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  • September 5, 2006

    A Not-So-Sad Farewell to the "Crocodile Hunter"

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    On September 2, Steve Irwin, the self-styled “crocodile hunter” (“crocodile annoyer” would have been more like it) was killed when a stingray barb pierced his heart. Oddly, Mr. Irwin was not pestering the ray when it killed him. I heard on the radio that since Europeans came to Australia, only 10 people have been killed by stingrays. For Mr. Irwin to meet his end like this is rather like an astronomer stepping outside his observatory and getting beaned by a meteorite.

    What I disliked about Mr. Irwin (beside the fact that he was an anti-hunter) was that his antics were mostly about him, and not the animals. As was said about the demented Timothy Treadwell, he didn’t accord them any respect. Yanking a snake off the ground by its tail might have entertained him and his audience, but I doubt if the snake appreciated the honor. Snakes, and other dangerous animals, are to be let alone. Unless you want to hunt them, and it’s legal. But they are not stooges for someone who is starved for attention.

    There was also a certain amount of b.s. to Mr. Irwin. According to a quote of his: “I’ve worked with more dangerous snakes than anyone in the world and I’ve never been bitten. It’s a gift.”

    Well crikey, mate, I don’t think so. From 1947 to 1985, a quiet, self-effacing Floridian named Bill Haas operated the Miami Serpentarium where he milked deadly snakes (more than 60 species) 70 to 100 times a day, every day. He was bitten 170 times. There is no way of knowing how many lives he saved. And he never had a television show. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 31, 2006

    Rifles I Don’t Own (But Wish I Did): The G&H-built .416 Rigby

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Back in the 1980s, Field & Stream had its offices at 1515 Broadway, right on Times Square, before they cleaned it up. This meant that you could see a Class A felony every day, and that you could walk to the Griffin & Howe showroom in 5 minutes. Bill Ward, who was one of the nicer guys in the gun biz and who owned G&H, would call me whenever they had something real good, and I would come trotting over.

    On one occasion, the rifle du jour was a G&H-built .416 Rigby that the company had probably turned out in the 1950s. It was based on an Enfield P17 bolt-action, and was a dead plain working rifle. It may seem strange now, but at one time actions that could fit big cartridges like the Rigby were scarce, and the P17 made an excellent conversion. It had two big “ears” that protected the rear sight, and you had to grind those off and convert it to cock on opening instead of cock on closing, and install a single-stage trigger, but then you really had something. It was strong, and slick, and had a terrific safety.

    I saw this gun only once, and then only for 15 minutes or so, but I’ve never forgotten it, perhaps because it was a perfect rifle. The stock was dead-plain, strong walnut, stained reddish with the alkinit root die that G&H was so fond of, it had a heavy barrel (it weighed about 10 pounds without a scope), and the metal was blued in the beautiful cold-rust bluing that G&H did so well.

    It was an honest working gun in one of the best African calibers of all, and I hope that whoever owns it has hunted with it over there, and is taking good care of it. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 29, 2006

    The .25/06: An Unbeatable Cartridge for Deer and Antelope

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    This past week I got out my beanfield rifle, which is a Savage Model 10FLP in .25/06, and was reminded once again of what a useful cartridge the .25/06 is. Created by a wildcatter named A.O. Niedner in 1920 (!) it’s simply the .30/06 necked down to .257. The cartridge was commercialized by Remington in 1969. It has always sold well, but has never set the fields on fire, and is now in something of a decline, from what I read.

    It’s one of those purported dual-purpose big-game/varmint rounds like the .243 or the .257 Roberts, but in truth it’s a pretty poor varmint load—it burns far too much powder for that. For big game, though, it has some fine qualities. Although it comes in a poor second to the .270 as an all-around big-game load, as a deer and antelope cartridge the .25/06 is unbeatable. Used with good 115-grain bullets, it will give you velocities well in excess of 3,000 fps along with very light recoil.

