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  • April 28, 2006

    The 50 Best Guns Ever Made, Revisited

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Editor's Note: Last February, Dave wrote a cover story titled "The 50 Best Guns Ever Made" that generated lots of heated opinion. In case any of you missed the piece, we've posted links to it in photo gallery form below. Keep an eye on this page next week as he returns to the subject with updates to the list and some fresh thoughts on these guns.

    The 50 Best Guns Ever Made

    Numbers 1 through 152

    Numbers 16 through 3016

    Nu31mbers 31 through 40

    Numbers 41 through 50

  • April 27, 2006

    So Long to the Bear

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I think it’s time I said goodbye to an old friend of mine, and maybe yours as well. His name was Gary Sitton, and he wrote under the name of G. Sitton, once or twice for us, and the rest of the time for various gun and hunting magazines.

  • April 26, 2006

    Gun Myths, Part I: Coated bullets, barrel break-in methods, and cleaning rod guides

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    THE MYTH: If you shoot bullets coated with molybdenum disulfide, your barrel will never wear out, you will get more velocity, your barrel will not copper-foul, your kid will do better in school, and your hair will grow back.
    THE TRUTH: You will get an indescribable mess in your barrel that you will never be able to clean out.

    THE MYTH: If you break in your new barrel by firing a shot, cleaning, doing this five times more, then cleaning every five shots until you’ve got 100 rounds through the barrel, your bore will be glassy smooth even if it wasn’t when you started.
    THE TRUTH: You will have wasted a lot of effort, patches, and solvent. Not to mention the time that you could have spent watching Ultimate Fighter reruns on the Spike Network.

    THE MYTH: If you don’t use a cleaning rod guide, you will ruin your rifle barrel. And your dog will get the setter bitch across the road pregnant and her owner will sue you.
    THE TRUTH: If you’re able to keep your rod straight as you clean, you don’t need a guide. I have rifles that haven’t seen a rod guide in 40 years of shooting, and they’re fine. And since our dearly departed dog would try to mate with a snake if someone was holding its head, we kept the little fellow on a leash.

  • April 25, 2006

    The Second Battle of New Orleans

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    The first Battle of New Orleans took place in 1814 and was pretty unambiguous—Andrew Jackson whupped the hell out of the British Army. The Second Battle of New Orleans took place during Hurricane Katrina, when Ma Nature whupped the hell out of the Federal, state, and local governments.

    What we’re interested in here is whether the New Orleans Police Department took guns from beleaguered citizens who were cowering in their homes waiting for looters, rapists, and vandals to come crashing through their doors. According to NRA Executive Director Wayne La Pierre, this was done at the orders of then-Chief of Police Eddie Compass (who later resigned, possibly to go to work for Donald Rumsfeld).

    According to La Pierre, when the NOPD denied the confiscations, “We brought suit and confronted them in court. When the federal judge ordered them to cease and desist, they denied it. After the judge pressed them, they admitted they did, in fact, have guns. Not just some guns, hundreds and thousands of guns.”

    However, according to Superintendent Warren Riley of the NOPD, “We took guns that were stolen that were stashed in alleyways. If we went into an abandoned house and a gun was there, absolutely we took the weapons….I don’t know where they [the NRA] are getting this. We didn’t go around disarming citizens.”

    According to the NOPD, about 700 firearms were seized during the storm. Far be it from me to imply that a public official is not telling the truth, but 700 firearms seems like an awful lot of guns to find stashed in alleyways and lying around abandoned homes. The NOPD seemed reluctant to take guns from looters, which could get them shot, and the odds on grabbing them from terrified citizens probably seemed a lot better.

    It’s hard to say who would inspire more fear in the midst of a major disaster—an armed felon or a NOPD officer. More than 250 of them beat feet out of the Big Sleazy during the storm, calling to mind a statement from police-abuse expert Professor James Fyfe  that “Some cities’ police departments have reputations for being brutal, like Los Angeles, or corrupt, like New York, and still others are considered incompetent. New Orleans has accomplished the rare feat of leading nationally in all categories.”

