Larry Case: So you want to be a gun writer?

John Fink of the Remington Arms Company displays new and old models of .22 rifles. Being part of the hunting, gun and outdoors world as a writer can be rewarding, but it has its challenges as well, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.
John Fink of the Remington Arms Company displays new and old models of .22 rifles. Being part of the hunting, gun and outdoors world as a writer can be rewarding, but it has its challenges as well, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.

"Trust not too much to appearances." - Virgil

Back when I was a kid - when we walked to school through 10 feet of snow and it was uphill both ways - I read a lot of outdoors and gun magazines. I doubt that's a surprise to most of you, but maybe you can picture a skinny kid with an overactive imagination lying on the floor, absorbing the latest issue of Outdoor Life or Fur-Fish-Game.

Jack O'Connor was the shooting editor at Outdoor Life, and I took everything he said as gospel. In those days no one would dare question the word of one the old established gun writers like O'Connor, Elmer Keith or Warren Page. Things are just a tad different in the gun writing world today.

As that skinny kid, I imagined these gun writers had the best job in the universe. They shot guns all day long, and when they finished they were off on some exotic hunting trip. When I started down the trail to become an outdoors, hunting and gun writer a few years ago, I'm sure I had many preconceived notions of what this world would be like. I am also sure most of these notions were wrong.

I recently spent a day on the shooting range with gun writer Richard Mann. I've told you about him before - he is a fellow hillbilly, has been in the gun writing trenches for many years and is considered an authority on rifles, bullets, ballistics and most things in the firearms world. We share a similar upbringing and a law enforcement background. Other than being a little misguided about shotguns and turkey hunting, Richard is the real deal. You can check out his excellent website at

So I asked him for his thoughts about what it is like to be a gun writer. Here's what he had to say:

"Everyone tells me I'm lucky because I get to shoot and hunt for a living. That's not exactly true. I write, take photos, and make videos for a living. The writing I do, the photos I take and the videos I make just happen to be about shooting and hunting. It's not all fun on the range or in the field as some might imagine.

"Sometimes the guns I'm provided with to test don't work. Or sometimes they work just enough to get you started. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I cannot get the light right for a photo. Or, more commonly, I cannot put a simple sentence together on video. Sometimes editors don't know enough about guns to understand the article I've submitted. Sometimes - most times - readers only look at the pictures and then write me a letter to tell me how much I don't know.

"Sometimes the deer never comes by, sometimes the elk never bugles and sometimes during an 18-hour plane ride to Africa, all you want is a parachute or lots of pain killers.

"The life of the gun/outdoor writer is not all fame and fortune. Actually, it is never fame or fortune. The pay sucks and the hours are long, and sometimes nothing works out right. In truth, it's just about like making a living through hard work just like in any other job. However, I'd not trade it for anything else because I do what I want almost every day of my life. I guess you could say I'm lucky. Thing is, I don't believe in luck!"

Richard told me that part about hard work way back when, before I even started on the writing trail, and being my usual stubborn self I didn't believe him. Turns out he was absolutely right. Like many things in life, success in the gun writing world depends on hard work and perseverance. You remember hard work and perseverance, don't you? You know, some of that old-fashioned stuff nobody wants to hear about anymore.

Our recent day on the range might be a good example. Richard had several video projects he needed to complete. I had some photos to take. To say things didn't go as planned would be putting it mildly. First, the temperature was about 85 with typical high humidity for our area - it was, as they say, hotter than a $2 pistol.

Next, much of the wonderful technology we were dealing with (cameras mostly) seemed to be infested with various gremlins. What fun! Some of the guns we were working with didn't want to function exactly right - nothing major, just enough to be aggravating. On top of everything, one of our shooters (me) picked this day to display marksmanship skills that were, shall we say, lacking. I had lots of good excuses, but Richard didn't seem to want to hear any of them.

He seemed to take it all in stride. I was ready to go take a nap when we finished.

Don't get me wrong. We were both there because we wanted to be. Work for this day did not consist of digging a ditch, something both of us have done in our younger days. I am just trying to point out that the gun writing world is not always beer and Skittles as some people think it is, and like Richard said, if you think you are going to get rich in this trade, maybe you better go back to buying lottery tickets.

To be honest, I feared sharing this story because the late Jack O'Connor might see it as complaining. Please know I am not complaining - maybe just trying to tell that kid of today what the modern gun writing world is really like.

However, I do worry about O'Connor sitting up there going over one of my stories with a red pencil.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va., has been a devoted outdoorsman all of his life and is a contributing columnist for The Times Free Press. You can write to him at

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