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  • April 30, 2008

    With the Old Breed: At Pelelieu and Okinawa

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    To put this book in perspective, I've been reading about World War II since a couple of years after the war ended, and I've never seen anything like it. I was put onto Old Breed by Paul Fussell, himself a World War II combat vet and a literary critic of the severest kind. Fussell called it "one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war," and it is. It is also appalling.

    Prior to reading Old Breed, the best book I had seen on the Marines' World War II campaigns was Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow, which was published in 1957. Leckie was a gifted professional writer, and had more than a little of the poet to him. Old Breed was written by Eugene Sledge, a genteel Alabama boy who served as a mortarman with K Company, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Sledge served through the campaigns on Pelelieu (obscure) and Okinawa (famous) and lived to write about it, working from notes he kept in a Bible during the fighting.

    It is the most unsparing look at the horrors of combat I've ever seen any where in any form. Sledge describes incompetent (some obviously unhinged) officers, casual cruelty by Marines equal to anything the Japanese did, untrained replacements, death, grief, unending filth, mud, rain, and constant terror. He and his steadily dwindling company were reduced to a state where they were one step from madness, and a great many of them did cross over that line--far more than was ever admitted to the public.

    "Luck" does not begin to describe what protected Sledge. On Okinawa, of the 230 men in Company K who made the landing, only 20 some were left standing when the island was declared secured. And yet, through it all, he remained tremendously proud to be a Marine, and proud of what his comrades did.

    Eugene Sledge went on to become a biologist and a teacher, and lived with his nightmares as best he could. Old Breed was published in 1981, and has been reprinted three times. In 2001, its author went to join his fallen friends, but what he wrote will long survive him. It is both a tribute and a warning. This is what happens when you let the genie out of the bottle.

  • April 29, 2008

    Bourjaily: Confessions of a Turkey Misser

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I thought optics had finally cured me. I went a long time without a miss. I shot birds from 12 to 51 yards, standing, strutting, walking, running and once, under circumstances I will not go into here, flying. Then I missed, having gradually developed a habit of not only looking up, but of dropping the gun out of the way for an even better view.

  • April 28, 2008

    Home on the Range?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    As you’re all aware, Hillary Clinton has become the Second Amendment’s Best Friend in the past few weeks; so much so, in fact, that she is thinking of opening a series of franchised shooting schools, starting in the Southwest—just in case things don’t work out in her current job. The trick to creating a successful franchise is to come up with something unique, and I have been contracted to provide ideas that would set these schools apart. Here are my ideas:

    *All attendees will be flown in by C-47, which will make a corkscrew landing at the school airport.

    *To create a realistic environment, recordings of imaginary sniper fire will be played at all times.

    *All attendees will wear pantsuits.

    *All attendees will run (or waddle, as the case may be) between classes to avoid imaginary sniper fire.

    *When not actually engaged in classes, attendees will play pinochle.

    *Attendees who are selected to shoot first in any class are entitled to whine about it.

    *Female attendees whose husbands exhibit signs of incipient mental illness are entitled to a 20 percent discount.

    That’s what I’ve come up with. What are your suggestions?

  • April 23, 2008

    Bases and Rings, Part Two

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Part of the trouble with our older scope mounting systems is that they were designed way back when scope reticles were not permanently centered. If you cranked the crosshairs up and right, they traveled up into the upper right quadrant of your field of view and there they sat. So rather than adjusting the crosshairs, shooters would center them and then adjust the scope itself up, down, right or left. This was an immense pain in the ass, and once you had a scope mounted, you didn't touch it.

    Now we don't have to do this, unless the barrel is out of line with the receiver, and then you will probably need a mounting system with some of the old left/right to it.

    The strongest mount around is made by David Miller, the great Tucson rifle builder. He builds each one to fit a particular rifle, and they are constructed so that the scope is almost entirely encased by the steel rings and bases.

    The lightest/simplest rings and bases are made by Talley, and were designed by Melvin Forbes of New Ultra light arms. The base and lower half of each ring is one piece of aircraft aluminum. They weigh less than a hummingbird's spleen, but are extremely strong.

