« Our Supreme Moment | Main | Video: On Guns and Nuts »

March 21, 2008

This page has been moved to http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut

If your browser doesn’t redirect you to the new location, please visit The Gun Nut at its new location: www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut.

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.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference On Dear Days Gone By:


Rick from Esky.

Thanks Mr. Petzal, I'm with you on the nostalgia ride. As a die hard gun nut reader, consider me a devotee. Springsteen is a lifeblood, a pulse of what we are all about. You must listen to the music!!!.
Hello Yoop, your drivel sometimes makes sense. Escanaba in Da moonlight should be a way of life for the uninformed. Buy you a beer at the Buck Inn.

Trae B.

Ya'll should listen to the new rock like system of a down,and linken park,and under oath.Im kiddin by the way. Under oath sucks,but soad and linkon park are good.And sadly I never got a see a shooting gallery but I grew up way back in the woods and can shoot any time I want,but I dont get prizes.

Rocky Mtn Hunter

Dave:You have brough up some oldies I love. Too bad the world has gone to H--- in a basket now. I do recall the Galleries at the fair, bu being from a rural community of about 50 people,shooting was anywhere you wanted to. I at age 10 bought my first gun,a 16 ga. s-b shotgun. Paid 5 bucks for it with 5 shells and went home to shoot. On first shot the action broke open and Damn near blinded me. I had a paper route,the GRIT ans sold Cloverine salve along with being raised on a Tobacco farm, few trips to town were made. Anyway next trip Dad went to town, I went along carried the 16 gag and traded it for a new Stevens l6 gag with a then Plastic stock and gave $l8.75 diffrence. I had little $,but guy let me have the gun and I paid him a few dollars as I could. Man do I wish I had keep that gun.My Dad was not a hunter, as best I recall he and 2 neighbors and I went rabbit hunting on Thanksgiving day in l946.Was teh only time he and I hunted. He only believe in working and cold find enough jobs for me to last a week to be doe in one afernoon after school. While Curring Tobacco with wood,stayed at the bar each night to keep teh fire going and I wore out the Sears WISH-BOOK lookig atthe spoting goods and wishing.I made my sef a promish that when I could,woudd buy a 30-30 and hunt Deer so 250 miles away back then Ive been hooked on fiearms and hunting since. Other than my College years I went hunting aout each afternoon while season was in. I'm not even sure we had a season as such back then. Too bad no music on TV or radio now that we can understand perod.All the goodies gone on.But when not fiddling wih guns at night I read a lot, especially hunting stories. Thanks again for bring back some fond memories. I plan to go to Montana, Colorado,KY,WY or New Mexico this fall for 2 weeks.Applied to all hoping will draw 2. At age 73, few hunts out in the Rockie Mtns left, as gonna do all I can. I finally gave in to O'Conner and bought a new 270. I;ve used a 25-06 and 30-06's for 40 yrs, along with Shotguns and 22's and the 30-30.Wish I had it back today. I want to see how this 270 compares to my 700 in 06 . Sitting here tapping the keyboard, gets me all fired up for hunting,ready to pack and go now. PLease continue to write about the good old days as you can. Have you hunted the Bitteroots in Montana ? if so,good r bad experience? Drove up there last year scouting about after filling my other tags, had a few days before flight back to reality came. Looks like heaven from up on high,should be much game there, Would dearly love to have a cabin in those Mountins. Spent enough in Plane fares, Motels and eating out to have bought and paid for a few acres and a useable cabin. Take care.The Old Gun Slinger from down south.


Dave is only engaging in thoughts that many of us in that same age group do from time to time; riding the tide of nostalgia when we see the world around us going to shit.
Places where I hunted doves and quail as a kid are now strip shopping malls; the prairie ponds west of Houston, Tx that held thousands of geese and ducks now hold $300,000 dollar (every second one is the same design) houses. Havilah Babcock once wrote an essay titled: "You can't ever go back again".


Rick from Esky:
Used to be, the Buck Inn had the best hamburgers in the area. I haven't been there in a while so I don't know now. When they made that movie, they compared it to Anatomy of a Murder! I still haven't seen it,mostly because of that comparison.

