Editor’s Note: To celebrate David E. Petzal’s 50th anniversary at F&S, we’ve asked staffers and contributors to select and share their favorite story of Petzal’s (no easy task—there are a lot of good ones). Today’s compilation, “The Best of Ask Petzal” is from F&S executive editor, Dave Hurteau.
From December 2012 to June 2021, Dave wrote a Q&A column called (what else?) “Ask Petzal.” In advance of each magazine issue, I would send Dave a batch of reader questions, and in a fraction of the time it would take any human, he would send back the answers with a note, saying, “This was more fun than exterminating dump rats” or “I can’t believe you pay me to do this” or “This was as thrilling as watching Bodacious rearrange a bull rider’s face.”
The readers were just as thrilled.
My colleagues have already written about Dave’s encyclopedic knowledge of guns and the rare quality of his prose, so I’ll pay homage to his immense popularity with F&S readers, who would howl if ever we failed to give them enough of Dave. Questions sent in by readers for the “Ask Petzal” column were routinely addressed to “The All-Knowing Petzal” or “Wise and Enlightened Dave” or simply, “The Great One.” Ironically, Dave has cultivated a reputation for pissing off some readers, too. But that has only added to his legend. His combination of authority, humor, and utter fearlessness is what has won him so many fans. Some credit for the popularity of “Ask Petzal” has to be given to the excellent illustrations by Mark Matcho and Brandon Loving. And to F&S readers themselves, most of whom can take a joke—and know greatness when the read it. —Dave Hurteau
Q: What is the most demanding game animal for a rifleman? –Cole Karsins, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
A: Your question is vague and imprecise. You need to focus. In terms of which North American big-game animal have I seen the most lead flung at in vain, it’s the antelope. That’s because they’re small, and always in the open, and people think you have to shoot at them from a long way off. The highest number of consecutive misses at one goat that I know of is 19, at a yearling buck that was 100 yards away. (May, 2013)
Q: I don’t know what to get my wife for our anniversary, a .280 Remington or a cedar chest. Your choice? –Jesse Bratton, Ephraim, Utah
A: On one hand, it’s tough to fold up blankets and store them in a .280 Remington. On the other, the effective range of a cedar chest is what, across the room? I vote for the .280. (May, 2013)
What is the worst thing you’ve ever eaten at a hunting camp? —Kent Collins, Sacramento, Calif.
A: It was an antelope chop that was burnt to a cinder and heavily entwined with the cook’s long hair. The cook was drunk, and when I complained she tried to separate me from my manhood with a butcher knife. (September 2014)
Q: With so many sub-$500 rifles shooting MOA or better, why should anyone pay more than that for a hunting rifle? —Kim Reynolds, Carson City, Nev.
A: If you view a rifle as simply a tool for collecting game, there is no reason. If you find it a fascinating and beautiful expression of human ingenuity, something of great intrinsic value, then you won’t be happy with a piece of junk that happens to shoot well. (September 2014)
What is the best gun-related movie scene ever? The worst? —Dan Aldridge, Albany, N.Y.
A: The best scene is the one in The Magnificent Seven where Britt (James Coburn) shoots a rider off a galloping horse with a Peacemaker at something like 800 yards, and when Chico (Horst Buchholz) says, “That was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen!” Coburn says, “The worst. I was aiming at the horse.” (February 2015)
The worst? Probably the scene in Quigley Down Under where Quigley (Tom Selleck) takes his Sharps .50 and, after an elaborate ritual involving doping the wind and adjusting his Vernier sight, shoots a bucket way off on the horizon…offhand. Give me a break. And Selleck is, in real life, a serious hunter and devoted gun nut. Shame on him. (February 2015)
Q: May I poke you on Facebook? —Joel Jameson, Carmel, Ind.
A: You may not poke me anywhere, unless you would like a nice punch in the spleen by way of thanks. I am not on Facebook. I detest Facebook. I agree with Betty White who, when asked about Facebook, said, “I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time.” (February 2015)
Q: If you could be transported to any moment in history, what would it be? And what gun would you carry? —Aaron Dalton, Meridian, Idaho
A: In recorded history? It would be Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, at the moment when the smoke from the cannon bombardment cleared to reveal 13,000 Confederate infantry lined up for a mile, ready to step off into immortality. I would not be carrying a gun. I would be hiding somewhere. If it were non-recorded history, I would love to see what a T. rex looked like, and I would see if I could borrow a Barrett M82A1 .50 BMG for the occasion. (May 2015)
Q: What gives you a thrill? —Kim Portman, San Bernardino, Calif.
