My grandson and I sat in the back seat. We discussed the safety card I had given him earlier. His father and Uncle Dan up front exchanged small talk while listening in on our conversation. We were taking my grandson shooting for the first time.
As we talked, I used examples. See that bridge out ahead of us? That is about a mile out. These .22 LR rounds are light, but undisturbed, they will carry that far. Why is that important to know? Without looking at the safety card, my grandson responded, “know what is beyond your target.” Very good! He read, understood and remembered!
For his age, 10, my grandson is an excellent baseball player. I asked him about taking practice swings. I asked, “Do you look around to make sure no one is close?” He said, “Yes that was a strict rule.” Good. It’s the same with firearms: Used properly, obeying safety rules, the firearm is the same as a bat, hammer, screwdriver, rock or league baseball. It is just there. A device. A tool. Like any of these, however, used improperly they can/will cause damage. He thought about this quietly.
The sun felt good—warm, not uncomfortable. There was a strong, steady breeze quartering towards us from our left. The trees yawed and resisted. It didn’t bother the black flies one bit. The neighbor’s cows were upwind, and that didn’t hurt our feelings. The grass and strawberries were trimmed tight in a 40-yard-wide swath, which was the shooting lane. Yellow painted rebar marked distances. There was an arrangement of gong plates in front of the earthen berm we’d made.
We drove down to the 25-yard marker and set up a portable shooting table. We distributed safety glasses and hearing protection. Dad and Uncle Dan sat on the tailgate. Today I am the RSO (Range Safety Officer). With the Henry rifle still cased I pointed out the firing line and arc that represented a safe muzzle direction. As I explained I noticed the attentive facial expressions on all three. Good, I thought, you can’t hear this said enough. I was listening as well.
I uncased the little lever action. A nice piece of machine work. I bought it when he was four—no point waiting until the last moment, and what if it doesn’t shoot straight?! Can’t have that on the first outing! We went over terms and identified the components of the rifle. We took turns shouldering, cycling the action, checking for clear and range instructions. We went over the parts that make up a cartridge. Their function and interaction with each other.
Suddenly, I was slightly staggered. I wish my Dad was here. How many years ago was I the new one hearing the words. Hanging on to every sound and sight. He had a patience and a confidence about him that he was imparting to me. I thought of how he and my uncles fought in a war. They used weapons so much that when they came back it took a while for the interest to come back. But, they taught and they showed. They listened, corrected and explained. It was different than normal lessons. It seemed important for me to absorb what they were saying.
I thought of scouts and being in the NRA Junior Marksman program. Shooting at the local National Guard Armory. We were there. Pistol clubs for adults and adult smallbore rifle clubs were there. Everyone waiting their turn. Listening to the RSO whether you were on the line or not. I remember when I became a Junior RSO. The line was mine to take through our shooting sequence. The occasional whisper from the real RSO was just guidance, never rebuke.
The breeze brought me back after that moment flashed in a second.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“I am a little nervous,” replied my grandson.
“Well, that is good, use it to make yourself aware of what and who is around you,” I replied.
We loaded 10 cartridges into the tube. We had spent time on rear sight-front sight configuration. How to line them up. How to concentrate on the front sight. How to breathe. Okay, I will cycle in the first round. Set the rifle on the rest. Line it up like we did on paper. Breathe normally. Squeeze in between breaths.
“That’s okay, cycle in a new round and start over.”
We set the rifle down on the table with the action open. We had a back to pat and shoulders to rub!
“Let’s have some water. Take a moment to feel what you did and how you did it.”
“Wanna do it again?”
This time he slowly, purposefully emptied the tube. First round a few more puffs than clangs but that just means you try again.
Grandpa took a turn. Uncle Dan took a turn. Dad took a turn. Grandpa and Uncle Dan threw in some puffs to keep it all real. This is not the day to show off or diminish a first timer’s experience. Dad threw in some puffs—well, Dad just had some puffs.
Tube after tube. Box after box. Banter. Talk. Jokes. Camaraderie. The feeling was as warm as the sunshine on our faces.
I had brought a pump 20-gauge just for a change of pace. I shot once. I asked my grandson if he wanted to try, and he said “sure.” Good man, don’t be afraid to try new things. I held my hand on his shoulder so when he squeezed the trigger it didn’t knock him off the seat. “You okay?”
“Want to do that again?”
“No.” That got a hug from me. I don’t blame you, young man…in a year we can try that again.
We got memories. We got photos and videos. To be certain of what age we live in, the Grandmas already have them on their phones.
Looking at the clock. Wow, it’s been two hours? No way!
“What do you think? Go get some lunch and go swimming?”
Okay! First, though, we pick up ALL of our brass. Paint the targets. Make sure the boxes are stowed, the rifle is cooled enough to be cased. Take nothing but photos and memories, leave nothing but foot prints in the grasses.
On the way home we talked about baseball. Let the time today percolate. Let it sink in and figure it out with his 10 years of experience.
The next day he had that enthusiasm that makes you just feel good. He explained the rules and hitting the targets. He explained what the shotgun was like. (That garnered me one of those Mom looks from his mother.)
It’s funny how the view changes when you’re teaching your grandchild instead of your child, although my kids were treated the same way. This is a learning time that can never include harsh words or snide comments (okay…when they are in their thirties a few remarks are probably permissible). This is a time to make sure the student understands the gravity and the permanence of mistakes. It is a time where form and function come together to produce a desired outcome. It is where we are equal no matter your skill level.
His sister is two years away. Gonna feel a little funny buying a rifle with a pink stock but I will just put up with the comments until that day—and then everyone will be required to accessorize correctly along with us.
I am honored and yet humbled by being able to share this with my grandson. Where I wanted it to be a rite of passage and a special day for him, it turns out that it was mine as well. Memories, smiles and tears all came back. The times I shared with those who are now gone. The passing on to those who are still here. The hope that my sons, my daughter, my daughters-in-law, my grandsons and granddaughters, if they choose, will take these days and pass them on to theirs.
Times, clothes and customs may change…but this bond does not.