The Gal Behind The Lens

Duke's Stroke Of Unbridled Genius
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Yvonne working

Yvonne wears a Colt SAA .44 Sheriff’s Model loaded with shot shells when doing chores on their Montana property.

Then trying to break into this gun’riting game my worst stumbling block was photography. Many manuscripts were returned with an editor’s note saying, “We would buy this if the photos were better.” Back in those days magazines wanted mostly black and white prints. I spent hundreds of hours in darkrooms and a like amount of dollars on photo paper. Often the hours were wasted and the bulk of the photo paper went in the trash. Even when all the darkroom business went well my photos just lacked “zing.”

Then as a stroke of what I consider unbridled genius, I taught my wife, Yvonne, how to run a 35mm camera. Being of an artistic nature she took to it like a duck to water. Suddenly instead of photo props just setting in boring rows she arranged them in an eye-pleasing manner. Her pictures of guns didn’t have shiny areas or totally black ones either. Where I had simply taken a picture of a gun, she wanted accessories to go with them. If I said, “I don’t have any.” Her reply was “Get some.” So now we have a large supply of props from lawmen’s badges to military helmets to knives, holsters, old and new cartridge boxes and so forth.

In 1977 I met Yvonne while we were both working in Yellowstone National Park. By that time I was a local resident but she was only there for the summer. We both still remember my first words to her. I said, “Hey, stick with me and I’ll have some fun with you.” Instead of walking away, to my everlasting joy and benefit she stuck. We were married in 1978 so by the time you read this we’ll celebrate our 38th anniversary.

Early in our relationship I showed Yvonne the few articles I had written in the early 1970’s and told her my someday dream was to be a full-time gunwriter. Instead of thinking that preposterous, as my own family did, she encouraged me. The very first month of our marriage she reminded me to “get started.” I did, and by 1981 went full-time in the business. Now with over 2,000 published features and columns under my byline the rest of the story is evident.

Duke and Yvonne

Duke and Yvonne in the Yellowstone Valley the summer they were married. Don’t you wish we were all that young again!

The Real Story

I need to be honest here. Yvonne didn’t ask me to teach her how a camera works so she could take the photography chore off my shoulders. Her purpose was because the fledgling animal rescue group of this county needed black and white photographs of homeless dogs and cats for newspaper ads. She has been an important part of that group in finding funds to build the beautiful Stafford Animal Shelter just east of Livingston, Montana. No one could be more dedicated than she is, and in fact for 2012 the Bozeman Daily Chronicle newspaper — in its annual Woman’s Supplement — named her Woman of the Year due to her more than 20 years’ service on behalf of the lost and homeless pets in this area.

The Stafford Animal Shelter is not a government operation. It’s funded by the generosity of donors and benefactors. She is there most days, taking photographs and handling most any other chore needing attention. Many readers have sent messages about how much they like her photography, but let me say this: If you could see the thousands of beautiful animal photos she’s taken you would be amazed.

But, back to the gun photography. When we decided to build a large shop she claimed a significant portion of it for a “photo studio” with no windows so lighting could be controlled. Most of our props are permanently there, so a photo session simply requires taking guns from the vault to the shop and snapping pictures. At least it’s easy for me. I sit while she does all the setting up and light adjusting. Of course digital cameras made life easier. We finally bought our first one when his Editorship, Roy, insisted. Thanks, Roy.

Also I’m proud to say Yvonne is just as pro-gun as I am. She had only fired a .22 rimfire prior to our relationship and I still cannot say she would be called an “avid shooter.” That said, she does have her own array of firearms. Woe to me if I even hint about selling or trading one of “her” guns.

Yvonne MG42

When a friend of Duke’s visited with a World War II German MG42 — Yvonne wanted her turn behind it!

Horses And Guns

Back in the late 1980’s I introduced her to the then new and fast growing sport of cowboy action competition. It wasn’t the shooting which hooked her but the costuming. You see, at an early age she became a seamstress, and a darn fine one to boot. Soon after she attended her first cowboy shooting event she quickly began making vintage style western clothing.

Her attitude was, “You take care of the guns and ammo and I’ll make our clothes.” To that end I set her up with a brace of Colt SAAs chambered for .44-40 along with a Model 1892 Winchester ofthe same caliber and a Winchester Model 1897 12 gauge. She took to the revolvers and lever guns easily but never grew fond of the shotgun due to its recoil.

Being raised on a Missouri farm Yvonne has had a lifelong love affair with horses and has spent considerable time in saddles. I’ve always insisted she pack a revolver with her on her forays for her own protection and in case an accident causes the need to put down a horse. She always packs her .44-40 Colt, sometimes with a .44 Special cylinder installed. She has never had to use it for any reason.

Yvonne

After Yvonne inherited a modest sum of money her present to herself was a “Bobcat” skid-steer machine — not diamonds or fancy clothes. Now that’s a wife!

Another revolver she packs often is a 3″ Colt SAA “Sheriff’s Model.” It’s stamped “.44-40” but again it’s fitted with a .44 Special cylinder and loaded with shotshells. It’s worn for rattlesnakes on many summer days while she is spraying for weeds on our acreage.

Not long after the turn of the century I ordered an engraved single action for both of us from the now-defunct U.S. Firearms Company. They are .44-40’s. She wanted one with a 51/2″ barrel to match her well used Colt SAA. Hers has YMV1 for the serial number.

When Montana became a “shall-issue” state for concealed weapons permits we both applied and got them. However, Yvonne wouldn’t “pack” before getting training and also wouldn’t choose a gun without professional advice.

Therefore we attended a Thunder Ranch Concealed Carry class and to my surprise, while there, she decided a Glock .40 S&W was right for her. Back home, one day she headed to the shelter just after daylight. Stopping to feed her horses she spotted a skunk coming out of the brush heading her way. Wisely she shot it. I called the county animal control people who collected the carcass and had it tested at the Montana State University lab. It was definitely rabid.

Yvonne

When Yvonne demanded Duke buy props for gun photos, the WWII Jeep appeared to help with his WWII gun collection photos! Here’s Yvonne climbing out after returning from a photo shoot on a part of their property.

A Keeper

One story I love to tell happened after I began a collection of World War II firearms — including a few full-autos. About that time Yvonne inherited a modest sum of money, and one morning while I was typing away she came and put her hand on my shoulder.

She said, “If I give you some of that money will you invest it in more World War II full-autos?” I modestly said I could help with that. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she also took some of that money and bought herself a Bobcat — not a four-legged type but a skid steer machine! With it she moves hay, clears our long driveway of snow and does numerous other chores around our place. She is most definitely a keeper!

Handgunner May/June 2016

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