Category Archives: Campfire Tales

Mr. Whitetail

Remembering John Wootters.

I’ve often said the best part of my job is not all the guns I get to shoot but rather all the grand people I meet. I was very fortunate to have my growing up years as far as shooting is concerned be parallel to the advent of gun magazines beginning with this very publication in 1955. Over the next 5 years or so three more gun magazines arrived and I subscribed to every one of them.

The men who wrote in these magazines were my teachers. Men such as Charlie Askins, Kent Bellah, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, Bob Milek, George Nonte, Skeeter Skelton, Hal Swiggett, who are all gone now, however I did eventually manage to meet and know all of them except Kent Bellah. The last of the old time writers who was still active and was a special favorite of mine has also now been called Home. John Wootters, Mr.
Whitetail, left this vale of tears on the last Tuesday of January 2013.

John was born in 1928 in Crockett, Texas, which also happened to be the same year Skeeter Skelton was born in Herford, Texas, and these two were destined to become great friends spending much time together and also hunting together. It was on one of their hunts together in Canada they picked up something which would become very special later on and which we will address shortly. I first “met” John Wootters through the printed page and many of his articles are found in my files. Special favorites are those he did on the versatility of the .357 Magnum, including its use in a lever action Marlin, and one he did in the 1970s concerning making belts and holsters. Since I have dabbled in holster making since I was a teenager I found this article especially valuable.

Our mutual friend Bob Baer said it well with “he was a man for all seasons.” John Wootters was a diverse individual with many talents and interests. He was, first and foremost, a writer of great stature and at his passing he was still writing for the local paper in his beloved Texas Hill Country. He was also a Boy Scout leader teaching young men the ways of the outdoors, and a conservationist giving talks on raising quality deer and also managing deer. In fact he was a pioneer in the study of producing the best possible whitetail deer by each ranch owner practicing sound management. John was also an archaeologist with a special interest in Indian artifacts which he studied to learn the what, why, and where of Indian tribes.

Sixgunners together all shooting custom Rugers are (left to right) Bob Baer, Taffin, John Wootters, Bart Skelton, Jim Wilson and Terry Murbach.

As a biologist and naturalist he knew the scientific names of all the animals as well as their habits. He was also an expert on World War II aircraft. This is something else I can identify with as I have a collection of books on the fighter planes and bombers used in World War II. John was a handloader and ballistician writing many articles for various magazines as well as two excellent books for the handloader, The Complete Book of Practical Handloading and The Complete Handloader. These books date back to the 1970s and 1980s however they cover all the basics and are still a valuable resource for anyone who reloads.

In the 1960s the gun control advocates really began pushing resulting in the Gun Control Act of 1968.

The NRA was at a very important crossroads at this time. Should they continue to emphasize duck hunting or should they get into legislation? All this came to a head in Cincinnati in 1977 when the two groups did battle. Known as the Cincinnati Reforms the result was a new path for the NRA with Harlon Carter chosen to lead as the NRA became deeply involved in legislation and pro-gun politics.

John Wootters was one of the prime combatants at this time and lost some he thought were friends because of it. John went home to Texas and began creating clubs not just for shooting but also for legislative activity. I shudder to think what this country would be like as far as firearms possession today if it had not been for the Cincinnati Reforms and men like John Wootters who continued the fight as long as he lived.

Although I was familiar with John through his writings I was not to meet him personally until the mid-1980s. It was at an NRA Show and I looked up and saw this gentleman coming towards me dressed in cowboy boots and a nicely tailored suit and realized it was actually John Wootters. I introduced myself and we soon found we had several common interests and then in 1991 John and his wife Jeannie came to the Shootist Holiday and we were able to shoot together. I also hunted with him on the YO and the Shanghai Pierce Ranch. We liked the same sixguns and leverguns with both of us being particularly fond of Marlins. At each of these gatherings John was wearing a unique .44 Special Ruger.

This particular .44 Special had been in progress to be presented to Skeeter Skelton and was worked on by Bob Baer, Bill Grover, and Earl Long while Skeeter was in the hospital. Unfortunately, Skeeter died before it was finished. I earlier mentioned the Canadian hunting trip and what Skeeter and John Wootters had found was the horns of a mature Stone Ram in British Columbia. Each of them took one horn and John now used his horn for grips to complete what would have been Skeeter’s last sixgun.
John Wootters was the hunter’s hunter: “I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt most of the world’s most glamorous big game, from mountain sheep in the Cassiars of British Columbia and jaguar in Central America to Cape buffalo, lion, leopard, kudu, and elephant in Africa. And I still think a trophy whitetail is the single most exciting and most demanding animal on the face of the earth. You can’t buy one, and when you hang one on the wall you can be justly proud because he’s the best proof of the world that you’re a hunter.”

John’s best-selling book Hunting Trophy Deer, was written in 1977 and has never gone out of date. In one of the last columns he wrote for his local paper he answered the question “What is a Trophy?” with these words: “If you ask a serious Kerr County deer hunter for his definition of a trophy, his answer will most likely be phrased in terms of inches of antler, Boone and Crockett score, and record book. Ask a Safari hunter the same question and he’ll begin speaking of Safari Club International score or Rowland Ward the record book for African animals.

“A tournament golfer, trap shooter, tennis player or professional athlete may mention a silver cup or belt buckle or engraved statue. But according to Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language all these are too narrow. Look it up for yourself; the preferred definition of trophy is a memento of personal accomplishment.

“For big-game hunters, that’s perfect, it’s exactly what a mounted head on the wall or a bearskin rug is: a memento, a memory-maker. I admire my trophies every day, and each one takes me back to a better day, a day when I was younger, stronger, up for any challenge, it might have been climbing a mountain for a wild sheep or mountain goat, or walking 20 miles on an elephant trail to get a look at his tusks, and if one was broken, turning around and walking 20 miles back to the truck… and then doing it again the next day.

“They remind me of obstacles overcome, risks taken, and hard decisions made, long crosswind shots pulled off… and some missed. Perhaps, most of all, they remind me of spectacular mountain vistas, cloud-wreathed peaks and misty valleys, snow-melt streams stumbling down to the river below. Or vast stretches of true wilderness, without a fence or a road for two day’s travel in any direction, places where you may be able to go only afoot or on horseback. They speak to me of the brooding mystery of forests and jungles devoid of human footprints, and savannas where wild antelope stand and stare in wonder at a hunting vehicle passing nearby, taking no alarm. More than once I’ve told myself this must be how the Garden of Eden was.”

I had a long conversation with John by phone around Christmas time. He sounded well and was doing well and we talked about a lot of different firearms. About 3 years ago he had a stroke and was continuing to battle back from that; and then came a heart attack. Bob Baer called me to let me know and when I saw Bob was on caller ID I knew what he would be telling me.

I celebrated John Wootters’ life last night as I loaded his favorite .44 Special load consisting of the Lyman 429215GC bullet and Unique powder. I’ll think of him again every time I shoot these loads through my Ruger .44 Special tailored after the one he and Bob Baer had designed for Skeeter. John Wootters certainly made his mark and his shoes will not be easily filled if at all. He died peacefully with his wife of 60+ years, Jeannie holding one hand and his pastor holding the other.
By John Taffin

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A Letter

How It Could Have Been.

Postmark: October 5, 1939
To: Jeff John, editor,
GUNS Magazine

Dear Jeff,

It has been quite a while since I have written and there is a good reason for that; I have been on the road, I mean really on the road traveling all over the country. It all started earlier this year when I received a letter from Fitz, John Henry FitzGerald of Colt. I had met Fitz at Camp Perry several years ago and in his letter he remarked that he noticed I gave a lot of print to Smith & Wesson double-action sixguns but rarely, if ever, mentioned Colt double actions in general and specifically Colt’s big double action, the New Service.

He said since it was obvious I favored the big-bore double-action Smiths he would like the opportunity to share his sixguns, Colts, with me on a one to one basis. In his letter he also pointed out to me the fact the Colt New Service pre-dated the original Smith & Wesson big-bore sixgun, the Triple-Lock, by 10 years. The more I thought about meeting with him the better it sounded. He invited me to come back to the Colt factory in Connecticut and spend some time seeing how the big Colts are built and also opined we could spend a good time shooting together.

Traveling In Style

So the decision was made for me to travel all the way from my home base here in southwestern Idaho across the country to Connecticut and the Colt plant in Hartford. The natural, and easiest way would be for me to take the train. However, you know I rarely do things the easy way plus this looked like a great opportunity for me to buy a new car for the trip. My ’29 Model A Ford has seen better days and I had been looking at the new body styles Ford has brought forth and I especially like the looks of the ’39 V8 Coupe. So I did it, I bought the new Ford and planned my trip. Since I was going to be on the road for such a long time anyway I wanted to make the best use of it and see some other old friends also. It’s been quite a while since I saw Keith, not since he lived just west of me on his little ranch outside of Durkee, Ore. He now lives over in the eastern part of Idaho above Salmon so I wanted to plan my trip to stop and see him also and especially get his take on the big-bore Colt New Service. Two other friends have just had their new books published this year, Ed McGivern with his Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting and young Capt. Charles Askins Jr. has also put out an excellent work entitled The Art of Handgun Shooting so this year has been an excellent one for sixgunners.

