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January 09, 2009
Bourjaily: "Claimers"

Claiming – shooting at the same time as someone else, then hollering “I got it!” –  ranks fairly high on the list of ways to annoy to your hunting partners. I try only to say “Nice Shot!” on the rare occasions I shoot at the same bird as someone else.

I had a bird claimed from me when I first started hunting and never forgot it. I  started late, as a college senior,  but I was still young enough to think of myself as a kid among adults when I went with my dad and his friends. An acquaintance of my dad’s named Bill, a real grownup, but probably closer in age to me than to my dad, came with us one day. As we walked a creek bottom, the one rooster of the day flushed between us. Bill and I both shot, me from the left, Bill from the right. Having shot all of two pheasants thus far in my life, I was thrilled to see this one crash to Earth.  The bird was still barely alive when I picked it up. Bill grabbed it from me and dispatched the pheasant by twisting its head all the way off.  He said: “I got it, but you can have it.” Then he handed me the headless pheasant. Gee, thanks, Bill.

Later, when I plucked the bird, I found all the holes were on the left side.

A couple of years ago there was an outfit selling shotshells loaded with colored pellets. You could get all yellow, all red, all blue and all green. The idea was, everyone in your group would shoot a different colored shell, thereby settling any claims come cleaning time. The people I hunt with give one another a chance to shoot, so colored pellets wouldn’t much matter to us. If had to use blue or green pellets to know if I hit a bird, I would find a different group to hunt with.

January 08, 2009
Petzal: A Semi-Painful Reunion

Between 1970 and about 1990, I was a dedicated collector of fine, wood-stocked hunting rifles. I didn’t have a lot of them, but what I did have was choice, and among the very best were four that were made by a North Carolina artist (now retired) named Joe Balickie. Joe was so thin that when he took a shower he had to hold a coat hanger in his teeth to keep from going down the drain, and his rifles were equally skinny—not an extra ounce of walnut or steel anywhere. He always came up with spectacular wood, and his work was always original—no two Balickie rifles looked alike.

But in 1978 I bought my first synthetic-stocked rifle and gradually acquired more plastic as the wood-stocked guns went on down the road. But I always wondered what it would be like should I see one again. This past weekend at the East Coast Fine Arms Show in Old Greenwich, CT, I found out. I was running a rheumy eye down a rack of rifles being offered by Amoskeag Auctions, when I spotted a dark-honey-blond stock that could have only belonged to a .270 Joe Balickie built for me in 1985 or so. And so it was. The rifle was absolutely mint. I had never shot it, and whoever owned it after me had kept its closet-queen status intact.

Once more I took in the wonder of century-old Turkish walnut, the perfection of Joe’s checkering, and silvery black of real rust bluing. I asked the guy from Amoskeag if I could buy the rifle for $73 and a laundry ticket, which is what I had in my wallet. He said sorry, no, and then quoted a price that was about what I paid Joe 20-odd years ago (left-hand rifles are hard to move, it seems). I thanked him, walked calmly out to the parking lot, and when I was sure no one was looking, bit a piece out of the whale tail of a Porsche Turbo.

(Epilog: If the rifle didn’t sell at the gun show, it’s coming up for auction on January 10. For a detailed description click on, then “Items for Auction #69,” of which it is item number 56. I have no fiscal interest in this at all, but I’d like to see the rifle have a home. Trust me, this one is a jewel.)

January 06, 2009
Phil Bourjaily: Ruger Red Label

The father of one of my son’s friends called the other day to say he had a chance to pick up a used Ruger Red Label and should he buy it for his son? Since I had just come back from a wonderful quail hunt in Texas and still harbored warm, fuzzy feelings for the 20 gauge Red Label I borrowed down there, I said sure.
For whatever reason, no shotgun is loved and hated as much as the Red Label. It has a loyal cult following, and a cult of haters, too. Having owned and sold three, I’ve done time in both groups.

Red Label lovers point out:
It is made in the U.S.A.
It is solidly engineered.
It has a very low-profile receiver.

Red Label haters counter:
It weighs too much.
The wood-to-metal fit is of high-school shop class quality.
It flops open.

All of the above are true, with a couple of caveats. The 12 and 20 are overweight pigs, except for the Sporting models, which have lighter-contoured barrels. The 28 is built on a perfectly scaled-down frame and handles beautifully. I was deadly with mine, but got tired of looking at the gaps between the wood and metal and sold it. The action does flop open, but it’s designed that way. The Red Label locks up just as tightly as any other O/U.

Red Labels have been in production since 1977, there are lots around. You can find them at pretty reasonable prices on the used market. Chances are, some day I’ll own another one, although I may very well sell it after a while. So the question is, Red Label, love it or hate it?

January 05, 2009
Petzal: And Now, A Really Manly Handgun

My thanks to Tom McIntyre for this one.

