Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Matter of Trust

Jack O’Connor was the dean of American gunwriters when I was young. I was still reading Outdoor Life regularly when he retired. I felt like someone had died the first time I saw Jim Carmichael’s byline. Carmichael was a fine shooting editor himself, but he lacked the artistry of his predecessor. O’Connor was a writer first, and he could teach ballistics to an orangutan. I do not subscribe to or read outdoor magazines these days other than the one that comes as a result of my NRA membership. I usually skim through the American Rifleman and occasionally find a little worthwhile information there. I cannot say if there is anyone of Mr. O’Connor’s caliber writing today in any of the hunting or shooting magazines. The old masters have passed on, and what is left is generally fluff and hype.

Several years ago I read a book by a hunting editor who shall remain nameless. He, for no apparent reason other than to defile a legend, claimed that O’Connor was an alcoholic and was sometimes too drunk to get out of hunting camp. According to this person, O’Connor wrote up the hunts of others as if they were his own. Though he may have cited a source for the accusation in the book, I suspect it was mostly campfire rumors based on envy. Certainly, this particular writer is a hack in comparison to O’Connor. It is quite possible that Jack O’Connor had a drinking problem, but it did not keep him from entertaining and educating a generation or two of hunters and shooters. Just because a man or woman likes to hunt pheasants or shoot skeet or even hunt deer does not mean that they are sensible about firearms and hunting in general. It also does not make them honest.

A case in point is a man, an educator of some sort, I think, who wrote a book about the wonders of turkey hunting. The book was fairly well-written and had some interesting bits, but mostly it was about what a wonderful guy the writer was. I think he had bought a double-barrel shotgun for his turkey hunting. He only hunted spring gobblers, by the way, fall turkey season being beneath his dignity. For some reason, this elite hunter of only spring gobblers had gone into the local gunsmith’s shop. While the writer was there, another person came in with an autoloading pistol to ask if the gunsmith could do some work on it. The noble and elite gunsmith who would apparently only worked on classic doubles indignantly ordered the philistine to “get that machine out of here.” At that point, I think I gagged and pitched the book into the return pile. I’m not saying the writer was lying, I’m saying that there is no way that scene ever took place anywhere in the real world.

The point here is that all writers – including bloggers like myself – but especially those who have either a commercial interest or a large ego involved in their scribing should be taken with a considerable dose of salt. Extremely precise laser rangefinders can be purchased and used by anyone these days, but that does not mean that the gunwriters who may or may not use them will accurately report the yardage of their shots in their write-ups. I hear a lot about almost incredibly long shots at game animals when sport hunting. If a person is involved in wildlife damage control or survival hunting, to mention a couple of examples, the circumstances may necessitate or justify taking a longer shot. It is also true that hunting in the plains or mountains will often be at far greater distances than we brush-hunters ever see. Nevertheless, sport hunting is not sniping. For even the most skilled shooters the odds of making a less than perfect shot increase as the range increases.

I believe it was Paco Kelly who suggested that in practicing, we should take a shot per yard – i.e., 25 shots at 25 yards, 100 at 100 yards, 300 at 300 yards, etc. I don’t know that I would use that as a strict rule of thumb. I probably need more than 25 shots at 25 yards, so I would adjust upward accordingly, but the point that we should practice more at longer ranges for longer ranges is valid. Also, practicing at longer ranges makes a person better at close range.

Supposedly, most gun fights occur at 25 feet or less. I still like aimed practice with a handgun at 25 and 50 yards, or even 100 yards, as a means of identifying and correcting faults, as well as building confidence. The distance magnifies the mistakes we make in grip, sight picture, and trigger control. It is not, however, a good idea to substitute slow, aimed fire at a distance for up-close point shooting. We still need to work on speed with a handgun – after all, that is really their purpose and their strength.

Develop and practice skills appropriate to the application and the conditions under which you operate. Learn the capabilities and limitations of your weapon and yourself. It is always wise to seek advice and counsel from trusted sources, but personal experience is hard to beat.

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