Jack O'Connor; America's greatest gun writer
Beginning in 1934 and flowing continuously from 1937 until his Outdoor Life retirement in 1972 and afterwards, American sportsmen read the words of gun writer Jack O'Connor. If you asked any WWII veteran who hunted afterwards if he'd ever heard of Jack O'Connor, you'd get the remark, "Oh, yeah, he's the .270 guy!" Indeed he was. Largely through his accounts of one-shot kills with a Model 54 Winchester in .270 Winchester, he popularized this single caliber.
Looking back on Jack's career, it can be said that he single handedly raised the standards for writing about guns, to a level that no other writer, present or future, will ever be able to attain.
Jack did it with his honesty, and writing about hunting adventures that he had personally been a part of. Jack never compromised, never gave any credit to a gun, cartridge or equipment that he hadn't personally used and tested in the hunting fields. If a cartridge or rifle performed well, he said so. If he found it to be a turkey he said so, and some of the biggest names such as Winchester, Remington, Weatherby, Ruger, Ithaca, Speer, Hornady, and many others met with poor reviews when they didn't come through as was advertised.
Jack O'Connor couldn't be bought. He never "went to bed" with any gun builder or cartridge maker. His dear friend, Roy Weatherby, was a victim of this. Roy was a California insurance salesman who had developed a sensational line of super powered magnum calibers, based on the Holland & Holland line of belted cartridges. He sent O'Connor several rifles to test. Of course, Jack had heard glowing reports about super killing power and accuracy of the Weatherbys.
Jack had his own Winchester Model 70 rebarreled and chambered for the .300 Weatherby magnum, and restocked by Alvin Linden of Wisconsin, one of the best in the business. Jack took the Weatherby that he'd had built on an African safari and the sensational one-shot kills he'd read about were true. The Weatherby calibers were indeed fire and fury. It was then that Jack O'Connor, writing in Outdoor Life, admitted to the sensational performance. If any gun maker sent Jack a firearm for evaluation, it got an honest review, but the gun was always returned to the factory. Nobody could give Jack anything expecting a favorable review. More often than not, Jacks critique was less than flowery.
Jack O'Connor did a great deal of technical research, and we know that Jack wrote of hunting accomplishments and adventures. He learned about the game he hunted. Jack provided his wife, Eleanor, with shotguns and rifles for her personal use and she and son Bradford accompanied him on some of the eight African safaris or the countless trips into Alberta, British Columbia, Alaska, Mexico and Iran.
Jack went on hunting trips with Elmer Keith, John Amber, Peter Kuhloff, Vemon Speer, Bill Rae of Outdoor Life, and Soy Weatherby. Jack didn't share Elmer Keith's enthusiasm for big bores, and in his writing the reader knew that Jack meant Elmer, but he never mentioned it using Elmer's name.
Jack had about fifty rifles, almost all custom bolt actions, barreled by the masters of that day, and stocked by craftsmen who knew what they were doing.
When Jack went on safari to Africa, his expenses covered fully by Bill Kae, the editor of Outdoor Life. These safaris and trips to remote regions of the Yukon, British Columbia, and Alaska, provided Jack with personal experiences that he would compose into stories in the magazine.
Jack went on safari with rich oilmen from Texas, always killed his own game, but gave credit to his hunting mates, whenever their specimens were of Boone & Crockett caliber. Many of Jack's mounts were prepared by Jonas Bros. of Denver, and are now the property of the University of Idaho, the state that he moved to after spending his early life in Texas and Arizona.
In shotguns, Jack liked the Winchester Model 21, side by side double. He owned about fifteen of these, and expressed a like for 26" barrels, with improved cylinder and modified chokes. He preferred smaller gauges. Jack was coaxed to move from Arizona to Idaho by bullet maker Vemon Speer, who introduced Jack to pheasant hunting in Idaho and Oregon.
Jack killed more deer than any other big game animal. He killed several very large lions, and all of the rest of the big five in Africa. He was cognizant of the performance of his "PH" or professional hunter, and he said so. He often wrote that his decision in the African game fields would have different, and erroneous of the final ruling of his professional hunter.
Jack's safaris were most often booked with Ker and Downey in Nairobi. He respected the competence and safety this pair of outfitters provided, and he said so. His writings about the conduct of a Ker and Downey safari written for Outdoor Life brought the safari company a lot of business. Jack did accept a ferr hunt for thirty days into the African bush, a personal gift from Sid Downey, who accompanied Jack in quest of lion, elephant, water buffalo, and rhino. Jack had many entries in Boone & Crockett records.
All of this shooting and hunting meant monthly stories in Outdoor Life, Petersen's Hunting, and many other outdoor publications. And it brought in several thousand letters each month, and with a number of secretaries, each one received Jack's personal answer.
O'Connor was also a sheep hunter. Hunting in the Ural Mountains, he collected four rams. His hunting companion was His Royal Highness Prince Abdorrreza Pahlavi, a graduate of Harvard, gun lover, and hunter. O'Connor was a very dedicated sheep hunter, climbing the peaks of America's mountains and in Asia.
Jack O'Connor's early hunting was for jackrabbits in Arizona and in other southwest locations. His grandfather, an accomplished shooter himself, always furnished ammunition. This early practice developed Jack into an exceptionally fine shot on running game, a trait that manifested itself in quest of a running deer, or elk. Indeed, Jack took a trophy lion, on the dead run through the thick high grass on Nairobi.
O'Connor penned a number of novels about the western United States, in eluding "Boon Town" and "Conquest." "Horse and Buggy West" was another.
O'Connor's books on guns and-shooting are many. He fully described his custom and factory rifles and shotguns. He made twenty sheep hunts and said this was his favorite hunting. In addition to the .270 Winchester, Jack was always excited about using the fine little Spanish caliber, the 7 x 57 Mauser and several .30-06 rifles, and the .375 Holland & Holland belted magnums, along with several of the Weatherby calibers.
He won the prestigious Weatherby Award, but never did his friend Roy, any favors because of that. Weatherby fire and brimstone, hell and destruction, was proven in the game fields by O'Connor himself before it received accolades in Outdoor Life, from Jack.
Jack's stories in Outdoor Life could make or break a gum caliber, or product. He became friends with princes and potentates, as well as most of the moguls in the hunting and firearms industries. His early endorsement of Bill Weaver's rifle scopes did much for the Henry Ford of scope making in 1940.
Jack O'Connor rose to the top of his profession by telling it truthfully as he met the situation head on. I doubt that there'll ever be a gun writer who will achieve the stature that Jack enjoyed. My favorite writers today are Craig Boddington, a southpaw, and Ron Spomer, who writes freelance and isn't connected exclusively with any of the outdoor publications.