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November 04, 2008
Bourjaily: Price of Lead and 3/ 4 Ounce Reloads

Here’s the bad news: the sky is falling.

Here’s the good news: so is the price of lead.

One of my local stores has lead shot at $37 a bag, down from $43 a month ago. Rumor has it the price will keep dropping. Like a lot of folks, I’ve been shooting lighter reloads to stretch my money, but even if lead gets to $15 a bag, I’m having so much fun shooting recoilless target loads that I won’t go back to the heavier stuff.

The Hodgdon website  has the recipes I use. I’ve settled on 3/ 4 ounce of 8s at 1200 fps. I can hardly feel them go off in an 8 1/ 2 pound 12 gauge, but they crush skeet and sporting targets. It is true that there aren’t many pellets in the fringes of a 3/ 4 ounce pattern, but I’m willing to trade a little margin for error for a complete lack of recoil.

DEP has written that good shooting begins with the acceptance of pain and great shooting begins with the love of pain (do I have that right, Dave?), but I’m enjoying the absence of pain. Has anybody else out there lightened up and liked it?


November 03, 2008
Petzal: Transmitting History

In the mid-1960s I did the photography for a book called Fired in Anger, which was about famous and infamous firearms that had figured in history. One of the chapters was on the pistols used in the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel at Weehawken, NJ in 1804. The guns were (and are) owned by the Chase Bank in New York City, and the bank kindly gave me permission to photograph them.

They were built by a London gunsmith named Wogdon in the late 18th century, and I got to hold the pistol that killed Alexander Hamilton in my hand. It was a slightly uncanny experience; there was history, mute, but as real as it is possible for history to be.

(A brief aside: At one time, Congressmen backed up their ideas with a lot more than words. In 1856, on the floor of the Senate, Senator Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death with his walking stick after Sumner made a speech that offended him. I would like to see this type of thing encouraged; it would do wonders for the worthless bastards.)

In South Carolina last week, at gun builder Kenny Jarrett’s wonderful little museum, I had the chance to handle a sword that had been found in 1919 on the Gettysburg battlefield where it had lain since 1863. The D-guard was broken and the blade was snapped at its mid-point. It was an infantry sword, not a cavalry saber. It had belonged to an officer, probably company grade because it was a plain weapon, not ornate.

There was no marking on it, so we will never know if the man who carried it was Union or Confederate. We will never know how the blade came to snap. We will never know what became of its owner—did he live or die? What part of those bloody three days did that sword see? Was it carried in Pickett’s Charge, or at the Peach Orchard, or on Little Round Top? It knows, but we never will. History, right there in the palm of your hand.

October 30, 2008
A Knife for the Next Depression

More goodies from Remington.


This is not a new knife (or a knew nife) but I gave it short shrift last year when it came out and I regret that, because it’s a very good one. It’s designation is Tango Series I Fixed (which is odd, because in milspeak, Tango refers to a terrorist). It’s what gun writer Ken Warner refers to as a “sharpened pry bar,” which means the thing is just about indestructible. There are military, civilian, and law enforcement models with a choice of drop point (shown here), sabre point, or tanto point in either 440C or N690 stainless. The handle scales are G-10, which is glass-filled epoxy that is harder than Hillary’s heart.

Blade length is 5-1/3 inches and overall is 10-1/2 inches. Sheaths are Cordura nylon, tactical, and high-speed, low drag. The blades are very heavy—just over 1/4-inch thick, as nearly as I can tell, which is pretty rare these days. I don’t see how you could damage the Tango I even with unreasonable use. In the times to come, this would seem an ideal tool for cutting into wheels of government cheese, butchering rats you have shot for food, or breaking your way into an unoccupied house to spend the night. (It beats your car.) The price is around $130.

And on a slightly more upbeat note, if you’re looking for an effective low-noise-level .22 LR round, may I recommend Remington’s new CBee 22. It fires a 33-grain bullet at 740 fps, will work flawlessly through any .22 LR rifle (although it does not pack the pork to cycle a .22 auto). Accuracy and expansion are claimed to be excellent (Remington had to invent a new kind of .22 bullet to provide the latter). A box of 100 is $5.55.

