Arms and The Man

I must have been 11 or 12 years old before my father put a gun into my hands and told me to shoot. By then, I had been out hunting with him several times a year but I had not ceased marveling at the efficiency and grace with which he handled a shotgun or a rifle. Once, I remember, we had just stepped into the woods a few yards when he motioned me to stop. I saw nothing but watched as he took two shells in the fingers of his left hand and pumped one into his Winchester .12 gauge. He hit the first grouse as it burst into the air, and by the time the second had gone a few feet higher, he had ejected, reloaded, and brought it down.

We were less than a mile from that spot, when he put the same shotgun in my hands and told me to shoot at a stump. I was nervous and asked him why he was standing so far behind me—it seemed like eight feet. "Don't worry," he said, "just shoot." I squeezed the trigger and the whole universe blanked out. I woke to find my father catching me almost in midair.

I learned several things from that experience: for example, why skinny little boys don't hunt with .12 gauge shotguns, why "kick" is a more graphic term than "recoil" for what a gun does to your shoulder, and why a lifetime of shooting had dulled the hearing in one of my father's ears. I also learned to take guns very seriously, indeed. My father refused to let me have an air rifle, because...

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