column By: Dave Scovill | January, 19
A few months back, someone at the Wolfe Publishing office mentioned that the 50th anniversary of Rifle was coming up. It didn’t really strike home until later. Somewhere in the 50 years of both magazines, I had been with Wolfe Publishing as a columnist, editor and retired editor emeritus, and back to columnist, serving three owners/publishers and wound up 33 years older.
From the start, the unique aspect of Dave Wolfe’s magazines, both Handloader and Rifle, was that they enlisted some of the best minds in the industry to contribute technical articles on firearms, ammunition and handloading. The distinction being that Dave’s magazines were not sold on the newsstand and were not in competition with other firearms publications. As a result, most of the staff listed on the masthead were associated with other gun publications, such as Shooting Times (also founded by Dave Wolfe), Gun Digest, Handloader Digest, Guns, NRA publications, etc., and/or were recognized experts in the shooting industry. The idea was to produce magazines by and for the trade.
Part of the plan was to use the magazines to advertise book sales that were also of interest to the trade, most of which were classics by well-known authors such as Phil Sharpe, Elmer Keith, Townsend Whelen, Crossman, Selous, W.B. Bell, etc. Wolfe also introduced Handloader in 1966 on the same format, and it didn’t take long for both publications to become industry standards which – ironically – the general shooting public had little or no knowledge of.
My first contact with Rifle magazine was in a small gun shop in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in late 1979. During a conversation with the owner of the shop, a small magazine rack off to the side of the counter with Rifle, Handloader and American Rifleman got my attention. I had grown a bit disenchanted with newsstand gun magazines of the time, with the exception of Skeeter Skelton’s articles in Shooting Times, and the Handloader banner drew my undivided attention. The owner of the shop noted the magazines were “for sale,” so I forked over the cost of the current and back issues of Handloader and Rifle on display and spent the rest of the week reading and digesting some of the best firearms related articles I had seen in years.
Eventually, Wolfe Publishing accepted a few of my features, including “Rating Cartridge Effectiveness” that appeared in Rifle No. 93. In those days, like a number of would-be outdoor writers, with limited experience in some areas and more “hands-on” projects in other venues, I decided to use a relatively new Ruger Model 77 7x57mm Mauser to tackle a pet peeve: neck sizing and whether or not it had any significant effect on accuracy in run-of-the-mill hunting rifles. Al Miller, editor at the time, bought that piece. That was followed by another in Rifle No. 99 on reducing the weight of the same rifle, which by then had paid for itself several times over in coyote hides and article sales.
By 1990 or so, it was apparent that the lack of book sales was hurting the company, and since Dave Wolfe was still the owner, the subject of newsstand sales was off the table until Mark Harris, the publisher at the time, bought Dave out.
Mark decided to turn the magazines more toward general public newsstand consumption and switched from black-and-white to color, then hired a heads-up distributor to take on magazine sales for Rifle and the world’s only handloading publication.
Rifle, with a history of leaning more to the technical side of the firearms industry, took off rather well. The irony, if that is the proper word for it, is that Dave Wolfe discouraged photos of dead animals in both magazines, but Rifle quite often had shotgun features. So, we added prudent use of dead animals that sometimes helped validate a storyline and pushed the shotgun material over to Handloader.
When I found both magazines on the newsstand in a grocery store one block from the harbor in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico, a few years ago, it appeared the distributor took the job seriously when he figured out that the thousands of deep sea fishermen who pour into the area during the marlin season need something to read about (in English) besides blue water tackle fishing.
In time we started to hear from readers of both magazines in Europe, Canada, South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa and Iceland. Two of many readers in Africa were professional hunters who eventually agreed to join the staff of both magazines, the late Finn Aagaard and Don Heath. They helped bring a fresh perspective to African hunting, rifles, optics, etc., to supplement a staff that for the most part grew up with firearms and hunting in the western half of the country, where readers had a general interest in big-game hunting and sporting rifles.
As one of the world’s great ballistics pioneers in small arms and a former Wolfe staff member, the late Homer Powley once wrote, “Killing an elk does not make a ballistics expert.” Here’s to another 50 years of Rifle.