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February 14, 2007

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If It Ain’t Broke...

When entrusted with the education of a new shooter, I try to point out three great truths about successful marksmen:

  • They handle a gun—any kind of gun—with a minimum of movement. If you watch them at work, there doesn’t seem to be much happening.
  • They are able to shoot fast. They have taken to heart the Gunsite adage that “A good fast shot is better than a slow perfect shot because you’re not going to get time for the slow, perfect shot.”
  • They don’t jack around with their guns. They accept the fact that if they miss, it’s not the gun, it’s them.

    Back in my formative years, I left several fortunes in the hands of gunsmiths who were constantly diddling with my rifles and shotguns. I wanted them lighter or heavier. I wanted the stocks shorter or longer. I wanted a new trigger. I wanted a new chambering. I wanted different sights. In the end, I doubt if any of it was even remotely worth the money.

    I began to catch on to this when I was shooting registered trap, and noted that the guy who won everything at the shoots I participated in used a plain-vanilla Remington 870 pump. He beat the hell out of all the guys with Perazzis and Berettas and Kriegfhoffs. He did not own choke tubes, never adjusted his comb height when he shot yardage, and did not get a release trigger or any of that stuff. All he did was break targets.

    I once asked “Smoker” Smith, the Brit was the world Sporting Clays champion back in the 80s, which choke tubes he used.

    “’Ow the ‘ell would I know?”, he said. “And it doesn’t make any difference anyway. The bloody things have been rusted in place for years.”


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    I love showing up at the skeet club with my old hunting shotgun.

    Stand here, look there, point the gun there. My gun is this, his gun is that. Blah blah frigging blah.

    Pull, find it, shoot.

    Chad Love

    “’Ow the ‘ell would I know?”, he said. “And it doesn’t make any difference anyway. The bloody things have been rusted in place for years.”

    Now that's classic. Everyone should strive to someday achieve that level of crusty wisdom.


    I think the last one on your list is the hardest, Dave. To own up to the fact that it is you and not the rifle/gun, is very hard. But it is the beginning of enlightenment. They used to teach "quick kill" in ITR ; it was the best instruction I have ever had and embodied all three things on your list.


    I used to dink around with my guns all the time. Trying to make the "guns" shoot better. Anymore I just leave them alone and amazingly enough my guns shoot just fine.


    Yay!!! Finally honesty and wisdom. I got lucky and was born in a place without gunsmiths so i had to shoot what i had....a lot.

    Ed Cuneo 3rd grade 12 years

    Precisely why I own only three guns - a s/s which is my main gun now, a pump and a .22 rifle for trapping. Each one has a job. As a matter of fact I use the s/s almost all the time now because I don't shoot fast enough to get off three shots. My first shot is the killing shot and the second shot to backup. You practice enough you don't need fancy or a bushel full of guns.


    Amen...some real wisdom!!! Other than curing a "bad" (and I mean BAD) trigger on one gun, all of mine are stock and all shoot better than I, my coworkers or friends can shoot.

    Galen Burgett

    Very well said Mr. Petzal. Years ago when I was shooting NRA High Power Service rifle, I had reached a point in my marksmanship education where I was pretty good (at least in my own mind), then I plateaued and started blaming my match rifle. The barrel was bad, the bedding was gone, the sights needed to be replaced, etc. etc. One day my shooting coach, who was probably really tired of my whining, said let me see that rifle. He asked for a mag with ten rounds, assumed a sitting position (at the 300 yard line), slung up, and proceded to rapid fire all ten rounds into the 10-Ring. He handed the rifle back to me and simply said, "Nothin' wrong with that rifle". That is a lesson I've carried with me many years.


    Well said. Wisdom...from top to bottom, Dave. An unfortunate relic these days, I fear.
    I've got an old J. Stevens Arms 16 ga. sxs that's almost 100 years old, and, as I've said before, got it for free. It breaks clays just like a ten thousand dollar Beretta. Oh, and no choke tubes at all.
    Oh, I've got your fancy new 870s but we all know those are just a fad. hee hee.


    I met A.J. Smith in the 80's at a shoot and asked the same question. The rusted in chokes were IC & IC, yet I saw him break targets cleanly at 40+ yds. I also asked the great Bob Brister the same question about chokes. His reply was: "doesn't matter; if you shoot the gun well you're either on em' or you're not" 10 years later I watched Bob spend 10 minutes at a station trying to decide which choke to use. He was though, still one of the best. I wouldn't bet against him.



    I think you are hilarious, with a real "ear" for the clever and pithy anecdote. (See above.)

    Why do so many readers of F&S take you the wrong way and vent at you in the LETTERS section?

    Btw, I'm gratified that you don't take them too seriously...

    Buster Gold

    RIGHT ON !!!

    I have two friends that have NEVER shot a clean 25 at Skeet. Each has purchased several expensive new shotguns as part of their endeavor to break 25 -- to no avail. Both think there is a "magic gun" out there, somewhere....


    I've known that it's _me_, every time I shoot. Standing in a trap squad, I'm all alone with my thoughts. The gun, any gun, will forever shoot better than I can. Fit matters more than function. I can progress in skills, the gun can't. That's what keeps me interested.

    Charles  Benoit

    Have a 20 ga bolt action shotgun from Western Auto (Revelation model) actually made by Mossburg. It was bought used by my dad for $25 or so back in 1973. With a 7 o'clock hold, it's very accurate. Even though I am a poor shot, the gun has won at turkey matches against guys who are much, much better than me with more expensive guns.

