From New Mexico…

I don’t usually pass on Internet forwards but this one from Gail Goodman is irresistible for any New Mexican. All true too…

You know you’re from New Mexico if. . . .

You’ve had a school day canceled because there was 2 inches of snow on the ground.

You know what an “arroyo” is.

Your high school’s name was a Spanish name (i.e. La Cueva, Eldorado, Sandia, Manzano….).

You believe that bags of sand with a candle in them are perfectly acceptable Christmas decorations.

The name of most restaurants you go to begin with “El”, “La”, or “Los”.

You price-shop for tortillas.

You have an extra freezer just for your red & green chile.

You think six tons of crushed rock makes a beautiful front lawn.

Your swamp cooler got knocked off your roof by a dust devil.

All your out-of-state friends and relatives visit in October.

You know Las Vegas is a town in the northeastern part of New Mexico.

Your ‘other vehicle’ is also a pick-up truck.

You know the response to the question “red or green?”

You also know what, ?Throw an egg on it? means.

You’re relieved when the pavement ends because the dirt roads have fewer pot-holes.

You can correctly pronounce Tesuque, Cerrillos, and Pojoaque.

You have been told by at least one out-of-state vendor or business, they are going to charge you extra for “international shipping”.

You can order your “Big Mac” with green chile.

You see nothing odd when, in the conversations of the people in line around you at the grocery store, every third word of each sentence alternates between Spanish and English.

You associate bridges with mud or an arroyo, not the passage of water.

If you travel anywhere, even if just to drive to the gas station, you must bring along a bottle of water, some moisturizer, and sunscreen.

A package of white flour tortillas is the exact same thing as a loaf of bread. You don’t need to write it on your shopping list….it’s a given.

At ANY gathering, regardless of size, green chile stew, tortillas, and huge mounds of shredded cheese are mandatory.

You also know where Hatch is….AND its significance to the culinary world.

You can spell Albuquerque.

For Rifle Loonies…

John Barsness invented the term “Rifle Loony” long before his new book, Obsessions of a Rifle Loony. It is not necessarily a negative term; the readers of this blog who like guns are extremely likely to fall into the category. This is a book for not- so- rich devotees of good, useful tools who want to know what makes them work rather than just dropping a pile of money.

Barsness’s new book celebrates the kind of good guns that Hemingway, or my father, would have liked– is it too much to say that his writing is democratic in the best sense (meritocratic- democratic?) and is perhaps a healthier antithesis to gun porn? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

He is knowledgeable about both guns and– perhaps more important– self- guided hunting; he is my age, was fortunate enough to grow up in Montana, and worked at it. He has probably taken more game in his bountiful home state than any other writer I know of. He and his wife, writer Eileen Clarke, eat only game. He has taught himself to be a fair gunsmith and even rifle maker. Unlike a lot of gunwriter pros, he actually has the experience to compare and contrast.

Which is good, because as a writer he is the anti- cliche, anti- conventional “wisdom” champ, and is unsparing of his fellows or sometimes himself. He starts in swinging in his prologue on “Gunwriterese”– hilarious if you have read much. “Gunwriterese is distinguished by words and phrases the writer would otherwise never use… ‘My Remington slays deer with aplomb’.Yet they would never say their 4- wheel- drive pickup climbs hills with aplomb. This is because they don’t know what aplomb means“. (Emphasis mine– I wish I could have hired him when I taught writing). “The list of such phrases is almost endless: pasture poodle (for prairie dog), kills like the hammer of Thor, kicks like a mule, tack driver, shoots like a house afire etc…”

Enough! Safe to say he doesn’t just deconstruct language; he tells you some interesting and contrary things too. He reminds the reader that the three most popular bolt actions have three different approaches to containing gasses, and one of the most esteemed and expensive does the least; he finds the bore of a new factory Ruger to be the equal of hand- lapped custom barrels. He says a lot about finding hidden old gems at gun shows and how to evaluate them (we are talking mostly under $400, up to less than 8).

A whole chapter sings the praises of iron sights and gives lessons in the nearly lost art of using them. This interests me a lot– I have never liked, living in the back country as I do, the modern practice of fitting new factory rifles with either no or vestigial sights, leaving all work to the usually- trustworthy but breakable scope. With my advancing years and failing eyesight most writers tell me I should fall back entirely on scopes, but my own limitations make me prefer light carbines with iron sights, if possible “ghost ring” apertures. Barsness is encouraging. “With the right target [do not try to sight in with targets designed for scopes!- SB], all of my iron- sighted rifles shoot 3- inch groups 2″ or smaller at 100 yards. No, that isn’t the half- inch so many modern hunters think necessary for hunting deer or even Cape buffalo, but still works.” (He then goes on to demonstrate by killing a caribou at a measured- by- rangefinder 350 yards).