In the beginning was the .357 Magnum, and it was good, and then the .44 Magnum, which was much better, and made Clint Eastwood famous and Elmer Keith happy. Eventually, though, rumblings of discontent were heard throughout the land, and there followed the .454 Casull, and the .475 Linebaugh, and the .480 Ruger, and the .460 and .500 S&W, and hand surgeons everywhere rejoiced. But in Switzerland, a gentleman named Zeliska felt the need for something bigger, and so he went, money in hand (lots of money) to the firm of K. Pfeifer Waffen in Feldkirch, Austria and Herr Pfeifer did him proud.
The Pfeifer single-action revolver is chambered for the .600 Nitro Express cartridge. This round, which dates from the early 20th century, is an elephant whomper so extreme that very few rifles have been made for it. The .600 fires a 900-grain bullet at 1,950 fps, produces 3 1/2 tons of muzzle energy, and is three times more powerful than a .500 S&W magnum.

The Pfeifer revolver weighs 13.3 pounds, is just under 22 inches long, has a ported 13-inch barrel, walnut grips, and gold-plated hammer, ejector, screws, and cylinder pin. The rear sight is adjustable, and the price is $16, 501. If you’re not man enough to hack the .600, you can get the gun in .458 Winchester, but you should be wary of also developing an interest in Judy Garland recordings and Broadway musicals.
Personally, I will wait until Herr Pfeifer comes out with a .50 BMG version. Watch the video to see the .600 in action.

December 31, 2008
Petzal: Predictions for the New Year

Coach says it’s OK to bleed from the ears.”—Reggie Ray, in Not Another Teen Movie

For fear the hearts of men are failing,
For these are latter days we know.
The Great Depression now is spreading;
God’s word declared it would be so.
I’m going where there’s no Depression,
To that lovely land that’s free from care.
I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble.
My home’s in Heaven; I’m going there.

—A.P. Carter, from Songs of the Depression, by The New Lost City Ramblers, 1959

Some of the following is already fact. The rest of it will probably be fact before 2009 is out.

On December 18, one day after Washington announced its new “reasonable” gun-ownership laws, MSNBC news bunny Mika Brzezinski was mugged outside her D.C. hotel by a robber who did not carry a gun. Meanwhile, the murderer of Chondra Levy, the intern who was killed in a Washington park in 2001, remains at large.

President Obama will push a new firearms-control law through a Congress that is distracted by a debate over whether to bail out kitty litter manufacturers (unsympathetic reporters label the pro-litter faction “The Pissing Pussy Posse”). It establishes the National Bureau of Gun-Owner Control, and requires anyone possessing a firearm in the U.S. to carry an I.D. card issued by the Bureau. One of the requirements for obtaining a card involves passing a psychiatric exam and, to set the example, Vice President Joe Biden takes the first one. He fails it.

Stung by the shooting public’s rejection of the 592nd variation on its basic mid-20th-century rifle design, a major gun manufacturer will develop a breakthrough “game-harvesting system” that is actually a hand-held miniaturized heat-seeking missile with an effective range of 12.7 miles. Called the GHS and mounted with a celestial telescope, it requires no aiming—only pointing in a general direction--and cannot miss.

The GHS is given a radical advertising campaign (“Fair chase is so 20th century.”) and is a raging success; a black-powder version for special seasons soon follows. BATF chief Chelsea Clinton attempts to classify it as a destructive device, but Congress, distracted by the $13.5 billion in severance paid to top execs at GM, Ford, and Chrysler after their companies’ respective bankruptcies, does not go along.

And: This past hunting season I drove to hunts in South Carolina, Maine, and West Virginia, thereby depriving the airlines of the money they would pay ramp apes to dance on my gun case. I also avoided the TSA, getting stranded, the Ritalin-deprived 12-year-old sociopath who always sits in the seat behind me, and the awful despair in the eyes of all flight attendants.

My thanks to all of you who read this thing and contribute to it. I get a tremendous kick out of what you have to say, even if you disagree with me, which is surprising because I am always right.

Happy New Year.

Bourjaily: Winchester Small-Gauge Steel

For years, every time I talked to any shotshell maker, I put in my plug for small-gauge steel loads. They would tell me it was impossible to make a wad thick enough to protect barrels and still hold a meaningful amount of shot. But, they were lying to me because as of now we have steel 28 and .410 loads. For 2009 Winchester announces 28 and .410 steel loads in 6 and 7 shot (roughly equivalent to 7 1/ 2 and 8 1/ 2 lead).

The 28 gauge loads contain 5/8 ounces of shot; the .410s have a 3/8-ounce payload. In terms of pellet count, 5/8 ounce of steel 6 shot equals 196 pellets; 5/8 ounce of 7s contains 249. In the .410, 3/8 ounce of 6 and 7 shot works out to a mere 117 or 149 pellets, respectively.

Granted, both should work only within extreme limitations on small gamebirds and clays. That said, I would love to go rail hunting with a .410 and 3/ 8 ounce of shot. The flight of a rail is usually so short that if you wait long enough not to blow it up with a 12 or 20, it lands before you ever get a chance to shoot. But, I doubt these are a good idea for youth duck hunting although I’ll have to withhold judgment until I’ve had a chance to try them. These are not, in my opinion, youth loads but ammo for serious small gauge nuts. They should be fine for skeet and some sporting clays, and maybe teal right in your face.

