the elevation knob for that distance. Then hold dead on, pull the trigger, and watch whatever it is you’re shooting at fall down. If you don’t want to take the time (about 5 seconds) to do all this, there is a series of mil dots on the crosshairs for Kentucky windage and elevation.

    Now bear in mind I haven’t used the Yardage Pro, but I will, and I will let you know how it does. These are hard times to be an animal, believe me.

  • February 23, 2006

    The .338 Federal: A rare moment of sanity, cartridge-wise

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Is it possible? A new cartridge that is not short and fat and that will not snap your cervical vertebrae Federal338cartridges_4 when you pull the trigger? Apparently so. Federal, at the 2006 SHOT Show, announced the .338 Federal (well, what the hell else would they call it, the .338 Remington?), which is a legitimized version of the .338/08 wildcat, which has been around for years.

    The .338 Federal fires a 210-grain bullet at 2600 fps, and 180- and 185-grain bullets at 150 to 200 fps faster. Along with this information comes the apparently mandatory claims that the new round is superior to the .30/06, the 7mm Remington Magnum, the .338 Winchester Magnum, and for all I know, the .375 Eargessplitten Loundenboomer.

    Give me a break! If you want to shoot 180-grain bullets, get a .30/06. The real forte of the .338 Federal is its ability to shoot 210-grain slugs at a respectable velocity without anywhere near the recoil of bigger .33 cartridges. In this respect it’s very similar to the .325 WSM. Of all the shooters I know who used the .338/08 when it was a wildcat, all of them used the 210-grain bullet, and swore by it.

    At the moment, the only rifle chambered for this round is Sako’s new Model 85 bolt-action, which I have handled, not shot. The one I groped was a fine piece of machinery, although it weighed almost as much as Sen. Hillary Clinton’s leg.  (NB: I have never hefted Senator Clinton’s leg, and can only guess at its weight, but I think I’m on safe ground here.)

    I trust that in the fullness of time, hunters will recognize what a dandy cartridge this is, and it will proliferate into other makes of rifles. I mean, I love the .338 and the .338 RUM, and the .340 Weatherby, but sometimes all that recoil gets old.

  • February 22, 2006

    A New Old Scope: Is Redfield making a comeback?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    If you can remember when rock n’ roll was young, you can remember that Redfield was one of our top domestic riflescopes—maybe the best. Redfields had three knurled rings on their optical-lens bells, and you saw them and smiled. But in the 1970s Redfield hit the skids. It went though a series of ownerships, and its quality and reputation declined steadily, to the point where today the brand is forgotten and discredited.

    But this is not the end for Redfield. Three years ago the Redfield name—there was little else left—was purchased by Meade Instruments, a U.S. maker of high-end optical products. Last year at the SHOW Show, a new line of Redfield scopes was announced, but failed to materialize.

    This year, Meade had three or four toolroom scopes to look at, and they are highly interesting instruments. The full Redfield line will feature 6 models—three with 1-inch tubes and three with 30mm tubes. The 1-inchers come in 5X-25X (No, that is not a misprint—all six Redfields feature a 3-cam zooming system and a 5X magnification range.), 3X-15X, and 3X-15X with a 52mm objective. The 30mm scopes are made in 6X-30X, 4X-20X, and 4X-20X with a 56mm objective.

    They are simply loaded with wonderful features, including true one-piece tubes from stem to stern, highly advanced glass, and side-focus parallax adjustment (“dial a dog,” as the phrase goes).

    These are not cheap scopes. Prices range from $700 to $900. But, if Redfield can actually get them into production, free of bugs and defects, they should be a hit. Redfield was once a great name. Maybe it will be again.

  • February 16, 2006

    The Gun Nut Survey: A highly biased, unofficial poll of 2,000 readers on all things shooting

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In the 12 days it was out there, we got over 2,000 responses to our Gun Nut Survey. Some of the results were flat startling. We learned that Remington rules the roost as far as popularity goes, that the highest-ranked handgun was designed before the First World War, and that our No. 1 big-game and deer cartridge is even older. But this nod to tradition aside, we found that most of you do not yearn for the good old days. You think modern guns are better, and you are perfectly happy to break with tradition if it results in a better firearm. We also learned that firearms hunters won’t cross certain technological barriers if it means violating their code of ethics.

    The best part of the survey may be your comments. We’ve published as many of them as we could.

  • February 16, 2006

    Some Thoughts on Chairman Jeff

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Before we get to the subject of this entry, I have to tell you that I don’t care for the word “blog.” It sounds vaguely disgusting, as in: “The X-rays show that you have a large blog in your mastoid sinus cavity, and it has to come out.” Or: “I shouldn’t have had the refried beans last night. I’ve got a terrible case of blog butt this morning.” If I had told my old mom that someday I would be writing for something called a blog, she probably would have burst into tears.

    But enough of that. I’m told that one of the purposes of blogs is to direct readers to other sources of information. So I would like to commend to you Jeff Cooper’s Commentaries, a collection of thoughts on military affairs, history, hunting, firearms and ammunition, the English language, and American culture. You can read the commentaries by clicking here. For those of you who live in outer darkness and have not heard of Colonel Cooper, he is a former Marine, a gun writer for nigh unto 50 years, one of the Main Thinkers on the subject of combat handgunning and rifle marksmanship, and an elegant and always-interesting writer.

    I’ve been a fan of his since the summer of 1958 when I got hold of a Cooper book on custom rifles and was hopelessly hooked. God knows how much money that damned book has cost me since. Colonel Cooper is not shy about expressing his political views, or any other kind of views, and I don’t always agree with him, but I’ve always found him worth reading.

    Cooper’s Commentaries spans 1993-2006. If you read them, you may not be a better person, but you will be a lot better informed person.

  • February 10, 2006

    Live from the SHOT Show: New Gun Reviews

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Note from the editors: David E. Petzal is spending the weekend shooting, taking apart, evaluating, talking about, dreaming about, and possibly even sleeping with the year's latest guns and shooting gear at the 2006 Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is one of the largest gatherings of gun nuts in the country; while there he'll rub sore shoulders with more than 37,000 industry professionals from around the world, probably irritating many of them.

  • February 6, 2006

    Mike Bloomberg vs. the NRA

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Now it’s getting interesting. According to the February 1 edition of the New York Post, the National Rifle Association, operating behind the scenes, has succeeded in quashing Diana Taylor’s nomination as head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Ms. Taylor is New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s girlfriend, and it was done, sayeth the Post, as retaliation for Bloomberg’s recent attacks on the NRA.

    Bloomberg, in his second-term inaugural speech, took on not only the NRA, but lawmakers who roll over for the gun lobby (meaning Congress), saying: “It shows the power of one advocacy organization and, I would argue, the cowardice of people who succumb to their pressure.”

    But now comes the really interesting part. Bloomberg spent $77 million just to get re-elected, and his total worth is estimated at between $5 and $9 billion. If he should become angry enough, he could buy the votes in Congress and have Article II of the Bill of Rights repealed, or he could buy the NRA.

    Buying Congressional votes is no trick at all. Everyone does it. Bloomberg could probably do it with what he carries in his wallet. As for the NRA, how much is it worth? It surely can’t be worth as much as Mike Bloomberg.  He could purchase it and turn it into an organization that adopts highways, or saves whales. If the NRA is smart, it will not cheese off Mayor Bloomberg in the future. With money all  things are possible, and Mike Bloomberg has money.

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