Ace Fernandez is walking proof one should never compete with a guy named “Ace,” and never, ever, underestimate anybody on a shooting range who has a snow white beard, mild demeanor, affable disposition and a great, big hogleg.
I’ve known Ace for at least a decade and then some, and I can say without fear of contradiction — because he’s done it in front of witnesses — he is one of the most remarkable and annoyingly proficient long-range handgunners anywhere. Perhaps what I like most about this old gentleman is that he hasn’t made a career of running around bragging about it. Guys like Ace do what they do and then go about their business.
Fernandez is, or we should say was, a mainstay at the annual Elmer Keith Memorial Long Range Handgun Shoot, which I wrote about a few months ago under the headline “The Last Dance,” (add internal link to previous story) because after 20 years, this wonderful little gathering of handgunners from around the Northwest came to an end this year. I will miss watching him shoot.
So, when a nondescript padded envelope with something inside appeared in my office mail recently, with his return address label on the corner, it got my immediate attention. It felt kinda like a pocketknife, but wasn’t quite heavy enough. Out came my dangerously sharp Spyderco and with a quick swipe or two through layers of tape, what came out of an inner package was a stunner.
There, in my greasy little palm, was a pistol magazine for an original Ruger Standard semi-auto, about which I also wrote recently. Original magazines are fairly rare anymore, so a couple of days later, while taking a break from house painting (yeah, even writers have “normal” chores during the summer!), I called Ace to thank him and see what I owed him for this little treasure.
From the ‘Old School’
Me: “Do I owe you anything?”
Ace: “For what?”
Now there’s a guy from “the old school” with whom you could sit at a campfire, reminisce, share a tall tale or two, and burn powder most of an afternoon in the farmlands south of Spokane and never get tired. It is, after all, the “little things that count” in life, and guys like Ace are to be treasured, only if for the sake of saying you met them.
According to his brief narrative, Ace was sifting through some boxes of stuff (that’s what we call junk out here in the wilds) and came across this Ruger magazine. Apparently, there was no longer a gun for it in his safe, and I can only presume he had read my earlier piece on shooting grouse with .22 pistols — a horrid habit us westerners have developed over several generations, much to the chagrin I presume of haughty New Englanders who sit around the fireplace at the hunting lodge in the fall, reminiscing about all the great missed shots they’ve fired through their 28-gauge Purdeys, but at least we folks in the settlements eat well — and decided the magazine needed a new home.
It evidently occurred to Ace he knew this cantankerous, and frequently obnoxious gun scribe upon whom charity is probably a wasted effort. So, he explained, “I needed to get rid of some stuff.” Thus, his package with the treat inside landed on my desk. Well, it wasn’t my birthday and it wasn’t Christmas (in my case, they fall on the same day in December), so being the pitiful wretch that I am, I gratefully and most humbly accepted his generosity.
Now, this particular specimen must have been a really old original. I reached that conclusion because instead of a rounded head on the magazine follower button, the “Ace model” has a flat button. I cannot recall ever having previously seen one of those, but everything else about this magazine was true to form. The first thing I did was insert it into my pistol and it fit like a glove.
However, I quickly discovered the follower didn’t descend and rise smoothly, and it turned out the magazine was so dry inside — likely from sitting idle for years — I had to lube it up with some gun oil and Gunslick graphite compound. Works good, now! By the time you read this, I’ll have likely capped off a few rounds at fool hens, and hopefully will be dining this evening on grouse, barbecued or fried in a cast iron skillet, remembering Ace helped put it there.
I guess the moral to this story is that one can never take for granted the friendships that spawn on a gun range, or around a campfire or any other place where camaraderie is always on the agenda.
Little gestures make big impressions because they are the sort of thing nobody ever has to do, but does so anyway. That is the sort of fellow Ace is, and there is usually somebody just like him in any fellowship. You know the type. The older guy with wrinkles he earned, probably the hard way, to whom there is much more than meets the eye.
But be wary of the ones called Ace. They can probably shoot rings around you on their worst day, and do it with such nonchalance it may drive you nuts.