A: My liver quivers hardest when I am able to hit the X-ring on a 600-yard F-Class target, which is only 3 inches in diameter. Seeing the scoring marker rise up out of the pit, indicating that I have hit the bull’s-eye dead center, gives me a warm, gooey feeling that I can’t seem to obtain elsewhere. (May 2015)
Q: Elvis shot a TV. What’s the most unusual/interesting/spectacular inanimate object you’ve shot? —J.B. Ackerman, Greensboro, N.C.
A: In college, I used to shoot textbooks that irritated me (12-gauge No. 4 buckshot does well). Years ago, I shot a computer with, I believe, a .416 Rigby. Not much happened; a little silver dust drifted from the monitor, but it was nonetheless immensely satisfying, and I’d like to do more. (August 2015)
Q: At what point did my sacred sport of hunting become the domain of fur-faced, overweight men heralded by the cacophony of country music? —Nick White, Gadsden, Ala.
A: When you take something that is good, like hunting or country music, and you turn it into overproduced entertainment for the masses, what you get is outdoor TV and modern country. The latter is wholly unrecognizable from the old “three chords and the truth.” It has become background noise—like most of today’s so-called music—and it has invaded our sport like bubonic plague bacteria into the bloodstream. (November 2015)
Q: What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in the outdoors?—Kenneth Smythe, Pittsburgh, Pa.
A: Years ago, while hunting in Montana, I encountered a hippie couple who said they were hunting deer. The man had a rifle and looked like he had just left Woodstock. The woman, who had roughly the shape and looks of Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, was wearing a serape beneath which shivered a Chihuahua. I have no idea what they were doing in those freezing woods with the miserable step-on dog. Maybe they were going to eat it if the deer didn’t pan out. (July 2016)
Q: If any actor, dead or alive, could play you in Gun Nut: The David E. Petzal Story, who would you prefer? —Keith Cullen, New Paltz, N.Y.
A: I think I’ve answered this one before, but so what? Brad Pitt is the obvious choice. The physical resemblance is uncanny, and he seems able to capture my particular brand of madcap charm. (April 2017)
Q: I revere your words just beyond scripture, so tell me why I shouldn’t buy a .257 Weatherby for deer, antelope, and elk in a pinch? —D. DeLozier, Smithville, Mo.
A: Verily, I speak unto thee, saying the .257 was Roy Weatherby’s favorite of all his cartridges, and I’ve owned three and liked them a whole bunch, so bless your heart, go ahead and buy one. I favor the 120-grain Nosler Partition loading; you can hunt anything with it. (June 2017)
Q: If you could give the 18-year-old version of yourself one piece of firearms-related advice, what would it be? For myself, it would be to buy half as many firearms and twice as much ammunition. —Jordan Davis, Beckley, W.V.
A: Here’s some general wisdom that applies to firearms and everything else. If you’re as lucky as I have been, you’ll meet people who will help you out of pure kindness. I met many of these folks, and I never thanked them adequately because I assumed there would be time to later. There never was, and I will go to my own grave regretting what I did not do. (June 2017)
Q: Why can’t anything go right? (Just thought you might know.) —Elliot Jameson, Reno, Nev.
A: Damned if I know, but things have sucked for a long, long time. In the Book of Job it says that “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” and Job may be as old as 2,500 years B.C.E. (July 2017)
Q: Buffalo plaid? Red or green? —Kevin Collins, Concord, N.H.
A: Never. Neither. It marks you as one of the common folk. When I can get it, I favor loden, which is worn by people of taste and discernment such as myself. (September 2017)
Q: Between you and your great colleague, Phil Bourjaily, who is more skilled at the other’s shooting discipline? —Jacob Honeycutt, Orem, Utah
A: I have absolutely no idea. I’ve never seen Phil shoot a rifle, and he’s never seen me shoot a shotgun. However, I am better looking, speak six languages, and play eight musical instruments. (September 2017)
Q: Which would surprise and excite you most to see in the woods: Bigfoot, a chupacabra, or Elvis? —Herb Davidson, Albany, N.Y.
