The Rifleman's Library
September 23, 2010
Ten books every rifle shooter should own.
Ask a shooter to name his single most important possession besides the obvious--his rifle and ammunition (loved ones aside)--and chances are you'll get a multiplicity of responses, ranging from gun safes to cleaning solvents. But besides my firearms, my most priceless possession is my vast library of books.
Books are the physical embodiments of facts and experiences, and there are some books--more or less in ready supply--that I feel should be in everyone's library to mentally stimulate our knowledge and provide a better understanding and appreciation of the guns we shoot.
Because the selection of books is a matter of personal opinion--in this case my personal opinion--there is no "correct" library for rifle shooters. I have no doubt there will be disagreements on my top 10 picks, and would be surprised if you did not come up with additional selections of your own. In fact, you might wish to share those choices. I look forward to hearing from you. Perhaps next time we can expand this list to include the top 20 titles that you think every rifle shooter should have. But for now, here are my choices.
1. Blue Book of Gun Values by S.P. Fjestad (800-877-4867).
How often have you asked--or been asked--"What's this rifle worth?" Well, for the past 29 years the Blue Book of Gun Values has been answering that question. At 2,176 pages, the current edition is weightier than most phone books. But within the Blue Book's covers you'll find up-to-date prices, according to percentage of finish, of more than 350,000 firearms, encompassing practically every rifle made, past or present, from A.A. Arms carbines to Antonio Zoli rifles.
Pre-war, post war, antique and modern, if it has a stock, trigger and barrel, you'll find it here. Plus there's a color photo reference guide to illustrate percentage of finish, a glossary, trademark index and serial number charts on some of the more collectible firearms. These all combine to make this a full-service reference book for buying, selling, or just knowing what you've got in your gun rack. It is one book you really can't afford to be without.
2. Gun Digest 2009, Krause Publications (888-457-2873).
I've been reading every issue of the annual Gun Digest for more than 40 years, and I've never tossed one of them out. In fact, at a gun show years ago, I even paid a premium for the 1946 edition, the very first time this folksy reference book made its appearance.
Gun Digests are invaluable for their catalog sections in the back of the book, which lists and depicts every firearm for that year, complete with retail prices and model variations. The ballistics section used to be much more extensive, but it is still a good, albeit scaled-down, source of information.
3.The Gun And Its Development, 9th edition, by W.W. Greener, Lyons Press, 2002 (800-820-2329).
Born in Great Britain, William Wellington Greener was an internationally known firearms authority. During his lifetime (1834-1921), Greener witnessed quantum leaps in firearms technology. In 1881 he wrote a book modestly titled, The Gun And Its Development. It proved to be immensely popular and went through numerous editions.
However, in 1910, Greener dramatically revised and updated his book, thereby creating a classic that still remains relevant almost a century later. It is this ningth edition that is a must-have for anyone even remotely interested in how modern hunting and target rifles evolved from the earliest slingshots and longbows to the precision shooting machines they are today.
Some folks consider the Gun Digest and the Shooter's Bible to be competitors, but actually, they are both good sources for cross-referencing the latest guns and their prices.
Within this book's 836 pages you will discover how crossbows came about and indirectly led to the discovery of gunpowder, the evolution of muzzleloaders and finally the custom built and mass-produced factory guns of today. Original line illustrations plus black and white photographs and early ballistic charts make this an authoritative look into the not-so-distant past of firearms technology.
This is one of those books I had often heard about but rarely saw. I was elated to finally locate an early hardcover copy at a gun show. Today, this ninth edition is more readily available as a reprint from Lyons Press.
4. Lyman Reloading Handbook, 49th edition (800-225-9626).
As a guy who still uses an old Lyman 310 reloading tool, I am living proof you don't have to be an avid reloader to be fascinated by the new 49th edition of a book that was first published in 1878 by the old Ideal reloading company. Today, it has matured into a 464-page treasure chest of ballistic information.
Edited by Thomas J. Griffin, Lyman's technical services manager and head of the company's ballistics laboratory, this perennial softcover is also available for the first time as a hardcover. Of course, many of us still have our older spiral bound editions. After all, these are not things you get rid of; at best, you pass them along to a fellow shooter.
In addition to chapters on the basics of reloading and how to get started, the current edition has ballistic and reloading data for every centerfire metallic cartridge, as well as loading data for black powder cartridges used for both long-range silhouette shooting and big game hunting, like the .45-120.
In short, if there is brass available, you'll find powder, bullets and technical data for any cartridge that currently can be chambered. Plus there are informative articles on powders, cast and premium bullets and gun cleaning. As Tom writes in the opening pages, "'¦Since we do not produce any of the components used in our handbook, we are free to develop data with a variety of brands." And that's exactly what you'll find within those pages.
5. Cartridges of the World, 11th edition, Gun Digest Books (888-457-2873).
The front cover states that this 552-page softcover is "A Complete and Illustrated Reference for Over 1500 Cartridges," but that hardly does justice to what lies between the covers. Practically every cartridge known to the shooting world is listed, broken down by categories, which include current and obsolete cartridges, military, British, European, sporting and rimfire cartridges, .50 BMG wildcats and others. There are also chapters on cartridge nomenclature and identification, but it's the illustrations, case dimensions, ballistic information
and historical synopsis of each round that I find invaluable.
And even though it is published every year, this is another of those books that you just don't get rid of. For one thing, as the list grows with each new cartridge, some information on the more obscure rounds gets edited out in the interest of space. Thus, when checking out a .44 rimfire, for example, it pays to leaf through the pages of a past book as well as to read the information in the current edition.