The good news is, the industry is no longer pretending that they can’t load small gauge steel. Now, when (not if), a lead ban comes to your area, you’ll still be able to shoot your small gauges.

December 29, 2008
Petzal: The Problem With Guesswork

I’ve written before that the only ballistic information you can believe is what comes out of your barrel and hits your targets. This was driven home yet again last week when I ran some drop tests on my beloved 6.5x55 New Ultra Light Arms rifle. I use two loads in it: the first is Norma factory rounds firing 156-grain Oryx bullets at 2,508 fps; the second is a handload that shoots the sensuous, attractive 130-grain Swift Scirocco at 2,750. I sight in the Oryx loads  (of which I am fond because they don’t punch dinner-plate-sized holes through 90-pound deer) to hit 1.5 inches high at 100 yards; this is fine for 90 percent of the shots you get at whitetails. The Swifts print 3 inches high, and if I think I may get a long shot I use those.

However, until last week I was relying on guesswork to figure how much the two slugs actually dropped, so I went to the range and found out. The Scirocco was no surprise; it dropped 7 inches below the point of aim at 300 yards. The surprise was the Oryx. I first tried it at 200 yards, and it dropped only 2 inches below the point of aim which is odd because it has a low ballistic coeficcient, not much velocity, and is zeroed pretty low.

“What ho,” thinks I, “maybe I can use this sumbitch at 300 yards,” so I tried it, and it fell off the paper. Going by the holes in the backstop, the Oryxes dropped 17 inches from the point of aim, which means it is a dandy 200-yard bullet, but no farther. 

So now I know, rather than assume, and there is a world of difference between the two.

Petzal: Some Savagery for the New Year

Savage Arms, which gave the shooting industry the leaping fantods when it introduced the Accu-Trigger, has just announced the Accu-Stock, which is just as radical. In stocks, as in other areas, the more rigid the better, and there are a couple of ways to achieve this. The first is used by High Tech, McMillan, and New Ultra Light Arms, who employ Kevlar and graphite, or reinforced fiberglass, to create a stiff stock. The materials themselves, when fused together, are more rigid than a rifle barrel, but such stocks are made largely by hand and are expensive.

The second approach is to use something limper, like polymer (which can be made fast and cheap) and strengthen the stock with an aluminum spine. The Accu-Stock is polymer, reinforced with an aluminum spine that runs from the action all the way down for fore-end. But there is more: Savage employs a wedge bolt to push the recoil lug back into the aluminum spine. This is not a new idea; Ruger has been doing it for decades but with a bedding screw that pulls down and back at a 45-degree angle. In addition, the Accu-Stock’s bedding cradle squeezes the action from all sides, fusing (or so claims Savage) the action and stock into one unit.

This runs counter to conventional stock-making wisdom which holds that all the pressure on an action should be downward, and that the only hard contact between action and stock should be on the rear face of the recoil lug and (optionally) at the tang. During the late 70s and early 80s, when synthetic stocks were just starting to be accepted, it was common to epoxy the entire action in place. I had three rifles that were so stocked and invariably broke the action free so I could get at the triggers. None of them shot one iota differently when they were held together only by the bedding screws.

But we shall see. The Savage Accu-Trigger has had a major effect on rifle design over the past decade, and Savage may be right about its new stock, too.

December 23, 2008
Petzal: The Spotter

The role of the spotter (also called the observer) in a sniper/ spotter team is to give the target location tothe sniper, provide windage and distance information, spot bullet impact, and make corrections. It may also be the spotter's responsibility to provide security for the sniper, in which case he will be armed with an M-16, M4, M-14 with scope, or teeth.

December 22, 2008
Bourjaily: Slow-Mo Skeet

This clip comes from “Time Warp,” a Discovery Channel show that applies slow-motion photography to cool stuff, in this case, shooting clay targets or “skeets” as the voice-over guy insists on calling them.

Mostly, this is just fun to watch – especially the part where they shoot balloons. What was interesting to me from a technical standpoint was the slow-motion photography of USA Shooting’s Sean McClelland absorbing recoil, especially compared to co-host Jeff doing the same. McClelland holds the butt quite low in his shoulder pocket, and he leans into the shot. As a result, you see the gun move straight backward; the barrels hardly come up at all and McClelland’s head scarcely moves. He’s unfazed by recoil and ready for a followup. When Jeff, a novice, tries a shot, you can see the gun jump up, knocking his face off the stock. His second shot moves him a step backward.

If nothing else, the clip shows how important it is teach new shooters to lean forward with their nose over their toes when they shoot. By the way, if you want to feel Jeff’s pain and experience what it’s like to be a new shooter again, try a few shots left-handed. Even a gun you know doesn’t kick very hard will spin you around when you shoot it from your off-shoulder.

