The Spirit Of 1976

Experts | Sixgunner |
40 Years With American Handgunner

By John Taffin

Lightning really can strike twice although it sometimes takes a little time. That first bolt in my life struck earth in January 1955. I was still a teenager and this was before Al Gore invited the Internet so information was not always easy to find. There were no gun magazines. There were three main hunting/fishing publications which I eagerly scooped up every month, and once in a while a small paperback would show up on the newsstands in town.

On one of these trips lightning hit smack dab in front of me as I looked up on the magazine rack and saw the word Guns. I was positively stunned and it made my sixgunning heart beat faster. Right in front of me was the very first issue of the magazine actually devoted to nothing but guns. I will not say it was a life-changing experience as they are usually thought of but it certainly did help direct my life in positive ways. If imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery Guns was flattered immensely as within the next five years three more gun magazines showed up.

Would lightning strike twice? I was still a teenager, in fact a junior in high school when that first issue of Guns showed up. When the second bolt came out I was a mature adult — well somewhat. In September 1976, lightning hit even harder, or at least it seemed so at the time, and in fact the second bolt would prove to have even more of an influence in my life. This one was definitely life-changing in a very short time.

Forty years ago FMG (Firearms Marketing Group) brought forth the most important firearms publication in my lifetime. American Handgunner not only provided the information not found anywhere else, in a very short time I would advance from not just reading Handgunner but actually providing information hopefully useful for other sixgunners. And just as with Guns, Handgunner would soon be “flattered” — as imitations also appeared.


John with buds: (L-R) Bob Baer, John, John Wooters, Bart Skelton, Jim Wilson and Terry Murbach.


(L-R) Blackie Sleeva, J.D. Jones, Terry Murbach and John.

That First Issue

That first issue appeared at my newsstand, according to the small hand stamp on the cover, on August 5, 1976. The cover picture shows how much things have changed and also how much they have stayed the same. When Guns appeared the first cover featured Great Western .45 Single Actions; Handgunner went with a .38 Special J-Frame. Now the chances of seeing a .38 Special J-Frame on the cover of any future issue is virtually nonexistent, however the .38 Special J-Frame sized revolver still remains one of the top choices for concealed carry today. In addition to the picture of the J-Frame and the pennant proclaiming “First Issue,” the cover also proclaimed articles on the Walther P-38, Charter Arms .44 Bulldog, Dan Wesson’s Pistol Pac and .45 Revolver Conversions.

A look at the table of contents reveals several familiar names, now gone, such as George Nonte, whom, unfortunately I never had the pleasure of knowing. Before he ever appeared in Handgunner I was trying to read everything he wrote. Another name, this time one I was very fortunate to not only get to know but become friends with, was Bill Jordan. Two other names which stand out belong to two men who are still active, Clair Rees who I got to know, spent time hunting varmints with, and who witnessed the best shot I ever made; and my good friend and number one encourager, J.D. Jones. The editor of that first issue was also a well-known name in the firearms field, Jerome “Jerry” Rakusan.

In 1973, Lee Jurras founded the “Outstanding American Handgunner Awards Foundation” and Handgunner soon became the official journal for OAHAF. Little did I realize at the time how much effect both of these would have on my life. In a few short years I would find myself not only on the staff of Handgunner but also chairman of OAHAF. The first had a lot to do with me becoming involved with the second.

By the time the 10th Anniversary issue appeared in Sep/Oct 1986, the revolver, or as I prefer sixgun, was still king. That cover featured a very special 10th Anniversary Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum with appropriate engraving and ivory inlaid grip panels. The GP100 today remains one of the best .357 Magnum sixguns available, however emphasis was about to change, and by the time the 20th Anniversary issue arrived the revolver had been pushed to the background and semi-automatics took the lead as the cover featured an Automag.

With the 30th Anniversary Issue in Sep/Oct 1996, the semi-automatic was definitely king and the 1911 was at the top. The picture on the cover was of an STI Grandmaster 2011. What will the 40th Anniversary cover be? I was not privileged to see the cover of this issue ahead of time and I am not a betting man, but if I was I would lay big dollars down on it being a semi-automatic. (Of course, John’s right! It’s the Ruger American Pistol. —RH)


A young man at the time of Handgunner’s introduction, John was ready

Entering The Industry

In the late 1970’s/early 1980’s I really began writing again in earnest. First, was for J.D. Jones’ publication of The Sixgunner. One of my first efforts was on the .44 Special and J.D. and I became very good friends, with him encouraging me to write for some of the major publications. Apparently, Elgin Gates saw some of my efforts in The Sixgunner and asked me to also write for his IHMSA (International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association) club newspaper. I was soon very busy doing a lot of reloading and writing for both of these gentlemen. Everything I wrote for them was gratis, however I received experience and contacts money could not buy. Many doors opened for me.

