A Final Farwell to Don Zutz
by: Tom Armbrust
Don Zutz was born on October 8, 1931 in Sheboygan, WI, and passed away on June 19, 1998 after a bought with cancer. Don graduated from the University of Wisconsin with Masters Degrees in History and English in 1965. Don taught English, world history, American history, democracy and Latin at the junior high and high school in Cedar Grove, WI. He was the football coach for many years. His students loved him, as he was an excellent teacher with the gift to make learning fun and interesting, not just a boring subject. Don's teaching ability spilled over into the clay target shooting fraternity, helping countless young people and oldsters alike. Not only did his many hundreds of great articles help out clay target shooters gain a much better nderstanding of gun handling; but what made a shotshell tick, such as the meaning of velocity, pressures, patterns, etc. and their effect on the Shooters ability to break better clay target scores. Plus many stories on how to fine tune your scatter gun and ammo for better performance in the game fields.
Not only was Don a fine writer, but he was an excellent hands on teacher also, helping many shooters through persona1 1essons. Not only could Don write about guns and shooting, but he was also one heck of a competitor in the clay target games. Early in the 1960's Don began to be recognized, as he was a member of the WI-all state skeet team. He won numerous shooting events at the state, national, and world level. Just three years ago Don was the winner of the Senior World F.I.T.A.S.C. event!
I began as a 14 year old kid in high school reading with great interest Don's shotgun evaluation and shotshell reloading articles in Handloader Magazine. He and Dave Wolfe, the publisher, were good friends.
Not only was Don a clay target competitor but he very much loved to hunt and fish. He really enjoyed his time spent in the outdoors and all its beauty. Don wrote a very interesting article in Handloader on reloading long range 10 GA goose loads. This article was perfect timing as my father had just bought a double barrel Richland M-711 10 GA for some long range duck and goose shooting. Even back then I was very interested in what made those shotshells tick. Pattern tests had been carried out at 40 and 60 yards with the above 10 GA gun and factory ammo with disappointing results. The 10 GA ammo, at this time 1967, had not undergone the refinements like the 12 GA loads. Namely one piece plastic wads, quality extra hard lead shot, buffer and plastic shells. I wrote to Handloader in care of Don Zutz telling my tale of woe with the 10-bore and my lackluster results. To my amazement, in a couple of weeks arrived a three page letter from Don telling me that the only way I could expect maximum performance from my 10-bore shot loads was by reloading with top quality components. A number of his favorite combinations were included along with the address of Mayville Engineering Company, who made the Mec reloaders.
Looking back I don't think my mother was too thrilled with Don, as dad and I ordered a Mec 600 Jr. reloader with the proper components recommended by Don. The reloader was secured onto the kitchen table and many a 10 GA shell were put together with tender loving care as per Don's explicit instructions. Once in a while a shell would be spilled and BB's would have to be cleaned off mom's kitchen table and the floor before dinner. How those loads would pattern and harvest tall ducks and geese. Looking back, mom was a saint!
In 1974, when Ithaca first announced their Mag-10 Semi Auto, Don did an article about this shotgun. A few years later they came out with a slug barrel with rifle sights, yet to my knowledge no 10 GA rifled slugs were available just yet. Well, curiosity was getting the best of me so I ordered a slug barrel for my Mag 10 Auto. An outfit was making a custom foster hollow base slug mold weighing 750 grains! Don and I worked together on the 10 GA slug project for a good part of a summer developing very accurate, high velocity 10 GA slugs. Have you ever had the opportunity to pull the trigger on a 750 GR slug with a muzzle velocity of 1600 FPS? Don and I were about the same build, lightweights, as Don said recoil out of the Big 10 got your attention to say the least! I could not have been prouder when Don submitted our article "Get Tough with the 10-Bore" coauthored by he and I telling about the heavy 10 GA slug loads and long range duck and goose loads.
That fall we put some of these reloads to work at his beloved Eldorado Marsh hunting ducks and geese. My young lab, Bear, was born the previous September so he was just over a year old and I was anxious to show his ability off to Don. We were on a high hill overlooking the huge marsh. A most beautiful sight with the fall colors at their peak on a clear cold morning in late October. Don picked this spot as he said ducks and geese passed over this area as it was a flight corridor. We had a very good morning. Pass shooting at its best as Don dumped a couple of geese and ducks with crisp one shot kills just too darn high at least 75 yards up with my favorite 10 GA Magnum buffered lead loads, hosting 2-1/8 oz 3 lead shot. At first Don was just a little apprehensive about shooting these tall birds as they fell a long ways into the cattail marsh but my lab Bear's excellent ability to mark downed birds was something to see. A strong tail wind was carrying dead birds at least 100 yards into the marsh from our high overlook and shooting position. The pooch had one hell of a nose and was a strong swimmer making four long retrieves for us. God I was so proud of that dog. I have these memories captured on film of that grand morning with Don and Bear together holding a couple of beautiful greenheads and a big Canada goose.
After our morning shoot, Don walked back to my truck and asked me to put the slug barrel on my Ithaca Mag-10 Auto as I handed him some of our heavy hitter slug loads. Don had eyeballed a big white rock on the edge of the marsh right next to a muskrat house. Don asked me what I thought the distance was. I estimated about 125 yards. We had a safe back drop with a huge high bank just behind our target. Dons first shot was just low, he commented plenty of drop. His next two shots were just a few inches apart, highly visible dark lead smears on the white rock. I paced off the distance at 140 long paces. Don commented, "These slug loads ought to stop a big bear or moose dead in their tracks." Not long after our hard work on the 10 GA slug project Federal announced a 10 GA 3-1/2" slug loading.
Don was also an excellent shot on upland birds as he really enjoyed hunting ruffled grouse in Wisconsin's north country. I had just bought a brand new little 28 GA Remington 870 skeet gun thinking this would give me the jump on Don's deadly lightning quick reflexes in the woods. He was carrying his beloved beautiful 12 GA Merkel o/u with spreader loads as it was tightly choked. We had walked for a good part of the morning not seeing a bird. Then all of a sudden two birds thundered up from darn near under my feet, thinking now is my chance to score a double to impress Don. Well, no suck luck as I missed clean with two shots. Guess what, Don scored a clean double on these fast departing birds in the thick brush backing my shots. Don came walking back handing me a bird and saying you rocked him with your first shot and I finished him off. Don was a poor liar as I never tickled that grouse! But he was a very modest man and didn't want to overshadow my shooting ability.
Bonnie Nash, our editor of Trap & Field Magazine, called me last year saying Don Zutz had recommended me to take over his column in the magazine. Don wanted to ease his work load as he was going to retire. I was very honored to take over Don's column, but I could never fill his boots!
Don was a close personal friend of mine since 1968 and we corresponded with each other on many different subjects dealing with shooting sports. His hundreds of excellent articles that have appeared in the various shooting journals plus his books that will carry on Don's spirit in the hearts and minds of countless shooters in the years to come! I will surely miss him as many other readers will! Don may not have realized it then, but he created a very deep desire for me to read and learn all that I could about shotguns and shotshells. I have read hundreds of his articles with great interest as they were always well written. It might be a little late, but I have to thank Don Zutz in part for cultivating my keen interest in shooting, guns, reloading, and hunting through his many great articles. He and others like Wallace Labisky steered me into my outfit, Ballistic Research, testing thousands of shot shells for velocity, patterns, and pressure plus the on going development of non-toxic shotshells and specialty target loads. Old Friend Good-Bye!