December 19, 2008
Petzal: More on Plaxico and Christmas

A judge of my acquaintance--a regular reader of this blog and a hard and pitiless man to whom the mere mention of mercy is a mortal affront--takes issue with my prediction that Plaxico Burress will skate because of who he is. There are, says Ye Judge, ways around mandatory sentences, but the uproar over Burress’ Glock groping has eliminated them, and he is surely looking at prison.

Whether I am right or the judge is right, what Burress gets will not be justice, but public relations, and the whole wretched business points out how capriciously gun laws are often enforced.

Anyway, back to greed and covetousness:

Vero Vellini rifle slings. I have no idea who Vero Vellini is, but he makes the most comfortable rifle sling I know of. It’s heavily padded, has just a little spring to it, and best of all, does not slip off your shoulder ever 7.5 seconds. Depending on model, $20-$50. Widely available.

HSM rifle ammunition, sold by Cabelas. Much cheap ammo is loaded with bird droppings and melted-down T-34 tank hulls by people who subsist on cabbage and other cheap, gas-producing vegetables. HSM is loaded in the USA by people who go to Taco Bell to get gas, and it’s extremely good stuff that always shoots well, and sometimes spectacularly well.

WheelFrom Battenfield Technologies ( Wheeler Engineering’s 72-Piece Screwdriver Set. In terms of quality and versatility, the best I’ve ever used. It’s $81, and if you need to get the sideplate off a Velo-Dog revolver, there is the 89-piece Professional version for $116. A couple of years ago, I mangled a bit from my set, and was sent the correct replacement, plus a couple of extras, at no charge. This is very encouraging.

Wheeler’s Professional Scope Mounting Kit contains scope ring alignment bars, ring-lapping compound and rod, a torque wrench with 10 bits, thread locking compound, a reticle level, and a DVD that shows you how to mount scopes (This is a good idea, as the directions that usually come with scope mounts vary between worthless and useless.). I’m not so sure about the lapping; it’s a quick way to wreck a perfectly good set of scope rings and is very seldom needed. The kit is $130 in 1-inch or 30mm versions.

Caldwell Shooting Supplies’ Stable Table is a good, solid, simple shooting bench that anyone can assemble (I did it in 15 minutes, and was not hauled away foaming at the mouth.) for $320. It is not so infinitely adaptable as the RCBS Rapid Acquisition Shooting System bench, but it is cheaper, lighter, and breaks down smaller for transportation.

Hornady ammo generally, and the Hornady SST bullet in particular. The ammo is first-rate, and the SST is a super-violent-expanding polycarbonate-tip slug that is very accurate, carries well at long range, and does not cost a fortune. SST stands for Super Shock Tip, and trust me when I say that Hornady is not kidding about this.

CsLansky Professional Crockstick Knife Sharpener comes with medium and fine ceramic rods and a handguard (which takes some of the adventure out of the experience) and is the best device I’ve seen for getting and keeping a shaving edge on a knife. Only Bill Heavey has been unable to use it successfully. It will bring a very dull edge back from the dead, but the process takes forever. That is about its only drawback. $28 from

RWS Diana Air Rifle. This is a very fine air gun that comes in .177 and .22, has a 19 5/8-inch barrel, and excellent fiber-optic sights. The stock is walnut, and can be used by either a right- or left-hand shooter. There are no bells and whistles.  It is very accurate, and very, very powerful. If you haven’t used an air rifle before, or have been embittered by a lousy one, the Diana will show you the light. The price is $430, which is an investment, but the ammo is dirt cheap. The Diana is available from, which does not carry it on their website (they swear they will get it up there), but they have it nonetheless.

December 17, 2008
Bourjaily: K-9 G.P.S.

I first saw the Garmin Astro in action last week. A friend and I were hunting pheasants in some long grass when Scott’s dog went on point. Even when he’s locked up tight, Gunner’s tail wags, and I could see it vibrating in the weeds about 30 yards away. “Scott, your dog’s on point,” I said. Scott pulled a gizmo from his pocket, studied it, and said, “No, he’s sitting.”

“I can see him pointing.

“No, it says he’s sitting 32 yards to the southeast.”

A hen flushed out from under Gunner’s nose, ending the argument.

What Scott was looking at was the receiver from his Astro, a GPS unit made by Garmin that goes on a dog’s collar. It tells you how far away the dog is, and in which direction. Little dog icons on the screen tell you what he’s doing: sitting, pointing, running, or treeing.  The Astro helps hunters locate dogs on point in thick brush, and, more important, it can help find lost dogs. Having once lost a dog in heavy grouse cover and worried all night and finally found him the next day, I can totally see the appeal of the Astro. I’m sure Sam was never far away, and with an Astro I could have tracked him down in a few minutes. On the other, any technology with the potential to turn hunting into a hand-held video game seems, at best, questionable. The answer is probably to keep the thing in your pocket until you absolutely need it, but that’s easier said than done. I am conflicted, and therefore in need of your opinions. Click here to see the Astro for yourself.

