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  • August 29, 2008

    Petzal on Palin: Who Thought McCain was That Smart?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Governor Palin is almost too good to be true. She is a lifelong hunter, a Life Member of the NRA, a dedicated jock, mother of a soldier who will be deployed to Iraq next month, a person who actually knows something about oil exploration, and perhaps most important, an Alaska Republican who is serious about honesty in public office. The odds on finding one of these are about the same as finding an honest Democratic politician from New Jersey. Her only drawback seems to be her background in journalism, but then no one is perfect.

    I know very few people, including Repubicans, who are enthusiastic about John McCain. He seems to be tolerated only as an alternative to Obama*, who is intolerable to gun owners. There I was, prepared to hold back my rising gorge and vote for Old John M. and whatever lame hack he selected as Veep, and here he comes up with someone that I can actually be enthusiastic about from any number of standpoints, never mind guns and hunting. I wish Senator McCain and Governor Palin all success.

    *About last night’s speech: I didn’t watch it. I have been leery of speeches since I watched John F. Kennedy’s inaugural in January 1961, when he promised that we would pay any cost, bear any burden, and oppose any foe in the defense of freedom. What we got was Vietnam.  The only truly prophetic part of the Inaugural was when the lectern caught on fire; there was a sign if ever there was one. Speeches are theatre, nothing more. Perhaps the only honest one in history was Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, in which he said, essentially, “You wanted a war and you got it. How do you like it?”

  • August 27, 2008

    Petzal: The F-Team

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In the September issue of American Rifleman, on page 40,  you’ll find a highly edifying bind-in card set entitled “Barack Obama’s Ten-Point Plan to ‘Change’ the Second Amendment.” Based on how he has voted in the past, both in the Illinois Legislature and in the Senate, and what he has said in public about gun control, it reads like this:

    1) Ban use of firearms for home defense.
    2) Pass Federal laws eliminating right to carry.
    3) Ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of handguns.
    4) Close down 90 percent of the gun shops in America.
    5) Ban rifle ammunition commonly used for hunting and sport shooting.
    6) Increase federal taxes on guns and ammunition by 500 percent.
    7) Restore voting rights for 5 million criminals including those who have been convicted of using a gun to commit a violent crime.
    8) Expand the Clinton semi-auto ban to include millions more firearms.
    9) Mandate a government-issued license to purchase a firearm.
    10) Appoint judges to the U.S. Supreme Court and Federal judiciary who share his views on the Second Amendment.

    If you’d like to check the documentation for all this, go to

    As if this weren’t enough, Obama has selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate. Biden does not get all the credit he deserves as an anti-gunner, but he ranks right up there with Senators Schumer, Clinton, Boxer, and Feinstein as one of the very worst. Both Obama and Biden are rated “F” by the NRA/ILA.

    You may not care for John McCain’s memory lapses, or his wife’s seven homes, or the fact that he can’t work a computer (these are actually pluses as far as I’m concerned), but as far as gun control goes, I think this election is about as clear cut as it gets.

  • August 26, 2008

    Bourjaily: How to Shoot a Vampire

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Turns out wooden stakes are just for fictional movie vampires. When real vampires attack us, we can just shoot them with regular guns. Isn’t that good to know?

  • August 25, 2008

    Into the Wild ... But Not Out of It

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    “Within modern traditional societies, the ability to survive is drastically reduced if the group is too small. A lone individual rarely survives for more than a year….”—Modern People in Africa and Europe, by Goran Burenult

    In April, 1992, an electrician named Jim Gallien gave a 24-year-old hitchhiker named Chris McCandless a ride to the Stampede Trail above the Clearwater Fork of the Toklat River. McCandless, who gave his name only as “Alex,” said it was his intention to hike up the trail into the wilderness and live off the land. His equipment consisted of 10 pounds of rice, a .22 rifle and ammo, a guide to the edible plants of the area, several books, and no map or compass.. Gallien was appalled at what the kid was about to do, and offered to buy him some of the things he would need to stay alive. But “Alex” would not listen. Gallien was the last person to see him alive. When his body was found by hunters in September, Chris McCandless—or what was left of him—weighed 67 pounds.

    McCandless’ death made national headlines. He had come from a well-to-do Virginia family, graduated from Emory University in 1990, and then simply vanished. He abandoned his car, gave away his money, and calling himself as “Alexander Supertramp,” hoboed around the American West for nearly 2 years before heading for Alaska and his end.

    These are the bare bones of one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s called Into the Wild, and was written in 1996 by Jon Krakauer. It sold something like 2 million copies and has been made into a motion picture.

