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  • June 30, 2008

    What's Wrong with this Picture?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    One of the fringe benefits to last week's Supreme Court decision was Friday’s editorial in The New York Times, a newspaper that unfailingly  hits new heights of hysteria at anything remotely favorable to gun owners. The Times’ view of America, at least as far as firearms are concerned, is apocalyptic. Heller will unleash armed mobs; the end is near.

    It reminds me of Alexander Hamilton’s quote: “The people, sir, is a beast.”

    From Friday’s Times editorial page we get:
    “This is a decision that will cost innocent lives, cause immeasurable pain and suffering and turn America into a more dangerous country. It will also diminish our standing in the world, sending yet another message that the United States values gun rights over human life.”

    Not bad. On the Gun Nut Hysteriameter I give it an 8.5 out of a possible 10. Now we jump to page E1, the Weekend Arts section, where we come to the review of a new movie titled “Wanted,” and this amazing description:

    “A man has soared onto the roof of a high rise where he has laid a handful of others to waste. Suddenly the camera cuts to his face as a bullet exits his head in slow motion, his skin stretching forward as the projectile tears through it going straight for the camera and our already numbed skulls. Well, that’s one way to get the attention of fickle movie goers…”

    Is that what it is? I might have thought it was senseless glorification of violence to make a buck, glamorizing killing and inviting some of the halfwit jerks who watch this stuff to try it themselves. I might have thought it was the kind of thing that the Times Editorial page might condemn, except that on page 11 of the same section is a ¾-page, four-color ad for “Wanted,” for which said paper was paid a whole bunch of money. And as we are all aware, this is a very tough year for newspapers.

    So I guess I will not hold my breath waiting for that particular editorial.

  • June 26, 2008

    A Hit From The Supremes

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    “It was a damned near-run thing.”—Arthur, Lord Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, on the Battle of Waterloo, at which the English came very close to getting their asses whipped by Napoleon.

    Well, this was a damned near-run thing. We averted disaster by one vote. If the Supremes had found against Mr. Heller and held that the Second Amendment refers only to militias, the future would be grim beyond imagining. We will, in all likelihood, have an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress and a President named Obama. In the face of a defeat for our side, the new congress would draw up a really hellish anti-gun bill, and Obama would sign it immediately. Democrats can’t help it; it’s genetic.

    Justice Scalia (who, as I recall, went duck hunting with Dick Cheney and survived) wrote the majority opinion, holding that the right to self-defense is an intrinsic part of Article II and, in the process declared unconstitutional Washington’s idiotic rule that all guns in the home must be disassembled or have trigger locks on them.

    We got a very, very big break today, but Sarah Brady will not go away, and Hillary Clinton will forget that she is supposed to be Annie Oakley, and Chuck Schumer and Michael Bloomberg will still be doing business at the same stand. If you would like to do something to celebrate, send some money to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. Armed with the Heller decision, the ILA will be fighting to roll back some of our more idiotic gun laws. And they have a long, long list to choose from.

  • June 26, 2008

    The Flood of ‘08, Shooting and the Price of Gas

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I planned to spend Father’s Day filling sandbags. Fortunately the Iowa River floodwaters crested earlier and lower than anticipated and the city told volunteers to take the day off. This was great news for my sore back and even better news for Iowa City. Barring more rain, we’ve seen the high water mark of the Flood of ’08. As the waters recede, it will be time to clean up and calculate the cost of the flood, which may run to billions.

  • June 25, 2008

    Best Western (Not the Motel)

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    It occurred to me that we need a contest for best Western movie, so here are the criteria for your nominations:

    *Only one nomination per blogger. This will create some painful decisions.

    *Authenticity. Clothes, guns, etc. The HBO series Deadwood would get very high marks here. The Searchers, great as it is, would do poorly.

    *Qualities as a movie.

    *Reality of gunfights

    My own selection is The Culpepper Cattle Company, a low-budget, no-star 1970s masterpiece filled with chaotic violence, death, and viciousness. You can practically smell the cow flop.

    Go to it.

