One of the reasons I like to write about guns is because it was when I first started reading about guns that I decided to become a gun nut. I had been given a Daisy Red Ryder when I was nine or ten years old; I also was a member of an NRA-sponsored shooting team when I was eleven (and have been a member since that time), but I got my first, real gun in 1956 when I was twelve years old. I’ll save that story for another time.
About a month before I bought my first gun, the first of at least a thousand I have bought and sold over the following sixty-plus years, I found myself on a train going from Washington, D.C. to Florida, looking for something to read. What I picked up from a vacant seat close by was a copy of Field and Stream. And right inside the cover was a full-page, color photograph of some hunting gun, probably a Winchester or a Remington, which was the most beautiful photograph of anything I had ever seen.
Why do some boys become gun nuts instead of collecting model trains or getting into ham radios, which is what most of my friends did back in those days? I have absolutely no earthly idea. But what I do know is that I started wandering around gun shops and gun shows in my late teens, an activity which continues to the present day. And I also never go into Barnes & Noble without wandering over to the magazine rack and leafing through Guns and Ammo, Shooting Times or Field and Stream.
The last-named is rather interesting because it just so happens that of late I am devoting myself to animal conservation and the restoration and protection of animal species which live in natural space. But we can’t assume that open, natural space is likely to remain open or natural without conscious efforts being made to keep things that way. And we certainly can’t assume that these spaces are large enough to provide the environment required for all wild species to survive. Which is why I have become a supporter of a remarkable organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival, but that’s also a story for another day.
Getting back to Field and Stream, it was founded in 1895 and absorbed its chief competitor, Forest and Stream, in 1930. The editor of Forest and Stream from 1876 to 1911 was America’s first conservationist, George Bird Grinnell, who founded the Boone & Crockett Club with Theodore Roosevelt in 1887. Neither Grinnell nor Roosevelt ever wrote about guns, but they encouraged gun writers to contribute content to both of these magazines because they understood that hunting was an integral part of how humans have always interacted with the outdoors. And by the way, if you think for one second that the members of Boone & Crockett are just a bunch of right-wing yahoos running around in the woods with their AR-15’s, take a look at what the club says about climate change.
As far as writing about guns is concerned, most of the writers who helped me become a gun nut happened to be contributors to Field and Stream. I’m talking about guys like Townsend Whelen, Warren Page and Jack O’Connor who managed always to strike a wonderful balance in their work between the technical aspect of gun design and manufacture versus the joys and challenges of taking a gun out to the field.
Many of the hunters and the gun writers I met growing up are long gone; for that matter hunting is also slipping away. When kids talk about enjoying the outdoors, they are much more likely to be carrying a kayak on the roof of their cars then carrying a gun in the trunk. But the outdoors is still the refuge for most of the wild species whose existence we both need and enjoy.
And I am still grateful that I first became aware of this wonderment in the pages of a hunting magazine called Field and Stream.