December 16, 2008
Petzal: More On Axes

Change two, as we used to say in the Army. The maker of the breaching axes is Daniel Winkler who, for twenty years or more has been pre-eminent in the re-creation of frontier cutlery. The upper photo shows the Naval Special Warfare Breaching/Combat Axe; the lower one is the Army Special Operations Combat Axe. But there’s more to the story. Since the services are not fully funded to buy these, Daniel has been accepting contributions from private citizens to defray the cost. I sent him a donation in November. If you become a part of his Donor program, you can buy one. For details, e-mail [email protected]. Or you can join Special Forces or become a SEAL and be eligible that way.


Now for part two. In a few months, Daniel will be producing a civilian Combat Breaching Axe and a Hunter Axe (with a hammer poll) that will be available to anyone. He has also designed a pair of fighting axes for the Sayoc Tactical Group, and they can be seen and are now available for order at


December 15, 2008
Petzal: A Little Touch Of Home

A knifemaker friend of mine who specializes in re-creating frontier-era weapons not long ago began making breeching axes for an American special ops group. The axes are actually tomahawk size, ground from S-7 impact-resisting steel. The head and the shaft are one piece, and the handle is completed by slabs, or scales, pinned and epoxied to either side of the shaft. These little axes would have been at home at Agincourt or Crecy; they are quite heavy for their size and are perfect for bashing in a door or cracking a skull. They also have a calming effect on indigenous personnel who are not intimidated by the sight of a gun.

The very first ones were made with handle scales of fiddleback maple and black walnut. When the knifemaker showed them to the purchasing officer, he said that he could offer higher-tech, more durable scales made of rubber (actually, the matting used in horse stalls, which makes an excellent knife handle), or micarta, or G-10. The answer he got was forget about the other stuff—we want wood.

In a world of steel and aluminum and titanium that is gray or black or camo, the wood provides a little touch of beauty. “Sometimes,” he was told, “we are in situations so bad that a little reminder of home makes the difference between sanity and insanity. The warmth of the wood is a reminder of who we are and where we come from. Plastic doesn’t do that.”

If you can lay your hand on something that stood for 100 years in the Smoky Mountains, it can help you keep your grip in more ways than one.

December 12, 2008
And Now For Something Different In The, Uh, Shooting Sports

My thanks to regular blogger JB, who sent this in. It seems the Canadian Women’s Biathlon* team has posed nude for a calendar they are selling to support their efforts at winning Olympic gold. The calendar went on sale in early November, has 14 months’ worth of photos, costs $25, and takes 2 to 4 weeks for delivery. You can order it at The young women seen here are, from top left to right: Zina Kocher, Megan Imric, Sandra Keith, Rosanna Crawford and Megan Tandy. These are the bare facts, as it were.

However, the calendar raises certain questions.

*There is a U.S. Womens’ Biathlon team. If you buy the Canadian calendar, are you aiding and abetting the competition? Should lechery trump patriotism?

*The Canadian Womens’ Curling team and Womens’ Rugby teams have also posed for nude calendars. What happens if the women shot putters and the weight lifters decide they want one?

*Could Ms. Elisha Cuthbert, who is Canadian, be persuaded to take up the Biathlon?

Have at it.

The biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing and .22 rifle marksmanship. It requires a nearly preternatural degree of physical fitness and you have to be able to shoot good, too.

And if you want a sneak peek at the calendar photos, click here.

December 10, 2008
Bourjaily: Party Limits

My friend M.D. called me a few nights ago to say he had permission to hunt a field full of geese and did I want to come hunt? I was already leaning toward “yes” when he delivered the clincher: “You can sleep in. They’ve been flying about 9:30 so if we leave my house by a little after 8:00 that’s plenty of time.”
    In the morning I drove to M.D.’s house. We hiked two blinds and 11 full-body decoys into the field and had a great time, even though there was something about our little spread the geese didn’t like. A few flared outright, most slid off just out of range, but one flock worked close enough that I was able to kill a bird.
A few minutes later, three locked up and sailed into the decoys on M.D.’s side. I didn’t want to shoot over his head and deafen him, so I watched while he shot a double, then swung on the third and lowered his gun. Our bag limit is two and he wasn’t going to shoot my second bird for me. I never did kill a second goose, but I appreciated M.D.’s gesture, which is increasingly rare in the field.

Shooting party limits is the accepted practice among waterfowlers these days. The idea is to shoot out as fast as possible so you can: a.) get in and out of the field quickly so the birds will keep using it, b.) brag about how fast your party limited, c.) post pictures of dead birds on the Internet. Everyone shoots at everything, someone keeps a running body count, and when the group reaches their limit, the shooting stops. Then people start giving away birds because no one really wants to clean the ducks and geese they were so eager to shoot a little while ago. A lot of pheasant hunts run this way, too. I hate it.  I like a leisurely hunt where everyone has a chance to shoot at their own pace, with their own timing, without having to worry that someone will shoot their birds out from under them. 