The trip was carefully planned out. I would go to Texas first and visit with Askins, then on to Connecticut and Fitz, then take the northern route back with a stop in Lewistown, Mont., for some time with McGivern, and finally down to Salmon to see Keith, and then back home. I did not want to contemplate how many miles this was but I figured the little V8 Ford could handle it. What I did not expect was the high gas prices in some of the little towns. I actually had to pay as much as 15¢ per gallon in some places! What in the world is this country coming to?

Gun Shop Success

Since I didn’t own a Colt New Service nor had I ever even shot one I wanted to correct that before I arrived in Connecticut so I would not have to meet Fitz empty-handed. My plan was to hit as many out-of-the-way gun shops as I could and see what I could come up with. Little did I realize how successful I would be. As I headed across Idaho and into Wyoming and then south for Texas I stopped at a little gun shop just before I left Wyoming and I literally hit pay dirt. That little shop had not one, but two used big-bore New Service sixguns in excellent shape. Both had 7-1/2-inch barrels with one being a standard model .44-40 and the other a Target Model inscribed on the barrel “Russian and Smith & Wesson Special 44”; this was definitely going to be a great trip. Just before I got to San Antonio I found another Colt New Service this time a .45 Colt with a 5-1/2-inch barrel. Then before I got out of Texas I found two more New Service Colts, a 4-1/2-inch .38-40 and a 6-inch .38 Special. Now I had more than enough Colts to prevent me arriving at Fitz’ doorstep empty-handed, so I decided I best forgo any more gun shops and save the rest of my money for gas. Who knew what the price would be after I got away from the oilfields of Texas.

I particularly wanted to visit with Askins as I knew he was one who favored the Colt New Service; actually that’s not correct as he likes both Colt’s and Smith & Wesson’s big sixguns. His Smith & Wesson of choice was a 4-inch .357 Magnum and he had packed a .38 Special New Service as it was the official sidearm of the US Border Patrol. Askins thought enough of the New Service as well as Fitz to come up with his own brand of a Fitz Special.

You may recall Fitz usually packed a pair of what he called Fitz Specials. He normally started with a Colt New Service chambered in .45 Colt, shortened the barrel to 2 inches, shortened and round-butted the grip frame all to make it easier to pocket. Then he did something which some find quite controversial. He cut out the front of the triggerguard to make it easier to get to the trigger really fast. Askins started with a .44-40 New Service and while he did leave the barrel at 4 inches he also cut out the front of the trigger guard. It is one mean-looking sixgun. I spent quite a bit of time shooting with the Captain learning how to handle my new New Service sixguns and also shooting his version of a Fitz Special. I’ll tell you one thing: that man can really shoot and we had a great time shooting together. A most enjoyable time spent in Texas.

The New Service Target Model 7-1/2-inch .44 Russian and
Special still delivers impressive groups.

On To Hartford

Then it was time for the long trip northeast to the Colt plant and time with Fitz. I was given the grand tour of the factory and saw exactly how the Colt Single Action as well as the Colt New Service was built. I’ll tell you Jeff, there is a lot of hand-fitting going into these big sixguns. We spent several days shooting the New Service as well as several versions of his Fitz Specials on the New Service, Official Police, and the little Detective Special. I certainly learned a lot about double-action shooting and I’ll tell you also Fitz is almighty fast with his custom sixguns. No old-time gunfighter would’ve stood a chance against him! I left with a new appreciation of Colt’s big double actions. As an extra added bonus he showed me not only how he tuned double actions but Colt 1911s as well. More than 20 years ago he started fitting custom barrels to .45 ACP and then later to the .38 Super chambered 1911s. He favors the .38 Super as it was much flatter shooting.

Now it was time for the long northern trip from Connecticut all the way out to Lewistown, Mont., and a visit with who is probably the fastest double-action shooter who has ever lived, namely Ed McGivern. In all of his double-action shooting McGivern uses Smith & Wessons and he gave me two excellent reasons for this. He felt, and it is hard to argue with him, the Smith & Wesson double action was superior in operation to that of the Colt plus he is not a very big man and his hands are too small to comfortably grasp the grip frame of the Colt New Service, which was obviously made for someone with very large hands. My hands are quite a bit bigger than his, however I also find the Smith & Wesson grip frame fits my hands much better than the Colt.

The Last Leg

Now I found myself at the last part of my trip, which was to go south from Lewistown for the relatively short trip to Salmon, Idaho to see Elmer Keith and get his take on double-action sixguns. The trip to Salmon was easy; the 30 miles over some of the worst roads in the country to get out to Keith’s ranch on the river was some of the hardest work my new Ford had to do on the trip. However, both car and driver made it intact although a little shook up.

Keith basically said the very same thing I have heard from McGivern, namely the double-action feature of the Smith & Wesson was superior to that of the Colt and his hands, which are even smaller than McGivern’s, simply fit the grip frame of the Smith & Wesson much easier. Keith was shooting three double-action sixguns from Smith while I was there, a .44 Special Triple-Lock, a .38-44 Outdoorsman, and a K22. One thing all four of the gentlemen had in common was the fact they could really shoot. I doubt anyone in the country can come even close to them when it comes to both speed and accuracy. Keith especially was unbelievable shooting his sixguns at long range.

Well, Jeff this was an unbelievable trip and I feel like I’ve been to graduate school in sixgunning. I won’t replace my Smith & Wessons with Colts, however I’m certainly happy I now have a good working supply of Colt New Service sixguns. Until next time, which I hope will not be as long, I say, Good Shootin’ and God Bless, John
By John Taffin

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GUNS October 2013

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Gallagher To The Rescue

And A Ruger Project Rises From The Ashes.

Many, if not most of us, often dream of a perfect world. A world where politicians never lie, where all lawyers are honest, where used car salesman can be completely trusted, where news is news and entertainment is entertainment and sports are sports and they are never mixed together. What would it be like if ABC, CBS, and NBC actually reported real news? Now that would be perfection. In a perfect world everyone does everything right and no one ever makes mistakes. Yes, it would be perfect but probably also quite boring.

Just as everything else in this world, gun manufacturers and custom gunbuilders are not perfect and they do make mistakes. With custom gunsmiths quite often things over which they have no control enter their life and has great effect on their work. I have experienced the best when it comes to custom guns from a long list of custom sixgunsmiths. They are definitely not perfect and sometimes things go wrong. The best we can hope for is when things go south the gunsmith is totally honest and open about it. One such ’smith was converting a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum to a Bisley Model .45 Colt for me. Something went wrong and he immediately called me to let me know my original cylinder did not make it through the reaming process correctly and was ruined. He didn’t try to hide it but instead asked me, since he had to make a new cylinder anyway, if I would prefer a standard 6-shot or a heavy-duty 5-shot cylinder. I had no thought at all of shooting heavy loads but I opted for the latter so I would have this option should I want it (so you might say I benefited from his mistake).

Another sixgunsmith was turning a .357 Magnum Colt New Frontier into a .45 Colt by fitting a new Colt 4-3/4-inch New Frontier barrel and tightly chambering the .357 Magnum cylinder to .45 Colt. Something went wrong, this time quite minor in that he somehow scratched the outside of the cylinder. He could have covered up his mistake and simply re-blued the cylinder and I probably would’ve never been the wiser; however, instead he called me immediately and I told him not to be concerned as this was to be a working gun and I was not going to be upset by a couple scratches.

When the converted sixgun arrived back home I found the scratches were quite minor and hardly noticed. A third gunsmith was given an Old Model Ruger .357 Magnum plus an extra 9mm cylinder to turn into a combination .44 Special/.44-40. Something went wrong and the sixgun was turned into a pile of parts. He replaced my Ruger with a Colt Single Action, which was worth a whole lot more. I came out way ahead in this situation.

The Best Laid Plans….

Several years ago my friend who was writing for Shoot! Magazine at the time and I turned over several sixguns to a gunsmith to be turned into custom .38-40s. My friend’s pair of 4-5/8-inch Old Model Ruger .357 Blackhawks were to be turned into Cowboy Shooting sixguns with the same barrel length. I took a different path. I wanted .38-40s, however I wanted one to be a long-range sixgun set up with a 7-1/2-inch barrel and the other to be a Perfect Packin’ Pistol with a 4-5/8-inch barrel and two cylinders, one in .38-40 and the other a .401 PowerMag. The .401 was introduced by Herter’s prior to the advent of the .41 Magnum and used the same 0.400-inch bullet as the .38-40. The original .401 sixguns were made by J. P. Sauer & Sohn and in those pre-’68 GCA days sold for $47.

