When the hunting season opens each year, as it is now doing all across the country, every hunter takes his guns down from the rack, cleans them, shines them and wishes that he had more rifles, fewer shotguns or simply a better all-round arsenal. This week there are some 12 million veteran hunters in the U.S. who are doing just that. There are also 750,000 hunting initiates, men and women, who are determined to go gunning for the first time this fall. Obviously they need guns.
This is a cheerful thought for the firearms manufacturers, but a rather unsettling one for the hunter. The veteran has been through it so often before, he knows perfectly well that after one trip in the field with the one gun he has always wanted, he is going to wish it were a pound lighter, a half-inch higher at the comb or a little longer in the stock. The beginner is going to run into a bewildering barrage of contradictory advice both from veteran hunters and sporting goods salesmen. And, after he has failed to properly sift this maze of information and applies himself to the catalog, he will be appalled to find that there are roughly 75 different models of mass-produced American-made rifles in more than 40 different calibers, plus about 60 different models of shotguns in half a dozen gauges. Since each of these has some special merit, at least within its own price class, and since most sportsmen approach guns as objectively as they'd approach Ava Gardner, it's nearly impossible to get any two shooters to agree on what constitutes a proper sporting arsenal.
In my own case, for example, I have picked a basic arsenal, shown on these pages, using a highly subjective and rather injudicious mixture of ballistics, aesthetics, experience and nostalgia (you can't sit through dozens of William S. Hart movies at an impressionable age without acquiring some pretty strong opinions about shooting irons). Thus the following selection is intended simultaneously to 1) reflect the writer's personal preferences and 2) annoy thousands of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED-reading gunners.
It should be noted that this selection is not in any sense a "dream arsenal"; dreams come in more calibers than rifles. It's not "the ideal arsenal," since, in choosing it, money was an object (and no ideal worthy the name is attainable for $1,417.10). Rather it's a selection of firearms with which a shooter might feel comfortably equipped and reasonably well prepared for almost any kind of shooting on the North American continent; he would almost certainly start scheming, as soon as he acquired it, to have some of the rifles custom-stocked or to replace some of the less expensive arms with higher-priced models, and he might occasionally reflect that in a really perfect society every shooter would own a matched pair of Boss or Churchill or Purdy shotguns (at something over $2,000 the pair) and several of Roy Weatherby's most de luxe productions (at, say, $500 each).
It should be further noted that almost any of the selections can be challenged either singly or in combination. For example, every schoolboy knows that for the average wing shooter it's advisable to shoot only one gun and shoot it well (" 'ware the man with one gun") rather than to shoot several guns and never master any of them. It's even less desirable, from the standpoint of meat on the table, to alternate between an over-and-under, with its single sighting plane, and a side-by-side double. The question then becomes: Are a few extra ducks or doves or ring-necks in the freezer worth more than the pleasure of owning a Browning Superposed and a Winchester Model 21? Not to me they aren't, because I gun perhaps 25 days a year, when I'm lucky, and the other 340 days I enjoy the sight of both guns in the rack and the handling of them.
There's no automatic shotgun in the selection, because there's already too much machinery and mechanization in my life; for the same reason I haven't included an automatic pistol. I can't hit a Greyhound bus at 50 feet with a revolver, but I like revolvers for sentimental reasons (despite the fact that I can hit a Greyhound bus at 50 feet with a Colt Woodsman or a Ruger Standard or several other fine autoloading handguns).
At right and on the following page are the 10 guns that I have been brave enough, or foolish enough, to pick out, with typical targets for each one of the weapons. Open season is hereby declared on both the selection and the selector. And looking it over myself, I must say: "Let's see, now—Ye gods! This idiot has left out the .30-06!"
MARLIN 39-A, .22 CALIBER
The target illustration for this rifle could just as well be an old tin can instead of the squirrel shown at right, since most rim-fire .22s are used for plinking or informal target shooting. The easy-handling Marlin 39-A is modeled on classic lever-action lines and is accurate enough for around-the-camp use and family fun shooting. Weighs 6¾ pounds, costs $72.95.
REMINGTON MODEL 722, .222 CALIBER
The .222 Remington is a fine varmint load for distances under 300 yards, and this rugged standard 722 handles it well when properly scoped with an 8-or 10-power glass. The Model 722 holds six shots, weighs 8 pounds and costs $95.25. Although antelope and whitetail deer may be killed with the .222, it's too light to be recommended for game this large.
WINCHESTER MODEL 70, .243 CALIBER
This is the All-America rifle—rugged, frill-free and wonderfully accurate—and if I had to settle for a single rifle this surely would be it. I'd take this caliber, too, since most of my rifle shooting is for woodchucks, but I could also kill antelope or deer in open country. The .243 Winchester will skin a jack rabbit at 500 yards if scoped with a 10X, and costs $129.95.
MARLIN 336 CARBINE, .35 CALIBER
If you hunt whitetail deer in heavy brush, this lever action will pay its way. The .35 Remington slug chugs along at a leisurely 2,000-odd feet per second and plows through stuff that would deflect or disintegrate a swifter bullet. There are fancier versions of the 336, but the one shown costs $76.95, not including a 2 l/2X hunting scope, and can stand the rigors of a deer camp.
SAVAGE MODEL 99, .358 CALIBER
When I was 10 years old I thought the Model 99 was the most beautiful object in the world and, even after my voice changed and my horizons broadened, I continued to rate it highly and still do. The .358 Winchester load is able to let the stuffing out of a grizzly bear or bull moose, and a 6X scope isn't too powerful for this versatile lever action. $116.75.
BROWNING SUPERPOSED, 12-GAUGE
With 28-inch barrels, bored full and modified, this is a grand duck gun and can also be a good provider in a cornfield full of pheasants. Weapon has single selective trigger, automatic selective ejectors. At $236, the Browning over-and-under is an excellent value, but if you want to spend up to $615 for fancier versions of the same model you're allowed to.
WINCHESTER MODEL 21, 16-GAUGE
This is America's finest shotgun. With 26-inch barrels, bored modified and improved cylinder, in 16-gauge, it's nearly as light in weight as a 20-gauge, yet with a 2¾-inch magnum load it can almost match a 12-gauge in killing power. Thus it's ideal for upland-game shooting, especially for snap shooting ruffed grouse and woodcock in heavy cover. $425.
REMINGTON MODEL 870 MAGNUM, 12-GAUGE
This full-choke pump gun, chambered for 3-inch magnum shells, is a good companion in a goose pit—though the ventilated rib may be a nuisance to keep clear of snow, mud and rust—or when pass shooting high-flying ducks. It also makes a solid, easy-pointing trap gun; and for trapshooting, the ventilated rib is a boon With rib, 30-inch barrel, recoil pad, 8½ pounds. $141.
RUGER SINGLE-SIX, .22 CALIBER
Porcupines live on ax handles, canoe paddles, automobile tires and tops of valuable trees. The Single-Six, which has a fascinating kind of Old West look, is an ideal camp gun, and if you point one at a porky and squeeze the trigger you'll save a lot of trees. A dandy handgun for plinking, too. $63.25.
SMITH & WESSON REGULATION .38 CALIBER
This well-known five-shooter packs enough wallop to clobber a treed cougar, yet it weighs only 18 ounces unloaded. Like all handguns, it requires some practice shooting if you expect to hit anything smaller than a silo, but that is the largest part of the fun. With four-inch-barrel, blued finish. $60.