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February 28, 2006

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Are good gun writers a dying breed?

One of the most consistent threads of conversation I pick up in my Internet wanderings is that gun magazines are not what they used to be. The writers, it’s claimed, are a bunch of pissants compared to the giants of yesterday, and the magazines themselves are nothing but advertisements supported by whoring from the writers.

In fact, a fellow gun writer sat down next to me at the SHOT Show and gave me a grilling on this very subject. Here’s what I told him:

Old-time gun writers were a lot more colorful. Many of them had military experience, and this lent a certain cachet to their names: Colonels Townsend Whelen and Charles Askins, Major George C. Nonte, Captain Phil Sharpe. Pete Brown and Warren Page were Navy officers. Today, the only writer with any rank is Colonel Craig Boddington.

Today, it seems, gunwriters start very young—in their 20s and early 30s. I started in my 30s, and although I thought I knew it all, I did not know ca-ca. The time to start is in your 40s when you’ve had time to get some experience, and found out you can’t make a living doing anything else.

Old gun writers were far more distinctive. If you look at the copy the current guys turn out, you can’t tell one from another. I could have my incisor teeth pulled without anesthesia after reading most of it. People like Elmer Keith and Askins were great stylists—even when they were talking b.s. they were always readable.

As for magazine honesty, my hero, Jack O'Connor, dealt with the question over 30 years ago, telling the terrifying tale of the gun writer who did an honest review of a new firearm in Shooting & Blasting. He then had the facts of life pointed out to him by the editor-in-chief, who explained that the maker of the new gun was a major advertiser. "Do you want to tell the truth," he asked, "or do you want to keep your job?"

What do you think? Are the new gunwriters a collection of pissant punks? Are gun magazines as truthful as the government (which is to say not at all)? Your opinion is solicited.


David Wright

I thought ALL the gunwriters were old guys worth reading ! Perhaps I should read more of the young fellas so I may more appreciate the writing of Mr. Petzal, Mr. Boddington, and the like. But on the other hand, I'm not interested in learning about another plastic gun that looks like a *#([email protected] spaceship !


So maybe it isn't the writers, but what they are TOLD to write? I am so tired of the "we took the superblaster super super short mag to the range and shot .000001 inch groups with it. It will do anything asked of it." What ever happened to the, dare I say it, romance? The story telling? Thats probably the biggest part of it for me, Keith, O'Connor and the like hunted hard for a lifetime, lots of "nu" writers haven't so much as busted half a dozen whitetails, and when they do, they are on a ranch that is intensively managed, so its more of a "shoot" than a hunt. Sitting on a comfy chair in what amounts to a miniliving room on stilts doesn't really qualify as hunting. And don't even get me started on the "We're out here in our xxx coats, using our xxxx boots, wearing our yyy socks and underwear, lighting our smokes with jjj's new lighter, shooting the new 333's bullets" crap. Sponsorship has its limits, and NASCAR is it.

Sid Lark

Perhaps it is not really an issue of good gun writers being a dying breed, as much as we are under information overload.

In the days of the writers 30 years ago, they didn't have much to compete with. The information netwerk for outdoorsmen was basically the publications that were available at the time. Even at that, how many competing publications were there ?

I'll give credit where credit is due, there are actually several exceptional outdoor writers today. However, most often they just end up getting "lost in the crowd".

mike nicholson

You hit the nail on the head with this comment.

Plastic guns,short mags,super mag handguns. Same old stuff every month. The new gun writer is lazy.

They couldn't carry Elmer's jock strap!

There is lots of real stories about old guns to be researched but that would take work.

No, it's about that AR 15 24/7. A gun that basically lost the Vietnam War and isn't doing to well in Iraq. Lots of young soldiers carrying AK's. There is a story for those young and dumb gun writers. Try research first.

There is no excuse for bad gunwriting. Elmer was very colorful on paper and in person. I'm ready to dig him up just to have some freash insight again in gun world.

By the way, I had to carry one of those AR's in Vietnam. Could not have a M-14.

Brian Thair

After only 45 years of chasing upland game birds with a shotgun, I am beginning to understand what works and what doesn't. No more paper-punching-patterning, pul-ease! Hunt. The weather is not relevant: we go.
I'd enjoy pieces from kids and women on hunting, and, about their experiences with the guns they use. I don't believe that young, male gun writers can tolerate the competition.


I absolutely agree with the other comments in response to your query about modern gun writers. Actually I think most are fair to pretty darn good. The problem for me is that,having grown up on Jack O'Connor, no other writer can compete in style and literacy. He was a gifted person, not to mention having vast practical experience. The fact that he was also pretty darned opinionated about many things added spice to his writing. O'Connor was simply just a constant pleasure to read,...a master of his craft. Modern gun writers need not feel too inferior. Word-smith's like O'Connor are rare birds.

