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March 21, 2008

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On Dear Days Gone By

In 1969 the sublimely talented, infinitely wise, yet somehow tragically misunderstood Jack O'Connor wrote a very good book of reminiscences called Horse and Buggy West. It was about his boyhood in Arizona in the early 20th century. If I may be permitted, I would like to do a little of that here.

I grew up near the New Jersey shore, not far from Asbury Park, which produced Bruce Springsteen*. In the 1950s, as you strolled down the boardwalk, you could hear a distinctive crack…clang….crack…clang, and you knew you were near the shooting gallery.

Shooting galleries have just about passed from the American scene, but for a kid who was crazy about guns, they were heaven on earth. You gave the degenerate behind the counter 25 cents and he would slide ten greasy .22 Shorts into a tube-magazine pump gun. Then you popped away at knockdown steel targets that just sat there, or paraded by on a conveyor belt, and if you hit with all ten shots, you got a cheesy prize.

For kids like me who were not allowed to have guns, it was the only chance we got to handle a real firearm aside from summer-camp programs, and it was pure magic. Now these places are no more. A shooting gallery is a place where junkies gather, or it is a video game. No more wonderful smell of gunpowder; no more slick slide actions chained to the counter top. Liability problems, you know. And it might give youngsters hostile feelings toward steel silhouettes of ducks.

*Bruce Springsteen has always baffled me. At the time this narrative took place, a popular male singer was a good-looking guy who could actually sing and whose lyrics you could actually understand. Perry Como qualified. Vic Damone and Eddie Fisher made the cut, as did Tony Bennett. Mr. Springsteen seems like a decent enough person, but he qualifies on none of the three counts.


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LOL, DP!!! I bet you’re one who bought “Tutti-Fruity” by Pat Boone instead of by Little Richard.

Granted Como, Damone, and Fisher are first rate musical talents. Tony still hits those high notes solid…but they ain’t rock-n-roll.

Rock-n Roll isn’t about pretty voices; it’s about rude, crude, and socially unacceptable delivery. That’s why a voice, like Springsteen, sounding like too hard of a night on whiskey and cigarettes can make it.

I have to confess in my age, shooting-wise, I’m in the Damone, Fisher, and Bennett crowd. I don’t run with the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable Black Rifle-AR’s.


Dave: Are you getting maudlin on us in your old age? We appreciate hearing a little of your background, but plese don't tell us you're getting ready to retire. I know getting old isn't for sissies, but you're a tough old ba**ard and you can handle it. I have faith in you. And BTW, is there some reason Frank isn't mentioned in your list of "populr make singers"? He has to rank right up there near the top. And ditto re Bruce.

Jim in Mo.

In 1965 I walked into a hardware store and bought my dad a .22 rifle for a Christmas present. Mom wasn't there, just me. And the gentleman gladly sold the rifle and 50 rnd. box of ammo to a 14 year old boy.


Thanks again for awnsering my bullet question, I will be investing in A frames in the future. New question, is there chart that will show how elevation effects bullet drop? I do most of my hunting between 8,-11,000 feet and I have noticed that my bullet drop with a number of rounds isn't as severe as the charts claim. I am 32, I barely remember the shooting galleries. I do recall that the guy behind the counter always had atleast one glass eye.


As far as music goes, I stand with President Grant who said, "I know two tunes, one is Yankee Doodle, and the other is not."

Being from rural America, the shooting gallery was usually found at the county fair. The attendent working his way up to the tattoo tent would always hand over the rifle and say the sights were adjusted perfectly. They were perfect for the cross eyed and the blind.

Happy Easter to all. Enjoy Spring and new life.

Bernie Kuntz

I have never been to New Jersey, but grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota. I remember shooting galleries at the annual summer carnival at home. Growing up in a town of 15,000 with wonderful parents and a father who was a hunter is a luxury I always will treasure. Less than two miles from our house was "the gravel pit", Jamestown's unofficial shooting range. I burned up countless rounds at the gravel pit in my youth. When I was a teenager I walked from my house and hunted cottontails, jackrabbits, squirrels and red foxes. When I was old enough to drive I included pheasants, sharptails, Hungarian partridges and ducks. I hunted deer and pronghorns with my father.

