John Lennon was right. One the many things that I miss from living in the country is the fact that you could go shootin’. Not that this was a regular occurrence with me and mine, but it was one of those harmless pleasures that can only be indulged in the country, like moonshinin’ and going out to get the morning paper naked. Most city folk have no concept of what this is. You go out and blow off a little steam and there is gunpowder involved. Not Fourth of July kind of gunpowder, but lotsa load noises nonetheless.
I am not a hunter. I have never been, well, unless you count the occasional groundhog or the duck killer. I hunted the duck killer once. My Dad raised ducks and something was eating the ducks and their eggs. I sat stock still for a week to nail the ba***rd. After one week’s faithful vigilance, he showed up. I still break into a sweat thinking about it. Matt and I moved with all the grace and poise of a well-oiled s.w.a.t. team. He circled one way around the barn and I around the other, and when we dropped the hammer on him, he never knew what hit him. As Matt poured .22-caliber rifle fire into him from the right side, I emptied both barrels of the twelve gauge from the left.
The skunk never had a chance.
To rid ourselves, and everyone else in the valley, of the stench of our victory, we decided to burn the corpse.
This didn’t help, and the stench was around for weeks.
My first gun was a Charter Arms AR-7. It was for many years my all time favorite Christmas present. It had a plastic stock and the whole firearm folded up and would fit inside of it. The stock was filled with Styrofoam, so if you dropped it in the water, it would still float. At one time, the Air Force issued them to pilots, so they could hunt for food if they were ever shot down. James Bond carried one in “From Russia, With Love”. He shot down a helicopter with it. I loved that little rifle and I still have it today, but at the time, I wanted a pistol. All the cool guys in the movies carried a pistol of some kind and I felt that my marksmanship training wouldn’t be complete without one. My Dad laughed.
My brother had seen in an ad from a local sporting goods store that that weekend only they were selling .22 caliber revolvers for $65. My Dad had a little garage roof to put on that weekend, and with our combined wages, and the little bit that Dad threw in to cover the taxes, we purchased this western style, single action revolver with a “bird’s head” grips, with the grand name of “Texas Ranger”. I bought a used police holster from the Army-Navy store and set about honing my quick draw skills. I mastered the “hook and draw” method that I learned from Dad’s American Rifleman magazines. (Thank You Phil Spangenberger!) My speed would never rival John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, but I could hit what I was aiming for, and that, I reckoned, was more important than being fast. I still have this little gun too.
So dearly do I miss taking a Saturday afternoon and ruining some perfectly good pop cans or a paper target from the comfort of my own backyard. There truly is no better release of pent-up tensions for a sixteen-year-old boy, other than maybe the one thing that sixteen-year-old boys think about the most, but let me tell you, firearms are a much safer bet than the other. At least they were for me.
But don’t let me give you the impression that I was turned loose with a loaded firearm. This was not the case. I had to learn what kind of responsibility I was taking on before I ever fired the first shot. Everything I ever needed to know was covered by Robert Ruark’s wonderful book, “The Old Man and the Boy” that Dad got from the library for me. My Dad was a stickler about the rules, and I knew that even the most minor infraction would cause my guns to disappear forever, permanent like. There were cold hard rules that needed to be understood and abided by, always. Like “Know what you are shootin’ at”. Even the little .22’s that I was firing would travel a mile and a quarter. You had to have a good backdrop that would stop the round from goin’ any further. You had to know that there was not some poor unsuspecting fool (e.g. fisherman, inner tuber’s, canoeists, kids, neighbors dog, etc.) that might suddenly find themselves in a hail of gunfire. You had to know how to carry and handle the thing safely, that you never brought a loaded firearm into the house, and under no circumstances, could you shoot on Sunday. It just wasn’t done.
All of my neighbors knew me well and were not surprised to hear me shooting between the hours of one to three on Saturday afternoon. I never shot for more than an hour, as this would have been bad manners, and I never abused the privilege, and would hunt the groundhogs from their yards and fields, as well as dispose of the ones I got.
As I got a little older and was making a little money of my own, I ordered from a catalog two (I had to have two, as one would have seemed wimpy) black powder 1860 model Colt revolvers. These long and lean .44’s were my pride and joy, though I must admit that reload time was a factor that I hadn’t considered and was a little disappointed in. I loved seeing a milk jug full of water turn itself inside out with one shot! I couldn’t afford a cartridge firing .44, and knowing that I would have to plunk down twenty plus dollars for a small box of .44 shells, when my .22 shells were 99 cents for fifty quickly turned me to black powder, besides that, you had to be 21 to purchase a cartridge firing pistol, and I was only 18. For $15, I could shoot all summer, and still have some left over black powder for our homemade fireworks for Fourth of July. (Yes, we made our own fireworks!)
My all time favorite shootin’ game was 2x4. Matt and I would collect small chunks of 2x4 and go down to the crick. (Yes, where I’m from we had cricks, not creeks.) As both of our dads were carpenters, there was never a shortage of short chunks of 2x4. We would toss them into the water and let them float down stream until they had gotten a respectable distance away and then we would shoot at them. The object of the game was not to hit the 2x4, but to hit it right at the waterline and make it skip. As soon as it landed back in the water, the other guy would shoot to make it skip back. Thousands of rounds of .22 shells were used in the playing of this game and we never got tired of it. The game only ended when the supply of ammo or 2x4s was exhausted.
A lot of people seem to have very strong opinions when it comes to firearms, and it certainly isn’t up to me to set them straight. Their opinions on the subject are every bit as valid as mine, but I will go on record as saying that when it comes to guns, I have had a lot of fun, a lotta lotta fun, and no one ever got hurt. I learned not to misuse the thing. I have never turned one on a fellow human being, even in anger or fright, and I sure as sh*t never was dumb enough to take the damn thing to school.
I knew better than that.
All I’m sayin’ is I had a lot of fun shootin’. It is a better remedy for me than any amount of “happy blue pills”, and I miss it badly.