Are Firearms "Retro?"

(Here's something I wrote in 2001.)

At a most interesting barbecue and shooting event last spring I watched the proud owner of an authentic 1882 Gattling gun crank off a few dozen rounds of lightly-loaded .45-70 ammo and found myself wishing I was doing the shooting. That thought led me to the .45-70 cartridge, to the current rifles chambered for it, and then to the renewed appreciate for just how old-fashioned our firearms are. With the exception of brief side-trips to interesting technology such as the Daisy VL, the Voere caseless, and the Remington Etronix ammo, the ammunition, and the calibers, we use now are little different from a century ago.

I like it that way.

The .45-70 Government was introduced in 1873, which is 128 years ago. The .30-06 was introduced as the .30-03 in 1903, and it's just as good now as it was 98 years ago. Sure, we've upped the horsepower of some cartridges -- a trend popularized by Roy Weatherby -- and our bullets, pellets and ammunition as a whole are much improved, but we are not using ray guns for hunting. A Winchester Model 70 on the gun store's rack is the functional equivalent of Paul Mauser's rifle design of 103 years ago. The break-action shotgun has been around much longer than a century, and even pumps and autoloaders aren't new designs. 

In the 1980's John Naismith wrote a popular book titled Megatrends, in which he tried to document large social trends. One that stuck with me was a concept he called "High Tech, High Touch." The more the country moves into high technology, with computers and electronics everywhere, the more, said Naismith, people would want to participate in "high touch" activities such as camping, gardening, and other outdoor pursuits. retroThis was before cell phones were popular, and there were no personal digital assistants clipped to belts. 

I find satisfaction in shooting a rifle chambered for the same cartridge (.45-70) General Custer's soldiers used. There is comfort in the simple, yet elegant, Mauser turn-bolt design, and I especially enjoy a rifle in a "classic" caliber such as the .30-06, .270, .257 Roberts, .300 H&H, or .375 H&H. The connection to the wood and steel is, indeed, high touch. A well-honed trigger was an exquisite "interface" before the word was invented. 

Old fashioned? Sure. Also simple and reliable. Firearms are, to my way of thinking, the best value of any consumer product. What else, save a Craftsman wrench, do you buy with the full expectation that you can use it regularly for your entire lifetime, and then expect to be able to pass it along to one of your children? 

They are tools, to be sure, but our rifles, shotguns and handguns also bridge generations, carry our history, and reward us with the simplicity of "high touch" in a high-tech world. ~ Tom 

Tom Gresham
Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.