Ben Johnson

Isn’t the fact that the writers of yesteryear were somehow “better” the beauty of it all? We’re a nostalgic breed of critters who love to sit around the campfire talking about the amazing things we’ve seen and the way things used to be. Of course the writers that came before were “better” – that’s the way we view the world. “Yeah, that’s a nice buck but you should have seen the one I got in ’86. They don’t make deer like that anymore.”

In 2020 we’ll be complaining that we don’t have a smartass like Petzel around anymore and wishing that the current crop of writers will inject some humor or personality in their droll ramblings.

Every writer has quirks. Every writer has a style that appeals to different people. I’d get bored with a magazine that didn’t give me something to complain about from time to time.


I think you're right, the quality of writing isn't what it used to be. How many ".45 vs .357 Shootout!" articles can we be expected to read? American Rifleman has tanked along with most of the hook and bullet mags. Most of what I read these days is high-end shotgun stuff. I can't afford the guns but it's mostly old farts doing the writing and it shows.

Mike Diehl

Present company excluded, the suite of people who write for gun magazines aren't particularly creative and they're all apt to go into some wierd tirade about liberals or environmentalists.

The old gunwriters were hunting and firearms enthusiasts but they also read the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold. So they had a broader range of material with which to work than "Speak softly and carry a big stick." -- The only side of TR that most of the current crop know.


Perhaps the editors who accept the "pissant" writers' copy should be held accountable, no?

When publishers and editors stop kowtowing to the advertisers, from F&S and OL down to regional mags, and stories aren't just a page in length, you might find some writers with flair and knowledge.

O Garcia

the English language itself, at least as spoken and written on a daily, informal basis, has changed. And at such a rapid rate for the past two or three decades. So much of the 'style' and romance of the old writers has disappeared too. While there may be good young writers out there, they simply don't talk the same, whether that's by mouth or by printed word.

I received from my dad the Field and Stream anniversary edition back in 1981. It had a collection of Corey Ford's articles (including one on the world's biggest woodcock), plus Hemingway, Ted Trueblood, Robert Ruark, Cornelius Ryan, Teddy Roosevelt, Lefty Page, even early Jack O'Connor, who would later become synonymous with Outdoor Life. Today, I still have it, and I will do everything I can do to preserve it.

Gunwriting isn't dead, but it's not the same thing we fell in love with.

Richard A. Smith

Are good gun writers a dying breed? Are new-generation writers a bunch of pissants compared to the giants of yesterday? Are the magazines themselves nothing but advertisements supported by whoring from the writers. Yes, yes, and yes.

With the marvelous exceptions of our host, Mr. Petzal, and possibly that guy who writes for Outdoor Life, most gun articles are simply boring. They need some creativity. And how 'bout a non-profit, no advertising hook 'n' bullet magazine?

I think Petzal will live well beyond 2020, if he doesn't, I might have to cancel my subscription to F&S. You better get back on the treadmill, Dave, and add a salad to your lunch box.

Jeff Mertens

Elmer and company had real life experiences and related them with flair and honesty. Today's gunwriters arm themselves with bench rests, chronographs, and high tech targets and relate their experiences...excuse me while I yawn.

ranger Nick

Why do new gunwriters all wear sunglasses in their articles?

Are they hiding from us old guys?

If you can't look them in the eyes, can we trust them. With time they will improve in there stories. Come out into the light young fella's and pick up a weapon with wood on it for a change.

Waiting for those improvements to come on paper.

Pastor Thos. Fowler

Good writing seems to be what we are all wanting...if we do not get it, we are led away from a hunting culture to a shallow commercial one. In the end, both die, I believe. The craze for the .17 caliber and the .50 caliber pistols and rifle[s] reflect this boredom, as do the space age black plastic stocked things which are not even handsome.

It could not have been easy to write or initially sell Corey Ford...but he did us a tremendous favor with his legacy...and it did not have to sell us 'stuff'. Even cracker barrels.

True stories, even old memories are good...with pictures that illustrate the story. i would pay real money for a modern day hunter that hunts with some old classic Mannlicher and the latest technological wonder...show me pictures of the deer he stalked and took fairly with his Grandfather's Krag...I'll bite. Remind me of that one important shot, or the importance of NOT taking it...keep the four letter words in like work, walk, and care...keep out the vulgar...and let us improve our minds in the process.

Thanks for the forum...tbf

Jeff Nelson

IMHO, putting B.Gen Boddington (USMC Res.) in with the likes of Whelen, Askins, Crossman, etc. as a writer does the old-timers a disservice. Boddington isn't a particularly engaging writer, and is (along with Jim Zumbo) just as much a shill for companies like Browning as any of the new breed.