He loves old calibers like .257 Roberts, 7 mm Mauser, .30- ’06. He turns cliches on their heads– for Townsend Whelen’s “only accurate rifles are interesting”, he substitutes “only UNUSUAL rifles are interesting”. A premature curmudgeon, he can bite some friendly hands– on the vaunted superiority of “controlled-round feeding” he growls that before it became a selling point “Nobody cared about the death of CRF, except for a few grumpy millionaires who went to Africa and sat around the mopane fire in the evening, drinking old Scotch,smoking Cuban cigars, and muttering about the high price of lions, pre ’64 Model 70’s and double rifles”.

All in all, quirky, iconoclastic, assured, and deadpan funny– a good curative for those overwhelmed by “gun porn” and the drumbeat of new, expensive, and buy buy buy. As Barsness (who like all of us probably still has too many guns) knows, it is not about collecting. Read Obsessions of a Rifle Loony, get to a gunshow, find a rifle with some history on it, and go outside.

Obsessions is available from Barsness for $23.50 at www.riflesandrecipes.com or from Deep Creek Press, POB 579, Townsend MT 59644.

Gun Book Reviews

I have received three good gun books lately, and I think I can almost see a narrative thread between them. They are not, as so many magazine articles seem to be today, advertisements in the form of product reviews. The first, Hemingway’s Guns, by Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsey, and Roger Songer, is a scholarly but lively history of the good guns owned by this iconic mid- twentieth century figure; the second, Vic Venters’ Gun Craft, is a celebration of what I would call the contemporary “art gun” that soars high above the ground, covering makers of guns so rarefied you will pay over six figures for many; the third, Obsessions of a Rifle Loony by John Barsness, (separate essay) returns us to more earthly precincts while keeping to the ideals of quality and utility– perhaps a return to the days when Hemingway shot good but plain versions of what the rest of us shoot.

Hemingway’s Guns starts in the 1920’s and continues to the time of the writer’s death in 1961. It is a profusely illustrated and meticulously documented chronicle of a good working armory owned by a man who could soon afford anything he wanted (if you doubt this check out the Hollywood and other luminaries in the photos, from a time when hunting was taken for granted). The thing that might strike a modern shooter with a longing for fine guns is how “normal” most are, and how little some which have become enormously expensive are cost back then, even proportionately. (A double rifle, always a rare, expensive hand- made tool for professionals and rich amateurs, is the exception– and even they were relatively cheap in the thirties).

A good example is the Winchester Model 21 double barreled shotgun. The Hemingway family owned several; Hemingway was in the habit of buying them for various wives, and son Patrick shot one as a boy. The M 21 was introduced in i931, and cost $59.50, which the text mentions is equivalent to all of $765 in 2010 dollars (to any non gun nuts reading, you cannot buy ANY double this cheap today). But the actual rock bottom price for the all- custom M21 today is $14,000.

Keep your mind on that. Nobody who is not wealthy buys a 21 today; I certainly couldn’t. But in the days stretching up- just barely?– to the seventies, a poor man who was sufficiently motivated could find one he could afford. I have owned three, second hand– and my father– photo below ca 1954– bought a new one after leaving the Army after the war– sadly, he sold it when duck hunting began to take second place to his career, before I started shooting.

Point being, the rich AND the less than rich who understood quality– my father was both an engineer and an artist– shot virtually the same guns in mid- century America.

This is made abundantly clear in Hemingway’s Guns. He shot Winchesters, Colt Woodsman pistols, Merkel shotguns, Mausers, Mannlicher- Schoenauer carbines, a Browning 16 gauge auto, a Browning Superposed, a Springfield, a Beretta- I have owned every one of these, admittedly NOT at the same time– serial ownership has its advantages. What he did not own was extravagant wood or engraving or bespoke London doubles. A legend, dispelled here with little doubt remaining, is that he killed himself with a Boss pigeon gun, which would have been within this group. In fact the fatal firearm was a pigeon gun by W & C Scott– a good gun but not a London Best (I have owned two).

If you are one of the remaining breed who loves literature, good guns, hunting, and history you will find this book a feast. The authors have balanced an appropriate amount of technicalia with good storytelling and, perhaps, a whiff of nostalgia for a time that was a bit more democratic and quirky, a time when the rich and the poor shared a vision of sport that may now be disappearing. I’m keeping this book, at least in part as a reminder of a time I can still remember.

Vic Venters’ Gun Craft: Fine Guns & Gunmakers in the 21st Century documents the high end of the gun trade: “Best” English and Scots contemporary doubles, with a few Italian engravers, American restorers, and Belgians, though the last one isn’t really contemporary. This is an unabashedly for- shotgun- nuts- only book, though even a non- gunner can admire the beauty of the firearms displayed here (oddly, not so obviously true of Hemingway’s guns). This is what Libby not unkindly calls “gun porn”, lovingly photographed, of an almost over- the- top beauty, and often somehow oddly pristine and untouched. In days of old Purdeys and Hollands and Bosses were shot hard, sometimes digesting thousands of cartridges in a season. Will anyone shoot these, or will they only hang on someone’s wall like a trophy? I know one world class engraver in Vermont who recoiled in horror at my suggestion that the client for his gold- bedecked Purdey 28 would shoot it and devalue its six figures worth of engraving and inlay.