October 28, 2008
Bourjailly: Eric Clapton's Gun Sale

One of my first albums, which I bought in 1972 and dearly loved, was “The History of Eric Clapton.” It’s a two-record chronicle of Clapton’s awesome pre-suck period – Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, etc. – when he kept his mouth shut on stage and played the guitar, which he did (and still does when he wants to) about as well as anybody ever has or ever will.

In the mid-70s, Clapton quit being a guitar hero to embark on a long career as a mediocre pop singer. Listening to Clapton bleat his way through fluff like “Wonderful Tonight” when he could be soloing is like watching Michael Jordan flail at minor league pitching when he could have been defying gravity in the NBA finals.

What does this have to do with guns? This: there’s money in singing bad songs badly, and Clapton has made a pile. Bless his heart, he also likes to “shoot” (which is British for “hunt") and he’s bought a lot of really nice shotguns over the years. Now he needs to get rid of some old guns to make room for new ones.

You’d think he could just buy another gun cabinet, but whatever. Not surprisingly, his collection centers on bespoke English guns. Here are a few of them.


The auction is set for December. Me, I don’t need a gun with Clapton himself engraved on the sideplate (like the William Evans pair, one of which is shown above) but how great would it be to own a pair of Purdeys with Clapton’s initials on them? It would take me right back to 1972.

October 27, 2008
Rebirth of the Remington Custom Shop

At one time every American gun maker with any pretensions to class had a custom shop as part of its factory. These shops offered all sorts of optional engraving, fancy wood, elaborate checkering, barrel lengths—you name it. Remington was no different, but during the middle of the 20th century its Custom Shop in Ilion, NY, was noted not for turning out fancy guns, but for super-accurate rifles. If you showed up at a benchrest shoot with a Remington 40XB-BR, people wet themselves. I owned a 40XB in .222 for a while in the late 1960s, and it made the woodchucks dance for fair.

But over the 70s the trend was to pretty guns, and a typical Remington Custom Shop rifle was likely to be very good looking but otherwise not much different from a production-line gun. Now the pendulum has swung back the other way. The Remington Custom Shop has a new manager, Carlos Martinez, and is getting a major infusion of new CNC machinery with which to build working hunting rifles that are as good as those built by anyone.

The new line of rifles (there are 4) look like run-of-the-mill 700s, but that’s as far as it goes:

  • Each model comes in a choice of 56 calibers.
  • The barrels (choice of 22 to 26 inches, depending on model) are stainless steel, button rifled (not hammer forged) and lapped right there at Ilion.
  • The receivers are stainless steel, and blueprinted. This means that they are trued up so that all the radii are perfect, all the flats are flat, and the barrel screws in perfectly square.
  • The trigger is not standard issue*; it’s a Remington 40-X target trigger, which is set at 3 pounds.
  • The stock is from Bell & Carlson, and has a full-length bedding girder instead of bedding blocks.
  • The aluminum trigger guard and floorplate have been replaced by machined stainless steel.
  • In .30 caliber and below, the rifles are guaranteed to shoot sub-MOA.
  • Depending on model, you can get black TriNyte finish, satin blue, or satin stainless.

I don’t know if the Custom Shop’s barrels can compete with those made by Lilja, Pac-Nor, Schneider, or others at that lofty level, but aside from that, I don’t see any steps that were skipped here. The rifles I looked at were very carefully put together, and I’ll be getting a loaner soon to see how it shoots.

Prices? The four models hover around the $3,000 mark, which is the low end for work like this. Even if you’re not about to order five, it’s nice to see the Custom Shop going in this direction. It’s what they should be doing.

*Remington’s X-Mark Pro trigger, which debuted last year, was better on the drawing board than in real life. The two that I got to pull extensively were, in a word, ghastly—4 1/2 pounds and creepy. Remington has taken note of this replaced it with the X-Mark Pro Adjustable. It’s set at 3 ½ pounds at the factory, and has a 2-pound range of adjustment that can be set by you, the shooter. Remington recommends that you stay above 3 pounds. So do I.

