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Reading, writing and the outdoors

August 30, 2008
Bill Harding

There was a time when the approach of September filled me with mixed emotions. On the one hand I knew that hunting season was about to begin, but the thought of school also starting tempered my enthusiasm. I didn't mind school itself, except that it kept me penned up when I would rather have been out in the woods.

They called reading writing and arithmetic the three Rs, but if I had spelled writing and arithmetic beginning with an R, I would have gotten a lot of red marks on my homework. Okay, so I did get a lot of red marks, but that's another story.

Arithmetic was definitely not my subject and those neat little calculators had not been invented. Even though I did fair at writing I always put it off until the last minute; like the minutes just before class. I still procrastinate when it comes to writing and my editors will testify to that. I loved reading, especially anything dealing with the outdoors.

Our school library subscribed to several outdoor magazines and I read them cover to cover. Ted Trueblood wrote about all sorts of outdoor activities, Jack O'Conner was the firearms expert and I learned a lot about fishing from Jason Lucas. Later in life I realized that some famous authors also wrote for the outdoor magazines.

Zane Grey was an early contributor and so was Hemmingway. Robert Ruark wrote a great series for Field & Stream called The Old Man and the Boy. The Old man and the Boy articles were filled with the old man's philosophy and sage advice. To this day I remember him telling the boy that, "only a fool would carry a dull knife".

Like Hemmingway, Ruark's classics usually followed an African theme. I remember reading Something of Value and The Honey Badger. Some of these works might have been too deep for high school students, but they would have brought my mind back from the fields and into the classroom. My mother received one note from a teacher that said, "Bill would do much better in school if he didn't daydream so much". How could I not daydream when it was a beautiful autumn day and I was being held prisoner.

By now many readers may be wondering when I'll get to the hunting and fishing aspect of this column, but I consider reading to be a big part of learning to be an outdoorsman. I particularly like the way my favorite author, Louis L'Amour works history and philosophy into his novels. His heroes even read Plutarch and Scott.

I like to think I know a little something about guns, but L'Amour constantly stumps me. I often have to go to my reference sources to learn more. When we think about the guns of the west we tend to use Colt and Winchester to describe every revolver and rifle. It is like using the brand name, JELLO, to describe every gelatin product. Actually, there were many different firearms makers that helped win the west. Both Marlin and Smith and Wesson were big time players.

Did you know that there was a 12 shot pistol? L'Amour describes one in his short story Mistakes Can Kill You. The Walch pistol came in both 10 and 12 shot models, and was about the same size and weight of other handguns of that era. If your opponent had a Walch and you were counting his shots, you could make a fatal mistake by counting to six and then standing up.

Several well known manufacturers such as Marlin, Stevens, Remington and Henry sold a lot of guns in the west. Lesser known firearms carried names like J.B. Driscoll, Forehand & Wadsworth and others. The Charles Sneider two-cylinder revolver carried fourteen shots. And, we thought a high-capacity pistol was a modern invention.

You can learn a lot by reading. You might even have learned something from reading this column.



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