The Long-Range .38-40 came out beautifully and I received it back within a few months. Then things went sour. Years passed and neither one of us could get our guns back. I finally told him, the sixgunsmith that is, to send my Ruger back in whatever state it was in and also return my friend’s pair of .357 Blackhawks as well as the Marlin .38-40 he was working on as a companion to these two sixguns. Finally after much cajoling and threatening we got them back. My friend’s three guns, which had been in the sixgunsmith’s hands for several years came back untouched; my second gun came back as a box of parts. What went wrong? I knew this sixgunsmith, I had met with him on several occasions, and I knew he was capable of beautiful work. Something happened. Things do go wrong in our lives, family problems happen, health problems creep in, who knows what went wrong?

Even stepping up the power to .41 Magnum mid-range loads, the Gallagher Gun still delivers.

Sow’s Ear To Silk Purse

My Ruger .357 Blackhawk came back with an unfinished octagon barrel installed as well as a custom cylinder, which I assume was chambered for the .401. Everything was unfinished, and some of the parts were missing. I remembered how I had I thought of that 7-1/2-inch .38-40 I had received earlier and wondered how this example could come from the same custom shop. Something had definitely happened in his life. My first thought was simply to chalk it up to a bad experience and place all the Ruger parts in my parts box. And then I thought of Gallagher. Most of us have seen a fellow on TV, a comedian who goes by the name of Gallagher who usually punctuates his act by destroying things. That’s not the Gallagher I was thinking of.

The Gallagher that came to mind was sixgunsmith extraordinaire John Gallagher of Alabama. John had done some beautiful sixguns for me in the past including a 5-shot .41 Special on a Ruger Single-Six, an 8-shot .32-20 on a Ruger New Model Blackhawk, two short-barreled custom .44 Special Rugers, and a Highway Patrolman converted to .45 Colt using a Smith & Wesson .45 Auto Rim 1950 Target barrel cut to 5 inches. If anyone could clean up the mess, it would be John Gallagher.

I packaged up everything and sent it off to John explaining the situation and asking him to see if there was any way possible to salvage it. I expected this to be something he could look at in his “spare” time (if he could do anything). Right now it was nothing but parts so anything he could do, no matter how long it took, would be a big plus. He had it for a couple years and it came back earlier this month. What started out to be a Convertible .38-40/.401 PowerMag is now a 4-inch .41 Magnum. How he got from point A to point B is quite an interesting sixgun story.

The original cylinder for the .357 Magnum Blackhawk was still intact. The auxiliary cylinder was a custom build and supposedly chambered in .401. Even with my untrained eyes I could see that at least one chamber was oblong instead of round so there was no way the cylinder was usable unless perhaps it could be re-chambered in some larger caliber. So the first thing John did was measure the custom octagon barrel and he found instead of being rifled to accept .38-40 0.401-inch bullets it was instead a .41 barrel. This again raised the question as to what had gone so wrong that the original sixgunsmith had installed a 0.411-inch barrel on a sixgun with a custom .401 cylinder.

John felt the barrel was usable so he re-chambered the original .357 Magnum cylinder to .41 Magnum, re-contoured the custom barrel, and finished up everything else necessary to turn this sixgun into the real usable Perfect Packin’ Pistol. Everything was finished up and ready to be re-blued and he discovered something else. A stainless steel barrel had been installed on a blue frame. So off came the barrel and John went with a custom 4-inch steel barrel chambered for the .41 Magnum.

This sixgun has now been totally rescued from the parts pile and turned into a beautiful example of what a sixgunsmith can actually do when things go right. It is a .41 Magnum, and yes the original .357 Blackhawk is stout enough to handle the .41 Magnum. Barrel length as stated is a very easy packing 4-inch length, a steel ejector rod housing has been fitted, and the alloy grip frame has been replaced by a steel version from the Ruger Old Army. John also beautifully refinished the original Old Army grip panels for this sixgun, which has risen from the ashes.

I doubt I will ever use many full-house .41 Magnum loads, however the capability is there if I need it. For now I am perfectly happy shooting .41 Special loads or mid-range .41 Magnum loads. For me this part of my world is now perfect thanks to John Gallagher.
By John Taffin

John Gallagher
3923 Bird Farm Rd.
Jasper, AL 35503
(205) 388-6425

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Firsts And Lasts

The Last Hunt.

Have you ever noticed how much of our life is made up of Firsts? Many of our memories as we look back to our past revolve around something we did for the first time. We don’t remember those Firsts such as our first words, or first steps; however, by the time we are ready for school those Firsts really begin.

Most of us will never forget the combination of fear and excitement surrounding our first day of school. That begins a long list of Firsts stretching all through our teenage years. Our first fight, our first crush, our first day of high school, our first real love, our first date, our first kiss, our first job, our first car, our first time to fire a gun, our first time to hunt, our first personal gun purchase, for many of us our first day of college, our first child, and as the years passed ever so quickly our first grandchild.

Where there are Firsts there are also Lasts. Usually the Firsts are mostly enjoyable while the Lasts can run the full gamut of emotions. Our last day of grade school, our last day of high school, our last day of college are all high states of emotion we are not likely to forget. My last day on the job I worked in a tire factory while attending college was one of the most pleasurable days of my life, however the last day on the great job I had previously was a very sad time. It was a job I dearly loved however it did not pay near enough to support a family and so I had to walk away from it. I still feel sad as I think about that. My first day of teaching was another great high, however 31 years later my last day was both terribly enjoyable and at the same time exceptionally sad.

This past year I experienced my Last Hunt. I can still shoot, perhaps with experience I now have even better than ever, however many other things have changed. As with most youngsters I started out hunting squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, and rockchucks. My first big game was a 4×4 muley buck taken with a borrowed Remington .270 Model 721. That trophy is hanging to the right of me as I sit here composing and it is special not only because it’s a first but also because across his antlers resides a 3-foot piece of a tree limb.

That limb came off the tree on a ranch outside Durkee, Ore, where Elmer Keith sat in the shade experimenting with long-range sixgunning. After that first hunt I acquired my own rifle, a sporterized 1917 Enfield. That rifle was terribly heavily, especially by today’s standards, and after a day walking the mountains of Idaho felt like I was carrying a telephone pole. That rifle was a major factor in my becoming a handgun hunter.

Momentous Decision

We had spent a long time working our way to the top and as I looked across the canyon there was the largest mule deer buck I had ever seen before or since. I could plainly see his antlers with the naked eye and he had no inkling, at least from the way he acted, we were even there. It was a long shot but certainly possible with my Enfield .30-06 Sporter. We were beside a pile of downed timber, which would make an excellent rest. All I would have to do is remove my down vest, fold it into a pad, place my ’06 on the padded log, get a solid rest, and squeeze off a shot as I lined up the crosshairs on the buck. Easy. But there was one problem. The .30-06 was back home.

The hike to the top was made much easier by the fact both arms were free and I wasn’t burdened down with that 10-pound rifle. Instead I was packing a Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk with a 10-inch barrel and carried in a Goerg shoulder holster. Even if I got down on the log, even if I got a steady rest, even if the buck stood absolutely still, the shot was still totally out of the question. All I could do was sit there and enjoy the sight of such a magnificent Idaho mule deer. I could’ve been upset with myself for not having the rifle along; I wasn’t. I could’ve second-guessed bringing the iron-sighted .44 Magnum; I didn’t. This was the defining moment for me to decide whether I would be a handgun hunter or not. No regrets, from that moment on I would be a confirmed handgun hunter.
How do I explain such a choice?

The answer is simply it can’t be explained. This is one of those situations if understood, no explanation is necessary; if not understood, no explanation is possible. One of the major reasons given by those who hunt with the handgun is a simply they did not want to carry that heavy rifle all day, or perhaps, they will say rifle hunting had become too easy. Maybe. But more likely the reason goes much deeper. There is something in our soul, something in our spirit that makes us want to hunt with a sixgun, semi-automatic pistol, or single-shot pistol. When looked at matter-of-factly this does not make much sense if the only goal in hunting is totally wrapped up in the animal taken. I can’t explain my obsession with handguns, however, I am sure it is something which was inside of me at birth.

Since making what for me was a monumental decision to hunt with handguns I have been blessed with many opportunities. Not only have I hunted in my home state but also several others with many good friends and was also privileged to hunt Africa. My house is filled with game trophies and great memories and it is a rare room that doesn’t exhibit something of my handgun hunting experiences. There are trophy heads in both of my offices, the family room, the living room, my gunroom, one bedroom, and my reloading room. I would have a hard time finding someplace to hang my last two trophies if my granddaughter had not asked for something she could hang in her house to complete her décor.