  • April 24, 2006

    Barrel Life, Part II

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Bullets don’t wear out barrels, the flame from burning gunpowder melts them, so heat has everything to do with whether your barrel lives or dies tragically at an early age. The other factors are the size of the powder charge and the diameter of the bore.

    Prairie dog shooters burn barrels faster than almost anyone else because they shoot quickly and they shoot a lot. When you get a tube smoking hot and keep it that way, its rifling is going to erode. Big-game hunters hardly ever burn out barrels unless they use their guns for other things. I have a .300 Weatherby that I’ve been hunting with since 1965, and the bore is good for another 41 years, simply because I don’t shoot it fast, or much. And the .300 Weatherby is often cited as one of the worst barrel-scorchers.

    Powder charge weight versus bore size can be explained this way: For any given bore diameter, there is a maximum amount of powder that can be efficiently burned. In .30-caliber, I’d guess it’s something like 60 grains, so if you take a .300 Weatherby magnum and stuff in 84 grains, you have what is known as overbore capacity—a comparatively small gain in muzzle velocity produced by a huge increase in the powder charge. And the monster flame this creates reduces bore life to 1,500 or less from the 5,000 you normally get from a standard .30 cartridge.

    But why worry?

    Melvin Forbes, president of New Ultra Light Arms, was shooting prairie dogs a few years ago and had his barrel glowing an attractive cherry red when a friend asked him if he wasn’t worried about burning it out.

    “Even as we speak,” said Melvin, “people are making barrels whether we want them to or not, and it takes me five minutes back at the shop to screw one in. But I don’t get to go prairie dog shooting that often.”

    And then he went back to shooting.

  • April 21, 2006

    Barrel Life, Part I

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I get questions about this, so here’s a brief guide:

    It’s impossible to say, flatly, how long a barrel will last. Even after it loses its peak accuracy, a barrel will often remain perfectly usable for a many rounds more. Here are some rough estimates from a gunsmith friend of mine who is anguished because I’m not listing the dozen or so qualifying factors that go into how long each of the following will last. The numbers below refer to the very best accuracy of which a tube is capable, before it starts to slide even the smallest bit.

    • .22 Long Rifle: 250,000 rounds.
    • .22/250: 1,000 rounds
    • .243: 1,000 rounds
    • .270 Winchester: 1,200 rounds
    • .308: 3,000 rounds
    • .30/06: 2,500 rounds
    • 7mm Remington Magnum: 1,500 rounds
    • .300 Winchester Magnum: 1,500 rounds

    Remember that these are very conservative figures. You can have a minute-of-angle .270 that erodes until it only (!) shoots a minute and a half, and it is still an eminently usable rifle. More coming with the next rant.

  • April 20, 2006

    All or Nothing; A Gun Owner’s Guide to Loyalty

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In a recent blog I admitted to being a New York Times reader, and the reaction was not favorable. One reader said, in effect: “Now we know where the Bush bashing comes from. I suppose you’d be happier if we were in Gore’s second term, or Kerry’s first.”

    I’ve seen over the years that some gun owners tend toward an all-or-nothing, you’re-either-with-us-100-percent-or-you’re-against-us outlook. This can be comforting in troubled times and saves you the bother of thinking for yourself, but it doesn’t hold water.

    Let’s look at the Bush bashing first. I bash Bush because:

    • President-bashing is an American tradition that goes back to the beginning of our republic. Abraham Lincoln took a worse lacing from the press than any chief executive in our history.
    • Bush talks funny.
    • Look at his record

    Why, after reading The New York Times, would I bash Bush? Does reading it make you victim to some kind of thought-control process? Since I also bash Hillary every chance I get, is this also caused by The Times ?