October 23, 2008
A Mighty Mini Marlin

Thumbmeganfoxfhm A number of you have asked if I have a fixation on Ms. Elisha Cuthbert. The answer is yes, but just to show that I’m not weird about it or anything, here is a photo of Ms. Megan Fox, and my thanks to Nate Matthews for finding her, as it were.

But I digress. Marlin has interesting new stuff for 09, including new walnut and laminated stocks for the wonderful, and bargain-priced, XL-7 centerfire rifle. For $300 and change (Cabela’s has sold it for below $300) this gun is beyond belief.

For you lever-gun lovers who yearned for something just a tad more powerful than the .308 Marlin, there is now a .338 Marlin Express, loaded with a 200-grain bullet at 2,565 fps. It is not the ballistic equal of the .338 Win Mag. or the new Ruger short magnum of that caliber, but it is a thumper, and a serious step up in power.

What grabbed me, though was the Marlin Model 1895SBL. The company has taken note of all the hot-rodded Guide Guns out there and decided to build one of their own. It’s .45/70, all stainless steel, laminated stock, heavy 18.5-inch barrel, an enlarged loop lever, a 5-shot half-magazine, and instead of the usual horrible factory sights, it’s been fitted with the XS Ghost Ring sight system. This consists of a big white post up front and a huge, adjustable-aperture rear. You look through it and the aperture seems to vanish. It’s very fast to use. There is a long rail mount that let you use long-eye-relief scopes or standard scopes.

I think Marlin is going to be back-ordered on these for years. It is an altogether nifty little beast, and all the gun writers rushed to grope it. The two samples they had at the range were extremely slick in operation; I don’t know if they had been tuned or not. It’s possible that, in the future, Marlin may establish its own custom shop, where you can get not only special working guns like this, but fancy ones as well. Many years ago, Marlin offered all sorts of grades with fancy wood and checkering, and engraving and inlaying. It would be nice to see that come back.

October 22, 2008
Bourjaily: Browning Maxus

Browning recently unveiled its new autoloader, the Maxus, at its annual sales meeting. They just now posted this video on Youtube as their way of announcing the gun to the world:

Some of the footage was taken last September in South Dakota, where I shot pheasants and targets with the Maxus for three days. I make a cameo appearance in there somewhere – shooting the gun, and carrying a dead rooster

Overall, my impression of the Maxus was positive. Essentially, it’s a Gold 2.0, at least in terms of the gas system, and the Gold was already one of my favorite gas autoloaders. The gas system has been redesigned to work better with light and heavy loads, and to shoot cleaner. Only time and a lot of trigger pulls can deliver a final verdict, but so far it seems to work fine.

The forearm latch, borrowed from O/U guns, replaces the magazine cap. I am still trying to decide whether it’s cool or gimmicky, but I’m leaning towards “cool.” The “turnkey” magazine plug can be removed easily with a vehicle key without danger of launching the magazine tube spring. I suppose it’s cool, too, if you are always plugging and unplugging your gun. I leave the plugs in my guns so I never have to worry about whether they’re legal, so I could take the “turnkey” or leave it alone.

The Maxus is very light weight, probably just under 7 pounds. My contacts at Browning say that’s what hunters are demanding these days. Me, I prefer some heft to my autoloaders, because I primarily shoot them for targets and waterfowl.  Gas operation or no, if you shoot 3.5 inch shells or even a lot of target loads out of a sub-seven pound gun, you’ll get kicked.

The Maxus will list for $1199 in basic black, 3-inch, with camo and 3.5-inch models costing more. They should be available by the second quarter of next year. Anybody lining up to buy one?

October 21, 2008
Petzal: Gun News from Remington

This past week I was in South Carolina attending a seminar given by Remington, Marlin, H&R, Bushmaster, New England Firearms, and DPMS Panther Arms. These companies are joined at the hip under the name American Heritage Arms. We got so much information in three days that my calcifying brain can scarcely handle it all, but I'll give you what I consider the highlights.