I am trying to imagine the obstacles to shooting and hunting that you must have faced, Dave, and yet you became a hunter of considerable stature, a collector of fine guns, and a defender of the Second Amendment. I wonder if a youngster in New Jersey today would have the persistence to take the same route.

By the way, I am of the Elvis, Andy Williams, Englebert Humperdink, Tom Jones era of singers. "Uncool" and moldy, I realize, but all those guys could sing!

Dan P

It stuns me that a question of reminiscence provokes a question of what it all means... we've all been listening to too much of the SCOTUS debate looking for hidden signals.

One thing is clear: while many things change because of technology (computers and the possibility of this blog) and fashion (singers), the change all of us have seen regarding firearms is remarkable and extreme. David is talking about New Jersey! One of the judges on the Supreme Court who will rule on the Heller case transported his rifle to hs for competition on the NYC Subways!!! NYC!! The capital of the "evil empire" of anti-guners has not always been this way! The changes we have seen are indeed deep and profound -- AND different than most others we have seen. At the least, it has shown that cultural values have been changed by a broad-spectrum campaign -- in our schools, in our press, in our entertainment, and political discourse. It has elevated an irrational fear to a level of moral principle, and justifies bigotry and prejudicial hatred against gun owners and hunters during a period remarkable in its politically correct rejection of bigoted speech and habit. This is a campaign that has been in the works for 50 years. Once, folks like Bing Crosby were noted for enjoying bird hunting. Now, Hollywood types get blackballed for such things. We have been systematically disenfranchised -- excluded from media opportunities to portray shooting sports as a normal and healthy part of American life. Just look at the "Sports Afield" fiasco (they tried to morph it into an extreme sports mountain biking, etc, magazine). Even then, when it comes to the public's perception of whether we have a right to keep firearms, the majority STILL agrees with the individual rights picture. The anti's haven't won, yet.

Question is, is David's reminiscence just a memory of horse and buggy days (he included the reference in citing O'Connor), or is it a modern and viable future that is still accessible if we can succeed in repudiating this neurotic phobia turned moral value (I've even HEARD anti's tell my neighbor she *SHOULD* be afraid that all of her neighbors have guns -- was that a statement of moral obligation? or a statement of normative reasonable fear?).



Dave, Dave, Dave -- how can you claim New Jersey roots and forget Francis Albert S.??? I was too many years behind you to have known the heyday of Asbury Park's boardwalk, I have seen Springstein take over the stage at the Stone Pony on the spur of the moment. I did go to summer camp and remember shooting .22's at the range there. Dad is a hunter so I was brought up outdoors and gained respect and love for the traditions Cactus Jack, Elmer Keith, Lefty Kreh, Dave Petzal and Jim Carmichael (to name but a few) wrote/write so elequently about.

jim in nc

One of my father's fondest memories was when he cleaned some arrogant Nazi's clock at the local shooting gallery when he was an exchange student in Germany in 1937.
P.S. Better watch out: besmirching the name of The Boss could cost you your NJ citizenship. Rock'n'roll has been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died, but Bruce is one exception to the trend.

Chad Love

I haven't posted many comments lately as we've been finishing up a house, but I decided to check the Gun Nut one last time before I boxed up the computer, cancelled my ISP and moved into the new house.
I am, quite frankly, sick to death right now of serious subjects and heated debate, and it was a much-needed breath of fresh air to read such a nice little slice of personal nostalgia.

Chad Love

I do, however, have to disagree on one point: How can you not love Springsteen? Easily one of the best songwriters of the past 30 years...
Perry Como? Eddie Fisher?
Aural Lunesta, anyone? I've got it in scratchy AM, 33s, 45s and eight-track...


"Well now I'm no hero
That's understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow back your hair.."
- Bruce Springsteen "Thunder Road"

Beautiful. He is The Boss.


While I don't always agree with the positions Springsteen takes on political issues. I do think he is one of the more talented songwriters of the last fifty years. In addition, as far as I know, he has never overdosed or been arrested for any anti-social behavior.

Springsteen's Seeger Sessions alblum is a gem. It was nice to see some of the traditional American folk songs brought into the modern frey.

Jim in Mo.

Springsteen sucks. Arrogant self absorbed. Who cares about him and his need for a private life. Those that care should get a life and go to the MTV blog.

