« Bourjaily: Which Bird Would You Shoot First? | Main | Video Clip: Fun With Gnats »

May 02, 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.

How Good is Good Enough?

This past week I was drooling over one of Jim Carmichel's double rifles, a lovely Westley Richards .465 Droplock, which is a marvel of mechanical intricacy and British craftsmanship. Among other things it incorporates a safety block--a small lever designed to keep a gunbearer from flipping the safety on and causing you embarrassment when something was chewing on your head and you couldn't figure out why the gun wouldn't fire. It probably took someone a week to make and install that little device.

The metal-to-metal fit was so perfect that when you put the locks back in the receiver and closed it, you couldn't see where the parts joined--I mean, not even a hairline. Nothing. I can't even guess how long it took someone with a set of files and infinite patience to pull that off.

German and Austrian gunsmiths absolutely love mechanical intricacy. I once handled a double rifle that was designed to be used from a hochsitz, which is a treestand to you. Because doubles click when you open them, and might spook whatever was lurking nearby, this rifle had a pair of small, noiseless pistons that cocked it.

Most really good gunsmiths don't build guns for the money. They could make a lot more money programming CAD/CAM systems someplace. They do it because they like guns, and they do it because they enjoy pursuing perfection, and to show how good they are.

Sometime about 500 years ago, a European gunmaker completed a wheel lock pistol, inlaid, fancy to the nth degree, and on it, he inscribed in Middle German: "There, it's done. Anyone who thinks he can do better is welcome to try."

Which pretty much says it all.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How Good is Good Enough?:


Jim in Mo.

Reminds me of the worlds smallest gun I read about couple months ago, the Swiss Mini gun. Fires a whopping 2.3mm rimfire. Unnecessary but facinating.


I share your pain and amazement. The lack of good gun bearers here in the river and creek bottoms of Illinois is a long standing problem.

Mechanical complexity is almost as interesting as mechanical simplicity.


Realisticly, a gunsmith would build something utilitatian. An artisan would build a work of art. I'm sure that the people described above built those weapons to be masterpieces. If I were talented enough to design guns, I would feel a lot better about making a nice deer rifle that could be used by any 14 year old on his first deer hunt, than on a masterpiece to be enjoyed by one person.

Dave Petzal, you're a lucky man! You craft words that can be enjoyed by many. A gun artisan doesn't enjoy that luxury.

Dr. Ralph

In this world there is room enough for cheap ugly guns and masterpieces of metal and wood. They all serve different purposes... some well heeled individuals collect fine firearms rather than gold coins or paintings or sculptures. At least the artwork Dave describes also has a utilitarian purpose, besides bringing pride and joy to the owner.

To answer the question "How good is good enough" all depends upon the individual. Sam Walton could own anything his heart desired but quail hunted with a Remington 1100 and drove a pickup. I too prefer a weapon that does it's job better than any other regardless of beauty. To me it's a tool, but if the tool performs flawlessly and is a work of art then why not buy into the total package? It's still nice to see guns as art and my appreciation for those who are masters is unlimited... too bad my budget isn't.


A lot can be said for the person who uses a gun as well as the maker. Across the street from where I work is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center which houses various western museums including the Cody Firearms Museum. This particular collection features thousands of weapons which range from obscure to famous, plain to outrageously elaborate, guns previously owned by unknowns beside those of Ruger, Hemingway, Tom Knapp, Frye, John F. Kennedy, and maybe even Petzal (I'll have to check out that one). Those of you who have visited this mecca need no further explanation. To you individuals who have never seen the inside of the museum I suggest you add it to your list of things to do prior to death. Allow 2 to 3 days if you want to see it all in detail.
Back to my original statement regarding the gun users. In this museum is an 1895 Winchester in .30-40 Krag. It is highly engraved with fine checkering cut into extremely fancy walnut. There is an inlaid gold (brass?) plaque which reads something to the effect of "To my friend George T. Beck from William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody". Bear in mind that at the time this rifle was custom ordered from Winchester old Bill was one of the most famous and richest people in the world although his fortunes later waned. Anyway...what did Mr. Beck do with this fine piece? From the worn blueing and the small scratches and nicks in the stock I would feel comfortable in stating that his went hunting with it in the nearby mountains...many times. Of course we all would consider the rifle to be a wallhanger or carefully store it in our gun safe but not George. He most likely felt it was a really nice rifle given to him by a good friend which deserved to be used so he did just that.

Dennis L. Crabtrey II

Individual taste says it all. My dad loves his Savage guns b/c they're utilitarian Stainless Synthetic and accurate. While I find these admirable qualities, and I own couple of Savages myself, I don't love them. I do admire my Blaser R93 Prestige in 243,30-06, and 375 H&H though...it's purrrrty.

Dan D.

Good enough is what you make of it. I have a $120 CVA muzzleloader thats ugly as sin and I have my doubts about its spanish manufacturing. But hey, it was what I could afford at the time, it extended my season, and guess what...the deer still fell over dead when they got smacked with the .50 cal in the boiler room.

I think in general, the big manufacturers make a decent product that serves most hunters well. I own 8-9 different brands and they all work just fine. If we all owned perfectly designed, pleasnt to the eye and functional guns.....what the hell would we have to complain about?

Ralph the Rifleman

Well if Dave refered to firearms as "lovely" they must be a work of art!


Beauty is one thing but being able to take that beauty out in to the woods, briar's and brambles is another. I do not own a beautiful firearm. I own functional and utilitarian rifles and shotguns. If I owned I nice rifle or shotgun it would be a waste of money because it would never see the light of day. I have little children so all firearms are in a safe. I get very few visitors that appreciate firearms and even fewer that would appreciate a firearm like that. If I had the money to buy a firearm like that the money probably would go to doing something else like investing in my home. New roof and siding, update wireing and a new addition to give each boy their own room. But my firearms can be passed down to my boys when they get older for the moment. No telling what the future holds when we get a new POTUS.

