Learning to Shoot

I was eight years old when my dad taught me how to shoot.  It was a sunny day in the early fall when he took me out back with the old Browning lever action rifle chambered in .22 Long that he’d been given by his mother when my grandfather died.

“When I was your age, Pop gave me a box of shells and this gun and told me to go shoot all the geese around the pond before sunset.”  We were walking to the wood pile with a trash bag full of cans when he told me this.  “I’m lucky I didn’t shoot myself or someone else.  That’s why I’m gonna teach you myself the proper way to handle a rifle.”

He lined the cans up along the top of the pile of split wood and then taught me how to load the bullets into the tube beneath the barrel.  With his calloused hands wrapped around the wooden stock of the rifle, he showed me how swinging the lever opened the action and fed a bullet into the chamber.  He pointed to the cocked hammer and told me to remember this position because when it looked like this, the gun was ready to fire.  Another swing of the lever and the unfired round was ejected from the side of the gun.

“You know how to aim?” he said.

I shook my head and said, “Show me.”

He placed the gun in my hands.  “Close that eye,” he said.  “And line that sight between this site.”  He pointed as he spoke.  “When you’re ready, go ahead and see if you can knock off that first can.  The tomato soup.”

I aimed.

“Keep that stock pressed against your shoulder,” he said.  He pushed the gun into my arm.  “Your shoulder absorbs the kick that way and it’ll hurt less when I let you shoot the 20 gauge.”

It took me twelve shots to send the can of tomato soup flying into the air.  He watched intently as I reloaded the way he’d showed me.  After that, only eight shots to hit the green beans.  It took Dad three shots to knock off four cans.  One, a Diet Coke can, was knocked off by the wind while he was reloading.

As I dozed off that night on the couch, I dreamed of carrying the 20 gauge under my arm to the truck like I’d seen my dad do countless times.  I rustled as he scooped me from the couch that evening and carried me up the stairs to my bedroom where my mother was turning down the sheets.

“How’d he do today?” she asked as my dad slid me between the blankets.

“Really well,” he whispered.  The light flicked off.  “I was very pleased.”


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