I won’t shoot anyone else’s birds, nor do I want my birds shot for me. If I do limit before everyone else, I either unload my gun or shoot backup on cripples. Anyone else do the same, or are M.D. and I a minority of two?

December 09, 2008
Bourjaily: Can You Hear Me Now?

My hearing isn’t getting any better as I get older, but my friends’ hearing loss is catching up to mine. I attribute that to my wearing hearing protection any time I shoot a gun on the range or in the field. 

In my early 20s I went on my first dove hunt, and burned through five or six boxes of shells in my old A-5 with a vented PolyChoke. (It was loud – I’m told Cutts Compensators were even louder).  At any rate, my ears rang for three days afterwards. I went to an audiologist, and tests showed a definite loss in my right ear; it’s the off-side ear that takes a beating and I am left-handed. Today I have a very difficult time understanding conversation in a noisy room. Worse, I can hardly ever hear turkeys drumming.

But, since that hunt, I have worn hearing protection for everything, even shooting air rifles, and my hearing hasn’t declined much more. At the range, I wear electronic muffs over plugs. On dove hunts, I wear foam earplugs. Hunting waterfowl and birds, I use those North Sonic Ear Valves, which have a mechanical valve that closes when you shoot. Some people tell you they don’t work, but to me they make a real difference. With them, I can hear flushing birds yet still protect my hearing. And, on those occasions when someone thoughtlessly puts a muzzle next to my ear and shoots, I can turn calmly to them and say “Don’t do that again,” rather than falling to the ground in pain, clutching my ears.

Does anybody else here wear earplugs in the field? Perhaps I have to say it a little louder: DOES ANYBODY HERE WEAR EARPLUGS IN THE FIELD? 

December 08, 2008
Petzal: Suggestions for Santa

“Christmas time is here by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don’t say ‘When.’
Kills the turkeys, ducks and chickens
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.”
—A Christmas Carol, by Tom Lehrer

Let’s come to an understanding. I will pretend that you can seriously consider buying at least some of what follows. You will pretend that you are not scared plain flat pissless of what 2009 holds in store, and will read all this with your usual avarice. Note, however, that the rotten situation we’re in does not detract one iota from how good all this stuff is. Some of it is new; other items I have used for years.

KNIVES:  The Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife is a copy of the Russell Canadian Belt Knife, which is one of the great all-around designs. It’s stainless, with a polypropylene handle, and comes with a very good nylon sheath. You have to sharpen it a lot, but so what? It costs only $19. Cabela’s Bell & Carlson Gator, at $90, is the best factory hunting knife I know of. They did everything right, and then some. At the semi-custom level are the five DiamondBlade knives; four fixed and one folder. I don’t know of anything that comes close to their ability to take an edge and keep it. $250 and up, depending on handle material. Gerber’s E-Z Out DPSF is a small folder that was designed for the military. It will cut anything, and for only $67.

Anything made by Wiggy (actually, Harry Wigutow). Wiggy has developed his own insulation, called Lamilite, which will not absorb moisture and will not lose its loft, I don’t care what you do to it. If Wiggy happens to answer the phone himself, don’t get him talking about Hillary Clinton. It’s not good for him.

SCOPES: Trijicon TR20-2 AccuPoint 3X9X. Comes with fiber-optic-illuminated pointed post or mil-dot reticle—and no batteries. A super scope in all respects. Nikon Monarch 2.5X-10X. An absolutely first-rate all-around scope in the medium price range. If you want to shoot stuff in the next county, try the new 6.5X-20X Monarch with Nikon’s range compensating reticle. Nightforce 1X-4X NXS. Most of what Nightforce makes is big, heavy, and tactical. (Nightforce scopes are almost standard equipment among .50 BMG shooters; they are among the few scopes that can stand up to the big guns.) This little scope is idea for much big game hunting, and it is a true 1X, which gives you a huge field of view. How tough are Nightforce scopes? A gun maker friend of mine was visited by a Nightforce salesman, who made this point by banging on the desk with one of them. “He wrecked my desk,” said the gunmaker, but the scope was not harmed in the least. Nightforces scopes are not cheap.

G.I. SURPLUS RUBBERIZED NYLON LAUNDRY BAGS:  Has it really come to this? Why not? They are cheap (around $6-$7) each, and extremely useful. You can pack your clothes in them, stick them in your duffle, and because they are waterproof, when the ramp apes leave your duffle bag out in the rain, your clothes will stay dry. You can store your wool stuff in them for the summer, or you can actually put laundry in them. I got mine at Brigade Quartermasters, but they appear not to carry them any more. The source I can find is, and the code number is Roth 2576.

More coming.

December 05, 2008
Bourjaily: Why I am a Girlie-Man

It’s a bad bird year around here, so people I know have been traveling for their pheasants. A friend of mine just came back from northwest Iowa, impressed by the numbers of birds but bemused at his reception by the locals. “They called me a girlie- man hunter because I shoot a 12 gauge,” Cody reported. “They said real men shoot 20 gauges.”

