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Outdoor Tales

March 28, 2002

Guns, doctors and spud launchers

Anyone who uses e-mail gets hundreds of interesting messages forwarded from friends. There's tons of this stuff floating over the Internet but I found the following morsel of information interesting enough to bring it to your attention.

According to FBI statistics, there are 80 million gun owners in the United States and last year 1,500 accidental gun deaths occurred in all age groups. This calculates to one accidental gun death per 53,333 gun owners.

U.S. Heath & Human Services reports that there are 700,000 licensed physicians in the United States and the number of accidental deaths caused by physicians per year, in all age groups, is 120,000. That's one accidental death for every 5.83 physicians when the calculation is done.


One death per 53,333 gun owners compared to one death per 5.83 physicians. … On paper this doesn't look so good, does it? It means physicians are 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners. Not everyone has a gun but everyone has at least one doctor.

I urge all gun owners to alert your loved ones about this grave threat and ban doctors before this gets out of hand. Don't forget to write your local Hollywood star so he or she can also rally in your support.

Write your senators, write your congressman. Duncan Hunter is an avid outdoorsman. Surely he can do something to stop this insanity before we lose him to some other congressional district.

As a public health measure, I've been advised to withhold statistics on lawyers for fear that the shock will force people to seek medical aid.

If you get much e-mail, also known as spam, it will soon overpower you. As I deleted spam from my computer this morning I found one message that stopped me in my tracks. It was from the Spudgun Technology Center.

Being one who likes his toys as much as the next guy, I clicked on the advertisement and was instantly transferred to its Web site, where I spent hours pouring over the information.

For those of you who don't know, spud guns are simple handmade devices used to launch potatoes or similar objects to distances exceeding 300 yards. Some versions use compressed air to propel the spud while other models use various types of combustible gas.

A tractor mechanic who worked for the folks showed me his potato gun many years ago. It was made of galvanized pipe and used carbide to create the propellant. A small flash hole, drilled into the pipe, was used to fire the gun. I remember clamping the launcher in the shop vice, stuffing a potato down the barrel and holding a lit match to the flash hole.

The ensuing explosion shook dust from the rafters of the shop, left my ears ringing and unable to hear and poked a large hole through the corrugated tin that served as the shop's wall. Giggling with glee, I shot up the mechanic's sack of potatoes and took out one whole section of the wall. The resulting whipping I received with a belt was worth every single welt. I was addicted, but the mechanic and his spud gun were gone the next day. All I got from my mother was a menacing glare when I asked about his disappearance.

From browsing the Web site, spudgun technology has advanced tremendously since my siege on the farm shop years ago. Dozens of models are available to purchase from the Web site and next-day shipping is available for those like me who can't tolerate the long wait. In addition there are sections on history, safety, components, frequently asked questions, stories and even a forum where potato chuckers can discuss their addiction.

For those scientific souls who delve into theory, an Excel spreadsheet is available for downloading. It calculates the velocity of the spud at the muzzle, using such variables as chamber volume, barrel size, spud mass, friction and a few other things that you can enter into the program.

For law-abiding citizens, there's a copy of a letter from Curtis H.A. Bartlett, acting chief of the firearms technology branch of the Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Washington, D.C. In Mr. Bartlett's letter he states:

"It is unlawful for anyone to make or possess a destructive device which is not registered in accordance with the provisions of the National Firearms Act. We have previously examined certain muzzle-loading devices known as potato guns. These potato guns are constructed from PVC plastic tubing. They use an aerosol substance for a propellant and have some type of spark igniter. We have determined that these devices, as described, are not firearms provided that they are used solely for launching potatoes for recreational purposes. However, any such devices which are used as weapons or used to launch other forms of projectiles may be firearms and destructive devices as defined."

The address of the Spudgun Technology Center is

It all reminds me of my favorite redneck joke. Question: What's the last thing a redneck says? Answer: "Hey, watch this!"

Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin if still alive, can be reached on the Internet at

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