*The shooting sports are basically in fine shape. Oh, we have our problems, and there are many out there who wish us ill: PETA, senators Boxer, Feinstein, Schumer, and Clinton, and the always active Sarah Brady. (Speaking of Sen. Schumer, a recent study by the Insurance Underwriters of America reveals that the most dangerous single act you can commit is getting between him and a television camera.) But generally we have it pretty good.
Finley Peter Dunne, a 19th-century columnist and cynic, said that the job of the journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and the way I see it, we’ve gotten a little too comfortable. So here are 10 things that irritate the tar out of me.
1 The Stamp on Gun Barrels: “Warning: This Firearm Is Dangerous”
If you are seeking conclusive proof that humanity has no hope left, I give you this demented label. What do people think a gun is and does? I know that lawyers have to be involved, but even when you factor in the product-liability racket, there is still a certain Alice in Wonderland quality to this warning.
Maybe we should put a sign on the front of every locomotive that reads, DO NOT STAND ON TRACKS WHILE TRAIN IS IN MOTION. Or on the steering columns of automobiles: FAILURE TO DEPRESS BRAKE PEDAL WHEN APPROACHING STATIONARY OBJECTS AT HIGH SPEED CAN LEAD TO SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH.
Anyone who can explain this phenomenon can probably also tell us why Paris Hilton is famous.
2 The Modern Riflescope
It used to be that scope sights came in 4X and had standard crosshair reticles, and that was it. They worked just fine, and people shot lots of animals. Now scopes are big and heavy and variable powered, have controls that belong on the instrument panel of an F-16 fighter, and come outfitted with reticles that only optical engineers can comprehend.
There are bulging knobs, little lights, and even scopes that can keep track of five (or is it six?) zero settings simultaneously. I’ve even seen a model with a built-in laser rangefinder that was the size and price of a nuclear submarine. And that is just the beginning of what’s to come, trust me.
Is all this high tech really necessary? Warren Page, over his 25-year reign as our shooting editor, had a favorite rifle he called Old Betsy. She wore a 4X Redfield scope with a medium cross-hair. Warren killed 475 head of big game with Old Betsy at ranges from powder-burn to 500 yards. He never mentioned being under-scoped.
3 Long, Long-Range Shooting of Big Game
This has been coming for a long, long time. Since the era of the flintlock, the practical maximum range for big-game hunters has been 300 yards. These days, if you are able to find a place to practice and are willing to pay for the equipment, you can be a 500-yard rifleman.
What’s wrong with a-third-of-a-mile shooting? Just this: Sport hunting is based on the premise that the animals have a chance to evade you before you can kill them. They do this by sensing you with hearing, smell, and eyesight. But at 500 yards, sound and scent dissipate, and only prong-horn antelope see well enough to detect a hunter holding still. No chance, no sport.
4 Cowboy Action Shooting
Having lived through (and thoroughly appreciated) the TV Western craze of the 1950s, I am all for cowboy action shooting. It must be great fun to dress up in the clothes of the Old West, adopt a moniker, and shoot old guns. But the whole concept is based on a false premise–that gunfights were contests of skill and courage between more or less equally matched opponents. No. The shootout on Main Street at high noon is an invention. In the history of the West, no first-rank gunfighter went up against another first-rank gunfighter because he knew they would wind up killing each other. Here are a few examples of how business was actually conducted:
Billy The Kid, a murderer for hire, was unarmed (according to some accounts) when Sheriff Pat Garrett dispatched him for good in the dark. Garrett was killed from behind when he dismounted his buckboard to take a leak on the prairie.
John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back of the head by a constable named John Selman, who walked into a bar, saw him, and did the right thing. Selman was widely applauded for getting rid of this crazy and dangerous thug. He himself was taken down in an alley under questionable circumstances by a deputy marshal named George Scarborough.
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was fired as marshal of Abilene, Kansas, after he killed his deputy, Mike Williams, when Williams ran up behind him as Hickok was busy shooting cowboys. Some years later, Hickok was shot in the back of the head at a poker table by one Jack McCall.
Virgil Earp, Wyatt’s older brother, lost the use of an arm when he was shot from an ambush. Morgan Earp, Wyatt’s younger brother, was in the midst of a game of billiards when he received a shotgun blast in his back.
So, to bring cowboy action shooting into line with reality, I propose two changes: All targets should be of men’s backs and contestants should adopt realistic monikers, like the Laramie Assassin, Throat-Slitting Pete, Atrocity Ashley (Calamity Jane was taken), and so on. That should put things right.
5 The Safari Club Sables
Safari Club International does an immense amount of good for big game everywhere, but it has always struck me as odd that the women in the group are called Sables–not for the nasty, weasel-related beasts that make up fur coats, but for the African game animal. I can think of no other organization in which the males are members, while the females are antelope.
Seeking enlightenment, I went to the club’s website and found this disturbing sentence: “The SCIF Sables is an organization of women and a few men who raise funds to further support wildlife education” (italics mine). What are these men doing in a women’s organization? Why are there only a few? Are antelope involved somehow? I’d call and try to find out, but frankly, I’m afraid.