Dr. Ralph

Bruce was all about cars and women about the time I was all about cars and women... sixteen, got a date with an angel, cleaning your ride and cranking up "The Boss" on the eight track knowing you're not going to score and everything he said was what you were already thinking set to music. Come on Dave, give me a break. Joisy and that greaser accent and the Boardwalk and you couldn't relate?

I'm with PbHead on the shooting galleries. They were at the County Fair and State Fair and although I could light an Ohio Blue Tip Match stuck in the ground from twenty feet with my Savage .22/.410 over under when I was twelve, for some reason those "Fair" guns never knocked down a damn thing for me. The match trick is pretty hard, start out shooting M&M's until you think you're good and move up...


I always thought "the Boss" was great but knew "the King" better. Back in '68 the father of my roommate at Ole Miss passed away. Charlie inherited quite a bit of money so immediately bought a brand new 911 Porche Turbo. A few days later the starter shorted out on it. We decided to cut class for the afternoon to drive it to Memphis for warranty work. As we passed Graceland on what was then Bellevue Blvd Charlie noticed that Elvis was standing in the trees just northwest of the house. "Why don't we go talk to him" says Charlie while doing a U-turn and driving right in just as if he owned the place. The guard at the front gate barely noticed us probably because of the new Porche. Sure enough Elvis walked over, leaned down, and asked who we were and what we wanted. We told him as he waved off a couple of ape sized body guards. After a few minutes of conversation we mentioned his two sidearms that were in finely tooled holsters on a splendid gunbelt. He proudly showed us a pair of engraved nickel 5 1/2 inch Colt SAAs in .45 Colt. Both smelled of gunpowder and I noticed that only empty shells were in the loops of his gunbelt. He said he had been out back of his house plinking. After we handed the pistols back to him he noticed that quite a crowd was gathering out in the street and suggested that we probably should leave. Elvis had his faults but from my one experience with him he was a gentleman, a shooter, and a pleasure to meet.


And he could sing. I mean you could understand what he was singing.


Jeeze David - in 1969 I was but a year old! I know the singers that you mentioned - my folks listened to them on AM radio! LOL We had a shooting gallery - it ws out back of Grandpa's shed... nothing to hit shooting away from it except the pond dam. I wonder how many bottles we broke there over the years.


King Pleasure, anyone ?


Jim in Mo.

Another dear day gone by for me was mornings and evenings in Oct. Dove hunts over and small game not open yet so we'd ride on the fenders of an old '49 Plymouth thru the cut corn fields and shoot at the flocks of pidgeons as they stuffed their gullet. Entertaining and tasty too.


Excuse me.....what was it that the "king" wrote? Ah yes, all those classic hollywood movie jingles. I really remember them fondly. You could understand all of them, and he sang them with great conviction!
Elvis couldn't lift the jock of the Boss. Dave-move beyond what you hear on commercial radio--Bruce is probably the greatest single talent to come along in decades-and we are still buying/playing his music 30 yrs. and counting! That can't be said of the crooners of the '50s. And, who penned their music?
You can apologize by listening to the entire "tunnel of love" cd. That will be a start. Brian


Hey Dave, sorry to hear you grew up in NJ too, did you get out as soon as possible as well?
NJ the Garden state? Bull, more like the Gestapo state if you ask me. Think the only 2 worse places to live in the US might be New York City and Washington DC!
You were a few years before me as I was born in 62 so possibly it went downhill later, but in the 60's my dad had to get fingerprinted and have a background check done to get a Firearms ID Card just to buy me a BB gun!
It has only gotten worse since.


Less Springsteen. More Springfield.


I remember those days and the shooting galleries, but for me, growing up in North Jersey our family vacation was in Seaside or Wildwood. 2 years ago I adopted my younger son, packed up and moved to rural PA, I did take him to Seaside last year as he had never experienced the "seashore/boardwalk thing", I thought we shot in the shooting gallery there, but maybe it was at one of the never ending fireman's carnivals here in PA. Springsteen - I can take him or leave him, but there is something special about driving to the shore on a beautiful day and having "Born in the USA" blasting on the radio


Gee, Carney, I didn't know Rick Springfield had any fans left.


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