50 Years of Gun ’Ritin’

A look back
34

Duke and Yvonne’s home on their Montana acreage.

Hopefully I’ll be able to slide this column by our esteemed editor Brent without him noticing it’s a bit ego-based. I want to write this as a celebration for my 50th anniversary. Now understand, this is not mine and Yvonne’s 50th anniversary; we’re only at number 43. What I’m celebrating is this — 2021 makes 50 years since I joined the ranks of American gun’riters. Well, sort of. A lot more time and work was involved before anyone actually took notice of me but 1971 was the year I wrote my very first article.

Duke and Yvonne the first summer of their marriage
with the Yellowstone River in the background.

Homework

That was an assignment in a “magazine writing class” as part of the journalism school at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. We had to write an article, produce photos for it and actually submit it to a magazine. Mine concerned the cost savings shooters could have by reloading their own revolver ammunition, especially using bullets cast by themselves. Although I wrote the article in 1971 and it was accepted by Guns & Ammo magazine that year it didn’t actually appear in print until summer of 1972. Regardless it was the first step taken on a path I’ve stubbornly followed to this day.

In the first two years after college graduation, I wrote another half-dozen articles submitted to, and accepted by, several magazines including GUNS. Then I quit. College had been stressful and I was finally free, restless and ready to explore some of our country. I actually crossed the United States from coast to coast a half dozen times, mostly in an old Dodge pickup with a small camper on the back. One year I slept in that pickup for five straight months.

Always I told myself I’d get serious about gun’riting someday. To pay my way in those years, I took such temporary jobs as being a substitute high school teacher, serving on a forest fire crew and driving dump trucks on a road paving crew. My all-time favorite, albeit least paying job, was dude wrangling in Yellowstone National Park.

Then in 1977 something momentous happened. I met Yvonne. She was from Missouri and also working in Yellowstone. As we dated that summer I told her my plan for a full-time career was to write about guns. I half expected her to flee. At least her folks might lock her away from me if she confided that information to them. Neither happened and we were married on April 1st 1978. (Anyone see irony in it being April Fool’s Day?) At the time my entire net worth consisted of a few guns, some reloading equipment, a saddle, a huge dog and an unpaid-for pickup truck. It was another Dodge.

One Saturday morning shortly after our nuptials Yvonne surprised me when she dug out her portable typewriter, set it on the kitchen table and gently indicated it was time for me to get to work. Obviously there was no hope of remaining irresponsible.

Back then it seemed like progress was immeasurably slow but truth was, in 1981 I was able to quit my truck-driving job and dive into gun’riting full-time. A great aid was Yvonne and I were able to purchase our small Montana town’s movie theater. In my mind it’s the second best job anyone could have. Yvonne took care of theater details but we both ran it at night. My mornings were spent writing and afternoons shooting in good weather or reloading for writing projects during poor weather.

Duke is obviously in a happy place when working from his dedicated shooting house!

Pack It Up

By 1986 we realized we needed to move. I was driving outside of town for shooting. Packing up guns, ammo, chronographs, rifle and handgun rests, sandbags and related items every trip ate up time. So we searched for suitable acreage, found what has been our home now for 35 years but regretfully had to sell our movie theater.

I love to tell a story about finding this place. We told the realtor we only wanted to look at places where it would be safe and legal to shoot. The first couple of locations were flops in all respects. Then we drove here and I instantly saw a perfect 300-yard rifle range and told the realtor, “This is it.” Yvonne nearly fainted. She said, “We haven’t even looked in the house!” So I went in the upstairs door, came out the downstairs door and I turned to him again and said, “Yep, we’ll take it.”

Since moving here I’ve written over 2,000 features and columns for magazines and seven books. We have added a large shop, various storage sheds and most important to me — a heated shooting house. Also, over the years we have taken in a host of unwanted dogs, cats and horses that have brought us great joy. So, you can see why I feel like celebrating.
*
Editor’s note: And we’re so glad you’re still at GUNS! —BW

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