My first article for American Handgunner appeared in the Jan/Feb 1985 issue and points up how everything was tied together. As mentioned, I was writing for J.D.’s The Sixgunner, and in July 1984 I received a call from a young man who was virtually unknown at the time. That was about to change, and John Linebaugh told me about his experiments with heavy duty loads in the .45 Colt, offering to send me one of his conversions.

Two things of major consequence in my life occurred from that conversation. I eventually made a trip over to Cody, Wyoming to visit John, and it was my good privilege to be the first one to write about him and his work. That article, “New Speed, New Power For The .45 Colt” appeared in the first issue of Handgunner in 1985.

This also points to the two most important parts of my connection with Handgunner. The first is the quality people I meet and the other is being able to turn the spotlight on some of the top craftsmen who ever lived. John Linebaugh went on to develop the .500 and .475 Linebaugh sixgun cartridges and when John Linebaugh talks of powerful sixgun cartridges, the smart sixgunner listens.


John during a visit with Bill Ruger in Bill’s office.
There were always lots of guns scattered around!


John, with Col. Rex Applegate and friend Pat Cascio.

My First Column

Another major door opened for me, again tied into my work for J.D. and Elgin and my beginning work for Handgunner. This was my contact with Dick Casull and Wayne Baker who was willing to trust me with one of his early Freedom Arms .454 Casull sixguns. He sent me a 10″ .454, now known as the Model 83, and my article on this gun appeared in the Jul/Aug 1987 issue of Handgunner. The art department went all out and set up very attractive pages of my loading data, complete with line drawings of each bullet. This was soon to open other doors.

In 1987 Handgunner was looking for someone to do a new column and J.D. Jones recommended me. The first Siluetas appeared in the same issue with the article on the .454. I was then asked if I would do a second regular column and Taffin Tests first appeared in the Sep/Oct 1987 issue. With the decline in silhouette shooting Siluetas was dropped and became The Sixgunner in Jul/Aug 1994. Next year will mark my 30th year anniversary doing these regular columns.

The first Siluetas column covered the new aspect of long-range silhouetting, Field Pistol. This game was especially interesting as it used much smaller targets shot at 25-50-75-100 yards using small bore pistols and revolvers from a standing position only.

The first Taffin Tests was on, what else could it be, but the .44 Magnum? It was followed by the .41 Magnum and .357 Magnum and then a long string of virtually every handgun cartridge available before I switched over to covering other topics. The Sixgunner began with something which has become even more important as both I and the readers have become older and that is “Downloading The Big Bores.”
Current editor, Roy Huntington, just as J.D. and others, has also been a great supporter and encourager and in Jan/Feb 2008 he asked me to take over the Handloading column and I have been

doing it ever since. This spilled over to Guns where I am also doing the handloading column for our sister publication


John and wife, Dot, relaxing at home.

Amazing People

As I sit here putting this together I can’t help but think of all the people I have met simply because of my connection with Handgunner. It’s been such a long journey so many of them have been called home. Never in my wildest dreams, nor in my excitement in finding that first issue of Handgunner — and then becoming first a freelancer and then a staff writer — did I ever imagine I would meet those men I only read about in my growing-up years.

Those now gone which come to mind are people like Col. Rex Applegate and Bill Jordan, both of whom became special friends and called me, actually called me, to talk on a regular basis. I spent several evenings with Col. Jeff Cooper and found him to be such a wonderful gentleman. I got to meet the two most influential sixgun writers of my life, Skeeter Skelton and Elmer Keith. Col. Charlie Askins, who considered himself “An Unrepentant Sinner,” was a very interesting individual and proved the old adage there are no atheists in foxholes, as he became a repentant sinner before he died. I think of men like Hal Swiggett, Col. Walter Walsh, Jimmy Clark, Larry Kelly, Bill Ruger, John Wootters, John Lachuk, Bill Grover and Bob Munden, all of whom I met because of my connection with American Handgunner.

I look at the current staff of Handgunner and find myself very fortunate to know some of the best people in the craft of sixgunning and passing on valuable and interesting information to our readers. Would you believe one of the writers in our first issue is still very much active?

That man is Mas Ayoob. What a fine gentleman he is and I feel privileged to know him. Others on our staff, also very special to me are Dave Anderson, who is a kindred spirit; Mike Venturino, whom I have shot with (and I especially remember a Target Triple-Lock); and Mark Hampton with whom I have hunted hogs with. All the names mentioned in this treatise have been important to me. However, there is another group, our readers — you — who have provided so much valuable information and friendship to me.

I’ve made it through 40 years of American Handgunner. If I’m still around when the 50th Anniversary issue appears, I hope I’m still shooting and still making wonderful contacts with great folks. To all I say Good Shooting and God Bless.

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