Tool vs. elegance.

Author:Barsness, John


Shooters have widely differing notions about whether guns should be regarded as tools (like hammers or lawn mowers) or whether some elegance and even embellishment is entirely appropriate. Many will even argue the point, sometimes almost as angrily--or condescendingly--as with politics. Part of the problem (if we consider this a real problem) is human nature is often contradictory. Even if some people firmly believe guns are tools, their belief often involves esthetic judgments.

A few years ago a young sub-editor for a hunting magazine went on a guided hunt in Alaska, using a rifle on loan from one of the magazine's advertisers, with a synthetic stock and stainless-steel barreled action, supposedly ideal for Alaska's rugged weather and terrain. The editor hunted with an outfitter, staying in a camp with several other clients and guides.

When the hunt began he was very careful with the loaner rifle, which the outfitter and his guide quickly noticed. They started poking fun of his gentle treatment of the rifle, whereupon he noticed their rifles were missing much of their finish, and even small chunks of their stocks. The Alaskans seemed to take some pride in their battered "hammers," so he became more lax with his loaner.

After returning home he brought the rifle to the publishing office so it could be shipped back to the manufacturer, also exhibiting some pride in its battered exterior. Far from being impressed, his boss told the young editor the rifle would not be returned to the manufacturer in that condition. Instead the publishing company would buy it, and the price would come out of the young editor's paycheck.

This is not a judgment. Instead it's a simple observation some degree of esthetics enters into most human choices, even rifle abuse, and esthetic values are often formed by social forces. To Alaskans who take pride in the battered appearance of their "hammers," the scars on their rifles are not just well-earned merit badges, but a testament to their way of life--like a safe full of custom rifles stocked in fine walnut owned by a successful businessman.

I own both kinds of rifles and hunt with both. Partly this is because of ray job, but partly it's due to growing up when hardwood stocks and blued steel were simply what rifles were made of. Most reviews of new rifles commented on the quality of their hardwood stocks, especially whether the pores in the wood were "properly filled" rather than appearing like tiny woodpecker wounds, or the checkering had overruns around the edges, or all the diamonds were properly pointed-up rather than flat-topped.

I also remember my father's horror when our neighbor across the alley (one of his co-workers and a good friend) purchased a Remington Nylon 66 .22 autoloader with a "plastic" stock. The same neighbor helped me "sporterize" my...

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