A: Elvis. Bigfoot and the chupacabra are probably myths, but Elvis was real, and Elvis was King. If I saw him, I’d say, “I’m all shook up. Why are you wandering in the woods when we need you? The singers we have now won’t even rate music-trivia Q&A in 10 years. Come back to us. Don’t be cruel.” (December 2017)
Q: I love African dangerous-game rifles, though I will never be able to afford to go to Africa. People always ask me why I need a gun like that. How would you respond? —Craig Shelton, Denton, Texas
A: You ain’t alone, buster. I do too. My best answer is to paraphrase William Munny in Unforgiven: “Need’s got nothing to do with it.” Do you need a Ferrari that develops 660 hp? Do you need a plain steel Rolex watch that costs $5,000? Do you need a Fabbri shotgun for $250,000? Of course not. Would you turn one down because you don’t need it? Of course not. (May 2018)
Q: What do you think of hunters nicknaming their quarry? Have you ever done it? —Mike Sunderland, Atlanta, GA.
A: It’s called anthropomorphism, the ascribing of human characteristics to animals, and is practiced by primitive cultures, such as hunting and fishing shows on television. I’ve never done it, and I think it’s about as idiotic as zombies. (May 2018)
Q: If you were to get a tattoo (assuming you don’t already have one), what would it be and where would you put it? —Janine Reveley, St. Louis, Mo.
A: People from the upper stratum of society, such as myself, do not get tattoos. If I had ever shown up in my parents’ home with a tattoo, I would have had to eat it. On the other hand, if I had been a Marine, I might have gotten a small USMC or a globe and anchor on the shoulder, because something like that transcends tattoos and propriety. (November 2018)
Q: What royalties do you receive for being the model for all of the Duluth Trading Company Buck Naked Underwear commercials? —Brian H. Kapanke, Fort McCoy, Wis.
A: Not one cent, and I’m pretty pissed about it because I buy their stuff. My attorneys, the firm of White-Lipped and Trembling, are looking into it right now. (June 2019)
Q: What is the scariest encounter you or someone you know has had with a snake? —V. Marchbank, Carson City, Nev.
A: Once, my friend the late G. Sitton was sleeping off a drunken night in a hut in Zimbabwe when a large mambalike snake fell out of the roof thatch and landed on his neck, where it coiled. Sitton first thought he was having a nightmare, but when he realized the reptile was real, he rushed out of the hut in such a state that it required six people to hold him down while two others unwound the scaly visitor. Sitton never really got over it. (August 2019)
Q: Would you shoot an albino deer? —Eli Waterston, Ann Arbor, Mich.
A: Absolutely not. I’d no sooner shoot an albino deer than I’d shoot a unicorn if one happened to show up. An albino anything is a rarity, and to take its life just to have a different trophy should be rewarded with a flogging. (February 2020)
Q: What quality do you admire more, intelligence or kindness? —Maria S., Carson City, Nev.
A: I’ve known a lot of intelligent people, and a fairly high percentage of them were first-class jerks that the world would be better off without. I’ll take kindness any day. (February 2020)
What is your favorite breed of dog? And Why? —Jon Jackson, Casper, Wyo.
My favorite breed of dog is the Leonberger, which is a whole dog pack rolled into one animal. The males can weigh up to 160 pounds. They look like a long-haired African lion with a dog’s head. The long coats make them ideal for Maine. I would like to own one and train it to eat step-on dogs. (May 2020)
What’s the angriest that you’ve ever made a reader, as far as you know? —Evelyn Ernst, St. Louis, Mo.
Years ago, in the letters section, I made some stupid joke about “Okrahoma,” as in okra, and a Sooner reader called asking for a retraction and an apology. He got neither. (May 2020)
What would you do if you saw Bigfoot while hunting? —Pat Mackler, Boise, Idaho
I would congratulate him on keeping so much hair when so many have been after it for so long (to plagiarize from “Bear Claw” Chris Lapp), and I would wish him well in the Sixth Great Extinction, which is upon us. (December 2020)
If you could go back and relive one year of your hunting life, which would it be, and would you change anything? —Jay Bolyard, Fellowsville, W. Va.
I would relive 1972, when I killed my first antelope and my first elk. I lost 30 pounds in order to be able to hunt elk, and it was all brand new and wonderful. I would change nothing about it. (December 2020)