by Terry Wieland
It’s almost 30 years now since Gray’s late and sorely lamented editor-in-chief, David Foster, hired me as the magazine’s first shooting editor and invited me down to Georgia to meet the staff and sort out what I would be expected to write about.
At the time, Gray’s had been around a little less than 20 years, but it was established as a literary magazine that published the likes of E. Annie Proulx and Jim Harrison, and I felt decidedly — what’s the word? — cowed? Yeah, cowed will do.
On the second day, we drove out to a farmer’s pasture, through two gates, nudging the Herefords aside as we made for David’s favorite fishing hole, which was basically a cow pond with two overhanging trees and an indeterminate population of crappies and water moccasins. There, we sat on the bank while he tossed his line into the water and mused.
“Shotguns, of course,” I said. (About 80 per cent of Gray’s subscribers are wingshooters.)
“Yeah. Our readers have money. Stick to good guns. You know, doubles. That’s your thing anyway. Hang on a minute.” Splash. “There. You were sayin’?”
“What about big game?”
“Sure, big game and rifles. Mostly North America, though. Our readers aren’t as enamored of Africa as you are.”
“One Africa piece a year?”
“Sure, okay” — splash — “but no more’n that.” Whirr. Splash. (Pause while David hauls in a sunfish about six inches long, gently cradles it, removes the hook, and splash. Back it goes.)
“What about handguns? Want me to cover those too?”
David paused to relight his pipe, which had somehow gone out amid the excitement of splashing sunfish. Puff. Puff. Whirr. Splash.
“Lemme think about that,” he said. We sat and stared at his bobber. (Yes, he used a bobber.)
“I was fishing here last year in my float tube, out there by that log. A water moccasin came out from behind it. Headed right for me.” Puff. Puff. “No way to get back to shore, and that damned snake coming right for me. Don’t know what he wanted.” Puff. Puff. “There I am, feet dangling, can’t touch bottom, and I’m thinking what happens if the snake decides he’s going to attack my tube. It goes flat, and I’m tangled up and can’t get out and that snake swimming ‘round my head.
“Thought about swatting at it with my rod but that’d just make it mad.” Puff. Splash.
“Well, I had a .22 in my pocket. Pulled it out, thumbed it back, and started shooting. I didn’t hit the snake, but I musta scared him, cuz he reared up and whipped around and headed back to his log.” Puff.
“I tell ya, I made it to shore real fast. Paddling with both hands. Yeah, I guess we should write about handguns once in while.” Puff. Splash. Puff, puff. “We all carry ‘em. Down here, anyway.”
There was a time, in the old days of outdoor magazines, when fishing stories routinely referred to the Colt Woodsman that resided in every tackle box, or the .22 revolver you always had on a pack trip into the mountains, to pick off the odd spruce grouse for dinner.
Somewhere along the line, it became fashionable for everyone from fly fishermen to big-game hunters to distance themselves from handguns on the grounds that you don’t “need” one, and maybe if we gave up handguns, then the anti-gun crowd would be satisfied and leave us alone. It’s never worked out that way, of course — not in Nazi Germany, or the U.K., or Canada or Australia.
Thinking back, I can’t recall a single instance where anyone used a Colt Woodsman or a Browning Challenger to commit a crime, but I can think of a lot of times — and I don’t know what David was carrying that day — when having a .22 on your belt or in your tackle box or in the glove compartment has come in real handy.
Over the years, I’ve written about handguns in Gray’s, usually something classy and collectible like the Colt Single Action Army, and I’ve never once received a nasty letter about it.
Other things, yes, like hunting feral hogs with a Steyr AUG. That raised a few hackles. But never handguns. Tells you something, I guess. We may not all carry them, but most of us seem to like them.
Terry Wieland is Shooting Editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal and a handgun enthusiast, if not as expert as he might like. He is one of that dwindling breed who finds any gun interesting, as long as it will go bang.