Saturday, October 27, 2012

Growing Up With Guns

Nostalgic Good Times
I love guns.  I always have, for as long as I can remember.  I love to shoot guns.  The smell of the burned powder and singed brass after the shot; the curl of smoke from the barrel; the sound of it, deafening and exhilarating; these are all things I crave to experience, and relish in the moment.  I love to talk about guns, thus the blog, and can expound on many topics both within and beyond my expertise.  That said, you shall now receive my first of I'm sure many disclaimers on this blog:

I am not a "certified" expert of any sort, nor am I a gunsmith, firearms designer, professional marksman, or any other variation thereof that may lead you to believe I am the end-all of firearms knowledge.  Certainly not. 

What I am is a guy who grew up learning about and shooting guns.  Since the age of five, I have enjoyed shooting - whether BB guns, 22's, shotguns, lever actions, semi-autos, rifles, revolvers, pistols, or even rubber band shooters.  If it shoots, I've probably at some point had fun pulling its trigger.  My journey with firearms began with my dad. 

My dad grew up hunting and plinking in the '50s.  The shooting sports became a lifelong passion and hobby of his, and he passed it down to me.  I still remember the first few shots I made with a little Daisy BB gun at a pie plate hanging from a string in our garden.  I say "at," because the first few missed.  I was five.  The tiny BB rifle was so big to me then that I had to stretch to hold it up.  It was all I could do, with all my strength, to work the lever to cock it.  But nothing will ever replace that first "Ding!" when the BB finally met its mark on that pie plate. Instantly I felt tough, like a man; like I was Davy Crockett after just killing his first bear. I had dented that aluminum pie plate. Time to conquer the world.

Of course I was not just handed a weapon and turned loose to wreak havoc on the yard squirrels.  No matter how weak or toyish the tiny BB gun was, it still fired a projectile and was therefore dangerous.  My dad took great care to explain gun safety to me, and to be sure I understood.  He also didn't let me shoot without him present, for a few years at least.  When I made the transition to actual firearms, it was several more years before I was allowed to walk down to our shooting range with a gun and shoot by myself.  I believe I was a teenager, actually. 

I was first and foremost taught respect for the weapon, and the responsibility that came with being its master. I was taught to always treat every gun as though it was loaded, whether I had just checked it or not. I was taught muzzle discipline, being mindful of where your gun in pointed, at all times, and to not point it at other people, whether loaded or not. I was taught the most important part, the part that younger children - and unfortunately some adults - sometimes have a problem understanding ... with a gun in your hand, you have the ability to end life, to kill, whether you mean to or not. You are the master of the weapon. It is your responsibility to treat it with respect, and understand what it can do.

One of the best ways to instill in a child the notion that shooting something with a gun can kill it is to take the child hunting. My first hunt with my dad was a simple walk in the woods. A trip around our property, along the old logging roads, with just him and me and my BB gun. I was six, I think. I only vaguely remember it now. I think I shot a lizard, and I remember shooting at a bird of some sort. I don't remember if I hit it or not. My next trip was a little more memorable.

Seven years old, dressed in my surplus-store tiny military camo, padded with long-underwear, and now experienced with the old Winchester single-shot .410 shotgun, I was ready to go hunting. My dad took me out on a long walk behind my grandparents' house, through the fields, into and through thickets, across a creek, and into a patch of hardwoods ... to find squirrels. Now, if you're not a hunter you may be thinking, "There are squirrels in my yard. Why'd you walk so far?" Well, it's not nice to kill yard squirrels, for one. For another, you don't want a seven-year-old shooting a gun into a tree in your front yard! My dad made sure there was no way I was hitting a house with an errant pellet from that shotgun.

I can still play back the video in my head.

"Shhh," Dad whispered. He had stopped moving, and I knew that meant I should freeze, too.
He slowly raised his hand and pointed up a large tree just ahead of us. "You see?" he whispered. I nodded. There were two squirrels in an oak tree, maybe twenty yards ahead. They hadn't noticed us yet. I slowly stepped as quietly as I could around my dad, getting a little closer to the target. He stood still as a statue, watching.

I felt my heart pounding as I reached into the cargo pocket on my jacket and grabbed a shell. Quietly, I slid it into the chamber, and closed the barrel with a soft thump. Somehow, the squirrels still hadn't noticed me. They ran around the trunk of the tree, chasing each other. My whole body began to quiver with anticipation as I slowly shouldered the gun. It wasn't a child sized shotgun, and it seemed a long stretch of my left arm to hold up the forend, and aim it up the tree. Then I reached with my right thumb to cock it. Click.

The squirrels froze. Luckily one of them was frozen broadside to me, on the trunk of the tree. An easy shot! I carefully aimed, placing that front bead right on the squirrel's back. It was about the size of the pie tins I was used to shooting at, and closer than they normally were, so this squirrel was as good as meat in the bag!

Boom! The squirrel hung there. Frozen. It's stuck to the tree! I thought. Then the squirrel ran around the tree to the other side.

"How did you miss that?" came Dad's voice from behind me, no longer bothering to whisper.

"I don't know! I was aimed right at it!" To this day I'm not sure how I missed. For a while afterward, I had a theory that it was a magic squirrel that couldn't be hurt by shotguns. Whatever the reason, I missed a "gimme" shot ... with a shotgun. It was frustrating and embarrassing. I tried with three more shells to bag those two squirrels before they finally ran off through the canopy, mocking me as they jumped limb to limb. Perhaps that's not the best way to teach a kid that he can kill with his gun after all, now that I think of it. But that's sure a good way to teach kids about magic squirrels.

I brought home nothing that day. The experience was nonetheless invaluable. You see, I also learned how to clean that shotgun when we got home. That old Winchester, which still to this day works perfectly and looks almost new, my dad bought when he was sixteen, in 1958. I know people who have guns four years old that don't look as nice or function as well as that shotgun. Is it because of the quality of the old-school built Winchester, and how solid it was made? Perhaps partly. But the real reason is because of the meticulous care my dad has always taken in maintaining it. All of his guns are that way. Several of them are older than me, and in better shape.

Taking care of your guns is another aspect of respect, and something that more kids could stand to learn nowadays. Teaching kids about guns isn't all about maintaining muzzle discipline and how to shoulder and aim properly. It's about teaching respect. Respect isn't about fear. It's about care. When you show someone or something respect, you show that you care. Teach a child how to clean his guns, and why it's important. Tell him that if he takes care of it well, and always respects it, that he could be handing it down to his kids or grand kids one day. Teach him to take care of his things, and respect his own property, and he'll learn to respect others, and their property.

Teach children about guns and you teach them more than hunting; more than how to defend themselves and property. You teach them respect. Respect for life. Respect for others. Respect for property. Respect for magic squirrels. It's all about respect. That and some good, quality fun time with Dad.

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