Jim in Mo.
I remember an interview with the Beatles where they said that the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holley were the biggest influence on them on their music style. One thing that's really nice about living today are the CD's and DVD's of older music and movies. Boy, I remember missing amovie at the theater and thinking it was gone forever. Also, didn't you lose around half of the fidelity of a vynl record after playing it ten times?

Jim in Mo.

Your post cracked me up. Had similar experience over sweet potatoes.

Michael, Same problem here.

Jim in Mo.

Call me old fashioned but I still think the best sound comes from a record. There's that intangible sound.
Ten times! What are you talking about? We played 'em till you could hold them up to the light and see thru them!


Isn't is odd how those of us who lived during these times look back with fondness and consider today a disaster, but yet today's young people will look back @ today's times in 40-50 years and consider them the best times of their lives.


Clay Cooper

My fondest memories are, to the age of 20 (1975), which was the good ol’times. Where both my Father and Grandfather would get together to go fishing and hunting, with countless places to go. Those times are gone, lost due to the bureaucracy of BLM, National Forest lands given away by politics converted to private property that no one uses it, yet alone ever lived there. Once in a while I’ll be hunting on National Forest land to come upon some private property unmarked only to be threatened to be shot, have my gone taken away from me, to have the Game Warden called and my reply? Sorry Sir, I’ve been federally incarcerated for 20 years and a lot has changed around here! Talk about setting someone back to rethink what they just said, GULP! They get really friendly all of a sudden with a man with a gun that has been federally incarcerated for 20 years, LOL! After a couple minutes to assure them that I’m no threat, and then I tell them I was in the Military for 20 years, so what’s the difference!
I also remember when High School ROTC having a small bore or air rifle team.

Clay Cooper

Went out and sighted in my new Model 11-87™ Sportsman® ShurShot™ Synthetic Turkey and what a shooter it is, WOW! 100 yards with slugs shooting off hand was about a 6 inch group and 3 ½ of #4’s, #5’s and #6, the pattern is so dense, a nat wouldn’t survive at 30 yards!

Dr. Ralph

Full of ham... belly hurts... Happy Easter and God Bless everyone! Shaky I think we had the same dad...


Wow - this post has covered music from Sinatra to Springsteen, the Everly Brothers to Linkin Park. This would be one noisy bunch in a deer camp.


Talk about rigged shooting galleries. Remember the air driven BB machine guns? Where you had to shoot out the red heart in the target? One little speck of red left...no cigar.
Gotta love the carnies!

Bill (Not Maher)


I have enjoyed this one from you. Some of my earliest memories are of shooting my Dad's Winchester Model 63 off the back porch and into the garden. Also shot his K-22 into an old paint bucket anytime I wanted to. That was in WV where everyone owned (and still does) firearms.

I've been a fan of yours for a long time and just recently heard you were a D.S. in the Army. I had to chance to be a Drill Sergeant also but declined. This was at Fort Bliss in 1968. I later regretted that decision.

Thanks again...Bill.

Mike Diehl

Springsteen is great! Phooie on the naysayers! ;)

Dave Petzal

To Bill (Not Maher): I was not given a choice about D.S. School. The First Sergeant said I was going, and I went. And some more about music:

Rock and roll begin in 1955 with Bill Haley and the Comets. It ended in 1970 with Don McLean's Miss American Pie. It was a great 15 years, but it ended.

About country music, the less said the better. When respectable people were no longer embarrassed to listen to it, it was not worth listening to.

Steve C

I was an Air Force dependent. No shooting galleries but we had Armed forces Day and "carnivals" were I got to shoot six .50 cals into a sighting bunker from an static F86. Bet J O'Connor never did that.

Springsteen's talent doesn't lay in his looks or voice. Same for Willie Nelson. If they couldn't write, we'd have never heard of them.


Dave Petzal:
I beg to differ! Any time someone dispels an entire genre, I worry. I said earlier that when I was a kid, mid-sixties, many country artists were featured in rock n roll top forties. These included Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, etc. The problem with a country only station is that you hear country music, both good and bad. Same with rock n roll. If I could own a radio station, I would play good music from any genre. I would need to be independently wealthy because no one else would listen.
P.S. Its suprising how many rock hits incorporated portions of classical music works.

retired way car rider

Dave, sorry you eastern boys don't like country music. makes me wonder if DS stands for something else. we might think the same of your choice of music.