Which still may be a justification for their existence– they are canvases for gun designers and engravers and woodworkers, where they can reach a peak of artisanship– or art if you must. Rulers and wealthy arrivistes alike have traditionally commissioned the best craftsmen of the age to work their magic on “weapons”. And such expertise can improve guns at “lower” levels of course, as the methods trickle down.

Though the possible use of computer- controlled machines even by “Best” makers may play more of a part in this transformation than the methods of most makers and artisans featured here, who still work with techniques that may be centuries old. The amount of hand work alone prevents too much of this labor being expended on production arms. Venters (like me– and you?) is a true nut about how gunmakers achieve their results, from barrel making to hand- regulating chokes to restoration; if you want to know why today’s Purdey 410’s are better than the old ones, even if you haven’t a hope of owning a miniature shotgun more expensive than your house; if in the words of Tom McGuane you have times when you find that “shoptalk is lyrical”, you will love this book. I am keeping it too.

I still wonder who buys these guns. Next up: John Barsness and Rifle Loonies, gun nuts who work at another level but still demand quality. EH would have understood.

Both of these books are available at www.shootingsportsman.com. Hemingway’s Guns is $40 plus S & H: Gun Craft is $30.

Progress?

As several readers who communicate outside of the blog know, the redheaded falcon has been extremely wild and difficult. I had decided to send him back to the breeder and was feeding him to repletion every night.

But, as his weight rose, against all expectations he got tamer and tamer. He is now butter- fat, tolerating Ataika 100%, and still coming swiftly to the fist, at least indoors. So we will try a bit longer.

Just for Fun

A photo taken on top of the hill in Shutesbury Mass, ca 1974, of me with my redtail tiercel Cinnamon (still one of the best gamehawks I ever had and oddly, like one of the more recent best birds, stolen after years with me), and a friend who is holding my intact rather huge albino male ferret JL. Quite a team when cottontails took to groundhog burrows; we once took eight rabbits with them in one day (in an industrial wasteland). My only excuse for such greed is that there must have been fifty left, and that in those days game was my only meat, even more so than today. I am now looking for that pic.

Thanks to constant reader Lane Batot for making me think about ferrets again.

Oh and: please keep hair remarks to a bearable minimum. Please.

Update: I have found a photo with rabbits– I’ll scan and post later.

Breeder Issues

No; though there will be fun stuff today, I will not stop beating this drum, because it needs saying/ beating.

Jess from DesertWindhounds, in a comment at Retrieverman’s on why “can’t we just all get along?”

“Tell you what. When I stop getting harassed by total strangers for my breeding decisions, we’ll all get along. When people stop making false reports to animal control as a way to intimidate and harass breeders they don’t like, we’ll all get along. When small purebred breeders stop supporting legislation that would make it illegal for me to own an intact mixed breed dog, we’ll all get along. When breeders stop ganging up and plotting to get a man’s dogs away from him for no good reason, we’ll all get along.

“When people stop denying that the science does, yes indeed, show that inbreeding, close breeding, and not breeding enough individuals in the population is bad for the population as a whole, we’ll all get along. When purebred breeders stop denying that statistically, mixed breed dogs are healthier, we’ll all get along. When breeders stop denying there’s something wrong with using popular sires, we’ll all get along.

“When breeders stop acting like total idiots (looking at you, Dal club), we’ll all get along. When breeders stop insisting that a crossbreeding would definitely bring in ‘new diseases’ (gosh, can’t you buy healthy, tested stock in other breeds?), we’ll all get along. When breeders stop confusing genetics involving THEIR dogs as opposed to POPULATION genetics, we’ll all get along.”

Grrrrr… shout it from the rooftops.

Tiger Reading

John Vaillant did a reading last night at Riverrun Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for his wonderful new book on Amur tigers, poachers, and rangers. I had participated in part by reviewing The Tiger here.

I’ll let him configure the whole tale for you, but Dr Hypercube was the pivotal figure, and blogged it here. Suffice to say that an amazing crew of nature and travel writers were brought together via the web- the Doctor, Sy Montgomery (who wrote the OTHER great tiger book, The Spell of the Tiger), and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ( The Old Way, among other fine books). I wish I had been there, but the next best thing was when Vaillant , livestreaming his excellent talk, waved at the camera to “Steve Bodio in New Mexico”.

L to R: Vaillant, Sy, the Doctor, Liz.