A tribute to Finn Aagaard
Martin, George W
American Rifleman salutes one of its own-Finn Aagaard. Here, the past and present Rifleman staff and his son reflect on a man who was one-of a-kinda gentleman and a hunter without par.
In the summer of 1981 an unsolicited manuscript arrived at the American Rifleman editorial offices. It was entitled “Match the Bullet to the Game,” and it carried the byline of Finn Aagaard. We published it in the November 1981 issue, and set a legend in motion. Over the next dozen-odd years, Aagaard became the authority on hunting-guiding, equipment, techniques-and if he wasn’t sure of his ground, Finn Aagaard learned it before he put pen to paper. That, among other things, is what made him legendary. When he died earlier this year, those who knew him spoke of him in the same breath with writers such as Jack O’Connor, Warren Page, Elmer Keith and Col. Townsend Whelen. Aagaard was a skilled rifleman, an adept hunter, and a practiced technical expert. He was also a great gentleman. Those of us whom he left behind are greatly saddened by his passing.
Finn was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1932. His father, a coffee and sisal planter, had emigrated there from his native Norway five years earlier. Growing up on Kenya’s frontier, Finn learned about the land and the animals. From his father and his neighbors he learned to hunt and was schooled in the basics of marksmanship. From schools in Wales, and at the Egerton Agricultural College in Nairobi, he assimilated and learned to appreciate the knowledge of those before him.
But Aagaard, trained in agriculture, was not to be an ordinary farmer. There was too much of the adventurer in him. After a stint in the Kenyan military-the Kenya Regiment, in which he served as rifleman and Bren gunner-he undertook to earn a license as a professional hunter. In 1967 he, his brother-in-law, Peter Davey, and a friend, Joe Cheffings, formed their own outfitting company, Bataleur Safaris. From then until the Kenya government closed the country to all hunting, he guided hunters and photographers from the world over, never, Aagaard liked to allow, “losing a single client except to the charms and magic of Africa:’
He met his future wife, Berit Rindal, on one such safari, “wooed her on a sandy beach of the Athi River by full moon with Kilimanjaro looming over the southern horizon-that’s absolutely true!” The Aagaards had two sons, Harald and Erik, and a daughter, Marit.
In 1993, when NRA compiled a collection of Aagaard’s articles into Aagaard’s Africa the single chapter that required no adaptation was entitled, simply, “Bern.”
After the 1977 hunting ban, Aagaard decided to quit his native land. He contacted former clients in the U.S. and landed a job with a hunting outfitter in Texas. Within only a few years, he had arranged a guiding lease on a huge tract of land near Llano, Texas, and established his own guiding service for free-chase hunts.
From 1983, when he contracted to write for NRA Publications as a field editor, until June 1999, Aagaard published more than 200 articles. Sadly, a change in management ended his long relationship as a field editor in 1994. Aagaard wrote about cartridges-from the .22 Hornet to the .458 Win. Mag– adding his own experiences with most to the technical information, history and reloading data that he published. And he wrote about hunts, and hunters and hunting technique. The variety was seemingly endless. And each story was as good as the last-well written, technically and historically accurate.
Finn was a gentleman. He looked rough and rugged, and he was. But beneath that exterior was an erudite man of culture. I got the impression that he could hold his own in conversation with ranch hands or folks with Ph.D.s in philosophy.
“Our life here,” Aagaard wrote, “has many similarities to life on the ranch in Kenya, and I would be happy to live here the rest of my days.” He was, and he did.-Joseph B. Roberts, Jr., former Editor, NRA Book Service
A Son’s Worthy Praise
Finn Aagaard, whom I’m lucky to have had as my father, was a good man, an avid gun writer, an ethical hunter and a patriotic citizen. He slipped away quietly April 3, 2000, after a long battle with cancer. He made this world a better place to live and will be sorely missed by all.
He had a strong sense of ethics and always did the right thing. He took the moral high ground. He accepted responsibility for his actions. He spoke nothing but the truth and was good for his word wherever he went. In a time of slogans, sound bites and spin doctors, his reputation was beyond reproach and his actions spoke louder than words. He built his house on the solid rock, while many others waffled in the shifting sand. He was a good friend to many and set a fine example for them to follow.
Through his writing, Finn was in a unique position to influence more than just his friends. He started writing seriously in 1983 and has had quite a following ever since. I don’t know how many articles he wrote during that time, but a compilation of his works would probably fill several volumes. He really loved his job. He got to hunt and shoot and reload ammo every day. Finn joked that all he had to do was write about it and get paid.
Writing, however, never came easily for him. He wrote and re-wrote and wrestled with every sentence to get it just right. He spent hours and hours doing meticulous research and testing. He kept detailed diaries of all his hunts and painstaking notes of all his tests. Finn wrote what he believed, not what he thought others wanted to hear. He was honest in his reviews of hunting outfits, rifles, cartridges and equipment. He used his vast experience and interesting stories to support his straightforward writing style. This agreed well with his readers. Modest as he was, fame left him unchanged.
He felt very strongly about gun safety. Through the years, he saw or heard of many negligent firearm discharges and shooting deaths. This prompted him to write one of his favorite articles on the subject, “The Four Commandments.” They can be summed up as follows: Treat every gun as if it is loaded, don’t point it at anything you do not want to shoot, keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and be sure of your target and what lies beyond.
Finn was also a big proponent of hunting ethics. In a time of deer blinds, feeders, and guaranteed kills on any tiny parcel of land, he believed in fair chase hunts. The animals he hunted had an even chance of getting away. They roamed free while he stalked them on foot in their natural environment, pitting his hunting skills against their wits. Far more than collecting trophies, he enjoyed pursuing game for the sake of hunting. He loved the time spent outdoors, searching for game, and he enjoyed the excitement of a long stalk on his hands and knees. (My last and most memorable hunt with my dad yielded nothing but a good time together.) He respected the animals and would not fire unless he had a clear shot and was assured a clean kill. In his mind, bullet placement was far more important, than gun caliber. If an animal was ever wounded, he went to great lengths to track it down so it would not have to suffer.
Finally, my father was a patriotic citizen. He loved this country and all that it stood for. We flew the flag at half mast for him at his memorial. Finn was a big defender of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights– especially the Second Amendment. Guns were his livelihood. He couldn’t imagine giving them up. He felt it was his duty to be armed in order to protect his family and fellow citizens.
I have been very fortunate to have Finn Aagaard as my father. He taught me about gun safety, hunting ethics and Second Amendment rights. He passed on to me his .357 Mag. and to my brother his .458 Win. Mag. He left us with a legacy to pass on to our children. My hope is that through his writing he has also passed on to others his morals and values and made this world a better place to live. Harald Aagaard, Capt., USMC
Copyright National Rifle Association of America Aug 2000
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