Classic Sporting Rifles Edited by Terry Wieland

book-review-Classic-Sporting-Rifles-review-September-2014

Classic Sporting Rifles, by the publishers of Gun Digest, serves as an excellent companion piece to last month’s selection published by Field & Stream. With bear season already underway, and numerous deer hunters afield scouting potential sites for November’s deer hunt, some background reading on great hunting rifles is clearly in order.

First published in 2012 and edited by Terry Wieland, Classic Sporting Rifles pulls together 32 of the very best rifle articles from the pages of Gun Digest, written between 1945 and 2004. These are not just 32 good articles, they are 32 iconic articles by the best writers in the business. Included are works by Colonel Townsend Whelen, Jack O’Connor, Elmer Keith, Ned H. Roberts, Bob Hagel and others equally gifted.

In the introduction, Wieland wrote, Winnowing down the scores of hunting-rifle articles that appeared here to just the 32 best was difficult, and required a sometimes ruthless determination to stick to the subject.” He goes on to say, “Many fine pieces of

writing that deserve a second (or third, or fourth) look were eliminated from consideration.”

The result is a concise history of hunting rifle development told by writers who know their material as few others do. Wieland himself has authored or edited 11 books on firearms and hunting, and he is the shooting editor for the renowned Gray’s Sporting Journal. No other contemporary outdoor writer is better suited to pulling together a project of this magnitude and this significance than Terry Wieland. A former journalist and war correspondent, Wieland crafted himself into someone who is arguably the premier gun writer of modern times.

Wieland organized the 32 articles into six sections that include “Choosing the Hunting Rifle,” “Muzzle Loaders,” “Single-shot Rifles,” “Double Rifles,” “Lever Actions” and, finally, “Bolt Actions.” The result is an outstanding history and practical use guide to a wide spectrum of hunting rifle types and designs.

The section on muzzle loaders covers the evolution of the so-called Kentucky Long Rifle, and its roots in Alpine Germany and Austria, to the guns of American mountain men and buffalo hunters of the late 19th century. The section concludes with an excellent piece on the modern in-line muzzle loader, written by Toby Bridges in 2004.

Other standouts include Roger Barlow’s 1967 piece on the development of Ruger’s now iconic Model #1, and a 1965 critique and analysis of old and new versions of the Winchester Model 70, by Bob Hagel. On the same level are two articles from 1996 and 1971 on old and new versions of the bolt action Mannlicher rifles from Steyr, Austria.

Every article contains black and white photographs, and many also have drawings, diagrams and tables to help make the author’s point. The reproduced photos are not the sharpest, but they do the job of helping to flesh out the heart of the articles. Given the age of most of what Wieland chose to include, color photography and illustrations are very uncommon.

Classic Sporting Rifles makes a great read, either in one 206-page session, or taken piecemeal as that particular subject stirs interest. In either case, the information will prove both useful and enjoyable to any hunter or shooting enthusiast. After all, every shooter wants his favorite rifle to be a “classic.”

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