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While I was dining with Nikita Khrushchev several months ago in the company of former Governor Averell Harriman, the Soviet premier criticized one of my personal friends. I took exception, and a slight wrangle ensued. But then, as Khrushchev is apt to do at the height of an argument, he suddenly became all smiles and asked solicitously: "What is your profession, Mr. Thayer?"
"Because every time I try I am refused a visa," I answered.
"You are invited," Khrushchev said, unabashed.
A few months later I returned to Moscow with my wife to take up the invitation.
It was not the first time I had hunted in the Soviet Union. Before the war I had shot woodcock in Moscow's suburbs, duck along the Volga at Kazan, antelope on the desert shores of the Caspian and pheasant in Dagestan in the eastern Caucasus. But in those days all my shooting had been very much improvised and without the benefit of a Kremlin patron. I was, therefore, uncertain what to expect from Mr. K's invitation.
Thus, when my wife and I arrived at the Moscow airport, we were prepared for everything from snipe to Siberian tiger. She had a double-barreled Belgian .35 caliber rifle with a four-power scope. I had an old Model 54 Winchester .30-06 with a similar scope and both 150- and 220-grain ammunition. Later the Winchester Arms Company sent me a new Alaskan Winchester Magnum .338. We also had shotguns, binoculars, fur caps, fur boots, fishing boots, stalking boots and enough winter clothing to outfit an arctic expedition.
A VERY DIFFERENT RUSSIA
During the years I had been stationed in the American Embassy at Moscow before World War II the importation of firearms and ammunition was strictly forbidden by Soviet customs. The regulation still exists but Mr. K's Russia of 1959 is very different from Mr. Stalin's of 1935. The numbers of my rifles were registered by the customs authorities, but my shotguns were ignored altogether. Only an aluminum case of fishing rods aroused any curiosity, and when I showed its contents to an inspector he simply shook his head at the odd Americans.