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May 12, 2006

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The Real Deal, Part I: The Story of Finn Aagaard

AagaardOne of the most impressive people ever to take up this odd profession was born in Kenya of Norwegian parents and emigrated to the United States when Kenya outlawed big-game hunting in 1977. His name was Finn Aagaard, and in a world filled with shuck and jive, he was the genuine article.

Finn, who died in 2000,  valued simplicity, and did not see the need for new equipment simply because it was new. He favored cartridges such as the 7x57, .30/06, and .375 H&H with which he had tons of experience during his decades as a Professional Hunter.

He loved to walk. Although he was far from a young man when I hunted with him, he didn’t take the easy way. If you wanted to hunt with him, you got out of the truck and walked—seriously. He used to take an evening walk, just for the pleasure of being alone with his thoughts.

He valued silence. Nearly 20 years ago, he and I were part of a seminar given by Kenny Jarrett, and the morning it broke up, he and I sat on Kenny’s back porch, Finn writing in his journal, me not interrupting. After maybe an hour of complete silence, he simply got in his pickup and began the drive from South Carolina to his home in Texas. Never said good-bye.

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Comments

Kevin

Mr. Petzal,

Please tell us lots more about Mr. Aagaard. I only read a little of his work and wished I had read more after a couple of my favorite writers, now that includes you, have written so glowingly about this gentleman. My Mom used to work (still does part-time) at a bank in Llano where Mrs. Aagaard does business. Mom said that Mrs. Aagaard is real nice. Mom never really got to meet Mr. Aagaard. I tried to explain to her who he was. I don't think that she quite believed that people got paid to write about guns and hunting :) Anyway, I'd like to hear more about this nice fellow and why he is so well liked by writers that I admire. I do have to say that leaving without saying good-bye is a little odd in my book, but then again, I am not typically a quiet person :)
Have a nice weekend!

O Garcia

I too, miss Finn. He made RIFLE and Rifle Shooter worth subscribing to and reading.

Unlike most men, Finn kept things simple. Whether it's the FN Mauser .30-06 with Sako military barrel (complete with contour steps) and 'plastic' Clifton stock with bipod, or the old 1948 vintage Winchester M70 with 25-inch barrel, or the military Mauser converted to .458, his rifles had that 'lived-in', well worn look of a working rifle. When the bipod on the Clifton stock no longer worked, it didn't bother him.

He preferred the battle proven over the 'latest is best.' The rifle shown in the picture on this blog was the Mauser he took to Africa in the early 90's, chambered for the then new .416 Remington. It must have been the first new cartridge he took afield in decades. When an old salt like Finn approves a new round, you know there's something special there.

He never sweated much over group sizes. His old quick-detachable Redfield mounts shifted in point of impact. Never bothered him. A 2 MOA rifle was enough for him, he never shot past 200 yards anyway. When the target was too far, he simply got closer and closer.

Finn wrote as he lived, simply. He was a professional, above all, and his writing reflected this. He never over-romanticized the chase, or the buffalo charge. If he got out of a scrape, he simply told it as it was. His prose was short and sparse but it was full of nutriment. Come to think about it, wasn't that quality one of the things we liked about Old Jack O'Connor?

I miss the old guy. I miss the old guys.

Roger E. Reeves

I will be hunting in Wy and Mt his fall with Remington's 700's in 30-06 and 25-06, the latter for Lopes.I use Nikon scopes 3 x 9x40 and with the un-godly way the airline people handle out prized guns, you would think they were the days collection of trash. In your opinion, will the Leupold Dual Dove Tail bases and rings, be solid enough to withstand the harsh handling they will receive on the airline? I bought a new Allum.gun case 2 yrs ago for a hunt in MT and you would think by looking at the new case, it had been dropped from 50K ft.With the addition of the new scopes, Zeoring and pratice, I hate to have the scopes knocked off 0, or worse yet, the case battered to a hunk of junk and the rifles enclosed beat and banged up. All suggestions for a safe flying trip will be apprecated.My Allum. case is 53"x14"x5" with 3 layers of foam. All edges and corners are re-inforced with extra molding. AS a rule I include a handgun and all the ammo for all 3 guns in this one case. Had no problems with check-in on past 2 yrs flying to the Rockies.I would think, the airlines had rather have all the above equiptment included in one case,rather than the Ammo in a seperate case, which are never locked. Only the gun case is locked, with added rubbler stips 3" in width and fit tightly around the case,(cut from truck tire inner-tubes) to prevent entry with-out the key.But, any-thief can obtain access is so desired. Hope all you gun nuts have a successfuly hunting experience this fall. I am 71 yrs old, and plan many more hunting trips, Lord willing .Roger Reeves