Dependable Handguns

My two most used hunting handguns have been a custom Thompson/Center Contender in 6.5 JDJ built by my good friend J.D. Jones. I have the utmost confidence in this single-shot which only knows how to perform 1-shot kills. It has taken mule deer, whitetail deer, Catalina goats, turkeys, mouflon, Barbary sheep, zebra, waterbuck, gemsbok, impala, oryx, black buck, and probably some I have forgotten all with one shot. My other favorite is a 7-1/2-inch Freedom Arms .44 Magnum, which has taken 24 whitetails, and was also used on my last hunt. It was also a Freedom Arms .44 Magnum with a shorter barrel carried in a shoulder holster which I used on one of my most memorable hunts after mountain lion.

The 6.5 JDJ uses only one load with AA2520 powder underneath a 120-grain Speer SP. It has never been cleaned nor has there ever been so much as a brush run down its barrel. I am a firm believer in don’t fix what ain’t broke. The .44 Magnum has also been used with only one load, namely the Black Hills 240-grain JHP. It also holds a record of perfect 1-shot kills. Its barrel has also never seen a brush and only the cylinder has been cleaned enough to keep it operating smoothly.

Over the years in addition to these two I have also hunted with Ruger .44 Magnums, the Flat-Top Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk, and Super Redhawk, Smith & Wesson .41 and .44 Magnums, Freedom Arms single actions in .357 and .41 Magnums, .480/.475, and .50AE, both Ruger and Colt Single Actions in .45 Colt and, of course, .44 Special Single Actions. The only time I have used rifles in the past more than 4 decades has been when I needed to test them for articles.

Everything Changes

Over the years I racked up a lot of miles flying to various hunting destinations. These were mostly quite enjoyable until the changes, which have caused me to refuse to fly at all. So my three friends, Rick, Roger, Cactus and I discovered a private ranch within a half-day’s drive. These were most enjoyable times over the past 10 years as we were always allowed to hunt on our own. With the coming of a new owner to the ranch everything has changed. A lot of positive things happened including improving the roads, cleaning up and repairing, however, when we went this year we found a new rule. We were no longer allowed to hunt on our own but were required to have a guide. That changed everything. Now we were split into two groups and the close camaraderie we had shared in the past was now greatly lessened. Add to this the fact I no longer have the energy I once had, it is terribly difficult to get down and even harder to get back up again, (hopefully knee surgery will help solve that this fall) and as my friend Hal Swiggett said when he decided it was time to quit hunting, I’m no longer as mad at those critters as I used to be. Much more could be said but I’m running out of space.

In 1986 I founded the group called The Shootists. Every year they gather in Raton, New Mexico, for a time of shooting and sharing. Now I find the altitude there bothers me physically and since I won’t fly the 2,000-mile round trip, driving takes a tremendous toll on my body, so I have probably made my Last Trip to meet with these fellows. My Last Hunt has in all probability occurred. Someday there will be a Last Campfire Tales. I hope that Someday takes a while longer to get here.
By John Taffin

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Ties To The Titanic

Fate Intervenes.

As I write this, it is the most dreaded day of the year for many, namely April 15. However, I’m not thinking of taxes as I always do mine in early February. One of the cleverest things the federal government ever did was institute payroll deduction. Can we even imagine the uproar if everyone had to write one check for the entire year on April 15? But I’m not concerned about taxes at all today. Instead I’m looking back 100 years as it was on this day in 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The Taffin family is both horribly and wonderfully linked to the Titanic forever.

The Titanic was the largest ship built up to that time. Construction lasted from 1909 through 1911 and capacity was just over 2,200 people. Its maiden voyage was scheduled to leave Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 crossing the Atlantic bound for New York City. It was not filled to capacity with just over 1,500 passengers on board. For the world’s wealthiest people this was to be a holiday excursion and many of the well-known names of the time were on board including the world’s richest man, John Jacob Astor, and his family. However, it was not only the wealthy or the famous on board but also those looking for a better life in America. More than 1,000 immigrants from Europe were also on board hoping to see Lady Liberty in New York harbor and to experience the beginning of a new life.

All the latest conveniences and safety features were aboard the Titanic, however the crew was ill prepared for handling any disaster and there were only enough lifeboats to hold 1,200 people. None of this should matter; after all, the Titanic was believed to be unsinkable. On April 10 the Titanic left Southampton and made stops at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland to pick up passengers. Four days out on April 14 the Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. The debate continues today as to what really happened on the Titanic and several movies have been made of the disaster. Not only did they not have enough lifeboats these were not always filled to capacity. Of the more than 1,500 people on board less than half were rescued by the ship Carpathia.

One of the passengers on the Titanic was Marie Daumont. This lovely young lady, age 38, was from Escaudin in France and was married to Franck Lefebvre. They had eight children and their goal was to go to America. Franck left first along with at least two of his older children and settled in Iowa. Marie was to follow with their four youngest children, Mathilde, 12; Jeannie, 8; Henry, 6; and Ida, 5. Passage was very expensive and Marie’s ticket alone was $172. This was for 3rd-class accommodations and Marie and her four children as far as it is known were the only French passengers in 3rd-class.

They were to travel across the Atlantic and then take a train from New York City to Iowa to meet up with the rest of the family. They never made it. To this day their bodies have never been found, and if so could not be identified. Franck was anxiously awaiting their arrival in Iowa and when he went to the offices of the White Star Line for news of the crossing he was horrified to find the terrible news the ship had sunk.

This was not the end of the tragedy as when he went to the Red Cross Relief Committee his personal file was opened and it was determined he had entered the United States illegally by providing false and misleading statements to immigration officials on Ellis Island. He and his children were sent back to France in August 1912 and at least one son was killed in WWI.

Marie and her four children were the only French family in 3rd-class passage on the Titanic, however they were not the only French family planning to sail from Southampton to New York City. Another young lady, actually younger than Marie, by the name of Angeline was also booking passage with her four children. She had four with her, however she was already expecting a fifth and her husband, Jean, like Franck, had also gone to America first.

Angeline, along with her youngsters, Angel, Augustine, Louis, and Amy, made their way from France to Southampton to board the Titanic. And just as Marie had done they paid extra money to travel from France to Southampton simply because they did not know the Titanic was stopping at Cherbourg, France to pick up passengers before continuing on its journey.

Marie had spent the extra money and she now bought tickets for herself and her family and was ready to board. Angeline got to the ticket office and although she had been saving for quite a while to purchase passage the extra funds spent to travel from France to England had depleted her funds just enough she couldn’t afford to buy all the tickets necessary. So Marie was ready to go and Angeline needed more money. Angeline was also a Daumont and she was Marie’s younger sister. Her husband, who had gone on ahead was Jean Taffin; Angeline and Jean were my grandparents and the baby she was expecting was destined to become my father.

No Tickets

The boat is ready to sail but Angeline does not have tickets yet. The solution is simple. Marie would give her the extra money needed to buy the tickets for the Taffin family. Problem solved; they would all come to America. Except as far as Angeline was concerned the answer was not so simple. She had never borrowed money in her life. Anything the family desired had to wait until the money was saved for it. Now isn’t that an old-fashioned idea? Angeline would not take the money from her sister and instead decided she would wait until she had the rest of the money and then follow on another ship.

Marie argued with her saying it was all family and she should not be so stubborn. Families help each other and she would be happy to loan the money to her younger sister. Angeline didn’t even come close to weakening. When you don’t have enough money you simply wait until you do. This had always been her practice and she was not about to change. Marie and her family got on the Titanic; Angeline and her children did not. Marie felt badly because her sister would not be with her. She not only wanted to keep the family intact she also felt they should face this new adventure together. Well we now know what happened. Marie and her children were all lost at sea and Angeline and her children including the baby she was expecting safely arrived at Ellis Island on another ship.

History whether in the very broad picture or in our personal family often takes interesting twist and turns. What if Angeline had enough money? Would her and her family have been lost? Would my father have never been born? Would I not be here now? What if she had not spent the extra money to get from France to England? Would she have then had enough to be able to board the Titanic? These are all questions, which certainly will not be answered on this side of life.

Sad Future

By the time I came along Grandma Taffin, who always treated me very special, was an older lady and it was later in my life before I learned her history. She did make it to America, however life was not to be happy for her and a cruel fate awaited her. Her husband was killed at an early age and then my father in turn was also killed before I was a year old. When that happened the light went out in my grandmother’s life. She lived for another 10 years but she was never the same again. I often think of the tremendous courage these two women had as well as thousands of others like them. They did not see much of a future in Europe and America held out great hope. Imagine traveling with all these children and coming to a country not knowing the language and not really knowing what to expect. Grandma Taffin not only had this courage she had great strength of character and would not back down from her ideals. From what I saw of my uncles and aunts she passed the same traits onto them. They had little or no formal schooling and they learned the English language in everyday living. I know for sure my uncle could not read or write, and yet he made a good living by building houses and selling them and by farming; all without any schooling whatsoever.

