Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Youthful Innocence and Good Habits

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.


Doug said...

Great lesson. I need to learn a few things from your boy.


Anonymous said...

Awesome job on that. It sounds like you got a real good shooter on your hands because of the way you taught him.

crestonejake said...

It just sounds like history repeating itself. I mean, your Dad and brother had some of the same feelings when you took up a weapon and treated shooting it as if it was like a natural thing. Remember the time you hunted with Ed and His brother Bob and after you and your brother were knocking everthing down before anyone else had a chance to shoot while pheasant hunting, they exclaimed "how about giving us a chance at some of those birds". Yep, just a chip off the old block as the saying goes. If you are thrilled now as you are with his success trap shooting, just wait, the buttons will really be popping off when he gets his first duck!

Blessed said...

Just another reason why it's important to start the kids young! Not just with shooting their own gun, but with the experience of being out with you hunting, target practice and etc... whether they are shooting or not!

Anonymous said...

That's awesome. First of all, I'd love to shoot at a place like that. Second, I'm so glad your son had such a good first outing. Sounds like he has a good teacher as well.

The Hunter's Wife said...

How exciting for you both. And congratulations for how well your son did. I wonder if a lot of his training was watching you over the years.

Jen "Display homes" Ambers said...

Great post!
Great pose too!
Great article too!
Thank you for sharing!

SimplyOutdoors said...

That is completely awesome. All of us could learn a thing or to from the young ones. They do exactly what all of us adults need to do sometimes - relax, concentrate, and use proper form. I think we adults put too much thought into it sometimes, and that ends up hurting us, where kids look at everything through innocent eyes, and do what they're told.

It definitely sounds like a great day at the range, and I can't wait for my daughter to be old enough to come along with my wife and I.

Good, good stuff.

LC said...

Jon, I'm already used to my son catching bigger fish than me. Granted he's using a snoopy rod with a lure and I'm fly-fishing, but some kids are just automatic. Think of it as all that good instruction you've exuded over the years--even if you weren't aware of it at the time--and he's soaked up as if through osmosis. Sure makes a feller proud.

Aisha "careers new Zealand" Fox said...

I want to hold the gun!
Can I?
I want to try it.

LarryB said...

What an awesome post! Your writing brought tears to my eyes, as I remembered my own experiences with my four year old boy and his five year old sister, learning to shoot one of my pellet rifles.

These are some of the closest times we'll ever share with our young'ns and they leave a powerful good impression on both parties.

It really made me realize at the time, that was the reason I was alive. To show these children the ways that I knew and loved so well and to give them the option of having many choices, over and above the average normal ones in life...

Thanx for sharing your closeness, to your boy with us! He's certainly turning into a respectable young man, so You are doing lots of things right, my friend!

all the best,


The Downeast Duck Hunter said...

Best blog entry I've read in a long time, teach them well and they'll do well. You can hammer the finer points to a youngster, but until they get that chance to practice upon the instructions rendered up to that point- the instruction is meaningless. Very impressive introduction and implementation to ultimately a very well-rounded boy on and off the field.

Currently I fairly ticked for this former varsity baseball coach has his 4 (soon to be 5) year old stroking line drives back at her dad and she missed the tee ball cut off by two weeks. Guess I'll keep tossing the ball and getting an unofficial group of kids to play our own tee ball.

Again, great post, I very much enjoyed it.


Jeff said...

Great post, and I just hope that I can be as good of a teacher when the time comes with our two boys!

The Phillips General Store said...


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Frank said...

I'm Frank, really good job with your son, sound to me like he is a natural, brought on by example. We all need to lead by example, so our children can enjoy the outdoors as we have. In a lot of cases our children do as we do and not as we say. Sounds like you've done a great job teaching your son about firearms and safety as well as good values and respect. Outdoors is a great place to be physically and mentally.

Nebraska Hunting Company said...

They'll surprise you every time they will!
Great job on the trianing and the process was obviously well thought out and succesful.

J Scott Croner
Merriam’s Turkey Hunting FAQ Part I
Merriam’s Turkey Hunting FAQ Part II

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