Thursday, March 31, 2005

Meditations on Guns I Can't Afford...

Been on the road working with AMERICAN RIFLEMAN television, filming at Weatherby and John Rigby in spectacularly beautiful central California. The whole place from Santa Barbara to Monterey ought to secceed from California, then immediately declare war on their former slaveholders! Well, I'm not exactly holding my breath on that one.

I've got to say that while I've never been much of a hunter, it's hard to spend time at Weatherby and — god help us all! — John Rigby without flashing back to visions of Africa and a kid dreaming of safaris in a hot and dusty land. I grew up on the great African writers, Ernest Hemingway, Karamojo Bell, John "Pondoro" Taylor, Robert Ruark and, later, Peter Hathaway Capstick. Particularly, Robert Ruark fired my imagination like nothing else I had ever read. Horn of the Hunter, Something of Value, The Old Man and the Boy...they defined the rough outline of a life that I imagined for myself, independent of my real life, which was already spiralling into the reaches of chaos. I was 15 when I saw a tiny article in the Memphis paper that "noted African writer Robert Ruark" had died of "complications," which proved to be a euphemism for "drinking himself to death." I coudn't believe he'd thoughtlessly died without talking to me! Probably had something to do with my choice for a profession, pesky people kicking off without having a sit-down with me first...

Within a year of Ruark's death, my life slid off the edge of the known universe, and the veldt got lost somewhere in the struggle for survival. It's still back there somewhere in the back of my head — and yes, dammit, I finagled a way to meet Peter Hathaway Capstick and have our little talk before he passed away! Handling a custom .460 Weatherby dangerous game rifle or one of the sainted .577 Rigby double rifles (the one I played with is probably worth somewhere in the region of $150,000; they'll make you one of your very own if you'd like, with prices starting at $41,700) is a good way to bring the veldt back to the forefront. It didn't help that we ran into Craig Boddington, the last of the old breed — and first of the new — of African hands at Rigby. Craig was on his way out the door to Namibia for his new Outdoor Channel show on African safaris, but we took a few minutes to share our ritual complaints about the road, lies about mutual friends and the ever-important favorite gun Ruark noted, friendship is that "something of value".

What can I tell you? Shot the big Weatherby .460 at a 200-yard plate, and it rang it pretty good. Didn't get a chance to shoot the doubles or the flawless (and legendary) Rigby .416 bolt gun, but I have an invitation to come back when I have a little more time. I have to admit I was majorly jealous when, looking at the "rifles in process" board at Rigby I saw a couple of my friends' names high on the list.

Of course, you all get the big irony, don't you? With a single phone call I could now go to the veldt, take that safari I dreamed up, probably even get Rigby to loan me one of their flawless doubles for the duration. I could feel the blazing African sun on the back of my sunburned neck, wince from the prick of the thorn bushes, smell the dust and gun oil I dreamed of so many years ago, feel the thump of the old nitro cartridges and hear the thwack of all that lead hitting animal flesh. If I close my eyes even now, I can see the huge black buff crumble and fall, because, of course, my shot would be perfect. But no matter how many times I close my eyes, I can't make it 1962 again, nor find the boy who dreamed of the veldt.

Good luck, Craig!

And I leave you with a Swahili proverb: Atangaye na jua hujua!

Loosely translated as, "One who wanders in the sun knows."

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