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  • July 31, 2006

    Crooked Reticles and Straight Advice

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Leveler If the vertical crosshair of your scope is cocked to one side (as most are) you will not burn in hell for it, but you will miss shots you take at long range, because the bullet will not be flying in alignment with your sight and will depart, either to the right or left, when it has gone some distance from the muzzle.

    Over the years I’ve tried various devices that allegedly align your scope, but none of them worked, so I relied on my eye, which usually led to hours of excellent fun and a blood-pressure spike of 325/182.

    But here, by crackey, is one that works. It’s called the Segway Mk-II Scope Reticle Leveler, and it is absurdly simple. You can even understand the directions. The price is $24.95 and you can get it from Brownell’s ( It will save you all sorts of grief.

    Huntalaskanow Second: Second only to Africa, Alaska has the greatest hunting in the world, and the terrific thing is, it’s not Canada. You don’t have to pay Air Canada $100 extra to fly your guns (and then lose them) or put up with the B.S. import permit or the fee that goes with it. Also, Alaska is probably the last place in North America where you can fart, have long nose hairs, curse, and generally let the badger loose.

    But I digress. In 1997, an Alaska guide named Dennis Confer wrote Hunt Alaska Now. It's an absolutely terrific book, loaded with information and practical advice. Now there’s an updated, expanded 2006 version, and if you have any thought of hunting the Last Frontier, you gotta get a copy. It’s a paperback, 365 pps., $29.95 from

  • July 27, 2006

    Why Shooters Don’t Like Licenses

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Advocates of tougher gun laws are unable to understand the horror that shooters feel when the word “license” comes up. After all, say the anti-gunners, aren’t drivers licensed? And pilots, and just about anyone who has anything to do with anything that moves? Well, here’s an example why we don’t like licensing, and it happened to a co-worker of mine who had a permit to keep two handguns in his home in New York City.

    Mr. M, as we will call him, moved from one borough of New York to another, and as required by law sent in his application for a new license with the new address, along with a money order for $340. Time went by, and nothing happened. When Mr. M called the New York City Police Department, he was told that his permit had been sent to him. Then, after much back and forth, he was told that the permit application had been lost (but not, apparently, the $340 money order). And then he was told that since he had not notified the NYPD of his move, his permit was revoked.

    Then followed a Kafka-esque back and forth with the NYPD, who advised Mr. M that since he didn’t have a permit for them, he had to surrender his guns or be arrested. So he did. And, pursuant to Title 38, Chapters 5 and 15 of the Rules of the City of New York, Mr. M requested a hearing, appealing the revocation of his license. He hired a lawyer to represent him and amazingly, the hearing officer found for him. This was on April 3, 2006.

    Well, you say, the system works; the system is fair. Not quite. On May 10, a Mr. Thomas Prasso, who is Director (of what he does not say) wrote a letter to Mr. M that says:

    “As a result of an administrative hearing held on April 3, 2006. Your license has been CANCELLED. A copy of the hearing report is enclosed.

    “This determination concludes the Police Department’s review of this matter. You may appeal this determination by commencing an Article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court within four months of the date of this letter.”

    And so Mr. M is out his two guns, which he will never see again, $340 for the money order, and $550 for the lawyer. If he is inclined to spend a lot more money and waste a lot more time, he can indeed pursue an Article 78. But what would you say his odds are of getting his license?
    Do people go through this kind of s**t when they change the address on their automobile licenses? No, they do not.

  • July 26, 2006

    How Long Does Gunpowder Live?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    For those of you who worry about the health and well-being of their smokeless powder, here’s a story.

    Around 1980, I had a co-worker who was sunken-ship crazy, and since I was a Titanic and Edmund Fitzgerald nut, we found a lot to talk about. One day he came into my office with the grubbiest-looking .30/06 round I’d ever seen.

    He explained that he’d bought the cartridge at an auction, and that it had been salvaged from the hulk of the U.S.S. San Diego, which had been sunk by a German submarine on July 19, 1918, off the coast of Fire Island, New York. (Or it may have hit a mine. No one knows for sure.)

    “Do you think the powder’s any good?” my friend asked.

    “Let’s find out,” said I, and punched a hole in the brass case with my thumbnail. Not that I have strong thumbnails, but the brass was corroded that badly. I poured some in a glass ashtray (yes, offices had ashtrays then) and, violating 25 building-safety codes, tossed a match (yes, people had matches in their desks then) into the powder.

    Whoomp, it went, and burned with a brief, merry flame, just the way gunpowder is supposed to. And this after 62 years under the Atlantic Ocean. Amazing.

