“Don’t let him get hurt.” Those were my sister-in-law’s last words to my brother-in-law before we went out the door. My brother-in-law and my father-in-law decided I needed to learn how to shoot a rifle and that they were the ones to teach me how to do it. We kind of laughed at her words and headed out to the countryside to fire off some rounds with various rifles and pistols.
It was a lot of fun, and I was a pretty good shot. We worked our way from smaller calibers to a .270 deer rifle. While a .270 is still fairly light for a deer rifle, it was more than I was ready for that day. I sighted up my target, took a breath, squeezed the trigger and, after the shot, felt a tinge of pain right between my eyes. I had not given myself enough eye relief, and the rifle’s recoil had sent the scope right into my face. I wasn’t hurt, except for my pride, and it was more funny than painful. But the scope had sliced my skin and left me with a bruise and some blood, so there was no escaping the ridicule that was coming, especially given my sister-in-law’s admonition before we left.
That was nearly 20 years ago and, until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t shot a gun of any kind since. The scope incident didn’t scare me off, as I kept shooting that day after it happened. But shooting, and the idea of hunting, never really piqued my interest again. Until the last year.
Over the last few years, I’ve become convinced that the modernization of our society has had debilitating effects on men. We have almost no incentive to develop our masculinity and no avenue in which to express it. We can get by with no strength, no courage, no honor, and no skills. And we’re suffering for it. More than that, society is suffering for it, as society will not thrive when either men or women don’t thrive.
And so I’ve been committed to embracing, developing, expressing, and promoting masculine virtues. I’ve committed to being a man that protects and provides for his family and others, a man who provides value to his community. Like most men, I recognized that I was woefully deficient in many ways. While few men excel at all areas, all of us should strive for growth and improvement.
I’ve always been an athlete. I’m able to navigate the sports world with ease. I also have plenty of experience and knowledge about fishing and can competently catch, clean, and prepare different types of fish. But I knew nothing about guns. And even less about hunting. And it was time for that to change. I’m certainly not saying that all men need to hunt, but I’m comfortable saying most men need to competent with guns. Simply put, it’s only a matter of time until our community gets hit with an active shooter in public or other act of terrorism. In order for a man to protect, he needs to be comfortable with a weapon.
What’s more, hunting allows us to unplug, to get away from the aspects of society that make us soft, yet stressed. It forces us to think, to strategize, to use our physicality, and to embrace discomfort, all of which are vital to developing as men.
So I decided to explore hunting. The problem was that “hunting” is as broad a term as “cars”. There are all different types of hunting, with different seasons, with different weapons, in different places. Knowledge was not going to come quickly or inexpensively. Fortunately, I have a friend, Zach, who is an avid hunter. I decided he could point me in the right direction to get started, so I texted him and asked to get together for coffee so that I could pick his brain. His response: “I don’t have time for coffee tomorrow, but let’s plan on going shooting on Monday.”
Clearly, my education was about to hit high gear. Zach and one of his friends took me to a local farm and taught me to handle rifles and the basics of shooting. He taught me about different calibers, different loading mechanisms, and different actions of the rifles. He taught me about eye relief so that there would be no repeat of the scope incident. He taught me a checklist for safe handling of the rifles. We talked about both the physical and mental aspects of shooting, as well as about gear and ear protection. I learned where to put the rifle against my shoulder, where to put my cheek, what to look for in the scope, how to take a breath and partially exhale, then evenly squeeze the trigger, with the rifle almost surprising you when it fires.
I started with a .22, then moved up to a .243, then to a 30/30. I had serious nerves handing that kind of firepower. The kind of nerves that comes from unfamiliarity. That session gave me a new appreciation for our military guys who shoot those higher calibers with precision from a standing position or on the run. It looks so effortless in movies, but each shot is no joke in reality.
In the end, the shooting session was a tremendous success. In my case, I suppose the fact that there was no blood and no bruising made it a success. In a few short hours, I went from an absolute newbie to feeling like I could comfortably and safely handle and shoot a rifle. That afternoon alone was invaluable; a place where everyone should start.
During our session, I learned that gun season for hunting deer was just over a week away in our part of the country. That evening, Zach invited me to his “Deer Camp”, which is a weekend of hunting and fellowship at his farm where he helps new hunters get into the deer hunting game. So, within a week of my texting Zach to ask for direction on getting started in hunting, I had plans to go on my first hunt. Very fortunate and very cool.
In preparation for the hunt, Zach gave me a couple of books on hunting and shooting that laid out the positioning of the vital organs of different game animals and how to make a shot that would result in a quick, painless kill. I digested that basic information and learned that, in most cases, I wanted the deer to turn broadside so that I could get a shot to the lungs, about midway up the body above the front foreleg. The book I read on this issue was The Perfect Shot, North America by Craig Boddington. As you can see, it has fantastic pictures that help you to visualize proper shot placement.
While there is no shortage of gear that one could buy in order to go deer hunting, I didn’t have to rush into those purchasing decisions just yet. All I needed was a pair of waterproof hunting boots and some warm clothes; Zach was providing the rest. The guns, the ammo, the camouflage outerwear, the blaze orange vest and headwear required by state law, the deer stands, the safety harnesses, and everything necessary to field dress the deer.
So, I got some recommendations on which boots to buy from Zach and TJ (from the Regular Guy Bourbon Review). As an aside, TJ is quite the hunter – he passed up a 10-point buck this season because it was “too small”. In any event, everyone I talked to agreed that cold, wet, or hurting feet will ruin or end a hunt faster than just about anything, so having good hunting boots was essential. I looked around the net to get some pricing options, then made a trip to the local Cabela’s store. I ended up buying Cabela’s brand DuraTrack 1000’s, which are insulated, waterproof, and plenty comfortable.
I took them on a long walk with my kids to get them broken in a bit in preparation for the hunt. By hunting weekend, they were ready to go, and so was I. On Thursday, we’ll take an inside look at the hunt.
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