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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Total Gun Manual’

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

THE TOTAL GUN MANUAL: 335 ESSENTIAL SHOOTING SKILLS

By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

Weldon Owen, $25, 256 pages

Reviewed by Frank Miniter

Because I'm someone who hunts and shoots but lives in a metropolitan area, people often ask me how they can learn to shoot. The thing is, giving shooting advice when not at a range is a little like having a mechanic explain over the phone how to change a head gasket. He'll be saying things like "cylinder head," "out-of-time combustion" and "torque settings," and you'll be thinking, "Hmm, I think I know what he means."

So, after finding out what they'd like to shoot (shotgun, handgun), I either offer to show them or point them to a National Rifle Association shooting course. But people always seem a little disconcerted with this answer. They don't want to impose, nor do they want to be the clueless guy or gal at the range. They worry they'd be like George Costanza in the "Seinfeld" episode when George and Jerry are in the back of a police car and George asks if the cop's shotgun is a 12-gauge. When the cop nods, George comments, "It makes the 11-gauge look like a cap pistol." Gun owners laugh at this because they know it's the other way around. This is what people want to avoid. They don't want to play the fool.

Now I have a better answer. My favorite two writers at Field & Stream, longtime rifle columnist and editor David E. Petzal and shotgun writer Phil Bourjaily collaborated on a book titled, "The Total Gun Manual." The subtitle is "335 Essential Shooting Skills," and they aren't kidding.

Mr. Petzal and Mr. Bourjaily have been co-hosting a show called "The Gun Nuts" on the Outdoor Channel for a few years. They also have a blog with the same name on fieldandstream.com. Both the show and the blog have shooting instructions -- and are funny -- but this new book does the best job of putting everything together I've ever seen.

"The Total Gun Manual" is loaded, page after page, with magazine-style photos and illustrations to explain its 335 skills. The skills cover everything from "Understand Rifle Anatomy" to "Sight in Right" to "Be Trigger Happy" to my favorite, "Petzal on Getting Antsy." Oh, I guess that's a bit of an inside joke. Mr. Petzal, you see, is a likable curmudgeon. His wit is drier than gunpowder. Anyone who reads Field & Stream has figured that out already. But the thing is, it's not an act. He's a former U.S. Army drill-instructor turned gun-writer.

I once asked Mr. Petzal what he thought of a new, bargain-priced rifle being imported from a country I'm not sure I could find on a map. He replied in his deep-throated monotone that always reminds me of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, "It goes bang -- most of the time."

I knew not to bother with that gun.

When I asked him about a shotgun an American gun maker was importing from Russia, he grunted as he handed the gun to me at a trade show and said, "Churchill noted that Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In this case, I know the answer to the riddle: It's a boat oar with a shotgun in it."

Mr. Petzal always has a no-nonsense way when it comes to guns and shooting. Mr. Bourjaily, on the other hand, is more like the straight man in the act. He's Ed Norton next to Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners." Mr. Petzal has long been known as an expert on rifles. Mr. Bourjaily is renowned for his knowledge of shotguns and wing shooting. Together, what they have to say about guns is gospel. So even though this book -- and their writing -- is a blast to read, it also presents expert information explained simply.

If you already hunt and shoot, this book will entertain you and teach you some new tricks. If you're interested in trying sporting clays or shooting a handgun for self-defense or otherwise, read this book, and you'll start out right. You'll save money because you won't buy things you don't need, and you'll know how to use the things you do need. You'll learn the rules of gun safety (they're in the book) and how to strip down an AR. You'll know what the right shotgun is for turkey and how to swing a shotgun at the skeet range. You'll know what to ask when you do take that pistol or shotgun course. You'll start off right.

Frank Miniter is author of "The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide" (Regnery, 2009).

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