I’m still left with a lot of questions and for more than 70 years now I’ve wondered why I was never able to know my father. Perhaps someday all my questions will be answered. But I doubt I will ever know who took his rifle and shotgun; guns which should have been saved for me.
John Taffin

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Remembering Roger

And Other Friends.

It has been a tough couple of months. On the big scene we have watched the final installment of the transition of the country from being exemplified by the attitudes and sacrifices of the unconquerable Greatest Generation to being controlled by the whining, me-first, free-stuffers. Over the past 235-plus years, America has survived many challenges mostly from without; the question is can we survive the crumbling from within?

On a more personal note, my friends are disappearing around me. One of the worst things about growing old is losing the people who have been a major part of our life. Those of you who now have grey in your hair may know the first friend. During the war John Rovick flew with Doolittle’s Raiders and survived a crash landing in the sea after the bombing mission. John had a magnificent singing and speaking voice and during the 1950s was “Sheriff John” doing a kids program out of Los Angeles.

A few years ago, he was recognized nationally during the Emmy Awards. It was most interesting to visit his home and see the pictures of all the famous people he knew having met them during his TV career. John attended our local church during his retirement years often singing solos, which would send shivers up my spine. I’m sure it was difficult for him the last few years as his voice lost its power and he eventually spent his final year in a care facility. He never lost his vibrancy or his love for country. Rest well John.

Gail was a friend I made when we moved to Idaho nearly 50 years ago. He had one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. He was a teacher, a special education teacher, or what we called in earlier days working with the mentally retarded. I can’t even imagine facing such a situation every day knowing how little could actually be accomplished. He managed to stay strong, keep his sense of humor, and the kids absolutely loved him. He did work I could not have handled. Rest well Gail.

camp 1

Roger’s John Taffin Classic. Custom builder Gary Reeder went the
extra mile and delivered this Ruger sixgun extra early.

camp 2

camp 3

The backstrap of the John Taffin Classic Ruger is inscribed thusly.

The Bodyguard

Helen was 85 when she passed and probably did not weigh much more than her age and I doubt if she could stretch to a full height of 5 feet tall; however, she was my bodyguard. This goes back nearly 15 years when we served on the same board during a particularly trying time and a most difficult situation. We came to our regular meeting and the leadership proceeded to present us with a hit list; names of those who were no longer welcome in our presence. A letter was to be drawn up telling them this very thing and we were all to sign it. As the first name was written on the blackboard I was stunned at what was going on. When the second name appeared I jumped to my feet and said no way was I going to be part of any of this and I absolutely would not sign any letter. I also knew if I was the only one who protested I would get nowhere.

Then little Helen stood up and with three words stopped everything: “I’m with John.” That was all it took. Not only was the hit list tossed the leadership was gone within two weeks. I told Helen at the time “You had my back today and from now on you are my bodyguard.” She loved John Wayne movies and Louis L’Amour novels; it is pretty hard to say anything negative about a woman with such impeccable taste. Diamond Dot and I were her enablers delivering movies and books to her on a regular basis.

When I was a kid I remember adults talking when anyone would pass on to the effect that these things always happen in threes; and it always seem to be this way. I had my three in less than 2 months; however there was to be one more. Roger appeared in these pages several times as he was my hunting partner and often helped me test new rifles in the field; rifles such as the Ruger M77 in .243 and 7-08, the Savage .250/3000, and the AR-15 6.8 SPC “Assault Rifle”—the “no one hunts with an assault rifle”—rifle. We did very well with it. Roger was an engineer and spent much of his working life traveling around the world attending to special projects. I first met him and his family more than 30 years ago and shortly thereafter his youngest, who was in grade school at the time, adopted me as her second dad so this family was very special to Diamond Dot and I.

In 2012, Gary Reeder announced a special custom edition sixgun, the John Taffin Classic of all things. This custom .44 Special was limited to 100 examples built on a Ruger Single Action. On one side of the barrel it says “John Taffin Classic,” on the other side is my signature, and along the backstrap it says, “Good Shootin’ and God Bless.” When this was announced Roger’s kids, Crystal and Kevin ordered one for their dad and were told that the time delivery would be about 6 months; it is now 7 to 8 months. So they prepared to wait knowing they would miss Christmas but could present it to him in early 2013. In the meantime everything changed.

Roger has been battling cancer for several years and every year when we would go on our regular hunting trip after goats, sheep, and feral pigs we were thankful be able to get one more trip in. Everything seemed OK on the last trip, which we always took in June. Over the years I racked up a lot of miles flying to various hunting destinations both foreign and domestic; all were mostly quite enjoyable until the changes, which have caused me to refuse to fly at all. So my three friends, Rick, Roger, Cactus and I discovered a private ranch within a half-day’s drive. These were very special times over the past 10 years as we were always allowed to hunt on our own.

However nothing ever seems to stay the same and with the coming of a new owner to the ranch everything has changed. A lot of positive things happened including improving the roads, cleaning up, and repairing, however when we went this year we found a new rule. We were no longer allowed to hunt on our own but were required to have a guide. That changed everything. In the past the four of us rode around together in Rick’s GMC Suburban; this was a major part of our good time together. Now we were split into two groups and the close camaraderie we had shared in the past was greatly lessened.

Roger was somewhat tired during our travel and the hunt. He no longer took his customary hikes exploring the mountains, however he did fine and after we got back home they put him on some new medication which may have helped but it also made him terribly sick. Then around Thanksgiving he was given the word the medication wasn’t working. He continued to be terribly sick and unable to eat or sleep when he entered the hospital so they could drain the medication out of his body which seem to help somewhat as he returned home.

Within a week he was becoming weaker having some days that were very bad and a few good days. But what about his special gun? Six months would probably be too long to wait. I called Gary Reeder on a Sunday afternoon and explained the situation to him. “I’ll put a man on it tomorrow morning and you will have it in two weeks.” It arrived at my house 10 days later. Diamond Dot and I rendezvoused with Crystal and Kevin so the special .44 Special could be delivered. The evening it arrived via UPS had been a particularly bad day for Roger, however he was feeling much better the next day and was ecstatic when he saw his early Christmas present. Gary Reeder went the extra mile on this one and helped the family provide a special time for their beloved husband and father. It is men like Gary who make being part of this industry so special.

A few short weeks after receiving his Reeder Ruger, Roger stopped eating and drinking; it was now just a matter of time. He had made it through Christmas and New Years; he would not survive January taking his final journey Home on the 13th. I spoke at his Celebration of Life on the 21st; it was one of the most special and difficult things I have ever done.

All during this time I have been finishing up my sixth book, The Book of the .45 and it seemed appropriate to dedicate it to Roger. The first page says “To Roger Bissell, Friend, Brother, Hunting Partner and Man. Well Done Thy Good and Faithful Servant.” Rog, keep the campfire burning, the beans bubblin’, the bacon sizzlin’; I’ll see you soon.
By John Taffin

Gary Reeder Custom Guns
2601 E. 7th Ave.
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
(928) 527-4100

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These Folks Have Meant A Lot To John Over The Years.

My very first gun article, entitled “Four Times 44 = Fun” was published in GUNsport 45 years ago. I had spent the summer, along with the family, in the Payette National Forest. We were in charge of maintaining our church camp for the summer which gave me a lot of time to myself when the camp was empty and much of that time was spent shooting my first four .44 Magnums.

The first one, which I still have along with the rest of them, was a Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk purchased in late 1956 or early 1957. That sixgun was a real eye-opener! I had earlier fired a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum with a 4-inch barrel and the recoil was just awful for teenage hands used to shooting at the most the .357 Magnum, .45 Colt, or .45 ACP. Everyone knew the Colt Single Action Army grip, which the .44 Ruger duplicated tamed felt recoil. That is, before it was tied to the .44 Magnum.

Recoil with the Ruger was even worse than with the S&W. The S&W came back in the hand and the checkering of the grip left its pattern in my palm. However, the Ruger rolled in the hand just like the Colt Single Action Army and in this case the hammer dug into the area of my hand between my trigger finger and thumb taking off a good bit of skin and the blood flowed. Of course, I eventually learned to handle that Ruger .44. I never did care for the 6-1/2-inch barrel length and had it cut to 4-5/8 inches, flush with the ejector rod. That old Ruger rode on my hip in a George Lawrence Elmer Keith No. 120 holster for many miles through Idaho’s sagebrush, foothills, and mountains. Although never used as such, my hunting companions dubbed it the Bear Buster. I once came close to having it become a Bull Buster when a farmer asked us to help him load a bull into a trailer for shipment. The bull came after me, I jumped up on an old farm wagon, he came up after me, the floor gave way under him, and when we left there the bull was trapped. I wonder how they ever got him out.

