I can't claim to know hunting expert Jim Zumbo, but in 2004 I interviewed the man and subsequently met him in person.
At the time, Zumbo was Outdoor Life's hunting editor and considered one of the top elk hunting experts in America. The author of at least 21 outdoor books, he has appeared on multiple outdoor television shows.
As of this week, Zumbo's long career has apparently imploded by virtue of an opinion he voiced in a Feb. 16 Internet blog on the Outdoor Life Web site.
Most of his longtime sponsors, including Remington, have dropped him like a hot rock. Outdoor Life has severed all ties with him. Thousands of angry voices continue to denounced him via e-mails, counter-blogs and Internet postings.
Zumbo's sin? Stating his opinion that semiautomatic rifles of military origin, including Kalashnikov and AR-15 variants, have no place in hunting.
He wrote his blog entry following a coyote hunt in response to learning from his guides that increasing numbers of predator and varmint shooters hunt with AR-based custom rifles.
After confessing his ignorance with regard to these types of firearms, Zumbo proceeded to rip ARs and, by extension, the hunters who use them.
"We don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern," he wrote, adding his belief that these rifles should be banned by all game departments.
Banning ARs for coyote hunting? This is a guy who supposedly spends most of his time hunting out West. How could he not know that ARs have become normative anti-coyote rifles for ranchers and predator hunters?
Zumbo was no less oblivious to the viral nature of the Internet. Thousands of outraged AR owners were mobilized instantly. He was rapidly ridiculed as "Jim Dumbo." His sponsors and employers received mass e-mails threatening boycotts. Next thing you know, Jim Zumbo has no more corporate hunting buddies.
An AR-15 in .223 caliber is considered a legal hunting rifle in the state of Tennessee as long as it is equipped with a magazine that holds no more than five rounds. So far, there has been no concerted outcry from the majority of the state's hunters.
The recent evolution of "black rifles" into customized target and varmint rifles is not unlike the similar transformation of the old Colt 1911 .45 ACP into the standard platform for accurate - and expensive - big-bore target pistols. While I neither own an AR nor hunt with an AR, I have have no difficulty with responsible law-abiding folks who do.
One thing that does bother me about this Zumbo affair is how it threatens to drive a wedge between hunters and non-hunting shooters. Neither side seems entirely cognizant of the overall implications of the rift.
If another hunter tells me that handguns have no legitimate sporting use, I try to politely win him over to my point of view. I figure I have a better than average chance of modifying his opinion and gaining an ally. At any rate, I don't immediately resolve to ruin the man's life for making a statement with which I strongly disagree.
Many of Zumbo's most vehement online critics seem to be non-hunting shooters. From the outset, they were determined to utterly destroy his career for having blurted out a curmudgeonly, albeit uninformed, opinion. His subsequent apologies have largely been scorned by the non-hunting gun culture.
Zumbo's remarks certainly did provide untimely propaganda for anti-gun groups like the Brady Campaign. But it seems to me the harsh and unforgiving repudiation of this elder outdoorsman could lead to all kinds of unintended political consequences.
Ironically, Zumbo was one of several outdoor writers who openly resigned from the Outdoor Writers Association of America a couple of years back because the OWAA was getting cozy with the Sierra Club. NRA leaders attending that convention were among the most vocally critical of the Sierra Club's presence. Zumbo dutifully cast his lot with the NRA on that one.
Even more ironically, the meetings between the OWAA and the Sierra Club triggered a subsequent exodus of anti-hunting extremists from the Sierra Club. How this wasn't supposed to be in the interest of hunters, I'll never know.
Flash forward to this week and we have non-hunting gun boosters gloating online over Zumbo's spectacular demise. There has been a fair amount of self-congratulatory posturing to the effect that "the Fudds" (as in Elmer) have just found out who the new power brokers in the shooting world are.
There's nothing like the smell of hubris brewing. If some Chrysler shill insulted minivan moms back in the 1980s, Lee Iacocca would've tossed that guy out on his ear when the moms started hollering. But it wouldn't have meant minivan moms were suddenly a more powerful political force than all other car owners in America.
A non-hunting AR enthusiast may buy 10, 20 or even 100 times the ammunition purchased by the average hunter. But he or she still only casts one vote. And who'll that be for in 2008? Romney? Giuliani? Now, there's a couple of gun guys.
Zumbo did a dumb thing. But evidently there's a lot of dumb going around these days. We can only hope cooler, wiser heads prevail.
George Thwaites is a sports and outdoors writer for the Times-News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.