Roger E. Reeves

As I stated earlier, I will be hunting Antelopes in WY this fall, using a Rem 700 in 25-06 with a Nikon Monarch 3 x 9 x 40 with Leupold Dual Dove Tail rings and bases. I need information on the type of Ammo(brand name) as I'm not a reloader, I need for this gun and hunt.Never hunted lopes in the past,not sure on gr bullet or make I should use. Any suggestions appreciated.roger E. Reeves

Berit Aagaard

Finn Aagaard was my late husband, and I was surprised and touched when I came upon these comments. It was gratifying that his legacy lives on in so many people's memories. My children and I knew that he had a following, but it was only after he died that we started to realize the far reaching impact he had on so many people. He was such a profoundly humble man; when someone praised him for his knowledge and his writing, he would always just shrug his shoulders and say: "Ah. they are just trying to be nice."

His book "Aagaard's Africa" is being republished by Safari Press and will be ready summer of 2007. It will have a lot of new material written by me, a combination of my own memories combined with entries from his meticulously kept diaries dating back to 1956. There will be three times as many illustrations as in the original edition.

Kevin

Dear Ms. Aagaard,

I think that a lot of folks in the shooting and hunting world will be looking forward to the new edition of Aagaard's Africa. I know that I'll want to purchase a copy. Do you still live in the Hill Country?

John Peruchini

This is so serendipitous. Last night I received my new Safari Press catalog, and read about the revised and expanded release of Finn’s old book. This re-kindled my old passion for his writings which I had closely followed since I was a young man and so I did a search which lead me to this link. Reading Berit’s comments of appreciation about the previous postings here reinforced what I had personally experienced about the Aagaard’s myself.

I was doing some spring cleaning in my den last week, and I couldn’t believe what I ran across; it was a letter sent to me personally from Berit and her family right after the death of her husband. You see I have been such a fan of Finn’s writings, that when I read about his passing I felt like I had personally lost a good friend myself. I had written the Aagaard family, and had to describe to them the impact Finn had had on my life as a sportsman, hunter and gun lover, even though I have never met him. Berit took the time and effort to write this warm and caring letter back to me from half way across the country at her greatest time of loss, I was very, very impressed. I can see that her warm and caring personality carries on today, and I will treasure that letter from the Aagaard family always.

I am looking very forward to getting the new book.

John
Snohomish, WA

Rick

Dear Ms. Aagaard,
I also am a follower of your late husband. He has influenced me on several decisions, maybe the most important of which is my .416 Rem Mag. My brother in law Steve and I started building our rifles in 1990 and are still working on them now. Steve followed the Weatherby look and I followed Finns policy of straight stock, good wood, and no frills. I must admit I have added many items he would have scoffed at, but the original gun was built to his way of thinking. I, like the above individuals, found his writing to be quality from start to finish, direct and to the point, what more can you ask from a writer? As far as the new book is concerned I am also looking forward to your new publication, it will be treasured. Take care and God bless. Rick

Berit Aagaard

Dear Mr. Petzal, O. Garcia, Kevin, Rick, John,
Thank you for your kind comments. The new book on Aagaard's Africa is in the works, I just finished the proof reading and have sent it back to Safari Press, but do not know how long it will be before it is ready for sale.
Concurrently with the release of the book, there will be avaliable three CDs that were professionally recorded a few months before Finn died. They contain stories he told of Africa, some that not even I had heard before and hardly any of the material is repeated in the book. Finn was a great story teller, and you can hear his joy and enthusiasm as he recalls buffalo hunts or discusses the Second Ammendment and the importance of being armed.

A special note to Kevin: I still have my home in Llano, but live in Houston most of the time since I have remarried a Houstonian. He loves Llano though, so we are there as often as we can.

Alan Copeland

I never met Finn, but I enjoyed his writings. I do know Berit and her husband Bill, and she is the real deal. She is a lady, and from what I hear from Bill, the best person you can have in a hunting camp. I just picked up her new book Friday, but only got a chance to start reading last night.