Along with me that summer of ’67 in the Idaho mountains were my three other .44 Magnums, a Ruger Super Blackhawk, and two Smith & Wesson originals with 4- and 6-1/2-inch barrels. As mentioned I still have all four, however that original Ruger was sent off to the factory in the late 1960s to be re-barreled to 7-1/2 inches. It is still one of my all-time favorite sixguns. That summer was memorable for a lot of things one of which was writing my first article. I didn’t even have a camera at the time, however a fellow came through the camp and was a real help to me by taking pictures. As I look back over a writing career with more than 2,000 articles and, so far, five books I realize how many people have helped me in my endeavors.

Helpers Abound

Dozens upon dozens of men and women in the industry, editors, writers, custom sixgunsmiths, manufacturers, PR reps, all aided me in my work. One of the first to have a great effect was Jan Libourel who edited a couple of our competitors’ magazines. In the early years I was freelancing and having a terrible time coming up with good pictures. When I did an article for Jan he told me the problem pictures were not my fault but rather the way they were being processed. In those days virtually everything was black and white and most of mine were out of focus. It wasn’t the picture taking, however it was the machine processing them, which was neutral when it came to focusing. I had to learn to do my own pictures and that brings me to four men, all local and known by me for a long time, true friends who helped me along the way.

My help with pictures came from Jim. We both taught at the same school together for several decades with his room being across from mine which meant during passing time we always could talk together and keep each other enthused about our jobs; actually, the time in the late ’60s through late ’80s were a great experience with an atmosphere and camaraderie probably rarely, if ever, found in schools today. It was a wonderfully enjoyable time. While I wrestled with my students over algebra, Jim taught art and I was always somewhat envious of his talent being a frustrated artist myself. Eventually photography classes were added to the school curriculum. Jim built a completely equipped darkroom and just when I needed it the most, he taught me how to process my own pictures. I spent many an evening behind the dark curtains printing black and white photos for my articles.

If it hadn’t been for Jim showing me the way my writing career may have ended right there. Jim and I often hunted together and each year put on shooting demonstrations behind the school for the graduating 9th graders. When I retired from teaching in 1995 after 31 years, Jim also made a change and transferred to the high school. He came to visit me several times after school that first year basically because the new atmosphere was terribly lonely. We had a very tight-knit faculty and the men did many things together; at the new school they hardly talked to each other. Jim was not only an excellent hunter but also a dedicated fisherman taking an annual trip to Alaska with two other friends from our school. He wasn’t feeling well when he left on the last trip and they wound up putting him on an emergency flight from Alaska. He did not make it and we were all stunned. He is missed for many things including his wonderful talent, however I will always remember his friendship and how much he helped me when it was desperately needed.

I’ve known Joe ever since he was a teenager and if ever there was one to wear the title of Helper Extraordinaire it is Joe. He is the one who always takes “man shooting” pictures of me for my articles and books. I wonder how many thousands upon thousands of pictures he has taken over the years? But that’s just the beginning; he is always there when anything is needed. Over the years, I’ve built up a collection of more than 300 bullet molds and while I have cast thousands upon thousands of bullets over the years Joe has done tens of thousands of tens of thousands for me. For nearly 40 years, I accumulated lead, wheel weights, and type metal for bullet use storing them in an old shed. About 5 years ago Joe gathered everything up and melted it down into 1-pound ingots. We filled four brand-new galvanized garbage cans with his efforts. I didn’t think we’d ever run out, however between the two of us the wheelweights are already exhausted.

Joe has a key to my house and I would often find him here when I got home from school. One day he came in and hooked up a Case Kicker to my Rock Chucker press. This neat little device is spring-loaded and pops the case out of the press after it has been sized, or whatever operation is being done. The cases drop into a tray and it cuts the work time in half, as the cases do not have to be removed from the shell holder by hand. This little deal has saved me hundreds upon hundreds of hours over the years.

Helpful Artisans

Denis is a retired engineer and has been a friend for well over 40 years and another fellow who’s always there to help. Before retiring he turned his garage into a fully equipped machine shop and from this comes many things to aid me in my work. When I got a S&W American .44 which uses heeled bullets he came up with a bullet crimper that works. It looks like a miniature guillotine and the case with the bullet inserted goes in horizontally.

A second most useful item is the L-shaped affair he made to fit in the trailer hitch on the bumper of my pickup. The top of this holds a barrel vise and we have used this to tweak barrels in the field many times. My pistol rest for testing handguns is another Denis creation. It is heavy duty and fully adjustable. He is currently finishing up a gong and frame we can set up at 200 yards and bang away at with our sixguns. Everything he builds is more than useful as he is not only an engineer but has the heart of an artist and everything he builds exhibits that feeling. Not just form but elegant perfection.

I’ve known Tony for over 40 years also and he is the fellow who knows how to shape single action grips to fit my hand perfectly. He made the first 1-piece pair of exotic dark grained pau ferro for a Colt Single Action Army .44 Special in 1968. They are still in service. He is currently handfitting and forming grip panels for the latest pair of Colt New Frontiers and also for a pair of Single Action Armies. He has also come up with some dandy sixguns for me including both a 2nd Generation Colt SAA .44 Special with an auxiliary cylinder in .44-40 and a .44 Special New Frontier. Both wear beautiful 1-piece ivory grips made by him to fit my hand perfectly. Several other of my sixguns have 1-piece ivories made by him, and he also knows how to perfectly tune a Single Action.

These four men have helped me tremendously over the past 40-plus years and I have been reminded lately of the fact sometimes helpers have four legs. Diamond Dot is recuperating from her second surgery in 3 months and our house critters have a sense for this spending most of their time right there with her. The recliner not only holds her but Chloe, Mollie, and Baby Kitty as well. They will be there helping her heal as long as it takes.
By John Taffin

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GUNS May 2013

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Utopia Denied: Part ll

Progress, Politicians, and Political Correctness work very hard against any ideas we may have of finding and holding onto our own personal utopia. Progress is inevitable. The only thing that doesn’t change is the fact everything changes. This is part of life and if we don’t progress and go forward the only other alternative seems to go backwards.

es it’s bad, but it is almost always painful; and it is not always easy to differentiate between what is good and what is bad. Cell phones, computers, cable TV, the Internet, and on and on and on for a long list of “advantages” we now have in the 21st century are all part of progress and we could make an excellent case as to whether they are more good than bad or vice versa. One thing sure is the fact they have certainly changed our life. For better or for worse? You can make that call.

Politicians and Political Correctness are another matter. But then again they seem so embedded as to be impossible to root out, however we must keep up the good fight or perish. In my lifetime there has been a long, almost endless stream of politicians from both parties who have worked against every utopian idea we may have ever had. They often promise Utopia but deliver the opposite.

Many in my age bracket have found their retirement utopian dreams wiped out by the actions of politicians. What has been done to the value of our money borders on criminal and our national debt can only be described as insanity. How can the richest nation on earth be in such a financial hole? Our grandkids and their grandkids utopias have been destroyed. Have you noticed both how many politicians and how much political correctness works to keep us divided? Divide and conquer is a tactic they employ very well.

Thanks to both of these terrible “Ps” schools have become gun-free zones, for law-abiding citizens only of course. Criminals could care less. Anyone with any age on them knows this has not always been the case. In the past many kids took their rifles to school so they could hunt on the way home. It was not unusual for a kid to get on the school bus carrying his rifle scabbard and then check it into the cloakroom when he arrived at school. All this is gone. Any kid trying such today would be arrested on the school bus.

During my early years of teaching I took guns to school as I was invited to share in the history classes as they studied the move of our country westward. My school was right on the edge of the city limits and each year we had a special full-day celebration with the graduating 9th graders consisting of an awards assembly, chuckwagon cookout, rodeo, and games, and I also received special permission from the Chief of Police to shoot right out behind the school. We were able to show kids how muzzleloading rifles and cap-and-ball revolvers worked and what important tools they were in opening up the country. PC will certainly deny any such thing happening today.

Misguided Educators

All of these thoughts started as I was in the local gun shop, Buckhorn Gun & Pawn, awhile back. We got to talking about guns in schools and the political correctness that has invaded what should be the education process. One of the countermen, Chris, has a young daughter and he spends much time shooting, hunting, and fishing with her. It has always been this way as soon as she was old enough to participate. She has her own guns and shoots regularly with him. After summer vacation one of the first assignments when she got back to school was to write a paper on her summer experiences. Now this was a 10-year-old girl who thoroughly enjoyed outings with her dad. So naturally she wrote about shooting, hunting, and fishing. The teacher was totally appalled and immediately turned the paper into the principal. Now realize this is in Idaho, a gun-friendly state. Guns are still a way of life out here and while the percentage is not as high as it was 50 years ago, most homes do have guns.

