Virginia is one of seventeen states with constitutionally protected rights of hunting and fishing. The amendment passed the voters in 2000 and became law in 2001. With such protections for sportsmen being agreed to by voters, it shouldn’t be surprising that more than 35% of Virginia’s population is made up of firearms owners. Of course, hunting is hardly the only use for firearms. My parents’ property in Culpeper County includes a tournament trap range complete with a voice activated pigeon thrower – very cool stuff. We also shoot rifles and handguns on the range. It is a pretty big range.
My oldest son, Seamus, will turn eight years old next month. At their current ages, the four years between Seamus and Duncan is a significant gap. Duncan (and Kathryn) necessarily get more of my personal attention during “daddy time” than Seamus, simply because Seamus is big enough to do a lot more stuff for himself. As compensation, Seamus gets to do things that his siblings aren’t old enough for. I make sure to point this out to him fairly often, and I think he is pretty happy with the situation. This past weekend, he got a particularly memorable example of this principle. He got to come to the range and shoot for the first time.
This is not a decision lightly made. I told him months ago that the time was coming when he could come shoot, and began to talk about firearm safety with him then. Jeff Cooper’s immutable gun laws are always a good place to start these conversations, and I made sure Seamus had heard “every weapon is a loaded weapon” something like 561,492 (all figures approximate) times before he ever even saw the rifle he would be shooting.
Said rifle is a Springfield .22 long rifle with a nice blonde wooden stock. It is a bolt action with a small (five round) clip. It belongs to my stepdad (Pappy) and he has had it for as long as I’ve known him (22 years). Basically, it is the same rifle I learned to shoot with many years ago with the Boy Scouts. Seamus and I were going to break in a new scope, a luxury that felt a little like cheating given that I’d learned on irons.
As we headed to the range, I went over the rules of the range again with Seamus: Always point downrange. Always assume every weapon is loaded. It is Pappy’s rifle and Pappy’s range, that makes Pappy God until we come back to the house. Hearing protection is required. Yes, you really have to wear it!
When we got to the range, Seamus told me that this was becoming the best day of his life. So good, in fact, that it made up for every bad day he’d ever had. Strong words, they made me feel good… They also made me nervous that he might be too excited and not listen to Pappy and me with enough attention. My fears were soon laid to rest.
Pappy gave Seamus another brief rundown on range etiquette and safety procedures, and Seamus was able to repeat back all the rules well enough to satisfy us. Pappy then set about sighting in his new scope. I could feel Seamus getting restless next to me on the bench, excited for his turn. After about 15 rounds Pappy had the scope ready to go, and I put up some targets for Seamus.
Next we had him lie down and showed him how to hold the rifle. This proved difficult at first, as his natural inclination was to stretch his left arm out as far as possible to grip the stock at the same spot Pappy was. We got past our grip problems though and soon moved on to the mechanics of shooting. He did have to be reminded a few times about trigger discipline, but improved in that area pretty quickly and did not have to be reminded after the actual shooting started.
With his first clip, all the targets survived unscathed. We must be terrible instructors! No worries, we loaded up another clip and went back to it. This time, Seamus scored four hits in five shots. Nice! His next offering was a perfect 5/5. Fantastic! Now I can brag about it!
We didn’t stay at the range for too long. Ammunition is mighty hard to come by these days and, fun as it is, shooting it all in one session seemed like a bad idea. Seamus continued to hit the targets (red Solo cups) and I shot a clip as well. Soon enough, we headed back to the house.
On the way back, I told Seamus how proud I was of him for following all of the range rules so well, and for being a good shot too! I laid out some shooting ground rules for the future as well. He may only go to the range with three people: Pappy and Uncle Jimmy (my brother James served in the Marine Corps) or me. Under no circumstances is he allowed to shoot with anybody else. He accepted that, and we went back to the house for a different kind of shooting – the Knicks game was starting. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well for them as it did for Seamus!