  • June 24, 2008

    Bourjaily: Confesssions of a Hull Ho

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A dozen years ago I shot on a private game farm belonging to a very wealthy man. Jim’s farm had uniformed gamekeepers, a pigeon ring, and a sporting clays course. Before we shot, he sent me to his clubhouse to pick one of the guest guns from the vault.  I settled on a 28 gauge Parker Reproduction and carried it back to his Suburban, the rear springs of which groaned under the weight of the ammunition in back. Jim looked at the gun and his eyes narrowed. “28 gauge, huh?” he said. He handed me two boxes of shells, then strapped a shell pouch around my waist.

  • June 23, 2008

    Too Much Accuracy?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    The other day I re-read "Old Betsy," Warren Page's love song to his 7mm Mashburn Magnum, in the 1959 Gun Digest for the 2,105th time. Warren had more and more varied hunting experience than all of us have dreamed of, and he remains a voice of sanity in a world gone batty.

    Old Betsy killed 475 head of big game during her 20-year career, all sizes, all ranges.  She wore a straight 4X scope with a medium crosshair and would put five shots in 1 1/2 inches. If Old Betsy were delivered new today she would have a 2X-16X  scope with a rangefinder reticle, and her groups would get her sent back to the Mashburn shop with a note to Art Mashburn to please get the damned gun shooting.

    I think accuracy is a good thing, but we should not go any nuttier about it than we already have. One of my correspondents is an ammo maker who specializes in loads designed for use on very big game at close range. The first batch of ammo he sent me turned in freakishly small groups on the order of 3/4-inch at 100 yards. Two subsequent batches of ammo have grouped in 1/ 1/2 - 1/3/4 inches, and their maker is in despair because he can't match the accuracy of that first batch.

    I've tried to tell him that his cartridges are still twice as accurate as they need to be for their intended purpose, and that I would use them with sublime confidence, but my words fall on deaf ears.

    In a similar vein, or artery as the case may be, a friend of mine just got a .270 WSM from Mark Bansner, and with it came a test target whose 3-shot group could be covered with a dime and give back change. I will be working up a handload for this rifle, and will ignore the test group, because I think the load that produced it gives only about 3,000 fps, which is a nice velocity for a standard .270, but is about 200 fps too slow for a .270 WSM.

    I don't care if the loads I work up shoot into a half inch or an inch or an inch and a quarter, because it won't make any difference in the number of critters the rifle takes over its career. As I explained to the Bansner rifle's owner, the most important quality in a hunting rifle is not accuracy, but consistency.

    Of that you can never have too much.

  • June 18, 2008

    Make Mine a Double

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In my semi-long and dismal life I've owned just about every gun that anyone with taste could possibly want--except a double rifle. There is no earthly reason for anyone to own a double rifle, just as there is no earthly reason to own a ZO6 Corvette, but if you gave me either I would not turn it away.

    I came very close to owning a double rifle in the early 1980s. Safari Outfitters, which was then in Ridgefield, CT, got hold of a Westley- Richards Droplock, with barrels in .300 H&H, .375 H&H, and .458. It had a American-style stock FOR A LEFT-HANDER, and had been made in the 1960s for a majarajah who had never used it. The rifle cost $30,000 and I seriously considered taking out a second mortgage to buy it, but I didn't.

    Not only have I never owned one, but I've never hunted with a PH who used a double, or owned one. Mostly, they cost too much, and they are useful only on dangerous game. There is a myth that double rifles handle like shotguns, but that is a crock. A side-by-side shotgun weighs maybe 7 pounds while a double rifle in a serious caliber weighs anywhere from 12 to 15, and most of that is in the barrels. You tell me how something like that is going to handle like a shotgun.

    But a double will give you two very quick shots, and because it's more compact than a bolt gun, it can be very quick to maneuver in thick brush where much of the fun takes place.

    If you're in the market for a double, here's some advice: Don't get one in .375 H&H or smaller. A true double is .45 and bigger. Probably the most popular cartridge is the .470 Nitro Express, and if you can take the recoil, the .500 Nitro Express is even better. Get a boxlock rather than a sidelock; the latter cost a fortune if they're any good.

    Right now, I think the two best using doubles on the market are the ones built by Butch Searcy and Blaser. Searcy's rifles start at $15,000, and the Blasers begin at around $10,000. Both are first-rate working guns. The Blaser in particular has the best iron sights for a dangerous game rifle that I've ever seen, and you can carry it loaded but completely safe, which may prevent you blowing someone's head off besides that of the buffalo.