    I was introduced to the cartridge by knifemaking great George Herron, a South Carolinian who used a heavy-barreled Ruger Number One in .25/06 to kill something like 150 deer over the years, and George never shot twice at the same deer. As I recall, he handloaded 90-grain Sierra bullets to some outlandish velocity, and it worked, but I prefer 115-grain and 120-grain Nosler Partitions in handloads, and the Federal factory loading of the 115-grain Partition.

    One other thing about the .25/06: There is an 87-grain varmint load that really howls along, and if you are looking to terminate the furtive existence of a coyote and don’t care about spoiling the pelt, why, look no farther. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 28, 2006

    Much Ado about Nothing (With apologies to the worshipful Wm. Shaxpur)

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Remember  the United Nations Review Conference on Small Arms, and how it was going to take our guns away? Ever wonder what happened? The answer is, nothing. I wouldn’t have known this either, except that I happen to get Safari Times, which is Safari Club International’s newspaper, and there it was on the front page. No one could agree on anything, and they couldn’t even agree to have a follow-up conference at which they would not agree on anything.

    It’s one more typical farce, courtesy of the folks who won’t/can’t stop the massacres in Darfur, or send a meaningful peacekeeping force to Lebanon, or do much of anything else except occupy valuable real estate on the east side of Manhattan. What is worthy of note, however is the great hoopla that took place beforehand.

    The NRA in particular conjured up visions of sinister, blue-beanied forces breaking into every home in America, demanding in odd, incomprehensible English (the kind used on PA systems in airports), “We are wanting all your guns now, yes, or we will be taking you to jail, including your small children and your pets, by golly.”

    Well, the NRA was obliged to send out warnings, but there’s a danger in getting people worked up about an essentially lame organization like the U.N.: If you get them exercised about everything all the time they eventually lose interest, and when a real threat looms, you can’t get them as charged up as they would have been otherwise.

    And a footnote: That same issue of the Safari Times carried a notice that the Sables, which is the ladies’ auxiliary of SCI, had elected a new slate of officers. A while back in Field & Stream, I poked fun at the Sables because they were named after antelope. Since then, I’ve gotten to meet some of them, and they do an enormous amount of good for the hunting sports with very little in the way of thanks or publicity. Bless their hearts; I wish them the very best. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 24, 2006

    Hot Barrels and Bad Shooting

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Every time you pull the trigger, you send a 5,000-degree flame streaking up your barrel. It lasts only a millisecond or so, but it melts your barrel a little bit each time you shoot. And it can seriously affect your rifle’s accuracy and its point of impact.

    Barrels that are button-rifled or hammer-forged (which is just about all barrels nowadays) have stresses introduced by these processes. After all, if you had a carbide die pulled through your throat under tons of pressure, or were beaten into an entirely different shape by hydraulic hammers, you’d be fairly stressed, too. In theory, barrels are stress-relieved after they’re rifled to eliminate these evil forces, but in reality, a lot of barrels still quiver with latent tension.

    And when they’re heated by repeated firing, the stresses are liberated, and the barrels shoot all over the place. Not only that, but the shooter finds himself looking through a shimmering wall of heat waves, which makes the mark he’s shooting at appear higher than it actually is.

    Some rifles can shoot hot with no changes, but many can’t, so you  can’t let them overheat. The question is, how hot is too hot? I’ve come to believe that if you have a barrel that is subject to the heat demons, anything hotter than lukewarm is too much. If you can’t hold onto the barrel for the time it takes to say “Stay the course” 100 times, things have already gone too far.

    Here are three things that may help your barrel cool faster:

    • Get the rifle out of the sun. You wouldn’t think this helps, but it does.
    • Stand it on its butt with the muzzle pointed up. This creates a smokestack effect and helps heat escape the barrel.
    • If you can, turn a fan on it, or better yet, an air conditioner.