Dr. Ralph

Yeah Pretzal, what's going on? First you can't understand a Garden Stater after admitting you're a native and this here Hoosier could hear him loud and clear and now that I'm living sixteen miles from Music Row and "The Opry" you say we're not worth listening to. Go buy "Johnny Cash At San Quentin" and "Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ" and try again... I don't think you're paying attention. "Starkville City Jail" and "Blinded By The Light" alone are worth the price of admission. Try listening to "Sugarland" singing "Stay"... if you don't like it you don't like music period.

Jim in Mo.

Retired way car rider and Yoop,
I speak my mind and I don't suck up, but I agree with dave that 'old country' is the real deal, not 'new country'. Of course for me new country started in mid eighties or early nintey's when they (singers) started showin up in tank tops, cut off t-shirts and shaved heads. Not country. For Dave new country started perhaps in 'thirtys'. But that is probably the best country.

Rocky Mtn Hunter

I recall the 40's when we had no electricity,. but did have a battery radio. Each Sat. night we set around the fireplace, popping pop corn and drinking RC Cola ( not for taste but was the largest drink then). We would listen to the Grand-Ol-Opry till fell asleep. I did get the opportunity in 71 to go to the old Ryan Theater for the Sat. Nite show. Printers Alley was a booming place to walk and listen to the wannabee's, somemade it some did not. But comparing the music of the 40,50,60's makes this junk today sound like a bear cub who has lost his Mom. Was in a Deer camp in the 60's and a guy brought his guitar, what a plesant time we had around the fire at night,really thought was in Heaven, and we were as compared to todays music and the garbarage discussed at camp. Could be it was the Moon-shine they had back then that made the music sound so good. Today, my hunts are from Motels or Station Wagon for Controled fenced hunts, or some BLM places we use yearly. Not the same till you get to the Rockies at l0-12K feet. We all had wishes at a young age, mine was to be a cowboy. Never made it, but if was in good health (73) and 40 yrs younger, I would sell out and go west and buy what I could and a Cabin, horses, cattle for the $$$ I got out of this place. Just wishful thinking, but keeps me thinking young again. I do plan to get a Outfitter to take me out for a week-ten days to a out of the way camp and hunt & relax for a Elk/Mulie hunt. I do believe that would bring new life to me or either kill me, likely the later. You guys my age and me, better do what we plan soon, as the clock continues to tick. The old Gunslinger down South in N.C.


Somebody above mentioned Willie Nelson. Willie is an old reprobate! I met Willie once in the summer of 1969 at the El Paisano Motel in Pearsall, Texas. He and his band had a "gig" at the Wishing Well, just south of town! I never cared much for Willie and his type of music or his sound. During the 70's, I came to appreciate him and his style a bit more. In the early 80's, I flipped over to a PBS channel and saw Willie on "Austin City Limits"! They were playing blues guitar. It was then I learned that Willie was "in love" with the blues and could have cared less about country, other than Country payed the bills and bought the drugs and alcohol! I still don't care about Willie's country, but I "LUV" his blues!


John R

I remember the shooting galleries and all that stuff.
That I suppose is what saddens me a bit regarding the way our country is heading as pointed out by Dan P.
I suppose my dad felt this way as he became older and so on with his dad.
I read somewhere, maybe it was on this website where someone asked if Field and Stream would resurrect "The Lower Forty"? The response from Field and Stream was carefully and tenderly worded, but the bottom line was that it just wasn't relevant anymore and the younger generations would not be able to identify with the stories because they identified a particular place in time that no longer exists. After much honest thought, I had to agree. Some of us my age grew up in a different world (and USA). What really boggles my mind is that I don't consider myself that old (I'll be 59 this year).
I won't comment on my theories of why we are, where we are in this country because I think things are cyclical.

Del in KS

Rocky mtn hunter,

I have relatives in Highland and Franklin, NC . Is that part of your stomping grounds?

Our Blogs