  • July 25, 2006

    Spray and Pray: Why cops should go back to carrying revolvers

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Here are a number of things that don’t fill me with confidence:

    • Condoleezza Rice, on her way to anywhere
    • George W. Bush
    • Dick Cheney wearing a game vest
    • The TSA, doing anything
    • Cops with guns

    Since the first four are mostly outside the provenance of this blog, let’s talk about the fifth. What brings it up is a newspaper story revealing that on July 23, three New York City Police officers fired a total of 26 shots to kill a pit bull that was chewing on a fellow officer. The three who did the shooting were grazed by stray bullets.
    According to police who commented on the incident, time seems to slow down in a violent encounter, and in that time officers keep on sending those rounds out. In this confrontation, one officer fired 13 rounds, another fired 12, and the third officer only one. No doubt he will be reprimanded. The officer who was being chewed on did not shoot, being otherwise occupied.
    Most police officers nowadays are armed with automatic pistols that hold 16 or 17 shots and have double-action triggers that are guaranteed to prevent accidental discharges but are also guaranteed to prevent accurate shooting. So when it’s time to go to powder city, the average copper is going to rely on volume, not precision, and if you happen to be in the immediate vicinity, God help you.
    Maybe we should bring back the 6-shot revolver.

  • July 24, 2006

    Perazzi Over/Under 12-Gauge: The Gun I Had to Have

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Perazzi_1To put this in perspective, you must be aware that if you are left-handed, and spend all your spare time looking at fine guns, you will go about 15 years before you see a fine shotgun that’s stocked for a southpaw. And then another 15 before you see the next one. No kidding.

    And so in 1990 or so, when I walked into my gunsmith’s shop and he had a smile of purest evil on his face, I knew it was trouble, and I was right. In lieu of cash, a customer who owed him a lot of money had given him a Perazzi Special Sporting o/u shotgun. It had a color-case-hardened receiver, special wood, a spare trigger group, ten screw-in chokes, and it had been stocked to fit him at the Grand American Trap Shoot at Vandalia, Ohio, right at the Perazzi booth.

    And it was stocked for a southpaw. I mounted it, and there was no doubt that this gun was made for me. The guy they built it for had been at Vandalia, but it was meant for me.  It was a heavy, long-barreled gun, about the only kind of shotgun I can shoot worth a damn.

    Now when you reflect that 16 years ago a single Perazzi choke tube was worth about $200, and a trigger group went for $500, and this wasn’t even the gun we’re talking about, I was faced with a choice—give up a whole bunch of rifles or walk away from the shotgun of a lifetime. I gave up the rifles—real good ones, too—and cash, and I got the shotgun, and have never regretted it.

    I only own three shotguns, and I use that gun for just about everything, and I can’t even tell you any more what rifles I traded to get it. And the moral is, once or twice in a lifetime you’ll see a gun you know is meant for you, and you should do whatever is necessary to get it. Excluding, of course, capital crimes.

  • July 19, 2006

    There's No Excuse for Ugly Guns

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    One of the dumbest pieces of conventional wisdom I’ve ever heard is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Spare me. Does anyone think that Angelina Jolie is a skank? Does anyone think that Rosie O’Donnell is a babe?

    Ugly things are depressing not only because they are awful to look upon, but because most of them didn’t have to be ugly. Firearms are no exception. It’s no more trouble to make something with graceful and harmonious lines than it is to create an aesthetic abomination. That is, assuming that the designer has artistic talent and not just mechanical ability.

    Through the history of firearms, many of the most effective guns have also been the most graceful—the Kentucky rifle, the Springfield Model 03, the Colt Peacemaker, the Winchester Model 12, the Savage Model 99. Gun designers who put ugly firearms on the market should be sealed in a room where the collected speeches of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are played at a deafening volume for all eternity.

  • July 17, 2006

    Guns that Aren't: Why do manufacturers hype rifles and shotguns that you can't get?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Fellow gun nuts: We hear from each other, from gun writers, and from manufacturers, but gun dealers give us a perspective that we don’t get elsewhere. Scott Moss, who is the third generation of that family (all of whom have taken lots of money from me) to sell firearms, has agreed to come on the blog from time to time and tell us what’s on his mind, good or bad, about the guns he handles. If you’re interested in buying from him or selling to him on consignment, you can call Forest & Field, Norwalk, CT 203-847-4008.—Dave Petzal

    The Ruger Gold Label Shotgun
    MSRP: $2,050.00


    You know what I really dislike? Gun manufacturers who hype guns that don't exist. As soon as a magazine publishes an article about a new gun that isn't in production, the phone calls start and I have to tell my customers the item isn’t available and probably won’t be for 6-12 months. 

    A case in point is Ruger, which announced the P85 9mm handgun three years before I had one in my case.  The Ruger Red Label 20 gauge took two years to arrive. The newest addition, a side by side shotgun, is still scarce a year after its introduction.  The irony is I saw one at a shoot I went to in upstate New York a few weeks ago.  I asked the guy where he got it and he told me that a friend of his was an oil burner repairman with an FFL who got it from a friend who works at Ruger.  How pathetic is that?  One of my larger Ruger distributors had five in 2005 and NONE so far in 2006.

