It’s difficult to comprehend what it would be like to grow up without a gun in your hand. I naturally assume my formative years were much like most boys growing up in the heartland; watching and idolizing characters on tv who were proficient marksmen. We pretended to be cowboys or GI Joes while running around with our toy guns. We envied dad’s return home from successful hunting trips. When we got to be the age our parents determined was appropriate, we were given a BB gun to expend all of our energy on unsafe activities and harebrained ideas. Once we were done shooting out windows, ricocheting BBs and performing stupid acts of boyhood with our peashooter, dad decided to move us up to the big leagues with a gun that went ‘BANG’. With any luck this was accompanied by Hunters’ Safety Class as mine was. Once we graduated to the fields, we were free to progress up the gunzel ladder until we became fully obsessed and unable to picture life without firearms. Now we are caught counting the minutes between our trips afield. Guns pretty much become an extension of our being, an extra appendage with which we have a full level of comfort.
So a few months back, when I was relaying a bird hunting story to my acupuncturist, Marston — I see you rolling your eyes, but I’m telling you, that needle stuff works — I noticed a flicker of interest in her response and succeeding line of questioning. She even expressed a desire to try her hand at bird hunting one day. Over the course of the next few treatments I learned that she had never shot a gun in her life. Beyond this, she had never held a gun in her life. Yet, she’s interested in bird hunting? This started my mind racing. Suddenly, I was given a golden opportunity to retrace the steps that turned me into a bird blasting fanatic and see if those same steps could transform a professional woman who has never touched a gun into an upland huntress.
Even though she is a bit younger than me, I thought it best to forgo the obligatory childhood ritual of watching GI Joe and jump ahead to the next step. I acquired the same BB gun that I first started with, the good old lever action Red Ryder. Not much has changed in over 30 years to this little beauty. It has more plastic parts, it loads a little differently, it has a safety which is sort of a buzz kill, but it pretty much looks exactly the same. The biggest difference between Marston’s first gun and mine is that Daisy has been kind enough to doll up that little rifle with a bright pink stock. This is a bit stereotypical for a girl’s first gun, but at the same time I find it highly entertaining.
I know shotguns and rifles are different, and we’ll get to all that. There are professional instructors that probably find this a laughable way to learn. But this technique worked on me. I can think of no better way to learn gun safety and shooting principles than by wielding a BB gun that shoots a single small projectile 350 fps, if you believe the claims on the box.
I probably shot 25,000 rounds through my Red Ryder while growing up. I targeted numerous birds, always wondering why they didn’t drop when I was sure I was hitting them. (This trait seems to have followed me to adulthood too). All those bruised sparrows can thank non-lethal force. But, I assure you the rattle of those BBs in that little rifle’s tube was enough to scatter every cat and bird within a mile of my boyhood homestead.
I scheduled a morning with Marston as her initial foray into the dark art of shooting sports. Pulling that little fluorescent Daisy out of the box flashes back to lessons my dad took so much care to instill in me. And although this gun is toylike, the principles are quite similar to it’s more powerful ballistic cousins.
I initially go over the fundamentals of sight picture, drawing a quick diagram to show Marston what she’s looking for since her eye has never focused down the barrel of anything. We had already determined she was right eye dominant, thankfully, because as a remedial instructor having to invert everything could have challenged my skill levels.
Next, we went over loading the feed tube full of hours of copper plated fun using my preferred method of crafting a crude funnel from the nearest available scrap of paper.
After placing a paper target downrange, and the requisite aluminum can, we settled in to a discussion about safe muzzle directions, and the general operations of the safety, lever action and trigger. There’s a comical awkwardness to watching a greenhorn try and handle a gun. It is so foreign to my new pupil, and a true eye opener of the things I take for granted.
Marston is a details person, highly perceptive, so she wants to know everything down to the last micrometer. We go over hand placement on both the forend and aft. I emphasize that her finger should not touch the trigger until she is truly ready to shoot. I demonstrate where her cheek should be on the the stock so that she is able to properly site. She’s unsure of this technique for fear that the recoil will smack her in the face; refreshing naivete´ that makes me chuckle out loud. But this leads to valuable further discussion about bigger weapons and why she’ll want to keep the stock tucked tightly against her shoulder and her face comfortably planted.
Once we’ve thoroughly reviewed all the details, we reach the moment of truth. Marston cocks the lever, shoulders the Pink Plinker, takes aim at the Cheerwine hull 12 yards down range and I watch as she nervously squeezes off her first round ever. There’s no report. Over the next few attempts I alternate between watching her technique and watching the BB’s flight. She’s doing everything right, except she’s shooting consistently low and left of the can. I do a little fiddling with the rear sight, another upgrade from my boyhood version. With every pump of the action she is gaining confidence, and somewhere around 10 or 11 shots she finally hits metal. This new Daisy has a bit more power than I recall my Red ever having because it is a complete pass-through of the Cheerwine vitals. There’s nothing more satisfying than the sound of that plink, it’s the hook for both student and teacher. After a few more reaffirming aluminum volleys we move to the paper target.
I go over shot grouping, explaining the merits of consistency. As Marston continues to fire at will, we talk about minute of angle, breathing and what teeny movements of the barrel translate into on the target.
This brings us to shooting positions. After demonstrating prone, kneeling and offhand, I suggest she alter from sitting to improve her accuracy on the target. She makes an effort at prone, but she’s unable to flatten for stability. You see, Marston is pregnant, a solid 5 months, and prone shooting just isn’t gonna happen. Of course, bird hunting this season probably is not really in the cards either. The good news is that I feel like I’m teaching the next generation to shoot at the same time that Marston is learning. It’s a double.
This baby is gonna be born with a gun in his/her hand. Now that Marston’s hooked, I will start lobbying for good sporting names: Annie O, Wild Bill, Daisy, Parker? Oh the possibilities are endless. She has continued her target practice and the next lesson is upcoming. I know secretly her goal is to become a better shot than me, and I have little doubt it will happen. I’ve always found women to be superior marksMEN, probably due to their attention to detail and focus. My only consolation once she eclipses my skill level is that kid’s name. I guess I’ll also be comforted knowing that my passion for shooting has been passed on to at least one and a half others. But if you have a good baby name, let me know anyways.