    It’s also helpful if you bring two or three rifles to the range. That way, you can shoot one and have one cooling in rotation. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 23, 2006

    A Few Words on the World Hunting Association


    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    It is a fact that on certain ranches in South Africa, hunters are allowed to dart white rhinos with drug-tipped arrows, and while the doped-out beast is snoring away, said nimrods pose with it just as though they had actually killed it.  Everyone has a good time, even the rhinos, which, I am told, look forward to the occasional high and have been known to trot toward bowhunters ass-first, just waiting for that fix.

    But now we have the World Hunting Association, headed by one David Farbman, who lists himself as Commissioner and CEO, and is based in Detroit. Mister Farbman has set himself the goal of saving hunting, and toward that end he planned an event that was to take place on a fenced-in Michigan ranch, where a selected cadre of hunters would dart deer, and after the doped-up beasts were scored, they would be released, and the winner would get himself a cash prize. Just like Bassmasters, see?

    Well, it didn’t work out. The outrage of the hunting community was overwhelming, and Commissioner Farbman has decided to make his scheme more acceptable by killing the deer. Got that?

    And there is a tour planned. According to the WHA’s website, ( “The WHA Tour will launch the first of two events in October of 2006 at the organization’s 1,000-acre ranch in Gladwin, Mich. Eight teams of two, each consisting of a hunter and a cameraman, will compete for points and prize money.”

    The event will last 12 days, a wildlife biologist will be on staff (for what reason is not stated) and the weapons to be used are rifle, muzzleloader, and bow and arrow.

    The publicity from this, says Commissioner Farbman, will bring hunting all sorts of notoriety, and I can only agree with that. He has also claims that the W.H.A. will bring hunting to a new level. And he is absolutely right there, too.

    For news coverage of the W.H.A, visit our Field Notes news blog here. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 22, 2006

    The Unlikely Beanfield Rifle

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    There are few things I enjoy as much as hunting out of a treestand in the Deep South, assuming that I don’t step on a serpent, or see a serpent, or get involved with redbugs. If you would like to try it, and don’t want to appear gauche or lacking in taste and culture, you need a beanfield rifle, which is a heavy, small-caliber rifle with which you overlook a patch of oats, or corn, or a beanfield, and wait for a deer to materialize.

    One of the best beanfield rifles I’ve ever seen is the Savage Model 110FP. It’s a police tactical rifle, and is chambered for the .300 Win Mag, which you don’t want, and the .25/06, which is one of the best beanfield-rifle calibers around. Why Savage chambers it in this caliber is beyond me, because every other tactical rifle in the world is made in .223, .308, and .300 Win Mag, and precious little else. But they do, and we should be thankful.

    It’s comprised of the standard Savage bolt action, their world-beating Accu-Trigger, a heavy, 24-inch barrel, and a butt-ugly black synthetic stock. The whole rifle is dull black, in fact, even the bolt. According to the Savage catalog, the 110FP weighs 7.25 pounds, but whoever wrote this was smoking something that wasn’t good for them. It weighs more than that, which is to your advantage.

    Best of all is the price, $621 list, for a rifle that will certainly shoot a minute-of-angle, and probably a good deal better.

    And I have to pass this along. Years ago, I was shooting at a public range alongside a police sniper who was practicing, and I heard him singing this, very softly. It was a parody of the 60’s hit “People,” sung by the nightmarish Barbra Streisand:

    People who kill people
    Are the luckiest people in the world…”

    He sang it over and over, just that one verse. Cops perfect a kind of sly, bitter humor early on or they go mad. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 21, 2006

    Jury Selection: I'm Still Waiting

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I’ve sat on, I believe, 23 jury panels since the mid-70s, and have never been picked for a jury. Public defenders do not like me. Just about all of them are politically liberal, and some of them are not the sharpest legal minds around. If you haven’t had the experience, the prosecutor and defense counsel question potential jurors in a process known as voir dire, which is interpreted to mean “speak the truth.” They ask you all sorts of neat stuff about yourself, including any organizations you may belong to.