First is the .30 Remington AR, a new cartridge that's mated to a new configuration of the Remington R-15 rifle. The .30 Remington AR fills the gap between the 6.8 SPC and the .450 Bushmaster. It bears an amazing resemblance to the 7.92mm Kurz cartridge, which was developed for the revolutionary  German Sturmgewher rifle in 1941. According to Remington, it is a 350-yard deer-hunting load that is roughly the equal of the .308. It comes in three versions: a 125-grain AccuTip boattail, a 125-grain Core-Lokt PSP, and a 123-grain full-metal-jacket practice version. The muzzle velocity for all three is 2,800 fps.


Remington will sell you a .30 AR rifle ready to go, or you can get an upper that is compatible with the standard AR-15 lower. The new upper accommodates the .30 AR by means of a modified .308 bolt head and barrel extension, and a modified 4-round magazine box.

All this was so new that we were not able to shoot a .30 Remington AR, but it looks perfect for people who like these rifles and have been hoping for a good deer round.

And a word about the Bushmaster: Its paper ballistics are 250 grains at 2,200 fps, but these figures don't do it justice. We were shooting one at an oversized cast-iron groundhog silhouette at 50 yards. A hit from a .223 would cause the target to sway almost imperceptibly, as though a squirrel had farted at it. A hit from the Bushmaster would lift the groundhog up out of its pivots and dump it on the ground. I like the Bushmaster.

Next time: A new .45/70 from Marlin that is cooler than Sarah Palin.      

October 20, 2008
Bourjaily: Weird and White

Andy Fielder of Junction City, Oregon sent these pictures in asking for help in ID-ing this white goose. He shot it out of a flock of similar-sized western Canadas during Oregon’s early Canada season. He thinks it’s a pure albino Canada and his taxidermist agrees. Any ideas?  Whatever it turns out to be, at the young age of 19 he’s already bagged the waterfowling trophy of a lifetime.


Me, I have never shot anything all white, although there used to be a white squirrel that lived in a grove across the gravel road from my old house. I figured it had enough problems dodging hawks and other predators without me bothering it, too. My barber has a half-white wild rooster pheasant on the wall of his shop, but I’ve never seen one myself. Anybody out there shoot anything all white, all black or just plain weird? 

October 17, 2008
A Memorable Gun: Colt New Service Revolver

From time to time I like to write about guns that have stuck in my mind over the years, even though I saw them only briefly. This is about a Colt New Service revolver in .45 Long Colt that fell into the hands of a talented gunsmith who made it into something altogether different.

The New Service was in continual production from 1898 until 1944. It was a monstrously big revolver, and you needed a magnum-sized hand to shoot the damned thing. Over 360,000 were produced in many different barrel lengths and 11 different calibers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted it, and The New York State Police carried the New Service in .45 Long Colt, in a holster supported by a Sam Brown belt. Above the revolver were two rows of the big cartridges. An old-time trooper once told me that the gun and the ammo hung right at eye level as you approached an automobile, and that it seemed to calm down excited drivers. Like most of the old Colts, they were beautifully made, inside and out.

Anyway, the troopers eventually phased out the New Service, and they could be had pretty cheaply. A very talented gunsmith friend of mine got one, and made what was known as a belly gun out of it. He chopped the barrel back to 3 inches and replaced the blade front sight with a big bead. He ground off the hammer spur and slicked up the innards for a flawless double-action pull. He cut off the front of the trigger guard so you could get at the trigger faster, and carved a pair of custom grips to fit his hand. The formerly huge, awkward revolver was now fast and sleek—or as sleek as something that big could be.

Loaded with hot handloads, it would make a believer out of anyone, and was lightning-fast out of a holster. In these effete days of 9mm automatics, it is something out of another era. If you’re thinking of getting a New Service and doing the same thing, I wish you luck. Even the plain ones, in good shape, now cost $1,000, and the scarcer models are worth a lot more. --DP

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