    A good deal of the book’s appeal (for people like you and me) is that we can see parts of ourselves in McCandless. He actually did what just about all of us have dreamed of doing at some point or another. But at some point or another we developed common sense, but poor McCandless, who was very, very bright, did not.

    His cause of death was given as starvation, but he may have poisoned himself through carelessness, and if he had owned a decent map, he would very likely have been able to save himself before he grew too weak to walk.

    Into the Wild follows McCandless from his childhood to his death, and the odds are you will not be able to put it down. It’s marred only by two chapters telling of Krakauer’s own near-death experiences climbing mountains in Alaska. They are there, I guess, to show that he understands Spiritual Angst and has Messed with Death. You can skip them and you will be none the worse for it. The other missing element is the photos that McCandless took of himself as he starved. The last one, taken just before he crawled into his sleeping bag to die, is something out of a nightmare. You can find it on YouTube, or maybe we can conjure it up here.


    And as you read, you will wish you could have given McCandless a hard smack upside the head and said, “Kid, this is serious; this is no game.“ But he didn’t listen in life, and he would not listen to you or me now.

  • August 22, 2008

    The Mysterious Case of the Shrinking Elk Head

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    A couple of days ago, I visited an old friend in Vermont. In 1973, I had given him the mounted head of an elk I had killed the year before in Montana. It was a 6x6, and I think I was prouder of that animal than anything else I had ever taken. I lost 30 pounds in order to be able to climb the mountain where he lived and I shot him on a day when the snow was up over your knees and it was 15 below that morning.

    But I had not been to visit my friend in something like 25 years, and my memory of the elk head was not accurate. I recalled it as being a massive beast with a humongous spread of antlers. It is not; it is indeed a 6x6, but it’s a small bull. If you saw him in a herd you wouldn’t look twice at him. But he was the first elk I ever took, and to me he was the greatest wapiti ever collected.

    Your memories—particularly the fond ones—rarely match up with reality. If you have a choice, stick with memories.

  • August 20, 2008

    Petzal: Shameless Products Plugs

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    In case any of you were wondering where the hell I was for most of July, I was in Africa, and have come back at great risk and personal expense to make you aware of the virtues of the following:

    Hardigg Storm Case Model IM 3300: This is a two-rifle case made of high-performance resin. It’s light for how strong it is, comes with two handles and wheels, six latches (which open by depressing spring-loaded tabs so you don’t rip your fingernails out) and hasps for four locks. Two of us had Storm Cases and wore big smiles. Two other hunters shared a lesser aluminum case and ended up with a busted stock and a wrecked scope. They did not smile. As the airlines descend into total chaos and anarchy, you would do well to visit Hardigg’s website, which is

    Barnes TSX and MRX bullets: I used a .338 loaded with 225-grain TSXs at 2,750 fps; one of my friends used a .30/06 loaded with 180-grain MRXs at 2,700 fps. Between us we shot something like a dozen animals from 50 pounds up to 450 at ranges from 25 yards to 320. Nothing required a second shot. Not a single bullet was recovered; everything went clear through. How do you do better than that?

    Zeiss Victory 8x32 T* FL binoculars: These were loaners. The weigh 20 ounces, are 4.6 inches tall with eyecups extended, and were best summed up by a PH who took a look through them: “They make you want to take your own binoculars and throw them as far as you can.” Are they expensive? Of course, but on the other hand, what the hell are you saving it for? The end is near.

    Mystery Ranch Crew Cab Pack: This is an expandable daypack that employs a frame. There are three cells (plus two more in the cover) that expand from 1900 ccs to 5,000. You can pack it in all sorts of configurations, and it has the best suspension system I’ve ever used. Moreover, all those cells and straps and buckles appear to keep the TSA from asking you over to the little table to see what you’re carrying. Even loaded to near-max capacity, it fits in the overhead compartment of a jet.

  • August 19, 2008

    Bourjaily: Go USA!

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Can we have a Gun Nut “U.S.A! U.S.A!” please?

    Alaskan Corey Cogdell, 21, and competing in her first Olympics, won a four-way shootout to capture a bronze medal in trap in Beijing. Then she told interviewers that moose hunting with her dad helped her win the medal. How great is that?


    I met Cogdell briefly at SHOT Show in Las Vegas this year. Like every member of USA shooting I’ve met, she is clean-cut, well-spoken and a fine ambassador for both the United States and the shooting sports. So, congratulations, Corey.

    Incidentally, the gold went to Finnish shooter Satu Makela-Nummela. No word on whether she hunts, but Finland, like Alaska, is rich in moose.Coincidence or not? You decide.