    When I’m asked this question, I smile sweetly and say: “The American Society of Magazine Editors and the National Rifle Association.”

    When public defenders hear that last, their eyes pinwheel in their heads, and they think the following:

    “Probably reads Mein Kampf on Sundays. Probably collects hangman’s nooses. Probably owns guns. Probably votes Republican. Probably doesn’t care that my client hacked 5 people to death only because he had an unhappy childhood. GET RID OF HIM.”

    So then when the challenges come, I see them point at me and know that soon I will be returning to the jury room to do crossword puzzles…and read Mein Kampf.

    I would be interested in hearing from any of you who have had similar experiences. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 16, 2006

    A Warning from the Wolves

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Again, this deals only marginally with guns, but it’s a spooky story, so I’ll pass it along. It concerns a friend of mine named James who operates a hunting/fishing lodge on the southern coast of Alaska, and kept his two English setters there to do some bird hunting.

    If the dogs were not getting worked regularly, James would send them out with one of the guides, who rode a 4-wheeler and followed the pair to keep an eye on them. Except one day he didn’t, and noticed after a while that one of the setters had gone exploring, which is not a good idea for a setter in wolf country.

    He ran the other dog back to the lodge and then went looking, and what he found made his blood run cold. There, following the tracks of the setter, were the saucer-sized pawprints of a wolf. It was obvious that the dog was aware of its danger and running for its life, but against a wolf it had no chance. When the guide looked up he saw the wolf—a 140-pound dun-colored animal, which was the pack’s alpha male—with the dead setter in his jaws, like a terrier with a rat.

    He gunned the 4-wheeler and chased the wolf to the edge of a bog, and in his rage tried to follow, but the 4-wheeler started to sink, and it looked like the wolf would escape—but then it made a mistake. It leaped from the bog and ran down the beach. The guide wrenched the 4-wheeler free and followed at top speed, firing with a .44 magnum revolver as he went.

    One of the bullets hit the wolf, which stopped, and the guide rammed him with the 4-wheeler, killing him. The guide brought the dead wolf back to the lodge, and he and James went to bury the setter. They dug a deep hole, laid the dog in it, filled it, and left, heads bowed in sorrow.

    The next day the local hermit showed up at the lodge.

    “You ought to bury that poor dog of yours,” he said to James, “it isn’t right to leave him lying there.”

    James and the guide went to the grave and found it was empty. The wolves had dug up the setter, dragged it to the spot where the alpha male had killed it, and left it. As a warning? Who knows? And so the alpha male’s hide decorates the lodge’s walls, and the setter--there is one left--is not let out of sight. And the wolves are still there, waiting. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 15, 2006

    Packing a Wallop: More on the Myth of Knockdown Power


    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    This week I had an interesting and reasonably testy exchange with a reader who claimed that his .300 Winchester Magnum, loaded with bullets that I’d recommended, didn’t “wallop” African game the way he liked. He had to shoot them multiple times, and nothing dropped in its tracks. But on the other hand every critter expired, and he didn’t lose a one.

    I told him that you don’t wallop anything in Africa or here for that matter; that animals go down from lack of oxygen to the brain or damage to the spine, and not from bullet impact. Here are a couple of cases in point:

    The first day of a safari, your PH will say something like: “Let’s go collect an animal for dinner, bwana.” But what he’s really saying is, Let’s see how well you can shoot.  This is your debut, and how the safari is conducted will depend largely on how competent or otherwise you prove yourself to be.
    So in 1987, in Zambia, I had a PH named Abie DuPloy, and we went through this drill, and presently came on a herd of puku, which is a stocky, tough antelope of about 400 pounds. I was shooting a .338, which has plenty of wallop, whatever that is, and put the crosshairs on an attractive bull and pulled the trigger.

    We heard the bullet hit, but the bull showed no interest in the proceedings at all, and the herd closed in around him, so I couldn’t shoot again. Abie and the trackers gave me the hairy eyeball, and I sat there sweating wondering how the hell I had missed when I was sure it was a good shot.

