The Shotgun News may be the straightest-shooting periodical in the country.
Where else can you go if you're in the market for an M3 U.S. Army halftrack in working condition with all armor? ($6,500 from Ostrander, Ohio). A precision blowgun? (28- inches long with 12 darts, $13.98). An SSK Handcannon? (Uncommon Guns for Uncommon Men). Or an "I Love My Uzi" bumper sticker?
Need to find AK-47 assault rifles, belt-fed Browning machine guns, Sten guns, Bren guns or tank periscopes?. With 220-odd newsprint pages of such explosive classified ads, untroubled by editorial content, The Shotgun News is, three times a month, for $15 a year, a piece of genuine Americana.
While yuppie-targeted magazines bloom and die by the basketful in the nation's urban markets, Shotgun News blasts along from its base in decidedly non-yup Hastings, Neb., grossing $12-million annually from its 189,000 subscribers countrywide in this, its 41st year.
Robert M. Snell, 49, its low-key publisher, runs it handily with 28 employees in Hastings and another 30 in Minneapolis, where the News has its own 30,000-square-foot printing plant. It leaves him plenty of time for his bowling alley, travel agency, 30 racehorses and thoroughbred breeding farm.
"My father started it," Snell said by phone from Hastings the other day. "He was a mailman, and during the war was stationed up in the Aleutian Islands. They used to lie around up there thinking of how to get something going when they got back."
When the elder Snell returned to his home in Columbus, Neb., in 1946, his son says, "he bought a few lists of names, got more addresses from some outdoor magazines and sent out the first issue"--four pages of ads cranked out on a mimeograph in his basement.
"It was self-supporting from the start," Snell says.
Anything That Shoots
It also was and remains, he adds, "aimed at the collector," and the bulk of the ads feature things like ivory pistol grips for .45 Colt revolvers, or replacement barrels for Walther PPK automatics like James Bond's. But the legend on the masthead calls Shotgun News "The Trading Post for anything that shoots," which also makes it something of a bulletin board for the darker side of the American psyche.
"Going South?" asks a front-page commando school ad in a recent issue. "Learn from the Pros! Affordable Prices. $1 for brochure."
"GET EVEN--The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks," whispers another. "This ultimate work in do-it-yourself justice makes other harassment-books look like a Sunday school picnic. . . . Here is a manual written by a master of revenge whose wisdom will put you on top of any situation where you used to feel helpless. . . . Getting back at a landlord, politician, salesman, utility, restaurant or supermarket is a cinch with over 130 creatively nasty techniques . . . $16.95."
"TRANSFERABLE MACHINE GUNS? YES!" trumpets still another. "The new machine gun prohibition has not even slowed SWD DOWN! We have, in stock, newly manufactured AK-47 7.62 Norinco machine guns. These were made in the Chinese 66 Factory. . . Full auto quality weapons. . . ."
Others among the Rugers and Lugers advertise cryptically for "The Anarchist Cookbook" (Hollywood, Calif.), "Nazi Gun Parts" (Dunedin, Fla.), and the privately published memoir of one Col. Charles Askins, who "raises hell around the world" and "snuffs-out Arabs, Germans and Italians in WW II. . . ."
Snell takes a generally laissez- faire, free-speech attitude toward ads of this kind, acknowledging that some people won't like them. But he says he regularly rejects ads promoting anything clearly illegal ("We won't carry ads for silencers, for example") and won't run pornographic ads. "Somebody," he sighs, "always wants to put a naked woman on a gun to get attention."