Field & Stream’s The Total Gun Manual

By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

Weldon Owen, 2012


ISBN: 978-1-61628-219-6

The Total Gun Manual is the second of Field & Stream magazine’s comprehensive series of outdoor manuals reviewed here this year. For any hunter or shooter, this is the best single volume to deal with contemporary firearms, ballistics and techniques. Anyone buying or owning only one book on modern shooting should choose The Total Gun Manual by David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily, without a doubt.

Petzal has been with Field & Stream more than 40 years and serves as its Rifles Field Editor. Bourjaily is the magazine’s shotgun columnist. Together they write “The Gun Nuts” blog for Their knowledge of shooting matters is encyclopedic.

Behind a short “Forward” by Field & Stream’s Editor-in-chief Anthony Licata, Petzal and Bourjaily lay out a list of 335 “essential shooting skills.” Organized into three

sections titled “Gun Basics,” “Rifles & Handguns” and “Shotguns,” the book opens with a two-page history of firearms progression and concludes with a useful two-page glossary of firearms terminology.

In between the forward and the glossary, Petzal and Bourjaily jammed together a staggering amount of information, experience and opinion, lavishly illuminated by beautiful color photographs, outstanding color drawings, easy-to-understand charts, tables and sidebars. Massive is the only word to begin to describe the sum of information contained within the pages of this book. The authors cover everything firearms related, from hunting squirrels to elephants.

Some of the sequentially numbered skills are dealt with in a single sentence. Others fill a page or two. Subjects include “Walk Like an Animal,” “Pick the Right Caliber,” “Survive Your Elephant Hunt,” “Choose a Skeet Gun,” or “Build Your Elk Arsenal.” Woven throughout the text lay nuggets of commentary such as “Ditch Bad Company for Your Own Good,” “Skip This Party,” or “Don’t Be an Idiot.” Both authors seem as concerned about the sportsmanship as the sport, and that gives their work an extra level of credibility.

The Total Gun Manual contains far too much information to be digested in even several sittings. It cannot be read like a narrative. The vast array of information and ideas needs to be taken in small doses so as not to overwhelm. It serves best as a reference, or as something thumbed frequently and harvested for concise, focused, salient bits.

To the novice, and even some very experienced shooters, the first exposure to The Total Gun Manual may seem intimidating. What seems random and distorted at first gains a comfortable and embracing feel the deeper into it one tracks. The array of illustrations serve as bait for the boxes of text. Suddenly the messages reveal themselves and the great value of this book becomes clear.

For any shooter or hunter, The Total Gun Manual stands as an investment. Whatever the level of involvement with firearms, this one volume will make any reader more proficient.

The Total Gun Manual does not have an equal. In direct terms, if you own a firearm, own this book. You will be a better, safer shooter and likely a better, more successful hunter. And that’s not bad.



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