    Five minutes went by—I timed it on my watch—and then the bull shivered and collapsed, deader than truth in government. He was shot right through the shoulders, dead on his feet, and no sign of it. Was he walloped? Probably not.
    On that same trip I shot a zebra at 75 yards with a .458, shooting the old Bear Claw 510-grain bullets. I hit her right in the lungs with 2 1/2 tons of bullet energy, and she did a mad dash for 100 yards before piling up. Was she walloped? Probably not.

    Maybe if I used a .50 BMG…. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 10, 2006

    Shooting in Self Defense: What Justifies Lethal Force?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    Inthegravestextreme_book About 20 years ago, I took a course in defense shooting given by a local sheriff’s deputy. It was a very useful two days, and was also the scariest experience I’ve ever had, outside of seeing Hillary Clinton in Grand Central Terminal. The deputy put us through a dozen or so shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, in which he took pains to emphasize that the life-or-death decisions you make in a split second are based on inadequate information and stand an excellent chance of being wrong. (If you can’t get one of these courses, I urge you to buy a copy of Masad Ayoob’s book, In the Gravest Extreme.  Ayoob is a career cop, and you can either read his book or hope for an understanding cellmate.)

    And, he continued, even if you survive the gunplay, your real problems begin when the DA comes after you, takes you to court, and makes you out to be a murderer. It was not a pretty picture.

    But it may be improving. In 15 states, the law is being changed so that you no longer actually have to be having your throat slit in order to shoot in self-defense. (click here to read the story.) 

    One of the main criticisms anti-gun advocates levy at right-to-shoot laws like these is that they hold civilians to a much lower standard of proof that there was reason to employ lethal force than is required of policemen. This, however, is as it should be.

    The average cop has a list of options, short of shooting, that the civilian lacks, including:

    • An armed partner.
    • A real working knowledge of self-defense.
    • A radio to call for backup.
    • Mace.
    • A PR-24, which is a baton to you.
    • A sap. No, not a member of the Bush administration, but a blackjack.
    • Sap gloves. These are heavy gloves with pockets of lead dust sewn into the knuckles.
    • A Tazer.
    • A beanbag gun.

    Moreover, the typical police officer has probably had a couple of violent encounters, and is less prone to panic than a civilian who has never had one, which is a huge advantage.

    Civilians can’t get this neat stuff, so our options are submit (which often gets you killed) or shoot. And if the law cuts us a little slack, that’s fine. And way overdue. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 8, 2006

    My Moment of Glory

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    This is only marginally about guns, but I like it, so I’ll pass it along. On July 4, 1976, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming dedicated the arrival of the Winchester Firearms Collection to the center, and it was a Great Big Deal. The governor of Wyoming was there, and various astronauts, professional athletes, captains of industry, etc. And as a sop to the lower classes, Winchester flew up a bunch of writers, including myself, from Denver, to report on the goings-on.

    At the time, Cody airport was extremely small, and most of the town’s people were assembled in two lines at the entrance. So as each of us stepped through the door, our name would be announced, and our home town, and there would be a polite spattering of applause.

    As I stepped through the door, I heard the loudspeaker say: “And from New York City, Field & Stream’s managing editor Dave Petzal…”

    And the people went ape. Strong men wept. Women fainted. Babies puked. I started to swell up like a toad. “Hot damn,” I remember thinking, “I’m  home.”

    And then I happened to look behind me. John Wayne had stepped through the door a little ahead of cue, just as they announced me. I deflated plenty damn quick. But I’m still a John Wayne fan. He was bigger in real life than he was on screen. And if you haven’t been to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, you are culturally deprived; it’s a marvel. Or you can simply wander the streets of Cody, watching insanely rich people try to pass themselves off as just plain ranch hands.
           [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 7, 2006

    Dealer's Take: Scott Moss on Lousy Customer Service


    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

    Jacket Men’s Gamekeeper Jacket
    MSRP: $125.00

    This diatribe is about companies with lousy customer service. I do not subscribe to nor do I practice the maxim "The customer is always right." In fact, I have some customers that I classify as "Rambo-zos" and have been known to throw one or two of them out of the store on occasion. However, many times customers have legitimate gripes and manufacturers as well as retailers need to pay attention to them or lose the customer forever.