  • August 18, 2008

    Petzal: A Sorrowful Tale of High Velocity

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Once upon a time in 2007, there was a hunter who had done very well in phrenology and went to a Wise Custom Gun Builder (hereinafter known as WCGB) and said, “Build me a 7mm STW.”

    “Why do you want a 7mm STW?”, asked the WCGB. “Unless you put a 28-inch barrel on it, an STW is just another 7mm magnum, and the only thing a 28-inch barrel is good for is pole vaulting.”

    But the Wealthy Hunter (hereinafter known as WH) was like many other men who had done well in life. Because he knew from phrenology, and making money, he thought he knew about guns and hunting as well, and would not listen to the WCGB who had been accumulating knowledge for 40 years but who, after all, had to make a dollar now and then.

    They compromised on a 26-inch barrel. The WH took delivery of the rifle, worked up a handload employing 140-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips at nearly 3,600 fps that went into one ragged hole, and went off to practice.

    That fall, the WCGB got a call from the WH who said,

    “I’m going on a mule deer hunt with an outfitter who guarantees me a shot at a 35-inch buck. It’s $14,000, and I’m taking the STW.”

    “But what happens if you get a shot at 100 yards,” said the WCGB, “the Ballistic Tip is a peerless projectile, but at that kind of range with that velocity it’ll blow up. You won’t even break a rib. Use another bullet.”

    “What do you know,” sneered the WH. “That rifle shoots ¼-inch groups and I can hit groundhogs with it at 600 yards.”

    The WCGB sighed and went back to his lathe; he had heard it all before.

    And so a month passed. Then the phone rang in the WCGB’s shop. It was the WH, back from the West.

    “*&^*(*&*&&&#@^!@#$,” said the WH.

    “Let me guess,” said the WCGB, “you got a shot at 100 yards and you never even broke a rib. You lost your 35-inch deer and they couldn’t find him.”

    “It took them three days to find the carcass,” said the WH. “It was completely rotted. They sent me the antlers. *#&^%&*()&^^%!”

    This is a true story; only the names have been changed to protect the silly. I would point out what the morals are, but you can deduce them yourself. Unless, of course, you’ve made a lot of money at something and don’t need any kind of advice from anyone.

  • August 15, 2008

    Petzal: Notes on the Vomit-Colored Rifle

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    It occurred to me that as a responsible journalist I could not simply say that I had a vomit-colored rifle built and let it go at that. The rifle in question was a 7mm Weatherby Magnum, made by Ultra Light Arms in 1989. It was intended as a beanfield rifle, and therefore, since it was a gun made for use in the Deep South, I thought it should have an appropriate camo pattern.

    However, I was sick of looking at trees and flowers and chirping birds, and wanted something original. So I hit on the idea of the puke pattern you see after a pig pull and asked the stock painter at ULA to make the background beer-yellow, and include green splotches that looked like okra* and dark brown gobs that looked like pulled pork. It was an artistic triumph.

    The rifle, which had a No. 3 contour Douglas barrel, was one of the best all-around guns I’ve ever owned, and it went to such diverse places as Texas, Wyoming, Quebec, and South Carolina. I finally settled on a 160-grain Nosler Partition as my everything bullet. Velocity, as I recall was about 3,100 fps, which is plenty. On a hunt in Quebec, the stock was covered in caribou blood after I packed out the meat from one of the awful beasts, and it improved the gun’s appearance considerably.

    Because the nature of my trade prevents me from keeping rifles forever, I sold it some years back and it has since been repainted in a drab and respectable color. But it was fun while it lasted.

    One of you mentioned a piece I did years ago for Gun Digest titled “I Sold All My Lovely Wood,” which told the true and pitiful tale of how I said goodbye to just about all my wood-stocked rifles. There’s a subsequent story to that.

    A few years after the article ran, I was seated at a table at the Swarovski cocktail party at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, stuffing down free food** as fast as I could. Across the table from me was a young man from Sweden who kept staring at my name tag, and then at my face, and then my tag again. And I mean he stared.

    I tried to place his name, and whether I had insulted him at some point, and was looking for something to use as a weapon when he came across the table. Then he remembered:

    “YOU…YOU…YOU…”, he said, pointing his finger like Bubba Clinton at a press conference. I braced to throw the first punch and then run. “YOU SOLD YOUR WOOD!”

    I admitted that I had, and after stuffing my pockets with canapés, left in a hurry.

    *In my yankee opinion, the best use of okra is as an ingredient for puke.

    **Were it not for free food, most gun writers would collapse from starvation before the SHOT Show ended.

  • August 14, 2008

    Bourjaily: Long-Lost Language

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    One of the small things I like about hunting is that it takes you into the countryside where people say things you thought no one actually says anymore.

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