    The strongest bases and rings, aside from David Miller's, are the standard Talleys. They are steel, and have a virtual death grip on the fine-gun biz. Every expensive rifle you see employs them. However, getting them mounted can cause you to say many a bad word, and the directions don't help much.

    The worst rings and bases are any of the see-unders. Structurally they are weak and they force you to lift your head off the stock to see through the scope and thereby violate one of the principles of sound rifle shooting. And try to get a gun with these abominations on board into a saddle scabbard.

  • April 22, 2008

    Bourjaily: The Browning Wish List Roundup

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A guest post from Shooting Editor and Shotguns Columnist Phil Bourjaily.

    When I asked last week what guns you all think Browning should make I didn’t expect to read over 100 replies. Obviously, the question struck a chord. I’ve forwarded all your answers to my contact at Browning, who in turn forwarded them to the company’s firearms product managers. We’ll have to wait and see if they listen to you.

  • April 21, 2008

    Bases and Rings, and Other Bad Things

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Here are two ways to cause trouble: Yell "Incoming" at a Hillary Clinton rally. This will be intensely funny to the people who watch it next day on You Tube, but after you are Tasered by the Secret Service and sentenced to 10 years in prison for being a Public Wiseass, it may not seem like such a good idea.

    The other way is order a rifle from one of the top gun makers around the country and offer to mount the scope yourself. Probably he will just hang up. Or he may make a noise like a choking chicken, and you will hear a thump and his wife screaming his name in the background. These guys know that in all the realm of riflery, nothing causes so much sorrow, pain, and woe as the average shooter mounting his own scope.

    Mostly this is the fault of the people who make scope mounts. They assume that the people who buy their stuff have a modicum of common sense and mechanical ability and write their directions accordingly. They are wrong on both counts. Often, people don't even read the instructions. I think it was scope-mount maker Maynard Beuhler who said, "When all else fails, read the directions." Beuhler's mounts, by the way, were handsome and very strong, and a real pain in the ass to get on a rifle properly.

    Some mounts are perverse. The old Weaver mounts are cheesy and cheap looking, but they're very light, very strong, and put the scope very low over the receiver. The problem is that as you tighten the ring screws, they torque the scope clockwise. So before you tighten them, you have to guess how much out of whack the vertical crosshair is going to move, and position it slightly counterclockwise to compensate. It usually takes six or so tries before you get it right, and you are powerfully motivated not to swap scopes on that rifle.

    Putting a heavy scope on a hard-kicking rifle is a prescription for trouble because of Newton's First Law of Motion, which states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. (Newton, in addition to being one of the great geniuses of all time, was an odd duck. He once ran a knife blade around his eye socket to see what would happen. Nothing did.)

    The heavy scope wants to sit where it is; the rifle insists on moving. So, if the scope weighs enough and the rifle kicks hard enough, the scope will either edge forward in its rings, or it can yank the rings out of the bases, or it can shear the base screws. (To Be Continued)

  • April 18, 2008

    Useful? You Bet Your R.A.S.S.

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Last year, one of the items of shooting equipment to receive a Best of the Best award was the Rapid Acquisition Shooting System, made by R.C.B.S (and who there among ye can tell me what that acronym stands for, and how it came to be?). We used it in our rifle tests, and the three of us who did the shooting loved it.

    S7_228746_imageset_02Despite its somewhat overblown name, the R.A.S.S. is simply a portable shooting bench--a stand with four legs, a seat, and a rifle brace that supports the fore-end and the butt. The R.A.S.S. is heavy and hyper-engineered, but it is very quick to set up, can adapt to just about any uneven terrain, and is dead solid.

    I've found it most useful at the rifle ranges I use, both of which have fixed backstops and benches. If you want to shoot at 25 yards or 50 or 100, you're fine, but if you want to shoot at 5 yards (getting a scope on paper) or 10 yards (air rifles) or 250 or 300, you're SOL. So what you to is take your R.A.S.S. to the range and your problems are solved.