    Why would I prefer Al Gore, or that curious object, John Kerry? Does pointing out W’s many and horrific shortcomings automatically make me a supporter of those two goons?

    I’ve been an NRA member since 1964 and a Benefactor Member since 1979, and I’ve been reading The American Rifleman since the 1950s. If we didn’t have the NRA, I would be writing about things other than guns because we wouldn’t have guns, but does all this mean I have to agree with every single thing the NRA says and does?

    And President Bush is always free to bash me if he so chooses.

  • April 19, 2006

    Yet One More Reason Why There’s No Hope for the Future

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I’ve been an NRA-Certified Rifle Instructor for (I think) 20 years now, and I’ve arrived at two conclusions about the people I’ve coached: The best pupils are women. God bless them, they listen. The worst are young boys, followed by teenage boys. There are some good kids, but many of the ones I’ve run across have attention spans of 15 seconds, no manners, and--thanks to the tens of thousands of hours they’ve spent watching television, movies, and video games where people get shot in carload batches--no fear of guns whatsoever.

    They inhabit a curious world that exists largely on screens and is powered by batteries. The rules of behavior that governed my generation are largely unknown to them. (“If you ever want to be a man, kid, you better…”)

    They apparently grow up according to form. A Montana outfitter I know, who runs challenging horseback hunts into elk country, says that the people who flat-out quit are not geezers in their 50s and 60s but men in their 20s who have never been Up Against It, and when challenged, fold.

    After a day or two of long hours in the saddle and hiking of foot, rising at 3 a.m., constant cold, and no guarantee of success, they take to their tents and don’t come out. The older folks have it just as hard, but they learned as kids that when faced with adversity, you shut your mouth and did your job. Like a man.

  • April 18, 2006

    Wal-Mart Dumps Guns (Partly)

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Over this past weekend, Wal-Mart announced that it will no longer sell firearms at about 1,000 of its 3,200 stores. This news was greeted with the expected yowls from the expected sources that:

    • Americans are finally losing interest in guns.
    • Wal-Mart is betraying a major segment of their customers.
    • Wal-Mart is finally acting like a responsible citizen.

    I think it means that Wal-Mart is obeying one of the inexorable laws of commerce, which states that you carry in your stores those items that sell best, and if people would rather buy jockstraps than firearms, why, clear the shelves for all the new athletic supporters.

    Or there might be another factor. Last December, I went into the Wal-Mart in Keyser, WV to buy a Styrofoam cooler to transport the last earthly remains of Bambi’s mom. Five different Wal-Mart employees (all friendly and helpful) could not agree whether they had Styrofoam coolers, or where in the store they might be. It turned out they were out of stock.

    If I had that much trouble buying something as simple as a Styrofoam cooler, what would have happened if I’d tried to buy a gun? Probably I’d still be there. Maybe that’s why people no longer buy guns at some Wal-Marts.

  • April 17, 2006

    It’s the Real Sling, Baby

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    While looking over the photos of the Marine Corps M40A3 sniper rifle, I was horrified to see that the sling swivels were attached to the side of the stock, rather than the bottom, and assumed that the Corps had now relegated the Model 1907 shooting sling to use merely as a carrying strap. Teach your grandmother to suck eggs! A Marine sniper rifle without a real, working sling is unthinkable.

    Closer inspection revealed that it can be mounted on the side of the rifle as a carrying strap, but lurking demurely on the bottom of the McMillan A4 stock was a pair of swivels, one for the issue Harris bipod, and the other for the old M1907. Right where it should be.

    Civilians, especially hunters, now tend to ignore the old three-piece M1907. It’s heavy, slow to use unless you practice with it, and far more than you need as a carrying strap. But these slings were once common, and I recall that a lot of hunting rifles came with M1907 slings as standard equipment.

    The secret to using one successfully is simple: Get it tight enough so that your left hand goes from red to blue to purple. Then you go through purple to sort of an indigo black, and you’re just about right.

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