Pungent Memories

Editor’s note: GUNS Magazine welcomes Payton Miller aboard as executive editor. Payton brings decades of firearm journalism experience and will write our new Insider column each month as well as field reviews of new guns and gear and, of course, any other stuff I can load on him.

We’re sorry to report Clint Smith is mending from surgery and will not be able to write his “Ranging Shots” column for the time being. Get well soon Clint! You’ll always have a slot open here at GUNS. Get well wishes may be sent: C/O Thunder Ranch, 96747 Hwy 140 East, Lakeview, OR 97630.—Jeff John

Most gun guys have a childhood memory—one that pretty much set the stage as to how they came to be how they are. Mine’s probably pretty typical. I was around 4, maybe 5, watching my Dad take his Model 58 Winchester out of the closet, grab a couple of .22 Long Rifle cartridges and head out to the backyard pigeon coop. I followed and watched in awe as he shot an egg-eating skunk that had somehow managed to get under the chicken wire. I dimly recall two lessons I took away from the episode, which I can still see in my dreams.

One, a shot skunk voiding the final dregs of his scent glands makes for an eye-burning event. Two, that rifle (a toy-like single-shot with a gumwood stock) classed as a $5 “price gun,” even back in the early 1930’s when it was made, simply had to be—in my eyes— the most awesome shooting implement ever made. It meant a whole lot to me then and it still does. I still shoot it, taught my daughter to shoot it when she was 8 and can’t pick it up without remembering my dad. It’s got a manual cocking knob on the bolt, fixed open sights and will still put Winchester Power Points into a nickel at 25 yards—even if, by God, I have to put on my glasses to do it.

Guns have come and gone in my life. The reasons for keeping a few and evicting many doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with price, accuracy, “cool factor” or whatever. It’s the memories they carry. Because—at least from a recreational standpoint—a gun is more than a tool, more than a chunk of steel or alloy or polymer.

And a firearms publication like this one is more than just another special-interest monthly. The level of reader interaction never fails to surprise me. To borrow a pop-psych term, our readers are flat-out invested. Misidentify an S&W Model 13 as a Model 65 and be prepared for an avalanche of mail.

I think the subject of firearms—in general—is, in itself, a big enough tent to cover something for everyone (with the possible exception of Spanish Conquest reenactors with a matchlock fetish). For many years I’ve read the kinds of reader responses engendered by overloading on a particular segment of what is loosely referred to as “the shooting sports.” The result is often pretty incestuous and, worse, wearying for the reader. The publications that seem to last are the ones that—at the risk of sounding trite—hit all the bases. That’d be reloading, competition, collecting, hunting, defense or whatever. And editors need feedback, because if left to their own whims, things would start to reflect some fairly personal obsessions. If you’ve been into guns for a while, you’ve seen them. The overworked “.30-06 vs. .270” stories of the 1960’s gave way to the “Auto vs. Revolver” stories of the 1970’s to the “9mm vs. .45 ACP” wars of the 1980’s to the “AR vs. AK” squabbles of the 1990’s.
Sure, we’ll try to hit the hot item, the hot topic of the month. But we’ll never forget the “cool and the classic.”

That’s the way it should be.

Case in point: More years ago than I care to remember, GUNS Magazine editor Jeff John and I were having what our superiors unkindly—but accurately—referred to as a “goof-off day” at the range. No chronographs. No calipers for group measuring. No Ransom Rests.

I was shooting a tricked-out 1911 race gun (they were all the rage then)—high-profile micro-adjustable sights, ported barrel, snazzy finish, the works. After punching a few pretty good clusters, I looked over at Jeff. He was unsheathing an S&W 4th Model Hand Ejector 5-inch in .44 Special that literally defined the term “patina,” which to my way of thinking at the time was a desperate cry for a full-on rebluing job.

Jeff finished stuffing the cylinder full of 240-grain Keith-style SWC handoads and passed the gun over to me. “Try this,” he said. I brought the gun up and made some snarky comments over the rather pedestrian sighting arrangement—a squared groove and a tall front blade.

“Just shoot the gun,” Jeff said. I did, and it shot so well I was into reloading the cylinder for a fourth time before he grabbed it back. I actually did have the temerity to mention rebluing, but quickly learned that—at least in terms of vintage revolvers—rebluing was a dirty word as far as Jeff was concerned.

I’ve been trying to get the darn thing off him for about 15 years now. Every once in awhile he lets me see it. I figure in about another 10 years or so he’ll weaken.
By Payton Miller


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