Generally speaking, it’s a shame we can’t--in the words of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson--take the past decade, pound it into a goddamn bottle, and set it adrift in the China current. But in the world of rifles, by and large, it’s been nothing but good news. Herewith, the most significant developments of 2000-2010, not in order of importance.
1. The transmogrification of the AR-15 into a bona-fide sporting rifle and an industry unto itself.
2. Hornady’s emergence as a major player and a major innovator in the ammunition biz.
3. Ten years ago, I thought that sporting optics had reached a state of perfection beyond which it could not go. Boy, was I wrong.
For this, my last post of the 00s, I had been trying for a while – and failing -- to think of an end-of-the-decade blog post. My “Eureka” moment came while cleaning up after cooking our Christmas goose. I heard the “tink” of metal falling into the kitchen sink. When I fished the misshapen pellet pictured above out of the sink I realized Hevi Shot is the most significant invention in shotgunning of the past 10 years.
A friend of mine asked me to write something about Warren Page, Field & Stream’s shooting editor from 1947 to 1972. So be it.
Page, whose nickname was Lefty, started at F&S at just the time that the great wildcatting epidemic began. Every gunmaker who could ream out a set of loading dies had a series of cartridges with his name on it. Page, being a technoid of the first magnitude, was heavily involved in all this, and as he put it, “I wore out the decimal key on the typewriter.”
A lot of us here probably started with .410s. The first gun I shot was a single-shot Beretta that my dad had cut down to fit me when I was quite young. I mostly remember shooting stationary paper plates and balloons blowing along the ground with it. For puncturing plates and popping ballons, a .410 is plenty of gun and they have practically no recoil. For anything else, it can be challenging. There’s just not much shot in a .410 cartridge making the pattern core small and the fringes weak. I waited until both my kids were big enough to shoot 20 gauge youth model 1100s (age 11-12) to start them out because I wanted them to think shooting was fun, not frustrating.
Last year, because I had been especially good, I gave myself a Benelli Montefeltro for Christmas. This year, my German shorthair Jed launched a pre-emptive strike on my Christmas budget, giving me a pair of my wife’s tights and a sock. Ordinarily, tights and a sock wouldn’t empty the Christmas nest egg. However, once the tights and sock have been eaten by a dog, then you have to pay to have them surgically removed from his stomach, the price goes way up.
One of the more interesting things I used this summer was a scope base from Miracle Machine Works in Selma, Alabama. The inventor is Chris Self, a gun nut of the first magnitude and an ingenious guy. Mr. Self’s brainchild is called the Variable Gantry Mount, and for those of you who like to shoot at long range, it can save you a lot of aggravation and money.
A while back, I wrote about my friend Sam Curtis, who was dying of brain cancer and, knowing he didn’t have long, sent me a knife that he carried for years as a keepsake. Sam was a long-time Field & Stream contributor who began writing for us in the 1970s. On December 17, Sam went to the place were there is always good tracking snow and lots of elk. I liked him as a person, and admired him as a hunter and writer. He was careful, scientific, and relentless. Unlike me he did not care a damn for equipment. He wore an old brown-wool coat with a homemade orange vest and carried a Savage .30/06 with a 4X Leupold scope. I don’t think he owned another rifle.
Beretta’s A400 semiautos – which I saw in Italy earlier this fall -- are trickling into the country. I have one and have been putting it to good use. Thus far, I like almost everything about the A400. Through a flat of target loads and an assortment of hunting loads, it has worked almost perfectly. Its one failure to fire came on the second shot of skeet doubles. I was using 2 ¾ dram, 1 1/8 ounce target loads, and the second round chambered but the bolt didn’t close 100% of the way and the gun went “click.” I think the loads were a little light for this 3 ½ inch gun, although it may eventually cycle them with complete reliability after I shoot it more.
For years now I’ve been flying out of JFK and LaGuardia with guns.
In all that time and God knows how many trips I’ve never been given a hard time by the airlines, or the cops, or the TSA. But checking a rifle through either airport adds another half-hour. And then you have the airlines’ whimsical way of shipping you to one destination and your gun to another.
So on two occasions this year, I’ve sent my rifle ahead. I stick it in a steel case and slide the case inside what is known as a ski-shipping box—a two-piece carton that adjusts for length. Then, I take it to a gun dealer and ask him to insure it heavily and give me the tracking number. All this is not cheap, but your rifle will...