“Black” rifles legitimate for hunting

This is a fully automatic version of the AR-15 battle rifle being fired at an indoor range. By actual definition, this is a true “assault weapon,” capable of full-automatic fire.

I wasn’t going to participate in the time-hallowed American tradition of “piling on.”

I hadn’t heard about the controversy swirling around Outdoor Life’s Hunting Editor Jim Zumbo until it was brought to my attention by fellow outdoor writer and shooting enthusiast John Simeone from the Ft. Polk/Toledo Bend area.

At his urging, I started looking at the hunting blogs and chat rooms for shooters. It didn’t take but a few seconds online to find the hottest topic in shooting since the much-hated Clinton Assault Weapons Ban of 1994.

Zumbo, with two degrees in forestry and wildlife, worked as a forester and wildlife biologist for 15 years, and sold his first article to Outdoor Life in 1962. Since that time, he has become one of the most widely read and respected hunting experts in the country. He has authored 23 books, published 3,000 photographs and had his own Outdoor Channel TV show, “Hunting with Jim Zumbo.”

Note the use of past tense in the preceding paragraph. With a simple posting on his weblog (“blog”) on the Outdoor Life website on Feb. 16, Jim Zumbo destroyed his world.

Perhaps destroyed is not a strong enough description. Nuclear holocaust more closely approximates the vitriolic response he brought about with his corrosive opinion on the use of so-called “assault” rifles in hunting.

Poor Jim Zumbo. He comes in from a varmint hunt out West with a couple of Remington executives, and in talking to the guides, he is told they are seeing more and more “black,” or AR-15 style, rifles showing up in the field, hunting varmints such as coyotes and prairie dogs.

Shocked to the core, Zumbo sits down at his trusty laptop, and composes a posting on his blog on Outdoor Life’s website. He literally writes the blog from the hunt, mentioning (much to Remington’s later chagrin) the names of the two executives with whom he is hunting coyotes — testing the company’s new .17-caliber Spitfire bullet on the prairie wolves.

He then cushions his criticism by saying he knows he may upset some people, but being a traditionalist, he sees no place for these “terrorist” rifles in the sporting fraternity. He calls them “assault” rifles, and says they have no place in hunting.

Hunters, he says, shouldn’t have the image projected of walking around the woods with one of these weapons. He states hunters should divorce themselves from such guns, and even goes so far as to suggest game departments should ban them from the prairies and the woods.

“I must be living in a vacuum,” he writes. “The guides on our hunt tell me that the use of AR and AK rifles have a rapidly growing following among hunters, especially prairie dog hunters. I had no clue. Only once in my life have I ever seen anyone using one of these firearms.”

Oh come on, Jim. Living in a vacuum? How about on the dark side of the moon? Methinks you need to get out of the woods at least a little bit and find out what’s been happening in the shooting community for the last decade.

It’s not sporting to kick a man when he’s down, and Zumbo is apparently finished as a writer and hunting authority.

The response to his blog was so instantaneous and poisonous, Nearly every sponsor of his TV show had to post releases that stated while they believed in his right to his own opinion, Zumbo’s opinion was not that of, let’s see, so far, Remington, Cabela’s, Gerber Knives, Outdoor Life, Hi Mountain Hunting Jerky and Mossy Oak to name a few.

The Outdoor Channel has stated his television show is “in hiatus.” This obviously means if there are no advertisers, there is no show. Outdoor Life states he offered his resignation after some 6,000 e-mails demanded he be fired. According to a Washington Post article on the controversy, the editor of the magazine dismissed questions as to whether Zumbo would have been fired as “…conjecture.”

So I wasn’t going to pile on Zumbo. But then I thought perhaps my readers, many of whom are not likely to go online and check chat rooms or read weblogs, should be made aware of what has happened, and exactly what it means for the shooting fraternity — hunters and shooters alike.

On Feb. 14, two days before Zumbo signed on the internet and published his literary version of drinking hemlock, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced House Resolution 1022, a bill with the stated purpose “to reauthorize the assault weapons ban…”

Yep. They’re baaack — despite the fact that the Clinton Gun Ban accomplished exactly nothing except making magazines with more than 10-round capacity reach the status of black-market items, driving their prices skyward after the ban was passed by Congress in 1994. It also doubled and then tripled the cost of AR-15 style rifles in the several months before the bill was passed into law.

