I, the Jury
September 23, 2010
It is possible I've been wrong my whole career, but I wasn't brought up believing that I was supposed to be the judge, jury or executioner, deciding the fate of products. I always thought these were your jobs. Like most of us, I have strong likes and dislikes, but I don't think this has much to do with what I write about.
I have written about many firearms, cartridges and related products I don't particularly like and a few I actively detest. Sometimes this has been at the request of an editor or manufacturer, sometimes voluntarily. I've been around long enough that I have some right of refusal, and I often pass on assignments, but occasionally I agree to write about things that aren't my cup of tea--sometimes because of friendships, sometimes out of curiosity.
My tastes are my business, and I don't have to like something to write about it. There is, however, one incontrovertible rule: Whatever it is, the damn thing has to do what it's supposed to do. If it does, then I'll give it a fair shake, whether it suits my style or not.
You need to gather information and form your own opinions, so I'd just as soon not discuss specific products. But for a good example, let's look at the 7mm cartridges, bullet diameter .284, which I am on record as stating (and have answered much hate mail over) that I don't like as much as the .270s or .30s. I have never said the 7mms didn't do what they were supposed to do, only that I'm not a fan.
Recently we were at the tail end of the Kansas whitetail season, a tough season with post-rut conditions and full moon. I stayed with it, and eventually a nice old buck stepped out of the woods. I shot him with a beautiful 7x57 that Todd Ramirez built for me on the lines of a 1920s stalking rifle. The buck took the heart shot, ran 50 yards and fell over.
A month earlier, on opening day of the Oklahoma rifle season, a mature eight-pointer walked out of the fog and stood in front of my stand. I was carrying one of Mel Forbes' New Ultra Light Arms rifles in .280 Remington. The buck dropped to the shot.
Two weeks before that I shot a huge wild boar in Turkey, also with a borrowed rifle. My guide's Sauer in 7mm Remington Magnum had a bigger, brighter scope than my rifle, and it was a dark, cloudy evening, so I used his rifle, and the pig dropped in its tracks.
As I mentioned, I have much greater affinity for the .270 and .30 calibers--considering the .270 at least as good for deer-size game, and the .30 caliber somewhat better for larger game--but on these and many other occasions 7mms have worked perfectly well for me, as they will for you.
So you don't have to agree with me. You should draw your own conclusions. Nobody knows everything, and we all have our preferences, so whether we're talking cartridges or product, gun writers like me cannot serve as the final word. That isn't our job, but it also isn't our job to only write about personal pets. How limiting would that be?
Nearly a generation ago, when I was a new staff editor at Guns & Ammo, the late Dave Hetzler gave what still stands as a good reply to that knotty question of, "Why don't we ever write negative reports?" His answer was simple: "Pay attention to what we don't write about."
If a given widget doesn't do what it's supposed to do, then the protocol is to politely return it with suggestions for improvement. Sometimes we never see that widget again, and sometimes we see it again in improved form, and then you might read about it.
Most products do what they're supposed to do. Price point must be kept in mind, too. For instance, I don't expect a $150 scope to be as bright and clear, or to have as precise adjustments, as a scope selling for 10 times as much. If it works and seems appropriately priced, then it's probably worthy of reporting on.
Truthfully, too, our shooting impressions are often fleeting. There have been design flaws resulting in factory recalls that all gun writers have missed.
However, if we undertake the weighty tasks of serving as judge, jury and executioner, we gun writers must also understand the legal distinction that we are not Consumer Reports--nor are we a testing facility like H.P. White. All we can do is give you our impressions, which I try to do honestly, keeping out as much personal bias as possible.
It would be nice if we could read the firearms publications and accept their input at face value--honest impressions given with no axe to grind. Most of the time I think we can, but any gun writer's view is just that. Some of us are very experienced, others less so--and the depth of experience, and thus validity of impression--always depends on the specific subject.
You, the reader, must be the ultimate judge and jury, passing sentence on whether a product succeeds or fails in the marketplace. Sometimes things I really like make the grade, sometimes they don't--and many products I don't particularly care for are wildly popular.
Sometimes I make my twisted idiosyncrasies known, generally in harmless contexts like my feelings about the 7mm, or my abhorrence for thumbhole stocks. Other times, if I do my job right, you shouldn't be aware of whether I actually like the product I'm writing about or not. The important question is, "Does it do what it is supposed to do?" Then it's up to you to decide if you like it.