To be sure, producing a "bible of bullets" by the late Frank Barnes and currently edited by Stan Skinner is no easy task. But that's what makes this an indispensable read for someone who wants to know more about the cartridges he shoots other than what's printed on the ammo box.
Whether you're into reloading or just want to learn more about the cartridges you're shooting, the answers can be found in both of these perennial classics. Most shooters never toss out their older editions.
6. Hatcher's Notebook by Julian S. Hatcher, Stackpole Books (800-732-3669).
Among many other accolades, the late Julian S. Hatcher was a retired U.S. Army officer, a director of the National Rifle Association from 1922 until 1946, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and captain of the U.S. International Rifle Team. So it can be said he knew a thing or two about shooting. His book, Hatcher's Notebook, was first published in 1947, revised in 1957, and updated for a third and final time in 1962, which brought it into the era of the AR-15 and modern military and sporting cartridges.
The subtitle, "A Standard Reference for Shooters, Gunsmiths, Ballisticians, Historians, Hunters and Collectors" is an accurate (an apt term for a firearms book) description for one author's quest for answers to questions every rifleman asks. In addition to historical background of military rifles starting with the Springfield and Enfield, additional chapters focus on rifle recoil, headspace, set triggers, wind deflection, ammunition and the distance a bullet will travel.
Much of Hatcher's observations were simple but ground-breaking experiments, such as trying--without success--to fire a cleaning rod out of a rifle barrel, using a cartridge without a bullet. Some things, such as metallurgy and firearms designs, have changed dramatically since this last edition, but not the basics. And these are things that Hatcher's Notebook has preserved.
7. The Complete Book of Rifles and Shotguns by Jack O'Connor.
Originally published by Outdoor Life Books, Harper & Row, and then Stackpole, this book, to the best of my knowledge, is out of print. But copies can still be found rather inexpensively on Amazon.com. Originally written in 1961 by the late Jack O'Connor and updated in 1965, this book will acquaint you with the writings of one of the more irascible, opinionated, yet knowledgeable gun writers of a past but still viable generation.
Although firearms history, cartridges, marksmanship, and O'Connor's "Seven-Lesson Rifle Shooting Course" are just some of the many well-written chapters, O'Connor also takes us along with him on many of his hunting adventures, which range from Mexico to the Yukon, as well as India and Africa, letting us glean from his vast experiences.
His knowledge is sound, and he gives practical advice, such as telling the reader that a running shot presents the same size target as a stationary one, and once we realize that, hitting it is not a big problem. That's the kind of campfire wisdom you don't always find anymore.
8. The Rifle In America by Philip B. Sharpe, William Morrow & Company, 1938, 1947.
Here's another great classic, long out of print but still available through used book sources on the internet. My signed, first edition copy was found at a gun show.
Like many books from this era, the late author, a well-respected firearms authority and editor, compiled much original research at a time when none existed. But then, he was able to go directly to the sources, personally interviewing such luminaries of their day as Maj. Ned Roberts, author of The Muzzleloading Caplock Rifle; Edwin Pugsley, vice president of Winchester Repeating Arms; and Iver and Harold Mossberg of O.F/Mossberg & Sons. Moreover, the introduction to Sharpe's book was written by Julian S. Hatcher, who would go on to write his own immortal book nine years later.
The history and value of a rifle can be found in Flayderman's Guide, which focuses on American long guns up to World War II, while the Blue Book of Gun Values encompasses practically every firearm in the world today.
Many of the chapters focus on individual rifles, such as Marlin, Winchester, Remington and Savage, but also include other names from the past, such as Ballard, Newton and Sharps. The history of rifles and the development of the cartridge are discussed, although today's reader will find the chapter on "Telescope Sights" quaint yet revealing, as this was still a phenomenon yet to be embraced by a great many riflemen at the time.
The chapter on "The Future American Rifle" stops at the M1 Garand, a telling premonition for a book that came out just before World War II. And yet Sharpe's writings on marksmanship and gun care are just as relevant today as they were back then.
9. Shooter's Bible, 97th edition, Stoeger Publishing.
[Editor's note: At press time we learned that Stoeger Publishing has been shuttered, and the imprint's future is unclear.] In a way, the Shooter's Bible is a great cross-reference to Gun Digest. It has much of the same product listings but in a different format. There are also sections--with photos--on scopes and reloading accessories, plus an entire chapter on custom rifle makers. A full color New Product section is something I always turn to first.
The Shooter's Bible has been around since 1924, and it is not uncommon to see past copies from the '30s and '40s on gun dealers' tables. Whenever I find one in halfway decent condition, I will pick it up, not only for the interesting ads but to give me an accurate portrayal of what was for sale and for how much. Sometimes it makes you wish'¦but then, that's what our grandchildren will probably be saying about the current editions we will be passing down to them.
10. Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms, 9th edition, by Norm Flayderman, Gun Digest Books/F-W Publications (888-457-2873).
Norm Flayderman has probably had more rare rifles pass through his hands than most museum curators. For 45 years he was the acknowledged mail order antique arms dealers in America, and his multi-annual catalogs were eagerly awaited by shooters and collecto
rs, myself included.
Back in those pre-computer days, I would briskly pore through the pages of Norm's newly arrived catalog, mark the items I had to have, and then start dialing Norm's number to reserve my prize. Of course, everyone else was doing the same thing, so the line was always busy.
Now Norm has amassed his vast firearms knowledge into an 800-page guide containing the history and values of more than 4,000 antique American firearms, ranging from the earliest flintlocks to World War I rifles, all categorized alphabetically by manufacturer. Interestingly, there is no table of contents. But the index is 15 pages long.
It could be argued that Norm's book is geared only toward collectors, but it is really an appreciation of every firearm that brought us to where we are today.