    Or you can take it groundhog shooting and you will not have to lie prone on a fresh meadow muffin in order to be steady. Prairie dog shooting? A natural.

    The real-world price for the R.A.S.S. is around $350. It's worth it, and then some.

  • April 16, 2008

    The Little Soldier from Texas

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In the May issue of Field & Stream, in "Cheers & Jeers," we had occasion to mention Audie L. Murphy and his 1949 autobiography, To Hell and Back. Most readers of this blog are aware that Murphy remains the most decorated serviceman in American history, but he was a remarkable person in other respects, and he is certainly worth remembering here.

    Murphy came from a large, dirt-poor Depression-era Texas family. His father deserted, his mother died, and at the age of 16, Murphy found himself the sole support of his brothers and sisters. He couldn't manage, and they were placed in an orphanage.

    In 1942, he enlisted in the Army. At 5'5" and 110 pounds he was pronounced unfit for combat duty, but he insisted, and was trained as an infantryman. Murphy was sent overseas, assigned to the Third Infantry Division, and saw 27 months of combat in North Africa, Italy, and France.

    He began as a private and finished as a first lieutenant, having been awarded the Medal of Honor as well as 32 other U.S. medals, 5 French, and 1 Belgian. He received every American decoration for bravery that it was possible to get at that time.

    Murphy returned home a celebrity, was introduced to Hollywood by James Cagney, and went on to a successful film career, making 44 pictures. His most notable was To Hell and Back, which was faithful to his book. This 1955 film was an enormous hit, and was Universal's leading money-maker until it was surpassed by Jaws in 1975. Its theme is the same as the book's: that the lot of a combat infantryman is unrelieved terror, grief, and misery, and that there is no glory anywhere. When asked what it was like to act in the film Murphy said: "I got to see my friends killed all over again."

    He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and in the 1960s, became one of the first to talk about it openly. He drank, had nightmares, was married and divorced repeatedly, and is alleged to have suffered fits of violence.

    Murphy might eventually have recovered, but on May 28, 1971, when he was 46 years old, the small plane in which he was flying crashed near Catawba, Virginia. All aboard were killed. I've often wondered what he thought in his last few seconds of life: To survive so much and die like this? And very possibly, No more dreams.

    He was buried with full honors at Arlington Cemetery. Tradition dictates that Medal of Honor winners have grave markers set off by gold leaf, but Murphy's at his request, is plain. After John Kennedy's grave, more people visit it than any other.

  • April 15, 2008

    Bourjaily: What Guns Should Browning Make?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A guest post from Shooting Editor and Shotguns Columnist Phil Bourjaily.

  • April 14, 2008

    The Truth Revealed!

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    One of the rules of probability states that if you forced a million chimps to type for a million years, they would eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare, or "It Takes a Village," I forget which. Similarly, the endless stream of Clinton/Obama verbiage was bound to produce a nugget or two of truth, and a couple of days ago, we got a couple.

    According to Barrack Obama, citizens who are bitter about their economic hardships "…cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them…" as a way to explain their frustrations. Hillary, sensing blood, immediately called him an elitist, and went on to say that "Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a constitutional right."

    Barack Obama (Harvard Law) is of course an elitist, and he is an urban elitist, and among these folk, interest in or ownership of firearms is viewed as anything from a quaint aberration to a dangerous form of psychosis. Hillary is, if anything, more of an elitist, and what is really fascinating about her statement is her use of the word "believe." Believe means that you think something may be true, but you can’t prove it, so you have to go part of the way on faith.

    "I believe the Yankees will blow it again this year."

    "I believe I’m going to throw up."

    Hillary Clinton (Yale Law) does not necessarily accept the Second Amendment as the law of the land. If you believe in it, she says, it is the law. If you don’t believe in it, by implication, it isn’t.

    In the meanwhile, Hillary (who as First Lady urged Congress to buck the gun lobby; at least I think the word was buck) continues to prattle about her father teaching her to shoot, and Governor Ed Rendell, who is one of the worst of the anti-gun governors, blathers on about the great traditions of hunting and sportsmanship in Pennsylvania.

    I believe I’m going to throw up.

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