    I’m not sure what the point is of promising what you can’t deliver.  While Ruger isn’t the only company that promotes its products this way, it certainly is sending the wrong message.  We all appreciate new products, especially if they’re good ones.  And most people don’t mind waiting a little while.  However, I’ve been doing this a long time, and companies that play this game insult the intelligence of many in their audience.  And, they just might outfox themselves when they find their late-coming product upstaged by a more innovative design by another maker. 

  • July 14, 2006

    The Compulsive Shooter

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Did you ever watch a raccoon “washing” something it’s about to scarf down? Odds are that the coon’s ideas of hygiene are very poorly formed, but it washes anyway because it can’t help itself.  When it comes to shooting, I'm pretty much the same way.

    Take 16-yard trap. I use a tight Full choke even though enlightened opinion says that you should use Improved Mod or even Mod. Wow, I say to myself, I sure am blowing them birds apart. I also use 3-dram-equivalent shells a lot for the same reason, even though you get hammered a lot less with 2 3/4 drams.

    I always take 30 rounds of ammo on a big-game hunt, despite the fact that the only time I ever used anything like that much was the first three times I went to Africa. The last three times I’ve gone I’ve fired five rounds, on average. And in North America it’s about the same.

    My rifle barrels get cleaned to within an inch of their lives, even though you don’t have to go that far. Stop, stop, they shriek, you’re killing us.

    But at least now when I now work up a load for a rifle, I don’t go out an buy 5,000 bullets of that brand and weight. When am I ever going to get to shoot all those bullets?  I ask myself. So maybe there’s hope. The worst example of this I ever heard of was the late gun writer John Jobson, who decided to lay in enough .270 components for a lifetime. According to legend, he bought 215 pounds of Hodgdon 4831 powder, 25,000 CCI Magnum primers, 25,000 130-grain Nosler Partition bullets, and 2,500 Winchester .270 cases.

    He did not use them all up.

  • July 13, 2006

    The Guns I Own: The Kenny Jarrett .30/06

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily


    In April 1996, Layne Simpson, Gary Sitton, Finn Agaard and I met at gunmaker Kenny Jarrett’s South Carolina establishment to do a massive and earth-shaking piece on deer rifles. In the spare time I had, I went rooting (not unlike a hog after truffles) through Kenny’s inventory room where he keeps finished guns and found a left-hand .30/06 based on a Remington Model 700 action.

    It was a demonstrator gun that Kenny kept around to show his southpaw customers, but it was not quite glamorous enough for that purpose, being all black (no camo or Confederate flags) and in the distinctly unglamorous .30/06. And it was heavy--8 1/2 pounds without scope.

    But I loved it at first sight, and when Kenny quoted me a price that was less than the Bolivian GNP, I said I’d buy it if he sawed off the muzzle brake, so he did, and I did. Smartest money I ever spent. When they come to pry my gun from my cold dead fingers, this is the rifle they will pry.

    It is not only very accurate (groups as small as .600-inch) it’s accurate with anything you stuff into it. I think you could feed it black powder and .308 lead wire and it would shoot well. It will not shift its point of impact even when shot hot, and it never ever malfunctions. I’ve shot it in competition for 10 years, much of that rapid fire, and it’s never bobbled through a couple of thousand rounds.

    I’ve killed my two biggest whitetails (in Arkansas and Saskatchewan) with it, and my biggest mule deer (Wyoming). It’s unglamorous, but it’s also the rifle of a lifetime.

  • July 10, 2006

    The Facts About Bedding a Rifle Barrel

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A while back the subject of bedding a barrel came up, and was shunted aside for something more glamorous. But it’s important, and here’s some stuff worth knowing:

    When a rifle is fired, its barrel twangs; I’m told by an engineer who has studied the subject that if you could watch it in slow motion, the tube would appear to appear to shimmy like a snake (waddle like a duck; that’s the way you do when you do the huckle buck).

    Anyway, the purpose of bedding the barrel is to make sure the damn thing shimmies exactly the same way for every shot. The easiest way to bed a barrel is not to bed it—free-float the sucker from where the chamber swell tapers down right out to the end. Then let it do whatever it wants. Most factory rifles are made this way because it’s cheap and usually works very well.
    Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms beds his fore-ends so they just touch the barrel. There’s no pressure, but there is a dampening effect. Melvin is able to do this because his Kevlar-graphite stocks are as rigid as I-beams, and once they’re bedded they stay put forever.

    Top-line custom gunmakers who work in wood have long believed in full-length bedding (you need good, dry wood and a lot of skill to do this), and some of them like to shape the fore-end so it puts upward pressure on the barrel, although there are people who will tell you that wood being what it is, there’s no real way to achieve this.

    Reinhart Fajen, the stockmaking company of yore, used a variation on this system. They’d free float the barrel except for two little bumps that sat 45 degrees apart about 2 inches back from the fore-end tip. This system was supposedly immune to the problems of full-length bedding, but had the same overall effect.

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