This post came out of two vaguely interrelated questions. The first was from a shooter who had recently traded for a Remington 7400 autoloader, was very pleased with it, and asked why it has a bad reputation. The answer is that some hunters buy it because they can’t shoot worth a damn, and figure if they can throw enough lead they’re bound to get something eventually. This is not the rifle’s fault.

The other brickbat that’s slung at the gun is that it jams, which is true, because I know gunsmiths who, each fall, await a tidal wave of clogged up 7400s. In every case, the guns malfunction because they’re filthy–filled with powder residue, grease, oil, and who knows what else. Their owners have not given them even minimum care.

You can jam almost anything if you let it get dirty enough.

Some guns, however, are highly prone to jamming, which leads to the second question. A reader asked what I thought of a particular bolt-action that he wanted to use as the basis for a big-game rifle. The action was designed for benchrest shooting, and is built to an unearthly standard of precision–beyond even minimum tolerances. This contributes to super accuracy, but what happens when you get a little dirt, or a couple of grains of powder, or a smidgen of frozen snow in those precision parts? My answer was, I would stay away from the action if what you want is something that has to function in difficult conditions.

The late Dave Gentry, gun builder of Belgrade, Montana, turned out very good Model 98 Mauser actions, but he was bothered by all the slop in them, so he built one with no slop and shipped it to a customer, who took it hunting, then called Dave and said “Your goddamn rifle jammed.”

As Dave said, “I acquired a whole new respect for Peter Paul Mauser and left the slop in after that.”

The Mauser, the AK-47, the Colt Model 1911, the Short Magazine Lee Enfield, the Mosin-Nagant, and the Webley revolver are probably the most reliable firearms ever produced, and all have plenty of slop. You can get them to stop, but it requires the most horrendous abuse and neglect. I don’t know of anyone who has figured out how to jam an AK.

Precision is fine in watches, and to a degree in rifles, but ultra-close tolerances will eventually do you in.

And now a story for our time, as told by Medal of Honor Winner Jack Jacobs Col/USA/RET, who is military affairs advisor to NBC News. When he was promoted to major, Jacobs was assigned as the Executive Officer of an infantry battalion whose commanding officer, a Lieutenant Colonel, said: “Jacobs, you’re going to have a miserable time here. You’re going to sit in your office and do all the paperwork that I’m supposed to be doing, because I’m going to be out in the field seeing what’s going on in the battalion.”

Which is what happened, and it was a hell of a fine battalion because the commanding officer had once been a second lieutenant and had learned how to run a platoon with a lot of coaching from his platoon sergeant. Then he had been XO of a company, and had seen how his captain commanded it. Then he got to be a captain and learned how to lead a company. Then he got to be the XO of a battalion, and finally got a battalion of his own, and when he pinned on his silver oak leaves he had a very good idea of how to do the job because he had learned it from the ground up.

You may take away from this whatever lesson you wish.