Me, I own guns of other gauges, but the half dozen I actually take out of the cabinet to hunt and shoot with are all 12s. Admittedly, one of the reasons I only shoot 12s is simple-minded:  I don’t want to get to the field only to find I’ve brought the wrong gauge ammunition.

Of course, all my ammunition would fit all my guns if I shot only 16s or only 20s, but I don’t. No other gauge comes close to being as versatile as the 12. Mine range from a double weighing less than most 20 gauges to a near 9-pound target gun with 32 inch barrels, and I shoot loads from 3/ 4 of an ounce (targets) up to 1 3/ 4 ounces (turkeys) out of them. The big bore of the 12 gauge helps it pattern well with a wide variety of payloads. If you shoot steel shot, it takes a hull the size of a 12 gauge’s to hold enough of the light pellets to kill a duck or a goose. And, as much fun as light, skinny small bores are to handle, I believe it’s easier to shoot well with a gun that’s a little more substantial and hand-filling.

All of the above seem like logical reasons to shoot 12s to me. Still, the idea persists among some hunters that small gauge guns are somehow more sporting and more manly because they give the birds “a chance” (A chance to fly off and die crippled maybe). Me, I will stick to my 12 gauges. Just today I had a shot at a rooster with a 25 mph north wind under his tail. By the time I got the gun up he was 35-40 yards out and quartering away. If I had brought a small gauge gun like the 28 my partner was shooting, I don’t know what would have happened, but when I shot my 12 gauge at the rooster, it crashed to the ground dead. If that makes me a girlie-man, I’m okay with it.

December 02, 2008
Petzal: No Prison for Plaxico?

If you watch the ads that the NFL runs during commercial breaks, its players are a bunch of benevolent behemoths who spend their spare time playing games with children, rescuing kittens, and working for world peace. What the NFL does not advertise is that some of its non-benevolent behemoths spend their spare time engaged in mayhem, armed and unarmed.

The latest example of the armed variety comes courtesy of New York Giant’s wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who has not played much this year, but distinguished himself by catching the pass that won Super Bowl XLII. In the early morning hours of11/29, while at a nightclub, Burress shot himself in the leg with a .40 Glock handgun which was not legally his. (A question for Glock owners: How do you shoot yourself with one except by a long, deliberate pull on the semi-hideous trigger?)

Neither the New York Giants nor the Weill Cornell Medical Center, which treated Burress, called the cops, who learned about the shooting from news reports. However, the beans were eventually spilled and now everyone is making outraged noises, especially Mayor Bloomberg, who is beside himself. Burress is facing two felony gun charges, each of which carries a fine and jail time of 3 /12 to 15 years.

Looks grim for Plaxico, right? Well, here’s what I predict will happen: His trial date is March 31, which gives everyone 4 months in which to work out a deal. Burress will not serve a day in prison. His felonies will be bargained down to misdemeanors. He will pay a fine and do community service. He will be traded to another team. He will not be a convicted felon. Mayor Bloomberg will not have a thing to say.

On the other hand, if Burress had dropped that pass, he would now be arguing with his Attica cellmate over who should take the top bunk.

Bourjaily: My Favorite Gun Movie

Today’s topic is Favorite Gun Movies, a category that includes any film in which movie makers actually try to get guns, hunting or shooting right. Winchester ’73 is a great gun movie (with showman-shooter Herb Parsons standing off camera, “stunt” shooting for Jimmy Stewart). Saving Private Ryan is a great gun movie. As a shotgunner, I really like The Shooting Party, a detailed look at a weekend of aristocratic driven-pheasant shooting on the eve of World War I.

My favorite, though, is 1975’s The Wind and the Lion. . It’s a hoot of a movie, a high-spirited, tongue-in-cheek politically incorrect tale of gunboat diplomacy in the era of The Big Stick. Set in 1904, it is very loosely based on a real historical incident, the kidnapping of American citizen Ion Pedicaris in Morocco by a Berber bandit named Risuli.

It has:

Brian Keith, perfect as Teddy Roosevelt. In the clip he discusses taxidermy and gun fit.

A pre-Murphy Brown Candice Bergen holding Dallas’ Steve Kanaly at gunpoint with a Model 97.

Sean Connery as a Berber bandit chieftain with a Scottish accent.

The Marines practicing a bit of successful regime change.

The Germans as the bad guys.

Lots of cool turn of the century ordnance, including Maxim guns, Colt Potato Diggers, Krag-Jorgensens, Model 97s, an 1895 Winchester, a broomhandle Mauser and more.

So that’s my favorite gun movie. I’ve seen it at least five times. The floor is now open to your nominations.

December 01, 2008
Petzal: A Strange, Sad Baboon Story

In the early 1950s the African professional hunter Alexander Lake wrote about an unsettling experience he had with a troop of baboons. Lake had been shooting them for bounty (they are hell on crops and young animals, and ranchers, farmers, and PHs hate them). Lake found himself unarmed in the middle of a troop of the beasts, face to face with the Alpha baboon who, rather than leading the troop in tearing Lake to pieces, stared into his eyes with, as Lake described it, a strange yearning look.

