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What's the Point?

Okay, so we know how I’ll benefit from this endeavor. I’ll gain experience in the great outdoors that will help me write a better book set in the Adirondacks. But you, my dear reader, may well be asking, “What’s in all this for me?” Hopefully you’ll gain a little knowledge, have a few laughs, and vicariously enjoy a sense of adventure. Think of it as a modern-day Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where you get to sit comfortably at your computer screen – much like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance behind some bushes. I, on the other hand, will go out into the wild, ala Jim Fowler, and do all the heavy lifting in an effort to entertain you.

            Well, on second thought…

« 46 Sandwiches | Arachnophobia »

Pistol Packin' Mama

A while back I posted about my experiences learning to field dress a deer during a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) weekend. (See Oh, Deer!) Not being a hunter, I’m not sure when I thought I’d ever have a chance to use these newly acquired skills. The only way I was going to come across a dead deer in need of skinning and gutting is if one had a heart attack and keeled over on his way to eating my hostas.

So I was delighted to learn that BOW was also offering classes in beginning shotgun and beginning rifle. Since the closest I’ve ever been to a gun is sitting in the front row of a Quentin Tarantino movie, I decided I’d better ask an expert for advice on which class to take. But not knowing any gun experts and being too lazy to track one down, I asked my husband instead. I took his advice to take the shotgun class because it would “be easier,” never stopping to consider that my husband’s sole experience with firearms is the occasional handling of a water pistol on a hot summer day. Sure, it was a super soaker, but still.

Imagine my surprise when I got there and found out shotgun was the hardest class because we’d be shooting at moving targets. I was relieved to learn that the moving targets were pigeons because first of all, everyone hates pigeons because they make a mess of everything and second, although none of the other women in the class looked to be particularly fast, they all seemed too nice to be considered target-worthy.

We started with a brief lecture on the different types of shotguns and gauges. All I remember about this part is “oh my god they’re going to hand me a loaded gun, oh my god they’re going to hand me a loaded gun” kept running through my head, drowning out any useful information. Then we had the all-important instructions on how to handle guns safely. I was sure they were going to say that the safest way to handle a gun is to keep your hands off of them, but no such luck.


At the range I looked around for the pigeons but all I could see were these orange discs flying through the air. Which was really annoying because they were probably scaring away all the pigeons. I let my classmates go first and watched in amazement as they shattered those discs and then congratulated each other. It was like they were aiming for them, or something.

Finally it was my turn to handle a 12 gauge. With the butt of the gun firmly wedged between my shoulder and cheek to minimize what they euphemistically call “the kick,” I took a deep breath and then said, “pull.” In theory, I would then see one of those orange discs fly in front of my field of vision, I’d follow it with my gun, pull the trigger and blow it out of the sky. In practice, panic caused everything to become a blur, I fired at random, and the disc sailed intact into the woods, free to live another day. The only thing I was in danger of wounding was my pride.

The instructor, baffled by my lack of aim, asked me what I saw when I looked down the barrel. I resisted the urge to say “my own mortality” because I hadn’t come all this way to get carted off the range for a psych eval. So I just said “I’m not sure.” The look on his face confirmed my worst suspicions: my panicked demeanor when pulling the trigger made those people who fire guns into the air at Arab celebrations look like precision sharpshooters. He suggested I take a breather. Away from the guns.

Eventually I decided to try my luck with a 20-gauge shotgun and a different instructor. Al, the 20-gauge instructor, told me to relax and go with the flow, like Tai Chi. I thought of the pajama-clad people I’d seen practicing their Tai Chi in the early morning in a park or on a beach. I had a hard time imagining any of them packing heat. But I followed Al’s advice anyway, and after several attempts I managed to hit one of those discs – while it was in the air, no less. I knew my family would be so proud. “Good news, kids. We’re having pigeon for dinner!”

I moseyed on back to the 12-guage station with more than a hint of swagger in my step and before long I’d bagged me another pigeon. Not wanting to press my luck, I decided to retire. I doubt I’ll be picking up a shotgun anytime soon (cue sound of wildlife around the world breathing a collective sigh of relief), but on the next really hot day, I just might reach for a super soaker.

I've been told this picture of me looks very "Thelma and Louise." I suppose if you squint, I do look a little like a young Brad Pitt.


The clay pigeons. I was excited to use my new-found field dressing skills on them, but they were a little dry and there was not that much meat.


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  • Response
    I love shooting and still getting training to make perfect my aim. I have a membership of the club where we go for shooting. Every year there the event organized where the qualified people participate and show their shooting skills in front of public.

Reader Comments (2)

What a wonderful and funny essay, Betsy. I have yet to get my gun range experience in.


October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEdith Maxwell

Great article, Betsy. I've only been to a shooting range once, outside of D.C. The guns didn't scare me as much as the people. CIA types shooting side by side with mercenaries who shot along side guys who looked like gang members. Talk about strange bedfellows! I wondered if they all knew each other even if they were all on opposite sides of the proverbal fences.

I'm thinking I'll start with a 22 before I take on a shotgun. We have a vacation home where there are cottonmouth. I may work my way up to a shotgun. Rather not have to deal with bitten grandchildren.

You now have invaluable experience for writing!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterE. B. Davis

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