Some guns stand the test of time


March 24, 2003, 07:10 PM
Some guns stand the test of time
March 22, 2003

Longevity is one of a firearm's best features as far as shooters are concerned, but it's one of the worst for gun makers.

Plenty of guns made in the 19th and early 20th centuries are still giving dependable service after 100 years or more of use. It's a cinch firearms being produced today will last even longer because of progress that's been made in metallurgy and manufacturing.

I've got a Remington Model 11 semiauto shotgun that was passed down to me by my dad when I was a youngster. That gun was bought back in the 1920s - some 80 years ago - and it definitely shows signs of advanced age and hard usage, some of which I put there myself.

When I inherited the gun 50 years ago, its bluing had already given way to a patina of brown and gray, and the stock and fore-end were liberally endowed with scars and dings.

But despite its worn and battered appearance, that gun is still as solid and as serviceable as the day it left the factory. The only reason I no longer hunt with it is because it's just too heavy and clunky.

The exceptional durability of firearms is great for those who buy guns and tough for those who sell them. Can you imagine what our economy would be like if autos, TV sets and major appliances had service lives in excess of a century? Our prosperity would resemble a Third World nation's.

It's quite a marketing challenge for the gun makers to find ways to offset the extended service lives of their offerings and maintain production levels that will keep them in the black. Since guns refuse to wear out, the only way manufacturers can maintain profitability is to keep coming up with new features, new models and, most especially, new cartridges.

New cartridges are the best way to assure that assembly lines don't falter because a good number of hunters out there stay engaged in a perpetual search for a magic bullet that will assure success in the field.

If they can just get their hands on the latest .298 Stumpthumper, they're convinced every game animal they shoot at it will expire as instantaneously and conclusively as if struck by a lightning bolt.

When I first started hunting and shooting in the early 1950s, there weren't but about a couple of dozen factory rifle cartridges all told, and of that number, fewer than half were popular enough to be regularly encountered in the field.

The list has certainly grown a mite since then. I just finished jotting down a tabulation, and off the top of my head I came come up with 61 centerfire rifle cartridges that have debuted since I began shooting. Add that to the couple of dozen that predate the 1950s, and you come up with an astonishing total of 85 centerfire rifle cartridges. And since I'm working from memory, I could be leaving out one or two or maybe even a few.

What earthly need could there be for so many rifle rounds? Well, there is no need, of course, but the fact that the cartridges exist and rifles were bought to fire them has probably saved some gun makers from going busted, which isn't an entirely a bad thing.

What is bad about such a proliferation of cartridges is that few outlets will make any attempt to stock all or even a major part of them. Not even many gun shops would carry such an extensive ammunition inventory, and as for your neighborhood Sears or Wal-Mart, forget about finding anything there that's the least bit esoteric.

There's one other negative aspect to the existence of so many cartridges.

All of them certainly aren't going to be around when the next century comes.

In fact, I'll be surprised if some of them make it to the quarter-century mark.

Of the 85 cartridges now in existence, 15 have cropped up in the last half dozen years, and several of those are practical ballistic twins of each other. No doubt some will stand the test of time, and some will wilt by the wayside. It's a roll of the dice for the gun buyer to figure out which is which.,1406,KNS_304_1833338,00.html

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