By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
According to most every website one visits where gunwriters might be discussed the tone almost universally is, “The great gunwriters are all dead. The ones today are a bunch of no-nothings acting as shills for the big manufacturers.” Unfortunately there’s some truth to that statement with some writers (none here, mind you, His Editorship won’t tolerate it!) but it’s not absolute. I know, for I have personally known most of the “greats” of the past half century but I’ve picked only six because of space — three are still alive and three are deceased.
Who would I rate as the past 50 years’ “Greats of Gunwriting?” One of my favorites for over 40 years now is Garry James, who still writes. I’ve known Garry for at least 30 years, visited his home and spent many hours talking guns and history with him. He likely knows as much about the world’s military firearms from the beginning of gunpowder as any person alive. Plus, he’s one nice fellow.
Likewise there’s Jan Libourel, who is retired now but is past editor of Handguns and GunWorld. Few readers ever knew he holds a PHD degree from Oxford. We have been friends, visiting nearly weekly on the phone since 1983 and I consider him the most intelligent person of my acquaintance. If I ever voice to Yvonne I’m stumped about some world fact she says, “Call Jan, he will know.” His major interest was handguns.
I think Rick Jamison is another of gunwriting’s greats who is still alive. I first met Rick in 1974 when stopping by Wolfe Publishing Company in Prescott, Arizona. He worked then as assistant editor. We’ve visited back and forth to each other’s homes and in fact he photographed the covers for three of my books. I think Rick knows more about modern hunting and rifles and understands their cartridges better than anyone. Last time I talked to him he was spending time in Argentina and not writing much anymore.
Elmer Keith, the legend himself.
This is the inscription Elmer Keith wrote in Duke’s copy of his book Safari.
Of course Elmer Keith is the most mentioned of the deceased gunwriters. He perhaps lasted the longest; beginning his writing career in the 1920’s and lasting over 50 years. His work was loved by many and hated by some. Regardless he was interesting and even the haters read his work. Back in 1973 I was passing through Salmon, Idaho, where Elmer resided. On a whim I called and was invited to his house where I spent an hour or so in his company.
I left with a copy of his book Safari, signed and dated. Please note it was signed to “Duke Venturino.” Perhaps that will quiet some of those who think I bestowed that nickname to myself when I signed on with this magazine! I also have one of Elmer’s early manuscripts. As might be expected of an old cowboy, he was a lousy typist!
Skeeter Skelton was right up there with Elmer in my estimation as “great.” I never visited with Skeeter at his home in New Mexico but did get to spend a bit of time with him at various SHOT Shows and NRA Conventions. One time I heard Skeeter ask someone if western novelists Will Henry and Clay Fisher were one and the same. I spoke up and said, “Yes, they’re both pen names for Henry Allen.” Skeeter was amazed and asked me “How did you know that? I’ve been trying to find that out for a long time.” My answer was that my sister was a librarian and she researched it for me. If any of you have read Will Henry or Clay Fisher westerns along with much of Skeeter’s work you can see the resemblance in styles. Skeeter’s career was cut short by illness in January of 1988 at age 59. Skeeter actually wrote a couple of articles for GUNS magazine in the early days.
Skeeter was famous for his love of a 5″ S&W.
He wrote several books during his short life.
Where Skeeter’s primary field of interest was handguns, John Wooters, a lifelong Texan, wrote articles on most any firearm used for hunting. I first met John in 1982 at the very first gun industry seminar I was invited to, and we visited many times afterward at one event or the other. Our most humorous meeting was at the San Antonio airport in January 1998. Yvonne and I were trying a winter out of Montana’s cold and at the airport on our way to the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. I was standing at the entrance to baggage check-in when John walked up with a puzzled look on his face. He said, “Mike I know where you are going but I don’t understand what you are doing here?” John passed away at age 84 in 2013. I never saw an exaggeration or factual mistake in any article he wrote.
You may notice I haven’t mentioned any of this magazine’s writers. It’s because Roy has put together an exemplary team. That’s why you’re reading this magazine, I hope! We’ll have to re-visit this 20 years from now and see where the dust settles then!