Last year, I documented the supreme failure that was my attempt to go turkey hunting with one of Susanne’s colleagues from school. Waiting around at 5AM for a no-show date with something other than destiny, I raised an eyebrow when a year later, he told me that we were once again nearing turkey season. Fool me once, shame on him, I responded. No, no, this time it will all work out, he said, a big grin on his face as reassurance against my skepticism. Let’s try some skeet shooting first so you can get the hang of guns, he said.
There are some days in my life in which I feel moderately unprepared to handle the events as they stream toward me. This certainly counted as one of them.
I have some vague memory of shooting an air rifle or some kind of long firearm at camp when I was 12 or so. But I’ve got to be wrong, because the camp I attended that summer was a weight loss camp, and shooting rifles, by any measure, does not count as cardiac conditioning or fitness-inducing. But I know I fired some kind of gun under supervision. Damn those anti-seizure meds for messing with my memory.
I agreed, in principle, to shoot at paper targets and bright orange clay pigeons, figuring that Walla Walla must be host to any number of gun clubs and ranges, like 67 or so. But the day approached and here I was, heading off to sight unseen in a rattly pickup with two shotguns, three boxes of ammo, a boatload of targets, and one side-arm trebuchet. I admitted that my life had gotten out of control and asked the gods for a little wisdom. Or something.
“This is gonna be a real redneck experience,” he said, grinning in what I realized was a Cheshire way. I had leaped down the proverbial rabbit hole.
“Hey, I’m from Jersey,” I said, “even we have rednecks.” Okay, I wasn’t sure what I meant by that. Maybe this would be too much for me. Maybe I’d pull a Cheney out there, wherever we were going. I’d heard that there was a shooting range within the perimeter of the airport landing zone, having been grandfathered in by a stubborn land owner who didn’t want to have to adjust his hobby in any way. Only in the Wallas would such a thing be allowed. Or maybe Texas. Who knows? Perhaps there’s a national security issue due to lots of under-the-radar airports continuing to host men with guns in their close proximity. 60 Minutes should investigate.
He pulled over to the side of Route 12, some bit of distance past the tiny town of Dixie, where the land rises up in a series of wheat-plowed fields atop rolling hills. It’s picturesque. Of course we would come here to interrupt the quiet with so many bursts of gunpowder and buck shot.
“Is this okay,” he asked me, and this is where I made a rookie mistake. I nodded yes and mumbled, “sure” before taking stock of this specific locale. Yes, there was flat ground right here where we were, but my gun enthusiast friend was pointing up at the top of the rise, the apex of a hill that rose oh, 150 feet up from the roadway, and the crest was about that far back, as well. I took one unloaded shotgun and the skeet hurler, whatever it’s called, and followed my guide over some brambles, fallen barbed wire, a small spot of oily foliage that looked decidedly poisonous, and several snake holes. Quickly the ground curved upward, like a graph from trigonometry class, the kind of arc that is supposed to represent an approach to infinity. First the earth was at a couple degree incline, then about 6 degrees, and then roughly 20 or so.
It is high time that I buy some hiking shoes and leave my sneakers to the city streets.
Now then, let me just reflect for a moment on the last time I pushed into some activity with slippery shoes after my mind warned me to check myself a half dozen times. This would be my wedding day, where brand new, smooth as a whistle tux shoes met the merciless waxed floors of the American Newswomen’s Club, the site of our reception. I made one solitary bad dance move and voila, no more left ACL. Nearly three years later I’ve got scar tissue in both knees—one from the surgery, the other from supporting me while the repaired side healed, so I had a wee bit of trepidation about tripping. I was here to test my hand-eye coordination, not make like a tumbleweed into the creek.
I admit it, I needed to rest twice on the trek up to Mt. Everest—I mean the small hill—and in hindsight, I have a new respect for biathlon participants. Cross-country skiing and shooting at targets 150 feet away? With rifles, no less, meaning there’s no benefit of the “spread” of buckshot. Just knowing how good these snipers are explains at least some of why nobody ever attempts to invade Norway, the origin of the sport.
Our mission was much simpler, thankfully. We talked about firearm safety, and he showed me how to load the cartridges. I took aim at some stationary targets and then it was time for the mini frisbees. Missed one, missed the next. The third cracked up all on its own, just five feet from the launcher. Fourth disc, blammo. I hit the fifth, the eighth, and then we went two at a time. I attempted to be fastidious about the safety of the weapon, and when my legs started complaining about 90 minutes into our adventure, we made our way back down to the truck. Shotguns come in handy as walking sticks.
Before anyone gets concerned about my level of machismo, know that I put together a delightful brunch just that morning.