Getting good with a shotgun, it’s practice just like anything else

I went to the range to shoot clays,

With the sun burning off morning’s haze

     In order to get good,

    Practice, practice I should

While I’m enjoying my leisurely days.

After I went to my Hospice meeting this morning I went shooting at the range near the airport.

I met my friend there.  We’ve been shooting clay targets several times a week since I got back.

I’ve been teaching young men and women how to hunt and shoot for more than twenty-five years.  One of my apprentices turned into my long-term hunting buddy and friend, and he’s a very good shot.

I taught him the basics when he was twelve.  He trained a Border collie to hunt when he was fourteen.  When he was sixteen he kept his grampa’s 12 gauge pump-action shotgun in the trunk of his car when he went to school (that was back in the day when such things were common and not against the law), along with a box of clay pigeons and my thrower.  He would talk one of his classmates into going out with him after school to a parcel of land his father owned, and he’d shoot half a box of shells at a time.  By the end of spring term he was a good shot.

That fall he and a friend of his made a bet about who could shoot the most birds in the season.  The friend had a much nicer-semi automatic shotgun and an actual hunting dog, a Brittany Spaniel. 

Both young men had become incredibly adept at making the shotgun do what they wanted by the time pheasant and quail season opened.  That year a blizzard on Halloween closed the schools, the roads, and my practice.  Of course I went hunting with three high schoolers.  We hunted a field four abreast, maintaining a distance of twenty yards between us.  I walked second from the left and I couldn’t see the gunner on the far right for the snow.  At one point as I walked with my shotgun at the ready I heard the cackling of cock pheasants on my left.  Two roosters broke in front of the hunter beside me, and a moment afterwards a third did the same.  He shot the first two and before they hit the ground he killed the third. 

(We ate so much pheasant that year that I have some really fine-tuned recipes.  Around here we never had enough quail to become expert cooks with them.)

Rarely does a hunter hit a double on wild birds; declaring you’ve shot a triple in some circles will bring polite skepticism and in others will get you called liar.  To have three dead birds in the air at the simultaneously ranks as a once-in-a-lifetime feat.

Both sixteen year olds have come to middle age with grace and aplomb, both still shoot much better than I.  But at last I have the time to practice frequently. 

Achieving competence demands practice, having innate talent shortens the learning curve.  For many activities, whether shooting a shotgun or speaking Spanish, training at an early age brings a level of expertise not possible in later life.

Most regulars at the shooting range are retirees, and most of the best shots practice because as young hunters they never had the chance to shoot a half-box of shells a day, five days a week, and get really good.

I’m a family practitioner in Sioux City, Iowa.  While my one-year non-compete clause ticks off, I’m having adventures and working when I want.  To make a comment on a post, click on the title.


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