Since World War II, Gun Digest has been the gun book by which all others are measured.
“The Gun Digest is dedicated to the millions of American sportsmen who love guns. It is our sincere hope and belief that this book will bring to its readers a greater enjoyment of hunting and shooting—and a deeper appreciation of fine guns and gun lore.”
The year was 1944 and the above words were included in the dedication of the first edition of Gun Digest. It was not exactly a good time to be shopping for a new gun.
World War II was in its third year and many consumer products were being rationed or restricted, including guns, which were being made exclusively for the military or law enforcement. But even though they couldn’t walk into a store and buy a new gun, hunters and shooters could feed their thirst for knowledge about their favorite hobby by way of the written word.
Few books or magazine articles were being written at the time that included a wide spectrum of information for the serious gun enthusiast. Follett Publishing Co., a former book publisher in Chicago, recognized this void in the marketplace and came up with the idea of Gun Digest.
The editor was Charles R. Jacobs, who perhaps should get credit for creating the book. It’s also likely that the timing was to take advantage of the predictable surge in firearms interest that would follow the end of the war.
That first edition sold out quickly. Among the contributors was none other than Jack O’Connor, the leading shooting writer of the generation. His article was “Choosing the Big Game Rifle” and given the cartridges that were around in 1944, O’Connor’s advice is still good today.
Interspersed throughout that first edition were catalog excerpts with specifications and prices as they were at the beginning of the war—for instance, a Winchester Model 70 for $78.25, a Parker VHE double at $140 and a Colt 1911A1 at $44.75. Those were the days, remember, when $55 a week was the average income.
In 1951, the 5th edition introduced editor John Amber. For the next 30 years he would be Mr. Gun Digest. Amber is best remembered for his devotion to the American custom rifle and for establishing the section in the book that to this day honors the craftsmen who build the world’s most beautiful firearms.
Some readers may wonder about “70 years of Gun Digest” and why the 2014 book is the 68th edition. It’s because the second through the fourth editions were bi-annual. The first 1944 edition was followed by 1945/1946, 1947/1948 and 1949/1950. Starting in 1951, the book became an annual publication.
The 68th edition is now in bookstores and here are a few highlights. It’s always a pleasure to work with Phil Schreier, senior curator of the NRA’s National Firearms Museum.
In this 68th edition, Phil writes about President Teddy Roosevelt’s love affair with Winchester lever actions, including superb photos of the ones on display at the museum.
Other articles cover Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles, custom Ruger six guns, online gun auctions, wildcat cartridges, behind-the-scene looks at Hodgdon and Norma, and much more.
Be sure to get your copy of the 2014 edition on sale now!
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