January 12, 2012
Frank James sent in a story today, and it included an old chestnut that every gunwriter keeps at hand when inspiration fails (sorry, Frank).
That hoary maxim is Townsend Whelen's "only accurate rifles are interesting."
Now, I may have a jaundiced attitude toward the sainted colonel because my longtime boss and predecessor as technical editor of the American Rifleman Pete Dickey had met Whelen on several occasions as a boy and found him a pompous blowhard who didn't know near as much as he let on.
I wasn't there for that, so can't comment on Whelen's personality or erudition, but his most famous quote is simply absurd on its face, regardless of its source.
It is certainly the case that only accurate rifles may be desirable or useful or maybe only accurate rifles have a place in your gun safe, but it is preposterous to say only accurate rifles are interesting.
If some archaeologist dug up the first Chinese hand cannon, would your interest in it be conditioned by its accuracy? If you had the chance to examine an antique musket owned by Louis XIV, would you wonder what group it would shoot? Would you decline the chance to shoot an MBI Gyrojet because the chance of it hitting a tin can at 25 yards is infinitesimal?
I would argue that a "gas trap" M1 rifle is quite interesting, though they weren't much for accuracy. The Colt All-American 2000 shot patterns, not groups, but its construction was unusual and ahead of its time. The AK-47 is not renowned for accuracy, but I would say its role in world history is pretty interesting.
So Whelen's quote is bunk, in my mind, but I can guarantee it will continue to be used as long as a gunwriter is facing a deadline.
What do you think?
1. How dare you criticize an icon like Townsend Whelen!
2. Thank God; someone's finally told the truth about the old bird.
3. Who's Townsend Whelen?