The principal called the parents to school to express his dissatisfaction and let them know their daughter’s paper was totally unacceptable. A 10-year-old girl writes of her wholesome activities with her dad and the principal takes it upon himself to label such activities as unacceptable. What could be more acceptable? You can bet those parents, and especially the mother, laid into him and made it perfectly clear his job was to teach the three “Rs” and they as parents would take care of the rest.

As I talked to Chris I found out the owner of the store, Matt, had a similar experience. His boy was a 9th grader at the time and wrote a paper on buying a gun. He started with the background of the responsibility of doing so and then went through the steps including filling out all the paperwork to buy a firearm. By anyone’s standards it was an “A” paper; anyone’s standards that is except the teacher. The boy got his paper back with a grade of “0,” not even “F,” but zero. The teacher took it upon herself to judge the paper not by educational standards or writing ability but by her distorted view of political correctness.

Matt was upset, his wife was incensed. Down to the school she went, however no matter how much she talked the grade was only raised to a “D”; again this was an “A” paper. I don’t know if this was a tipping point but Matt’s wife Christy decided to run for office. I’m guessing in the back of her mind she knew something had to be done to fight stuff like this. This is one politician that is in our corner and now serving in the state legislature. I’m sure for the teacher this was definitely an unintended consequence.

Sometimes It Still Works

Fifty years ago neither of these situations would ever have arisen in Idaho. However, that was then and this is now and the reality is we are infected just like every other state, just like every other area, just like every other utopia. There will always be those seeking to destroy what we enjoy. Fortunately, there are still bright spots. My granddaughter graduated from Boise State University 2 years ago. When she was a senior one of her assignments was to write about a character. Now who could be more of a character in her life than her grandfather? So she wrote about me.

Her 12-page paper was filled with shooting and hunting and all the things I do along those lines including teaching her to shoot. She brought it over for me to read and I warned her she might have problems with such a subject. Most university professors are even more PC than public school teachers and I told her she would probably be graded down. Fortunately, whatever the teacher’s political stance he was fair-minded. In fact, he not only gave her an “A,” he read the paper to the class as an example of what a good paper should be. I still don’t know what he thought about the subject but he graded her on performance not political correctness. We need more teachers like this.

Another bright spot is a grade school principal, a woman who took quite a chance. She invited my friend Ray and I to come to her school and spend the day not only talking about guns but also actually bringing them into the classroom. We spent the entire day talking to grade school kids about buffalo, and American Indians, and the frontier, and definitely about guns. We took in both sixguns and rifles, talked to kids about them and how they were used and also were able to talk about whether guns were actually good or bad. Some of those 2nd graders showed a lot of insight. The teachers had them write notes to us and it was obvious they really enjoyed having us come out and share with them. The principal took a major chance, however as far as I know she never suffered any repercussions. Definitely a woman of courage, and a rarity in today’s public school system.

Have you found your utopia? They come in all sizes, shapes, and situations and our attitude has a lot to do with it. Whether or not we actually find heaven on earth has a lot to do with our own thoughts. I could never turn my years of working in the tire factory and going to school into any kind of utopia. I would have been much better off if I could have at least tried.

Not only have things changed around me, I also have changed. I cannot do the things I used to do. I spend a lot more time resting than I do getting tired. However, one thing I’ve learned is the fact if I can’t do all the things I enjoy I can at least enjoy all the things I do. I’m never going to get any closer to Utopia than that.
By John Taffin

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GUNS April 2013

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Utopia Denied

Part 1

My latest edition of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines Utopia as an imaginary place, society, or situation where everything is perfect. Notice the imaginary part that seems to signify there is no such place, society, or situation. However, it seems half the population is searching for such while the other half stands ready to destroy it should we actually find it.

As I look back, my first Utopian experience was growing up in the 1950s. This Utopian era was nestled in between World War II and the soon to arrive Vietnam/Drug Culture of the 1960s. It was a wonderful oasis that we would’ve enjoyed even more had we known how unique it was.

I entered the sixth grade in 1949. We were poor but not disadvantaged. No one ever told us how poor we were so we got along just fine. My WWII vet and former POW stepdad rode the bus to work, walked when they were on strike, we went to the grocery store pulling a wagon, and managed to get along just fine without food stamps or welfare neither one of which my parents would ever have accepted. We always had a clean dry house, plenty to eat, and popcorn popped over the stove along with a glass of Kool-Aid on Saturday night. How much more Heavenly could life be?

My high school days were exceptionally pleasant, I don’t recall any kid ever getting in trouble in class, and the only thing the assistant principal had to worry about were those who “peeled” out of the parking lot after school. In my senior year we even won the city championship in football. I just turned 17 about 2 weeks before graduation so I was not emotionally ready for college and the finances were not there anyhow. So I went to work and in doing so found another Utopia.

I went to work as an order boy for a large hardware and supply company catering to the building and construction trade. The 3-story building plus basement, the truck docks out front, and the railroad spur in the back covered more than a city block. It was there that I met another kid also named John who introduced me to gun shows and all the gun stores in the area. We worked 5-1/2 days per week and then Saturday afternoon was reserved for shooting. How much better could it be?

I had been there only a short while when the headman asked me to be foreman of the unloading crew. Now remember I’m barely 17 and I’m to be in charge of a crew of black fellows the youngest of which was 32. “You don’t have to do any of the work. Simply stand there with a clipboard and check sheet and make sure we get everything on the manifest.” So I was to stand there while these fellows unloaded truck trailers, boxcars, and flat cars of everything and anything needed in the construction business? Now being so young I was not exactly the smartest guy around but even at my young age I thought to myself these guys are not going to work for me especially if I don’t expend any energy myself.

So I made the decision to not only check everything in but also to work right alongside them. It turned out to be the smart thing to do for several reasons. First, I gained their respect and they worked for me as they had never worked for anyone before. Also, by handling 100-pound bars of pig lead, 200-pound kegs of nails, and wrestling with 500-pound drums of roof coating I bulked up pretty quickly and became as strong as the proverbial ox. Utopia was mine.

I truly loved my job working 10 hours a day, plus 6 hours on Saturday, and still shooting on Saturday afternoon, casting bullets, reloading, and spending time at gun stores and gun shows, however there was one thing missing. I did not date during high school and only a couple of times over the next few years. Then in late 1958, I met the girl who would become later known as Diamond Dot and we were married 4 months later. Utopia had become Heaven.

However, within a few months reality set in, the reality being as much as I enjoyed my job, (I still remember the names and faces of all those fellows who worked for me even though it’s been more than 55 years ago) there was no way I could raise a family on what I was earning. It was time to find other work. I was successful finding a job paying three times as much, however in the process my Utopia disappeared totally.

My new job was working six nights a week in a tire factory and except for a couple of minutes when the pay wagon came around during our Thursday shift I hated every minute of it; my joy in going to work was replaced by dread. By this time I was old enough to realize there are just some things in this life we have to do simply because we have to do them. However, I soon found a hidden benefit. Our first baby was on the way in 1960 and I was stuck on the night shift, which meant I could either waste my days or do something constructive with them. I chose the latter and enrolled at the State University 30 miles away. I was always tired, didn’t always remember driving to school, and for the next 4-1/2 years I was as far away as I could be from Utopia except for time with the family which had grown to three kids by the time I graduated.

Utopia Found

During those years there was very little time for shooting but I did find solace in magazines such as GUNS and the writings of Elmer Keith. I learned a lot from him about sixguns and also the fact Idaho sounded much like Utopia. I grew up in Ohio and it was a wonderful place, however now as I looked at where my kids would eventually go to school and what had happened to the area I knew it was time to move. We attached a U-Haul to the Ford station wagon and headed for Idaho.

As soon as I crossed the border into Idaho I knew Utopia still existed. I was headed for the largest city in the state and upon arrival I found horse pastures where strip malls had existed in Ohio, the only traffic lights were on Main Street and there was not a stop sign to be seen. The school I was to teach at was nestled in a small valley and you could look to the north to the top of the mountains 16 miles away. Double Utopia.

I soon found 16 different places to shoot after school all within 20 minutes driving distance or less. Some were south to the sagebrush; others were north to the foothills or mountains. The camaraderie at the school was also utopian making it a most enjoyable place to teach. Excellent hunting and fishing opportunities were afforded and even though times were tough financially (I took a 40-percent pay cut to go into teaching) I knew we had found the perfect place for our kids to grow up. If only it could stay this way.