(By the way, it is a little-known fact that if a small nuclear device were detonated at the SCI convention in Reno, Nevada, the pool of gold from the melted Rolexes would be 52 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep.)
6 Gun Writers Who Can’t Get Through an Article Without Mentioning Jack O’Connor or Elmer Keith (or Both)
I write about Warren Page fairly often, but I knew the man. I learned from him firsthand, and he was my mentor and predecessor, so I feel entitled to dredge up his ghost from time to time. O’Connor, who was very far from being a nice guy, died in 1978 (since I was not present to see a stake driven through his heart, I can only assume he is dead; at any rate, he hasn’t shown up for quite a while) and Keith in 1984. Surely something interesting has happened since. Why not write about it?
7 Guns in Movies
If you are looking for any kind of gun realism on the silver screen, you’re on a fool’s errand. Even in great movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, things quickly fall apart. In the invasion sequence at the beginning, we see a soldier firing a rifle grenade with his M1 rifle at his shoulder–an excellent way to break that body part. Soldiers were supposed to brace the buttstock on the ground, turned sideways.
But it was the sniper, Pvt. Jackson, who really unnerved me. He shot left-handed, which spoke well of his courage, marksmanship, manliness, and good looks. However, there were issues. In his first scene, where he picks off a German machine gunner, he uses a Springfield sniper rifle with a Weaver Model 330 scope. In the next scene, his Weaver has become a Unertl–a scope used by the Marines, not the Army. (Incidentally, the German sniper he’s dueling has the ocular lens of his own scope implanted in his eye socket, which, if he had pulled the trigger, would have caused him to yell, “Mein Gott, ich habe mir gerade mein eigenes Auge ausgestochen!”)
Jackson mutters, “Two clicks left,” and proceeds to crank the objective lens on the Unertl, adjusting its parallax setting, not the windage. Nonetheless, he shoots the German, and then, in the scene immediately following, takes his peripatetic Weaver from a hand that reaches into the frame from the right side. Does Jackson have a scope caddy?
A few minutes later, his patrol guns down a gaggle of Krauts and the Weaver is back on the rifle. (At this point I put the tape on hold to look for some Thorazine.) Cut to: The patrol charges a machine-gun nest. Jackson trades off his Springfield (which has the Unertl back on it) for an M1, and another patrol member, Cpl. Upham, now has the Weaver and uses it as a spotting scope to watch the fight. Could Upham be the mysterious scope caddy?
Jackson then snipes at Germans from a church steeple, Unertl still in place, and somehow manages eight fast shots from his Springfield, a gun that holds only five rounds. I felt a real sense of loss when he was killed moments later.
The Last of the Mohicans is another first-rate movie, and although it can’t equal Saving Private Ryan for optical confusion, it does contain a scene wherein Hawkeye, its hero, provides covering fire for a messenger who is trying to escape from the fort to seek reinforcements. What Hawkeye proceeds to do is shoot five Indians who are running flat out, from 500 yards, in the dark, with a series of flintlock rifles with open sights. If he had possessed a modern rifle, he could have won the French and Indian War all by himself.
8 News Reporters
I never went to journalism school, but I am willing to bet that one of the things that all student reporters learn is that when it comes to guns, there is no need to know anything about the subject. I assume that sportswriters know something about sports, that music reviewers know something about music, and that finance writers know something about finance. But guns? They’re nasty. We do not like guns here at the (insert name of paper), and so we simply write whatever we are fed by the ill-informed, prejudiced sources we contact.
And newspeople wonder why the public holds them in lower esteem than it does pimps, child molesters, and yes, even congressmen.
9 Tactical Guns
There is a fad now for combat-style arms–probably because people are in no danger of being drafted and can play at being SEALs or Army Rangers without the slightest danger that they will ever hear a shot fired in anger. There’s no harm in this, and if it makes your liver quiver to think that you could breeze through Marine recon training, so be it.
But I’ve found that people who actually served and were shot at while in the military have a much different perspective. It’s best summed up by the apocryphal story of the World War II vet who snuck his M1 rifle home disassembled in his duffel bag. Once back at his house, he put it together and left it on his porch, where it rusted into uselessness.
10 The Increasing Absence of Hot Babes at the SHOT Show
The Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade Show is a staple of this business, and I enjoy it immensely. But I used to enjoy it a lot more because many of the exhibitors used extremely good-looking, inadequately clothed young women to entice lechers like me to their booths. I remember in particular a blonde that Glock had stationed next to its exhibit. God had been so good to her that He shortchanged 30 other women. You could hear necks cracking as heads snapped around to behold her.
The hot-babe gambit seems to be dying out, possibly because of the large number of women who are now in the firearms industry, but I, for one, would like to see it return. Back when Detroit ruled the car world, you couldn’t go to an auto show without seeing dozens of women who would cause you to lift your eyes unto the heavens and be joyful. But Detroit became too sophisticated for that, and look what happened to it. Gunmakers, take heed.