    Smith Dewlen

    Reminds me of an incident at the Jefferson City Mo gun club. An old man had a Mossberg which looked like it had been dragged behind a truck on a gravel road. He shot daily, with his pals, several rounds of skeet. A visitor arrived with his Perazzi, in a leather case of course and proceeded to the skeet range. The visitor really gave the "Ole Man" an earfull about his piece of s*** Mossberg.

    Shooting time arrived and the Ole Man made sure he was shooting just prior to Mr. Visitor. The Ole Man splattered every clay with aplomb. Mr. V missed several.

    Next round, Ole Man 25 Mr. V about 18.

    Mr. V moves away from Ole Man, good move. Ole Man winks at a pal and they switch places. OM in now shooting just before Mr. V.

    OM kept connecting with 25 clays a round. Poor Mr. V, is missing more and more.

    Finally in utter frustration Mr. V replaces the Perazzi in the case and throws it into his van and punches the gas as he leaves.

    The Ole Man commented, "Gee, I didn't mean to make him mad. But, ya gotta know your gun if'n yer gonna hit."

    If you have a thousand dollars to spend, it is better to spend $500 for the gun and $500 on ammo, than to not practice with a $1000 hunk of wood and metal.

    Dick Gunlogson

    Yes, Dave, right on! As a long time Professional Guide/Outfitter in Alaska I have seen far too many clients who have spent many, many thousands of dollars on guns but who have nowhere close to a thousand rounds sent down range in practice. Personally I fired a few thousand rounds through a BB gun before ever firing a 'real gun.'


    Practice is the key. Shooting a brick of 22s on a regular basis is more productive than shooting 50 rounds of 338 at one sitting.


    Good thing everyone doesn't beleve this . The gun mags. would have to shut down. Nothing to advise about.

    However I do agree.

    Roger E. Reeves,  Sr.

    I learned many years ago that most guns shoot ok, it's me thats the problem. I'm 72 and go to the Rocky Mountains often.I do my pratice at home before I go and I shoot at a 200 yds target. I don;t shoot at 100 and leave it 2" high, etc. I want to know where the different bullets I use in my Rem, 700 30-06 will hit at 200 yds. Also,. I am one of those hunters that as soon as i determine that the animal in front of me is legal and what I want, I don;t dilly/dally around, I put the cross hairs on the spot and pull the trigger. I learned here in N./C. hunting W-tails, which to me are the most skittish animals I ever hunted, that you better shoot fast and be on target, as that as a rule is all the shot you gonna get. I shot a Deer in Montana last year at 345 yds, one shot, he fell in his tracts. Also got a Antelope in Wy at 325 yds, he ran 25 ft. The lansacape out west will fool you so shoot that rifle @200yds or whatever you feel like and then adjust when time to fire comes. Many hunters who go west, shoot short of the game, as those rolling plains will fool you.( a Range Finder is a must) But if you get that gun zeroed in correct and adjust at shot time, you got your animal. Good info Dave, please continue to let us know what's going on in the hunting world. PS; I thought at the time they hit the market that the WSM's was just another tool to sell more guns. I don;t own a WSM and no plans to. My regular 24" rifles do just fine, and Ammo is available at any country store out WestPS; I like what I read about T/C's Icon, but until its available in a 30-06 my 700 will do ok. What;s your take on the Icon, readers?

    Black Bart

    Hey Petzal, we get it now; Expensive guns don't shoot any better then cheap ones.
    Now that is utter genius!

    Peter C

    Years ago, I had a shooting coach who told me, "You can't buy bullseyes." He was absolutely right...unless a gun has been badly buggered at the factory, it will probably shoot better than its owner's capability. Constant practice and good coaching are key. There's a lot of truth to the old saying, "Beware the man who has only one gun."


    Dave I am with you. But who really
    would not like to own a eight thousand dollar gun or rifle. As far as chokes to many shooters today have forgotten that in real hunting you must know how to bring the birds in. On TV they tell us there dropping canadians at fifty plus yards routinely don't like shotguns that double as anti aircraft guns.

    Dave Petzal

    To Black Bart: I never said that. Flush out your headgear. Expensive or cheap doesn't matter as long as you can shoot the thing well and don't blame it when you screw up. One of the other consistent winners on the same trap circuit used a Ljutic with a gold inlay the size of a big man's fist in the receiver. And he could shoot!

    To Michael: Uncle Robert was legendary for fussing, adjusting, meddling, and fiddling, but his gifts as a shotgunner were so enormous that he almost never missed anyway. He could shoot trap targets and tell you what part of the target he was hitting.


    I originally took up skeet shooting to become a better grouse hunter….and was seduced by clay target shooting. After 30-years and $40,000 I learned the game. I discovered I shoot Remington 1100’s the best as the guns come out of the box, and then a Beretta 686 o/u that’s had the stock adjusted close to what Remington 1100’s are……and then not to “fix things”.

    I have noticed folks been buying Browning O/U’s with long pulls. They seem to have a lot of problems on crossing shots. I tried their guns a found with the long pull my shooting picture was a “V” above the bead.

    Any thoughts on this?????


    Dave, a question: What is the barrel life of a big game rifle (let's say a .30-06 or .270) assuming the owner cleans and oils it diligently after each use? 10,000 rounds? 100,000 rounds? 1,000,000 rounds? I'm sure there are variables that could affect the barrel life. I've heard of a barrel being "shot out" and haven't yet accomplished that feat, even in my little Marlin M99 M1 - my first rifle.

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