The First Shot
When you are twelve years old, things seem bigger, more exciting, and more intimidating. When you are a twelve year old boy without a father but with a twenty-four year old brother, things seem the same but you never fully know what to expect. My brother always kept me guessing. He seemed to like teaching me things but he also enjoyed being the typical prank playing, a bit bossy, know more, big brother.
He took me hunting….
Growing up in a small town in West Virginia in the 70s, things were different. We knew all the kids, our parents knew all of the parents, and for the most part people felt safe. Safe enough so that it wasn’t unusual for even younger children to carry a shotgun over their shoulder to the local woods for a little squirrel hunting starting in early October. I had never been but I wanted to go and my big brother could surely teach me everything I needed to know about hunting. After all, he had inherited a couple of guns when my father had passed away. This had to make him an expert, right?
Finally, I either talked him into it or he decided he wanted someone to come along and a little brother was better than nothing. A lot of years have passed so I can’t really be sure but I like to think it was just a mutual agreement and we actually enjoyed each other’s company.
Not far from the house where we grew up there is a lake that at the time was surrounded by wooded hillsides and some small cliffs and caves that we loved to explore. It is here that we ended up on that cold October afternoon for my first attempt at ‘Squack Hunting’ as my brother insisted on calling it. It was here that I was finally going to learn the skills that would carry me into manhood and it was here that I would always remember as my first hunting trip.
As we walked along a wooded path, I looked down at the gun in my hands. While I can’t say my brother was always the best role model in the world, he had been sure to cover gun safety in great detail before I was ever allowed to handle one. We respected the gun and the risks associated with it. This is an education that I can only assume he received from my father before his passing but, regardless, he did a great job of communicating it to me.
The gun was one that isn’t seen much these days. A sixteen gauge bolt action shotgun made by J.C. Higgins. The Sears Roebuck model gun. It was kept clean but did show some wear from the times my brother had used it and my dad before him. I was little, the gun was big. Way too heavy for a little guy like me. It was awesome.
Looking back, I don’t know how long we were on that hillside but I do know that, although my brother did his best to teach me some crazy idea he had about luring squirrels into range, we only saw a couple of squirrels and didn’t get a shot at either. I also know that it started to get dark. We started back down the trail and I must admit I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going home with today’s kill safely stowed in the game bag on my back.
I had actually learned a lot and enjoyed talking to my brother that day and as we headed back the way we had come earlier, I hoped that someday soon I would get another chance. That’s when he suggested that maybe I should still shoot the gun. I had fired a 22 rifle many times but never the shotgun. I, of course, agreed that this was the best idea of the entire day. Did I mention it was getting dark?
Now, let me paint a mental image for you. A very small twelve year old boy holding a shotgun that is obviously far too heavy for him to be extremely accurate. The boy has a grin from ear to ear covering his face as he is about to pull the trigger for the first time on this gun that he has always wanted to fire.
There is another boy with a grin from ear to ear as well. I didn’t see it but I know it was there as my brother stood behind me and gave last minute advice about the proper aiming and discharging of that glorious weapon. He may have been smiling because of the wisdom he was sharing with his younger sibling. But, more than likely, he smiled because of what he knew would happen next. Did I mention it was getting dark?
I held the gun tightly against my shoulder, looked down the barrel at the soda can we had set up as a target and pulled the trigger. The world exploded. Flames issued from the end of the barrel in a 3 foot long blast that rivaled any camera flash bulb I had ever seen. The gun rammed back into my shoulder with more force than a herd of elephants. And, my brother erupted into a series of laughs that only settled as he explained that the gun always showed some flames when it was dark outside and that he was amazed I didn’t drop the gun.
In short, it was one of the most frightening things I had ever experienced. Totally unexpected. My brother had finally taken me hunting and taught me a few things but in the end he had scared me to death and given me a bruise across my shoulder that would last for a week all while getting a good laugh. What was I to think?
It was glorious.