Seth

It was about 20 years ago and I wrote to Finn to ask about an exotic hunt on his ranch. I was about 12 or 13, he told me that he wasn't guiding anymore. He went on to explain the signifigance of it and since I had asked about the right rifle for exotics he went on to put some advice in the notes.

It struck me as kind of amazing to get a letter for something so simple. I can't count the number of times I had wrote to someone, even by our modern email and not received some kind of reply back.

Finn was a gentlemen. I don't know many folks who would have taken the time to respond to a letter from a kid even in the late 1980s.

Paul Walker

Over due thoughts about:
FINN AAGAARD
I recently read an article in my December issue of The American Rifleman by Berit AAgaard. This article sent me back to 1981 in
the small town of Bastrop, Texas as I sat in my future in-law's home. I was raised in a small town in Mississippi on a dairy farm. I learned to work under my dad, mom, and older siblings instructions. Hunting came from my maternal granddad. There were no deer in the area I lived in then, but squirrels, rabbits, and doves were plentiful. At the age of 26 back in '81 I had killed a few deer back home and was finally ready to take the plunge into marital bliss. I was also fortunate to find an American Rifleman magazine in this home. I picked it up and was thumbing through it and found an article by Mr. Finn Aagaard on the design of the H-Mantle bullet and how it compared to the partition bullet by Nosler, and how he was hunting with this "7mm x64 Brenneke" Brno rifle. To say the least I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I joined the NRA and have been an annual member since. I attribute my membership to the aforementioned article. I always looked with anticipation for every article written by, if I may take the liberty "Finn", he was always a pleasure to read because I knew that what he had to say always was first logical and also practical and last it was ethical. I wanted to write the NRA several years back when
Mr. Aagaard passed away, but I am really a procrastinator at heart, wish this were not so but my wife declares it, so it must be true.
Any way I thought now would be the time for me to get around to it. It has been a real pleasure to have been priveledged to read
the words of this fine man. I believe that the article that announced his passing in the American Rifleman alluded to him as being a man who trusted in the Lord. I find comfort in this and to anyone who also trusts in Our Saviour should also be comforted. Thanks for sharing all these articles and stories about his experiences in hunting and living as a free honorable man,
with us. Sincerely Paul

Paul Walker
Dr. Ralph

I've been a member of the NRA since I can remember and Finn was a joy to read. Funny thing is I'm in my bathroom this morning and pick up an old issue of American Rifleman Feb. '07 and there's an article about his favorite rifle when he lived in Africa a pre '64 Model 70 .375. He had kept a log of every shot fired and with what bullet and the results... makes me wonder just what all was in that journal.

Berit Aagaard

Since I am not normally an internet surfer, it astounds me to find notes addressed to me, or at least pertaining to my late husband Finn or myself. I guess I will have to start looking more often.
Seth, I am not surprised that Finn answered your letter when you wrote at age 12-13; that was the way he was, and he always encouraged young people when it came to hunting and shooting. ("In our youth is the future of the sport.")
Paul, I am glad you finally got around to writing, better late than never. It still amazes me to realize the impact Finn had all those years, and how he still seems to mean so much to so many. Thank you for your kind words.
Dr Ralph, the article about Finn's old .375 was written by a young man, Richard Mann whom I respect highly. He came to my home and read through that journal doing the research. I think he did a great job with that article.
In August 07, my husband Bill Pace and I took the old .375 and went to Australia where I shot an Asian waterbuffalo with it. It was an exciting hunt which had required a lot of practice with a gun that was too long for me. Since I shoot left handed, the reach across to close the bolt was almost beyond my capability. Before going, I put 175 rounds through it, starting at 1400 fps. and ending up at 2300 fps. Bill is a great coach and reloader. Every round fired was noted in the journal, and the final entry was buffalo #49, with detals on shot placement etc. I could almost hear Finn chucle! There will be a story about that hunt in a future American Hunter.

For anyone interested, my book is now available, "Aagaard's African Adventures", forward by John Wootters, chapters by Craig Boddington, the late Jeff Cooper, Phil Shoemaker and the late Gary Sitton. I have greatly expanded Finn's original book with material from his meticulously kept diaries dating back to 1956, stories that have never before been published. The book is full of pictures. Anyone interested can email me. If you do, please note as "subject" something about the book so I recognize what the email is about, or I will not open it. bnbshooters@sbcglobal.net
I will be happy to personally sign books for you. The 3 CDs with stories Finn told shortly before he died are also available. Appart from one story, these are nor repeated in the book
Happy hunting, shoot straight.
Berit Aagaard

Jim Wilson

I knew Finn and enjoyed spending time visiting with him. In my time I've been around some really great fellows...Bill Jordan, Rex Applegate, a bunch of old Texas Rangers...they were the real deal. You can bet that Finn was, too.