Terrible “Ps”

Of course, it didn’t. It didn’t take long for the three “Ps” which work against our utopian situations to place their roadblocks. Progress, Politicians, and Political Correctness all went to work. When I arrived in 1966 there were two TV stations and three movie theaters downtown. I just looked in the paper and counted 110 different places I could go, if so inclined which I’m not, to see a movie. Of course, in the late 1970s cable TV arrived and then in the 1980s we were discovered and the building boom began. I used to be able to travel from one end of town to the other in 7 minutes. That was when we didn’t have stop signs or traffic lights. Now we have an infinite number of both and the same trip takes nearly 30 minutes. All the places I had to shoot are now golf courses, or subdivisions, or reopened gravel pits, and even my great jackrabbit hunting area now houses the Idaho State Penitentiary.

Fortunately, I still have a wonderful place to shoot. There are also areas still existing in the sagebrush, however, they are about to disappear as a local paper just featured an article on all the trash shooters and others leave behind. Add a fourth “P” to the list, that of Personal Responsibility and the lack thereof which is going to cause these areas to be fenced off and posted. Progress is something we simply can’t hold back but there ought be something we could do about Politicians, Political Correctness, and Personal Responsibility. If we don’t there’ll not be any more Utopias real or imagined to be found.

Sometimes Utopia is relative. I just met a young fellow at the local Smith & Wesson Collectors Meeting who moved up here from Southern California. He had visited here 2 years ago and compared to what he was experiencing in California he had the same feelings I had when I arrived here almost 50 years ago. He has found his Utopia at least for now. Two other friends have recently moved from Southern California, one to Joplin, Mo. and the other to Sparks, Nev. They have both found Utopia. May they enjoy it for many years before Progress, Politicians, and Political Correctness destroy it.
By John Taffin

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Guns Magazine March 2013

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Wisdom Of The Ages

It’s all at your fingertips.

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. We won’t dwell on the latter, however when it comes to firearms these are definitely the best of times. We have the “best” guns ever offered to the shooting public. For the most part they are stronger, held to tighter tolerances, relatively cheaper, (at least until the powers that be did such a job on our dollar—oops, that is part of the worst of times and we don’t need to go there!) The proliferation of production
firearms is proverbially mind-boggling. Catalogs are crammed with every possible choice as to action, finish, price, and chambering.

The finest gunsmiths who have ever plied their trade are alive today and they have the best tools and raw materials to work with. The exhibition shooters of yesteryear have nothing on today’s crop of both men and women. Put a semi-automatic in the hands of Robbie Leatham, give Jerry Miculek a double-action revolver, and allow Bob Munden to pick up a single-action sixgun and prepare to be amazed. We often assign mystical properties to gunwriters of old, however compare a copy of GUNS or American Handgunner to early issues and the amount of information provided and the boggling of the mind rivals that felt when we contemplate the proliferation of firearms.

As blessed as we are with today’s situation we still must not lose the benefit of looking to the past. Anytime sixgunners gather and reminisce there are certain names that come up very quickly, names of the men who influenced all of us; the obvious ones being, at least for me, Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, and Jeff Cooper. However, these are just a couple of names in a long list of influential shooters. Even before Skelton and Cooper began sharing their knowledge there were many others disseminating their knowledge. The writings of Elmer Keith go all the way back to the 1920s, however there are those who were both contemporaries of his and even preceded him; men who contributed in a large way to the wisdom of the ages.

We are living in an age when everything is obsolete an hour later, so it is not surprising to find older firearms literature somewhat dated. This does not mean we cannot glean invaluable knowledge from the writers of yesteryear. Some of these men who can still provide us with both information and entertainment in alphabetical order are John Henry FitzGerald, Ed McGivern, Bob Nichols, and Walter Winans. Let us take a brief look at their contributions and what they still have to offer us.

John Henry FitzGerald—“Fitz”—author of Shooting, 1930: From 1918 until 1944 Fitz was the face of Colt, their goodwill ambassador and expert at tuning Colt revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Fitz’s book is certainly dated, being over 80 years old, however, guns and cartridges may change, but basics remain the same. When reading through Fitz’s book, especially the sections concerning quick draw, self-defense, and police techniques, much of what we still use today is evident including 2-handed Weaver-stance style shooting.

Everybody who had anything to do with handguns knew Fitz. Fitz had the reputation as the fastest in the world with a double-action sixgun and he carried a pair of specially altered .45 Colt New Services in his front trouser pockets. These were not ordinary New Services, which is a large double-action sixgun by anyone’s definition. They do not fit easily into a pants pocket, so Fitz made them fit. Barrels were cut back to 2″, the grip frame was shortened, the hammer was bobbed so it would not catch on clothing, however enough was left so an expert at double-action shooting could start the hammer back with the trigger action and then use the thumb to cock it for deliberate single-action fire. What became known as Fitz Specials, had, for quick access to the trigger, the front of the triggerguard removed. That alone makes reading his book worthwhile.

Ed McGivern, author of Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting, 1938: Ed McGivern is the fastest man with a double-action sixgun who ever lived, at least until modern times and Jerry Miculek. Unlike Jerry, McGivern also used Single Action Colts in his exhibition shooting and was unbelievably fast fanning the hammer and putting all five shots into the area of a playing card. McGivern’s book covers just about every aspect of shooting and especially speed shooting and long-range shooting. For the latter he used the then relatively new Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum on silhouette targets out to 600 yards. Today we may think scopes on handguns are relatively new, however McGivern was scoping the S&W .357 Magnum in the 1930s.

Even before the advent of the .357 Magnum McGivern was using the .38/44 for long-range shooting and his book has targets pictured with all six shots on a silhouette target shot at 300 yards with iron sights. When it came to speed shooting his favorite sixgun was the Smith & Wesson Military & Police .38 and this book shows several photographs with five shots which could be covered by the hand even though shot in a 1/2 second. Using two guns, one in each hand, he performed the same feat onto targets in just over 1 second. His book is not the easiest reading, however, for pure sixgun information it is still valuable and a must read for any sixgunner.

Bob Nichols, author of The Secrets of Double Action Shooting, 1950: Bob Nichols was a contemporary of both Fitz and Ed McGivern and his book takes up where they left off. He used the Fitz Special modification, however, like McGivern, he preferred Smith & Wesson revolvers, saying, “Smith & Wesson actually did produce the first smooth and faultless double-action revolver ever made. The job took them all of 50 years to accomplish. The accomplishment came, however, when the perfect double-action revolver no longer seem particularly important. The automatic was now in the saddle.”

So even as early as the 1940s the handwriting was already on the wall and the semi-automatic would be eventually be king for military and police, as well as many civilians. As the title of Nichols’ book says, this is about all aspects of real double-action shooting, using the trigger not the hammer to cock the action and it is worthwhile to note he talks of bull’s-eye shooters in the 1940s using their Smith & Wesson Target revolvers in the double-action mode. This book is an absolute must-read for those who appreciate, and want to know more, about double-action shooting. It is interesting to note his observance that Fitz understood full well the Smith & Wesson was better for double-action shooting than the Colt he by necessity as an employee of Colt had to use.

Walter Winans, author of The Art of Revolver Shooting, 1901: In the closing decades of the 1800s, Walter Winans was a champion revolver shooter. He was Russian born so it is somewhat fitting that much of his shooting was done with a Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 Target revolver chambered in .44 Russian. Using black powder loads in the 1880s, Winans set records at 50 yards that for all I know still stand today.

He wrote, “When I first began revolver shooting, I saw in a standard book on shooting that to hit a mark the size of a man at 10 paces was all one could expect of a revolver! Nowadays, if a man cannot at that distance hit the pip of the ace of hearts, it is own fault.” His book is a true classic on revolver shooting. However something I find most interesting was how forward-looking Winans was. In his book The Modern Pistol from 1919 he makes the statement, “Moreover, the revolver is now obsolete, and there is no use learning to shoot it.” I don’t know if I can forgive him for that statement as wrong as it was and is! The semi-auto may be king now but the sixgun is far from obsolete.

Allotted space is always a problem so we will have to save such other contributors to the art of shooting as Walter Roper, Phil Sharpe, Henry Stebbins, Townsend Whelen… for another time or times. Where can you find any of the above-mentioned books? An excellent source I use for old books is, and the Firearms Classics Library ( has reprinted over 100 valuable sources of information. Books sell for about $40 and arrive about every 6 weeks or so. I’ve already filled six shelves in my library since I’ve been a member. I began building my library of firearms information as a teenager in the 1950s through the old Outdoor Life Book Club and those books, which opened whole new vistas for me, are still in my library. In this age of electronic books and the Internet there is still nothing like the printed page especially when the weather is bad and actual shooting is out of the question. Reading is even better than dry-firing.
By John Taffin

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GUNS Magazine February 2013 Issue

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