March 23, 2007
Who Was The Greatest Gun Writer Of All Time?
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
In my recent post on Elmer Keith I mentioned that the four major gun writers of the 20th century were Keith himself, Townsend Whelen, Jack O’Connor, and Warren Page. So the next logical step would be to see if one of them stood out over the rest. What the heck? Why not? Their spirits will not be perturbed by anything I say.
The rational way to do this is to create a checklist by which a gun writer can be measured, and see how each one stacks up. Theoretically, at the end, a winner may emerge. So here goes:
Writing: You have to go with O’Connor, who was a highly successful writer before he wrote about guns for a living. Not only he was great in his day, but what he wrote has aged well. Whelen was a good writer, but not a great one, and he is now old-fashioned. Keith could tell a story, and is still fun to read, but no match for O’Connor. Page was competent, and no better.
Experience: In terms of hunting experience, Page in a walk, followed by O’Connor. Keith rarely hunted outside the Rockies, and Whelen was quite limited as a hunter, although he probably had more technical knowledge than anyone except Page.
Influence: Page first, followed by Keith. Page was directly responsible for the .243, the 7mm magnum, and was one of the prime movers behind benchrest shooting, which has been a huge influence on guns. Keith was the daddy of the .44 magnum, and a constant experimenter. Whelen was hugely respect by the gun industry, but I don’t recall that he was an advocate for anything in particular, and O’Connor simply reported on what was there. He made the .270, but he wasn’t responsible for it.
And So? Page should get the nod, but the truth is that O’Connor is the most-remembered, most-quoted, and probably the most-read 30 years after his death. And so, with a heavy heart, I have to give it to him.
But as Jim Carmichel says, “There’s nothing deader than a dead gun writer.”