Sometimes I am convinced that the hunting gods purposefully present you with certain situations – we’ll call them ‘teachable moments’ - that both inspire and humble.
Such was the case a few weeks ago. As previously reported, The Boy passed his hunter safety certification course in February and I have been continuing the lessons at home during ‘dry fire’ exercises out on our property. Basically I’m giving him opportunities to handle his new Charles Daly youth model 20-gauge shotgun sans ammunition. We weren’t really dry firing the gun, but basically walking through real life applications involving safety, mounting the gun, swing-through and the like.
My first ah-ha moment was during these little drills out in yard. I would say something like, “Ok, when you bring the gun up, make sure the butt fits in that little pocket between your shoulder and your collar bone.” He would look at me and say, “Ok”, and proceed to do exactly as I had instructed.
“Do it again,” – check
“One more time.” – Right, mark that off the list.
Then we would move onto something else. “Now son, make sure you lean forward, head down, cheek on the butt.” – Ok, he did that perfect the first time.
“Do it again.” – Textbook.
What I began to realize is that The Boy was simply doing what I told him to do, and did so perfectly every time because he didn’t know any better. He had no frame of reference except for my instruction and certainly no bad habits to break.
I thought to myself, “So he can do all this in simulated exercises out on the lawn, but what is going to happen the first time I slide a 1oz. shell of #8 shot into that pea-shooter of his and he gets a dose of reality when he pulls the trigger. Then we’ll see how textbook this little dude ends up being.”
Fast forward to the following Saturday and we make plans to go shooting at our favorite local Sporting Clay course. For Jody and Kristine – think of Sporting Clays as a combination of trap and skeet but placed in a ‘natural’ habitat setting. It is designed to offer an array of clay targets send from angles and presentations that are similar to real hunting situations. You shoot at 100 clays over 10 or 15 stations (depending on the course you are shooting).
The Boy is no stranger to this particular activity. He has been my puller – the person who pushes the button that launches the clay target - for a few years. He has enjoyed many warm summer days out at the course watching dad and friends explode clay.
Today would be different. Today I would be the puller/coach and he would be the shooter. I thought he would show some nervousness as we approached the first station, but to my surprise, he was very matter of fact and treated the situation like an old pro.
But, what would he do the first time the gun went ‘Boom’ and he felt that compression against his little body frame? Sure he had shot previously, but that was with a.22 cal rifle, which doesn’t match the recoil and sound of a shotgun.
He entered the small metal frame that signifies the place where the shooter stands and I handed him his first shell. I could tell that he was now getting a little anxious in that he fidgeted to get the shell into the magazine and then chamber the round. But he did fine – double checking to make sure the gun was on ‘safe’ and maintaining a proper position with the barrel pointed down range.
Locked and loaded.
As with our practice sessions, I gently reminded him of the basics – stance, lean forward, head down, swing through.
“Right,” was his reply.
“Ok son, whenever you are ready go ahead and call for the bird.”
“Pull!” he exclaimed.
I stood directly behind him to get a view of his mechanics and immediately began a mental checklist of all the things I was sure he was going to do wrong – lift his head, stop swinging, slap the trigger. I had all of the usual sins on the tip of my tongue ready to unleash them as the ‘helpful’ coach.
“Bang”, went the gun and the target disintegrated in the air. “Hmm, well that was sure lucky,” I thought to myself.
“Good job son! Way to go,” I offered enthusiastically knowing that it was likely a fluke. “Let’s do it again. Remember, head down, swing through, squeeze the trigger.”
“Yea dad, got it,” was his reply.
“Pull!”, bang, smash.
Ok, two for two, not bad, but I know anyone can be lucky twice in a row.
I resisted the temptation to repeat my instructional mantra before he readied for the third target.
“Pull!”, bang, smash.
Ok, so now this kid is just pissing me off! How am I supposed to show my shooting prowess and pontificate all of my worldly hunting wisdom if he keeps getting this lucky!
Well the boy would indeed miss a few at that first station, but his pattern of success was remarkable for someone who had never shot a shotgun, let alone shot at flying targets. As it turns out I was able to offer him a few pointers (as if he was going to have a choice) and he did slip on a few of the fundamentals over the course of his round. But, by the time he went on his run of six doubles over two stations, I simply began to sit back and enjoy the experience.
I actually found myself watching him more closely as he shot – instead of watching the target - and was struck at how absolutely relaxed and natural he was in his approach.
‘Step up, load shell, mount gun, call for target, swing, squeeze trigger, explode target. What’s so hard about?’ I am sure were the words running trough his head.
And that is when it occurred to me. He was having success because he simply did what was instructed, and most importantly, had no frame of reference (otherwise known as bad habits) upon which to screw things up. He had a clean chalkboard rather than a portrait of complex patterns and puzzling equations that he was trying to decipher and mechanically fix while performing his task. He just did it.
DOH! Of course, isn’t that how we all do it? Not.
At one point I found myself actually making mental notes about his approach and how I might incorporate some of those tips into my own shooting. Wait a minute! This kid is a rookie, he can’t be the teacher!
The other aspect that struck me was the fact that he was very nonchalant about the whole experience. Don’t get me wrong, he was pleased with how his game was going, but it was clear that I was far more excited about the whole thing than he was. After all, as far as he was concerned, he was simply doing what he had been told were the right steps to take in order to have success. And he was, so what was the big deal? Oh to have the age of innocence back.
In the end, The Boy completed the entire 100 rounds and ended with a very impressive score of 38. That may not sound like much, but I know guys my age who have shot for 20 years that routinely only scratch out a score of +/-50. So for a 9-year old kid who shot 38 in his attempt, I was darn impressed!
We’ve been out again since then and he continues to perform at about that same level. The experience handling the gun and throwing hundreds of rounds of lead at clay before the hunting season is invaluable experience that should pay dividends in the field. I hope it will translate into better success, earlier, and help captivate his interest and enthusiasm for hunting.
Watching The Boy put all the pieces together was an awesome experience. I had a blast and might have even learned a thing or two myself. It is certainly experiences like these that I absolutely live to hunt.