Jim in Mo.

Jim Wilson,
I liked his stories and the honesty in which he told them. Never seemed to act like 'big man on campus'.
If your the JW I'm thinking of, I like your stuff too.

Jim in Mo.

Dave, Just read an article in another outdoor mag. written by Sam Fadala. He spoke nicely of you, but briefly. I liked the way he wrote. No bs. Spoke of guns, calibers, bullets and the kill.
Now with your promo. get the other writers to do the same. It shouldn't be difficult for a skilled writer to give interesting information while promoting the sponsor of the hunt.

Russ Kassner

Dear Ms. Aagaard;
I've read Finn's work for as long as I can remember and have taken to heart his simple philosophy of keeping it simple, use what you can shoot well and hit it in the right place. That was the surface impact of his writings on me. Somehow, through him, his honesty and respect for the game has become ingrained in me. I have a copy of Finn Aagaard on Hunting Rifles and Cartridges published by the NRA and it is one of my most cherished possessions. He is rarely out of my thoughts on the hunt and most other times as well.
I have the original Aagard's Africa and now the reprint and its almost like being there when I read your "take" on how it was. Thank you for doing that.

Berit Aagaard

Russ Kassner,
Thank you for your kind words about Finn and his writings. Also about your appreciation of what he stood for, honesty and simplicity.
Did you know that there are three hours of professionally recorded stories he told shortly before he died. Except for one story, about the Mau Mau uprising, none are repeated in the book. They are great listening when commuting or travelling. You can order them from Safari Press, or directly from me.
Best wishes, Berit Aagaard

A friend

Dear Berit, I happened upon this site just browsing on Google, and saw that you check the comments on here. I don't want to say who I am, but I do want to express how much it meant that you were always so kind to my family. Truly kind. You are an exceptional nurse, the kind they teach about in school, and are a wonderful inspiration. Thank you so very much for all you do (and have done) for people.

JW

I also had the great honor of knowing Finn, and the whole Aagaard family, but maybe not the way many of you do. My first memories of the Aagaards were as a cub scout. Berit was my 'den mother' and Finn taught us about black powder rifles, handgun safety, and many other exciting things! Our families grew close over the years. I had so many wonderful experiences sharing weekends, summer adventures, and the holidays with their family. Berit makes the most amazing stew and homemade bread, among many other things. Her son and I would sit in the kitchen late at night and eat loaves of it! She never complained, just baked more. I mostly remember the huge Christmas tree in their living room with actual candles on the branches. So much Norweigan tradition...so much love in their home. As a teenager with my parents going through a divorce, I was welcomed in by the Aagaard family for the better part of a summer while my own parents "worked out some issues". I can't say how things might have turned out for me if it weren't for the care and support I got from them. It has been many years since I have been in contact with them, but there are very few days in between my thoughts of the Aagaards. I don't know that I ever really paid my full gratitude to them for being such a great influence in my life during some pretty tough years. Berit, if you are reading this, I hope that you are doing well, and I hope I get the chance to tell you.

JW

I also had the great honor of knowing Finn, and the whole Aagaard family, but maybe not the way many of you do. My first memories of the Aagaards were as a cub scout. Berit was my 'den mother' and Finn taught us about black powder rifles, handgun safety, and many other exciting things! Our families grew close over the years. I had so many wonderful experiences sharing weekends, summer adventures, and the holidays with their family. Berit makes the most amazing stew and homemade bread, among many other things. Her son and I would sit in the kitchen late at night and eat loaves of it! She never complained, just baked more. I mostly remember the huge Christmas tree in their living room with actual candles on the branches. So much Norweigan tradition...so much love in their home. As a teenager with my parents going through a divorce, I was welcomed in by the Aagaard family for the better part of a summer while my own parents "worked out some issues". I can't say how things might have turned out for me if it weren't for the care and support I got from them. It has been many years since I have been in contact with them, but there are very few days in between my thoughts of the Aagaards. I don't know that I ever really paid my full gratitude to them for being such a great influence in my life during some pretty tough years. Berit, if you are reading this, I hope that you are doing well, and I hope I get the chance to tell you.




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