Then Lake heard a weak squawk, and saw a mother baboon nearby, hovering near her baby, which was limp and obviously near death. It had been poisoned by a farmer. Lake had a canteen filled with strong coffee and forced some into the little beast. It puked up whatever it had eaten and began breathing regularly. The momma baboon grabbed her youngster and the troop faded back into the forest. Lake never forgot that strange, beseeching look in the Alpha baboon’s eyes, and he never shot another one.

Last summer, in South Africa, I found out first hand what Lake was writing about. We’ve all watched the eyes of shot animals as they die. One instant they are bright and seeing and in the next instant they are clouded and unfocused and the life has left them. I had never seen anything different until I shot a big male baboon and walked over to him. As he lay there, his eyes locked into mine and I saw something that might have been incomprehension or recognition or accusation or perhaps all three. I will never know.

In any event, I don’t think I will shoot another baboon, either.

November 26, 2008
Petzal: A Few More Words About Politics and Targets

On Thursday, 11/20, we were treated to the edifying spectacle of United States Senators rising to applaud Ted Stevens (R-AK), who is a convicted felon (and was, it should also be noted, a very good friend to gun owners). You’d think that someone in his position would clean out his office at midnight and leave without a word, but this is the Senate, and if you’ve done enough favors for enough of your colleagues, you could be caught molesting domestic livestock in the Capitol Rotunda at high noon and someone would rise to praise your kindness to animals.

That is why I’m rooting for Al Franken to beat out Norm Coleman for the Senate seat from Minnesota. Franken has all the charm of Michael Moore and is ideologically leprous, but he was a professional comedian, and reasonably successful, and that is what the Senate needs most right now.  They’re all comical, but it’s accidental, and Franken could upgrade things.

And then there is Majority Leader Harry Reid. In every class in an NCO academy or at OCS, there are always a couple of poor dorks who are washed out for “lack of command presence.” That is Harry Reid.
And so, as we bow our heads over our Thanksgiving gruel, let us give thanks that our destinies are in the hands of these dedicated public servants.

About the targets: I checked all the websites you recommended, but the one that paid off was the source suggested by Jerry G. The National Target Company of Frederick, MD, picked up the license to make and sell NRA life-sized targets after the NRA dropped them. The life-sized targets are not offered online, but National has ‘em nonetheless; all you have to do is ask. They are invaluable for teaching, and for shooting at long distance, and for checking bullet drop. Prices are reasonable, and National Target is a pleasure to deal with. The phone number is 301-874-4767.

A thousand thanks to Jerry G. May all your bullets go where you want them to. And to all of you, a Happy Thanksgiving.

Bourjaily: Jed's First Rooster

I thought all of you who have helped me name and train my dog with your posts might like this picture. It’s me, Jed and his first rooster, shot Tuesday, November 25, near Oxford, Iowa. We were looking for the singles from a covey rise of bobwhites when Jed found this bird hunkered in a hank of grass about halfway down a vertical creek bank and clambered down to point it.


I made a poor shot – I am blaming the steel 7s I had in the gun in anticipation of quail – and my host Tom Fuller’s Brittany, Star, found the cripple and made the retrieve. Jed was with her every step of the way and found the whole process very exciting. He is now blooded as a bird dog and eager for more.

This Thanksgiving week, I’ve got a new hunting partner to count among my blessings. Later I put Jed up and ran my setter Ike, who made a beautiful point on a second covey, despite being 12 years old, slow and afflicted with cataracts. There’s nothing wrong with his nose, and I’ve got that, and the memories of the past 12 seasons with Ike to be thankful for, too.

November 25, 2008
Bourjaily: Flying with Guns

Many years ago, my dad flew to Wisconsin on a hunting trip and carried his O/U onto the plane in a takedown case. He and the stewardess had the following exchange:

Her: “Is that a gun?”
Him: “Yes.”
Her: “It’s not loaded, is it?”
Him: “It’s not even put together.”

Then, because it was the 60s and air travel was way better then, she probably brought him a martini. I can promise Dad was wearing a tie, too, because flying was a big deal and people dressed for the occasion.

Today, flying is as glamorous as riding the bus and you can’t even talk about carrying a gun onto a plane. Surprisingly, I have no personal airline horror stories about checked guns. In part, that’s because I fly out of Cedar Rapids, a small airport where people are used to seeing guns among the checked baggage.
One day last year I came home late from somewhere in a downpour. At the carousel, all the bags, including my duffel, came off the plane dripping wet. Everything arrived except my gun case. I waited. The other passengers took their bags and left until it was just me standing there. The carousel stopped. I was looking around for the lost luggage agent when a very wet baggage handler walked in with my gun case tucked under the skirt of his plastic poncho. “I figured there was a gun or camera in there so I wanted to bring it in to you instead of throwing it on the carousel where it might get wet,” he said.

I love the Cedar Rapids airport.

I will have to rely on all of you for airline horror stories. I don’t have any . . .yet.

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