Roger Reid

Hi Dave,
I just finished reading the article on the 325wsm. I was holding out for that in a Remington rifle but who knows when that will come. (Any ideas?)I have other Remingtons and I favor the safety switch. A possibilty might be a custom firearm in that caliber with that type of switch (if it can be done). My other question is, Remington makes a 300wsm. Between the two what is your opinion? (Thoughts, ideas,etc)It will be used to hunt elk in Oregon in the coast range as well as elk in eastern Oregon.


I pity gunwriters. They've got to continually find new things to write about a subject where there is little news. The short mags are a good example. They only sold because the gun writers, in their gratitude for new material, blew the thing all out of proportion. They invented problems for these calibers to solve. The problem is the shooter. We keep hoping for a magic cartridge that will do what we can't. That is, put itself on target. Remember the hype for the short mags? "No recoil, fast as a barn burner mega mag, goes inside a dime every time, hits like a sledge hammer at 1000 yards." (Translation: No matter how crummy a rifleman you are, you'll kill like Cooper.) As for the "short cycle time" of a shorter casing: Are you really so good that this will make a difference? If we're that damn good, we don't need it.
Sure, there are all sorts of whiz-bang new guns out there (the "space ship guns", the super mags, and such), but they're kind of like when you get so tired of your wife that you have to dress her up like a whore to get excited.
Of course, very few gun writers want to preach that one. They're like the preacher who had only one sermon. It was a real sin-free, feel-good type of message. A member of his flock asked him why he preached this sermon Sunday after Sunday. His reply was "It is the only one that doesn't make anybody mad." (Which means it kept the money coming in.)
That's why I'm worried for the .338 Federal. It's a fine cartridge. It is one of the few really worthwhile new developments in a long time. Unfortunately, it ain't "sexy". It just does what a cartridge ought to. In the hands of a competent shooter, it kills game. It does this better than its parent cartridge. If the gun folks want something new to write about, well, there it is.

Michael Clark

My name is Mike and I have a question. I have an old bullet casing 45/70 and on the bottom there are some markings and I was wondering if you could tell me what they are. It is a center fire and around the outside edge is the markings at 12o'clock is the letter C at 6o'clock is the letter F at 3o'clock is the number 77 and at 9o'clock is the number 6. If you have any information about what these markings mean can you please provide me with any of your expertese.


I miss Ed Zern, Ted Trueblood and Gene Hill. I have my Corey Ford collection for the times that I really need to reflect on the good old days.
What I'm really tired of is reading that a trophy was taken at the last minute of daylight, on the last day of the hunt,on the last day of the season... There is a lack of originality in today's gun lit.

Richard Peterson

Mike Venturino is one of the few gun writers that hasn't sold out and that I enjoy reading. David Fortier was good when he was still a struggling writer. Now that he is a staff writer with a steady paycheck, he is about as boring as all the rest. The upside of this decline in writing talent is that it gives me reason to collect good, old books by O'Connor, Trueblood, Calvin Rutstrum, Burton Spiller and Corey Ford. The current generation of writers should read Ford's " The Road To Tinkhamtown" and then find the nearest rock to crawl under.

Dave Hendry

When reading the writings of Elmer Keith, Charles Askins (either of them), Towsend Whelen, or Robert Ruark for that matter, if you have any field experience at all, you know they have been there and done that. They have credibility because of their hunting experience. That credibility goes to both the teniques of the hunt and the technical aspects of the firearm(s) used, bullet weight, size, construction, etc.

With few exceptions, when reading most of todays gun magazine writers, they first thing that hits you smack in the face is that these guys do not know how to hunt, and they don't know much abiout the technical aspects of shooting, but they can write a story and get it in before deadline and it will be correctly spelled, and puncuated and the story will flow correctly. It will be a professionally writen piece.

Editors like that sort of thing, even though it is all BS, they buy it. The problem comes when anyone with experience reads it and immediately knows it is BS. As the age of hunters continues to get older, it is becoming more difficult for the new breed of gun writers to BS them because they have more information and knowlege about the subject than do the gun writers.

That was not the case when those I mentioned above were writing. THEY knew things I didn't. I've forgotten more about hunting and shooting than Jon R. Sundra knows.

So I quit reading the gun rags except for Precision Shooting. I miss the good old days of looking forward to the next issue of my favorite magazine, but all things are impermanent. And as Charles Askins the younger used to say, "and more's the pity."


I really like George C Nonte jrs book PistolSmithing.ublish
Its very good on revolvers and touches more on them than any book I have ever seen , no hype no big name advertising just plain good info thats useful. Have yet to find a publication to beat it.

Donald Strube Sr.

Can you tell me about.
FcadeBerasluce Areioaurtenay
Cal7.65 "ALLIES"


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