Of course, the law “sunsetted” in 2004, and was not renewed since no one could find where it had any effect on crime. The use of such guns in the commission of crimes is so small, the thought banning them would have any effect was ridiculous.

Shooting enthusiasts rightly viewed the law as simply a ploy on the part of the gun banners. It was the “camel getting his nose under the tent” strategy.

Personally, I would rather be in a tent with a camel than with Nancy Pelosi, Carolyn McCarthy, Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Ted Kennedy, et al. I think the camel would probably smell better. Certainly he would be more of a boon companion.

I find it interesting that the McCarthy bill carries the same identifying number as one of the most ubiquitous semi-automatic rifles of all time, the Ruger 10-22 — a .22 rimfire rifle that would be easily banned from manufacture if the McCarthy bill were to pass as offered.

Many folks, in the days before the ban, had a problem defending the Second Amendment rights of enthusiasts who liked to shoot military-style firearms. The ongoing criticism from the anti-gunners was no one hunts with these guns. The antis say they have no stated purpose except as a military weapon, so why should anyone have or need one?

Then, a strange thing started occurring with regularity. More and more “black” rifles started showing up at the gun shows. More and more people were interested in these semi-automatic copies of real “assault weapons.” More and more shooters began using them on the long-range matches until they challenged bolt guns for supremacy.

(Just for the record, a real “assault” weapon is a shoulder-fired rifle, capable of full-automatic fire.)

Companies that manufactured these guns, like Rock River Arms, Bushmaster, DPMS, Colt and now Smith & Wesson, started offering components that changed these rifles into highly accurate long-range shooters — perfect for competition and western varmint hunting. The guns started showing up at rifle competitions until they now are common on the firing lines.

The key to the popularity of these guns is they are comprised of “components.” With an “upper” receiver, you can switch out fore-end grips, barrels, sights, a veritable plethora of high-end parts all designed to increase and improve accuracy. And the parts can be switched out by any owner sitting at his kitchen table. The lower receiver easily allows “target” trigger assemblies to be installed.

The long-range rifle competitions now see large numbers of AR-style semi-autos on the line, and sub-minute-of-angle groups allow these guns to be used in the 600- and 1,000-yard matches, replacing the long-standing dominance of bolt guns.

Rock River Arms offers an advertisement in the National Rifle Association magazine, The American Rifleman, guaranteeing 3/4-inch groups at 100 yards. I have read numerous articles in the gun press of taking AR-15 style rifles and turning them into superbly accurate long-range shooters.

While I don’t personally own one of these guns, that is more a result of pocketbook than taste. I carried one in the Army, shot it full and semiautomatic, and have shot several semiautomatic civilian versions since then. They shoot beautifully, have almost no recoil and make less noise than most of my deer rifles. Would I like to have a super-accurized version of one of these guns, in .223 or .204 Ruger?

You betchum Red Ryder. In a heartbeat.

One final interesting note is that the upper receiver and barrel can be easily swapped out for larger calibers, thus making the “black” rifle a perfectly viable big game hunter. And let’s not forget the big brother, the AR-10 — similarly designed, but in .308 — and excuse me, but isn’t that a perfectly viable hunting round? Similarly exciting accurizing jobs occur on these rifles too.

It’s a shame we’re going to have to go back into the fray, fighting once again to defend our rights to keep and bear arms. The first target, obviously, is the “black” rifles. Don’t think, if they get these banned, they won’t be going after your bolt guns and shotguns next. And your handguns — oh boy, will they ever get started on that if H.R. 1022 gets any sort of consideration in Congress.

We simply must fight any attempt to limit our rights to own firearms, no matter which discipline we personally choose of the shooting sports.

Benjamin Franklin told the members of the Continental Congress in 1776, immediately before signing the Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”


Gordon Hutchinson’s best-selling novel, The Quest and the Quarry, a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks and the youth of a farming family that hunts them, can be ordered at thequestandthequarry.com or by calling 800-538-4355.

The novel was recently chosen as a Book of the Year by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association.


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