Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Gun Nut Book Review

The Art of Shooting by Charles Edward Chapel
My Copy of The Art of Shooting

I haven’t done a gunnie book review for awhile, and because I’m still home sick with a crud that won’t go away, I’ve got plenty of time to read. That is, I read until my eyes get tired, then I get bored, read again until my eyes get tired, and repeat the cycle. What is it about flu that makes your eyes hurt? It’s just not fair (using my most petulant, little girl voice). Well, enough about me, here’s a discussion about a book that’s almost as old as I am.

Charles Edward Chapel was a prolific gun writer in the 1950s and 1960s. A former Marine and aeronautical engineer, he once served in the California State Legislature. His passion was gun writing and he was very good at it. A list of his books would only get boring to the reader, but here is what lists under his name.

He wrote Guns of the Old West, which is still an authority on the topic and has been republished over 40 years after he wrote it. He wrote about cleaning and caring for guns, shooting rifles, pistols, and shotguns, and every thing else dealing with guns. He even wrote a book with an intriguing title, The Boys Book of Rifles. Try to get that past a publisher’s desk now.

I picked up The Art of Shooting in a used bookstore. I recognized the author’s name from a book or two my father owned. I thought it would be worth reading and I was right. “The Art of Shooting” is a combination of two earlier books, Simplified Rifle Shooting and Simplified Pistol and Revolver Shooting. I haven’t read the earlier books, so I’m not sure how much he updated them for the single volume published in 1960.

The Art of Shooting contains excellent information on shooting. It’s a sport that doesn’t change in its bare essentials; sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze. Even though we have many new gun sports that didn’t exist in 1960 (Sporting Clays, Cowboy Action Shooting, Practical Pistol, etc.), there are still many things in his book that are useful for us to learn. Many rifle shooters, for instance, have forgotten the art of the sling. There’s a section that will reacquaint you with that useful device.

Of course, there are anachronisms. There is little mention of women as shooters and Chapel seems to go out of his way to say things like “…men on the firing line.” I think Chapel would have welcomed women shooters. He mentioned that a .22 rifle is an ideal first gun for a young boy or girl. However, he doesn’t go out of his way to encourage women to take up shooting.

Chapel wrote at a time when gun rights were not under siege. As an NRA member, he includes a chapter on advantages of NRA membership. Not once does he discuss protecting our gun rights as a benefit of NRA membership. It simply wasn’t an issue YET.

Even a simple, declarative, true sentence like, “The right to own firearms and acquire skill in their use is a basic part of the democratic way of life.” (Preface, p. 7) would need to be hedged with an argument today simply because today’s reader might question that position. Chapel doesn’t shy away from the fact that marksmanship is an important skill for future soldiers who may have to kill another human being.

There are a couple of things on which I part company with Mr. Chapel. For instance, he talks about how to shoot running deer even at long yardage. I hunt and would not take a shot like that because there’s too much risk of injuring the animal and only a snowball’s chance of making a quick, clean kill. Still, his discussion of hitting moving targets with a rifle is interesting and would be useful in other contexts.

Chapel writes well with a gift for making a complex topic easy to follow. The Art of Shooting is written for a non-expert on guns. There are parts that assume the reader has no knowledge and I admit I got a little tired of the section on the history of firearm development. Still, I learned a little bit more while reading it.

If you find yourself laid low with a virus and you want to read clear gun writing, buy yourself a used copy and enjoy stepping back in time. You’ll find yourself in a time when a prolific gun writer and avid shooter could get elected to the California State Legislature.

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