    A case in point is Beretta. A customer of mine once bought a Beretta coat from me that turned out to be defective: The wrist opening was so small on one side that the customer could not get his hand through it. It was clearly a manufacturing defect. No problem. I gave the guy a credit and he left happy. I sent the coat back to Beretta assuming (wrongfully) that they would make good and either a) give me a replacement or b) give me a credit. No chance.

    They are apparently from the caveat emptor school of business which translated simply means "too bad." The guy who handles Beretta clothing was in the store at the time of the return and promised to get us a credit, and even took another coat that had a minor flaw to be repaired. But in the end he couldn't get me the credit and gave me a really ugly shirt as a consolation prize.  Now, that guy is excellent, and he is really trying. As a result, I’m sure he’ll last only another few weeks and I’ll be sent a minion who is more apt to toe the Beretta party line.

    Compare this to a company like Filson. Filson makes excellent hunting and shooting clothing. They ship it to me three-day select at no extra charge. Their core line is made in USA. They list their dealers in their catalog. Sometimes they send me the wrong item, size, or whatever. I send it back and get a replacement immediately (if I want) or a credit. Their clothing is guaranteed for life and has been known to be passed down from father to son on occasion. I buy, promote, and sell lots of Filson.

    I don’t buy, promote or sell as much of Beretta clothing even though much of it is very good. I want my customer to feel his purchase is a good value (price + quality) so he will come back and buy something else. How can I sell a product that the manufacturer won’t even stand behind? Beretta is too large a line to not carry, but I’m not enthusiastic about supporting a company that does not support me or my customers. [ Read Full Post ]

  • August 4, 2006

    When Only the Cops Have Guns, Who Watches the Watchers?

    By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

    I’m on the e-mail list for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and what I get is always interesting, even if I don’t agree with it. The most recent arrival is a statement of Joshua Horwitz, who is Executive Director of the Coalition. Mr. Horwitz is exercised over the Senate’s vote on July 13 to prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to confiscate private firearms during future emergencies and major disasters.

    What is particularly interesting about this e-mail is not so much Mr. Horwitz position, but the basic assumptions on which it rests, which are common to many anti-gunners.

    Assumption Number One:  Anyone who owns a firearm is a likely psychotic, because normal, law-abiding people do not need firearms and would not be allowed to own them in the best of all possible Americas.

    The fact is that the people who were doing the shooting in New Orleans were the usual thugs, felons, and hoodlums of which the city has a plentiful supply. Most people—legal gun owners included—were too busy trying to stay alive to bother with shooting at the police and National Guard.

    Assumption Number Two:  If the citizenry is an armed mob, then the forces of government, the police, etc., are always just, fair, and efficient, ready to protect you when trouble comes.

    I would sooner have Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow protecting my old ass than the New Orleans police. During the Katrina unpleasantness, 250 of them simply deserted, others looted, and 4 were cited for brutality. And when it was over, their chief resigned in disgrace. And these are the guys who are going to save you?

    Mr. Horwitz goes on to say: “…But what if the next crisis is something worse [than Katrina]—a biological chemical, or nuclear attack on the United States? Do we really want to tie the hands of law enforcement and restrict their flexibility in dealing with a catastrophic event?”

    Think a minute. If we get anthraxed, or nuked, or Sarined, it is scarcely going to matter who has what in the way of guns. Our troubles are going to go far, far beyond that. But people who believe as Mr. Horwitz does see the world as a simpler place. Remove the guns and all will be well. [ Read Full Post ]