  • June 16, 2008

    The Sounds of Silence

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    The blog on sitting still touched on the fact that some of the stuff that happens while you're just waiting is sometimes more memorable than the actual hunting. My late friend, Norm Strung, was once in a stand of live oaks in Louisiana, and there are few places eerier than a Deep South live oak forest with the trees all hung with Spanish moss. It's dead still; even the air seems unable to move. The light is dim, and
    filters weakly through the branches. So Norm was waiting for a deer to come by and what he saw instead was another hunter creeping toward his tree just like Natty Bumpo. Norm waited until the guy was right underneath him and, in his deepest voice, he bellowed:


    The guy on the ground screamed in terror, flung his bow away, and went bounding down the trail in great leaps. Norm never did learn what became of him.

    Another F&S editor was once hunting ducks in Canada, and it was a true bluebird day. Nothing was flying, and the hours dragged by. His guide, a Cree Indian, had said nothing all morning, but finally asked:


    Our editor replied with a single word, a vulgar euphemism for the reproductive process that none of us would ever dream of using. There was a long, long silence, and then the Cree said:


  • June 13, 2008

    Investing in Rifles

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    There has been a lot of whining over the years about my taste for expensive rifles, but the question has never arisen about how well they have held up as investments. The answer is, mixed. The wood-stocked rifles have done just fine, on the whole, but the synthetic stocks have not even maintained their list price. Wood-stocked rifles are viewed as half work of art, half rifle, and so people get all teary-eyed about them. They don't even have to be particularly good rifles.

    A prime example would be a rare variant of the original Winchester Model 70, say, a carbine in 7.65 Mauser. The last one I saw was built in the 1930s, and probably cost $70. But now it's a collector's piece and it costs $17,000. Just a plain working rifle. Or there was the run of Model 99s with fancy wood, lousy engraving, and French gray receivers that Savage turned out in the late 1960s. At the time, these cost around $450, and people snickered. Now, they bring $14,000, and no one is snickering.

    Fine wood-stocked rifles tend to do very well, due in large part to the fact that until the 1980s, they were outrageously underpriced. In the early 1970s, a first-rate working custom rifle was about $1,200. A fancy one would double that. If you had bought such a gun forty years ago from a gunsmith of note and taken care of it, you could now get probably four times what you originally paid. Try that with a car.

    Synthetic-stocked rifles have not done nearly so well. When they started to appear in the late 1970s, the men who built them looked on the breed as pure working guns, and never mind the fit and finish. Now, the top-rank synthetic-stock guns are as nicely done as their wood-stocked cousins, but their prices don't hold up. If you want one, get it as a tool, not an investment. As the former, it will delight you. As the latter, it will leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

  • June 11, 2008

    Why Die When You Can Leave?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Two years ago, just after our beloved Vice President shot a fellow quail hunter in the face, I found myself explaining to a couple of non-hunting friends just how such a thing could occur. Quail hunting, I said, is a sport in which things happen very quickly and often don't go the way you expect. I told them that quail often fly toward you, or between shooters, or that dogs jump at the birds, and that all things considered, in 40 years of hunting quail, I'd probably held off firing as many times as I'd shot.

    I've also walked off hunts and away from shoots where I thought the participants might blow my head off. Many years ago, at a shoot put on for gun writers by what was then a major firearms maker, the genius running the affair put a brand-new shooter in the number one spot on a trap squad with four very experienced shooters. I was in the number two spot. A fast trap squad can unhinge some people, and it unhinged this guy. He put a shot into the ground right in front of me; a foot closer and I would have had no foot.

    I didn't yell at him but I did yell at some length at the guy who put him there and then I walked off the squad. I've also walked off a quail hunt in Texas, and off a whitetail drive on a cottonwood island in Montana, and off a nilgai hunt in Texas after the hunter behind me sent a rifle bullet past my head.

    If you would like to see the kind of stuff you should walk away from, take a look at this video clip. Despite its intent, it ain't funny. These clowns could have shot themselves or someone else. I would not stay within a mile of morons like these.

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