Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Magnum Fever

More wisdom from the best man I know.
-Patrick

I used to shoot a lot. My two favorite guns were a custom Pennsylvania flintlock rifle and a Colt .45 auto Combat Commander that I carried cocked and locked. I chose the rifle because flintlocks are difficult critters to master. I chose the Colt because it is the best handgun in terms of power, reliability and accuracy. I got real good with both of these firearms because I practiced a lot and I enjoyed shooting. The rifle was used for hunting and target shooting. The Colt was strictly for business. I was licensed to carry and I took that responsibility very seriously. The basic skills needed to master each of these weapons were completely interchangeable. Once you got past the two hundred year technology gap it all came down to sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze and follow through.

I belonged to a gun club in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania. We had regular events that featured various tests of marksmanship. The club had a lot of members so it was inevitable that some of the competitions got really interesting. Like the day the guys with the scoped magnum rifles looked at our flintlocks and just had to mouth off about how we should get some real guns. The same sort of things happened on the pistol range. There was always a Dirty Harry clone toting a fire-belching magnum chiding me about my obsolete .45 Colt.

We let them talk their way into challenging us to a shooting match. Since they made the challenge we got to set the rules. Rifles were at one hundred yards offhand with no slings. Pistols were at twenty five yards standing only.

Guess what?

We never lost. Not once, not ever. The guys with the magnums could not even come close to equaling our marksmanship. The reason is very simple. We could shoot and they could not. They really believed that their choice of ordinance gave them an edge. It was a pleasure to take them to school. Their super powerful firearms were of no use to them in these matches because they could only shoot accurately from a sandbagged shooting bench. Real life seldom furnishes such comforts. They bought those expensive and overpowered guns because the “experts” writing for shooting magazines promised them that the magnum of the month would solve all their problems and make them the envy of the scene. All the focus was on muzzle velocity, trajectory and comparisons to “pre-64” or “pre-war” models of various makers. No one bothered to tell them that none of this matters if you cannot hit what you aim at.

The same sort of mindset is prevalent today in music. Go to any Internet banjo forum and you will see weak musicians touting their latest acquisition. Some even use buying more and more instruments as part of their shtick. They hope to mask lack of ability by redirecting your attention to their buying power. Nonsense phrases such as “authentic old time sound”, “real pre-war tone” or “exotic woods” are often combined with subtle assurances that you can substitute hardware for hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against high-end stuff. There are many fine examples of handcrafted, beautifully decorated instruments out there. I have always advised people to buy the very best they can reasonably afford.

The real problem is a lack of basic skills. The guys at the gun club wanted to be hip and look cool so they bought lots of firearms that they did not understand and could not control. The idea of applying basic shooting principals never entered their minds so they were made to look foolish by real marksmen. The folks who hope to impress us with their “banjo or guitar of the month” choice of instruments often make the same mistake. All we can do is look at them and shake our heads. They are completely lost around real musicians. These folks believe that their magnum instrument and the ability to stumble through a few tunes is all they need.

Remember, you cannot skip over the hard stuff. The basic skills must be mastered and applied. Thousands of silly posts on a forum will not make you a musician. You cannot buy your chops. You will not learn to play by trying to memorize fiddle tunes from tablature. Get grounded in rhythm and timing. Work on playing and singing. Know your chord inversions and the scales that are always within a finger’s reach. Make your favorite instrument your best friend and it will never let you down. Play everywhere and with everyone you can. Don’t become a victim of magnum fever. Pick up that expensive instrument and learn with it. Have fun, ask questions and make mistakes. Just don’t expect anyone who knows oatmeal from mashed potatoes to be impressed until you can do something other than pose with it.

Peace to all,
Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)

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