Tom the Troll.

Del in KS

My Shiloh Sharps is a beauty to behold. The action is as slick a owl hocky, and the double set trigger is as good as it gets. A couple of my shotguns cost more but aren't as pretty. It's probably the best gun I will ever own all for only 2400 bucks. Yes, it's very accurate but will likely never see the woods to avoid scratches. Who knows maybe some day I will take it hunting but not now.

Clay Cooper

This reminds me of the story of a European Gun Maker visiting one of Americas leading manufacturers. The owner of that Corporation asked the European Gentleman what he thought of US made guns.
He answered the question with one word.
Which proves my case and point, that the U.S. has or had the ability to manufacturer anything second to none! Yet, some Goober Smoocher is looking more how to make things so cheap they barely have the quality that they are being used for. Take my brand new Remington Model 11-87™ Sportsman® ShurShot™ Synthetic Turkey for example. It has a plastic trigger guard and the rest is so cheaply made it’s not funny! Even the front sight that gets a slightest ding it makes the front sight totally useless.

Blue Ox

Goober Smoocher! Ha ha ha! :D


Clay I previously read a statement similiar to your most recent posting which indicated that the "European gentleman" was a manager from Sako. Apparently this happened several decades ago or so the story goes. I cannot verify the authenticity of any of the above but, nevertheless, believe that for the most part that gentleman was correct.


Clay Cooper:
While I do admire the beauty of a Sako, I also admire the function of a Ruger. I would also admire the new Marlin Bolt Action, but its only in RH models. While the European guns are attractive, if a Ruger shoots amost as accurately, why spend the extra money? If I buy a rifle and its too pretty, I'll probably hunt less.


Decades ago when I was a single young buck with a little money I was sitting in a rather low tree stand in the Mississippi delta. The ground was wet as usual and I heard something or someone approaching. I soon saw a fellow in bib overalls walking in my direction who had not noticed me since he was intent on studying the deer tracks. I made a slight whistle so he would be aware of my presence which he acknowledged by walking directly to my tree. I noted that he had a Savage Model 99 and he apparently like the looks of the Browning Safari .270 with the drop dead gorgeous wood of which I have spoken in other postings. He said something too the effect that "your rifle is to purty to hunt with". I replied "Isn't that like saying a woman is too pretty to screw?" He smiled, nodded, glanced at the old 99, and slowly disappeared into the brush.


Rather graphic, ish!

But, I agree!

How good is good enough!

The highest degree of workmanship the craftmans skill can turn out with the best materials available to him/her! THAT; is "good enough"!
Whether the craftsman's abilities turn out a "Mona Lisa" or a kindergarten scribble, both make somebody happy!


Walt Smith

Funny how we admire the craftsmanship of those who 50 years ago admired killing our fathers and grandfathers. I'll keep my American made rifle over any german crafted product,MADE IN AMERICA is where its at and should be.

Bernie Kuntz

Ishawooa--wonderful point you made! I stand in awe of fine craftsmanship, and I treasure the guns I own that display this kind of work. Some hunters regard a firearm as little more than a tool, like a garden rake or shovel. A friend of mine who is a very good hunter has a modest collection of Savage, Mossberg and other utilitarian arms. He says the rifles all shoot minute-of-angle and that he gets as much game as anyone. Can't argue with him on that.

However, firearms made by master stockmakers, metal-workers and other artisans capture my attention. I am captivated by their talents and the fine work they are able to produce.



Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!



Bubba I don't think anyone will argue your point since beauty is often determined by opinion. Indeed like Bernie stated, in the Rockies many hunters to consider a rifle to be nothing more than a hoe or shovel. Just a tool to get the job done. I suppose any accurate and reliable piece will suffice if this is your only consideration. One of the best hunters I know only has the one old S & W .30-'06 and can't tell a .223 from a .458. He has a big room full of trophies, some gathered on his own some on guided hunts. Either way he gets the job done with his mundane choice of rifles. This is the guy who is going to Kodiak for the third time today. I previously said it was in April but was confused about his departure date. I guarantee he will bring back a big bear. I guess my point is that his plain jane will work just a well as one of my "fancy" Sako actioned custom rifles. Like they say "whatever trips your trigger".

Gerald Keller

Life's too short to hunt with ugly rifles!!!

Bernie Kuntz

Ishawooa, I met a guy from Casper about 30 years ago who has hunted all over the world, (I won't include his name here), lives in a virtual mansion, and I still see that he does a lot of hunting. He must be late 60s now. His only rifle was a 7mm Rem. Magnum Model 700 BDL. Believe me, the guy could have afforded anything. Interesting to witness the difference in people...

I'm waiting for the results of that Wyoming sheep drawing.

Dr. Ralph

I am impressed with a gun that I can take to a range and put five holes touching each other at 100 yards. In fact it excites me tremendously... more so than a pretty gun.

I am impressed with a pretty girl. In fact it excites me tremendously... more so than a girl who cooks, cleans, and performs other duties flawlessly...

To each his own.


Beautiful rifles are to be celebrated, as is any great work of art. The more utilitarian the beauty, to me at least, the more valuable it becomes. My wife, for example, is the most beautiful woman I know...AND she cooks a great pot of chili!! Gonna get some mileage outta' this one...!

Jim in Mo.

A girl that cooks, cleans and performs 'other' duties flawlessly is the pretty girl to me. Just like my guns.

Our Blogs