Finding A Path
My 40 years as a gun’riter.
By the time this column is in print I will have celebrated my 40th anniversary as a “gun’riter.” It’s been a long haul, distressing at times, but overall challenging, satisfying and successful. The bottom line is that it’s a life’s work that I chose for myself so there’s no room for complaint.
Duke and Yvonne (above) shortly after their marriage in 1978.
A much older and contemplative Duke during his favorite pastime—
participating in a BPCR Silhouette event (below).
Perhaps the best way for a 20 year old, nearly “lost soul” to find his path, is to set out driving across the vast plains of this country at night, in January, with temperature dropping to 30 below. That’s what I did in 1970 shortly after getting a high draft-lottery number and dropping out of college. School wasn’t doing me any good because after five semesters, I still didn’t have a major. Also my grades were so poor I would have flunked out if schools were not hesitant to throw males out during the Vietnam era. Flunk out and the draft boards would nail you, like right now!
Never in my life had I felt an urge to write anything but during those lonely nights of travel with no distractions my mind turned to firearms magazines. The only thing I rated higher than reading about guns was shooting them and handloading for them. Heck, I even enjoyed casting my own bullets—a chore most others considered obnoxious. So after much cogitation I determined to return to college the next fall, take up journalism as a major and see where things led me. Never again did I make a poor grade, graduating with the bare minimum of credits in May 1972.
That August, my first magazine article appeared. It had been written as part of a journalism “magazine writing” course and submitted to Guns & Ammo in the spring of 1971. Since no response was heard from them I figured they just tossed my manuscript and photos in the trash. That they did not do so, I learned at Christmas ’71 when they informed me its publication had been delayed until next summer. I didn’t care—it was a start!
That’s not to say I was on a roll. Over the next few years, I wrote about a dozen pieces, all published except for one still sitting in my file cabinet. (At least two editors told me they would take it but the photos had to be better.) Instead of pecking at a typewriter during those first years of freedom from schools I preferred bumming about the country from coast to coast while working seasonal jobs. Even now four decades later when traveling with friends to BPCR Silhouette matches in the West, they are amazed when I can tell them how far the next rest area or scenic turn out is. I visited more gun stores in those days than most people see in a lifetime. Alas most of those are gone now. I know for I have attempted to revisit many of them over the years.
Duke now in his career’s 40th year at his desk in his Montana home.
Anyway, after marrying Yvonne in 1978 I needed to establish a career instead of just working seasonally, so set myself to writing steadily. In the beginning, I feared who I had little to offer. After all, I didn’t have a background in the military, or law enforcement, or some other occupation that gave a sort of bona fides to my ambition. I was just a guy who loved shooting, handloading and bullet casting with a sort of contagious enthusiasm.
At least I assume that latter thing because so many wives have accused me of causing their husbands to spend too much money after reading my articles. Just a week before writing this column I received what I consider the ultimate reader compliment of my career. On some website or another someone wrote to the effect that I peddle “passion and not products” in my articles.
At the time it seemed progress was slow. Looking back today it went fairly fast. By 1981 I made gun’riting my “day job” and ran a small town movie theater at night. Starting in 1986 I worked on contract for one magazine or the other for 18 years. Now my gig is on a gentlemanly basis. I write the amount I’m supposed to and these magazines pay me what they’re supposed to. It’s a wonderful relationship.
After 40 years, I am the first to admit I’m not your stereotype of a gun’riter. That would be of a squinty-eyed fellow with his wide brimmed hat, riding the ridges with a six-shooter on his hip ready to blast any critter that jumps out of the bushes. I used to wear hats when I got paid to ride other peoples’ horses but not anymore. I also worked on a road paving crew for several years but I don’t pack a shovel around with me anymore either.
In fact, since my own 300-yard shooting range is here on my Montana property and I shoot from a small heated house some days I don’t bother to get dressed. I just shoot in what passes for my pajamas — a pair of thin sweat pants and a well-worn Thunder Ranch T-shirt. (No, I won’t show a photo of me like that.)
Many guys are attracted to the gun’riting business by the hopes of being invited on hunts to places like Alaska, Africa or Australia. I had some hopes for things like that too in my younger days. Didn’t happen. I did go to Africa once but paid for the trip myself. The most exotic trip I was invited upon was a whitetail hunt to Canada. That’s OK, after traveling over much of the planet I’ve decided the best place to be is right here in Montana. I stay home as much as possible except as mentioned when driving to BPCR Silhouette matches with friends.
At my 40th anniversary, I’ve written over 1,700 magazine articles—all printed to the best of my knowledge except for that one mentioned before. Nowadays, Yvonne does my photography and instead of my articles’ photographs being criticized by editors they’re now considered to be some of the best in the business. If I had to credit any one thing with making my life easier, it has to be digital cameras—in the hands of Yvonne of course.
It is simple truth that no gun’riter can succeed without a readership. Otherwise the editors will see no reason to pay you. Therefore, I thank all of you who have followed my writings over the decades. You have kept me gainfully employed.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino