December 2, 2013
When I started thinking about writing this post I couldn’t get past mental images from the movie, A Christmas Story. You probably know the one. All Ralphie (a juvenile Walter Mitty) wants for Christmas is a BB gun… and not just any BB gun, but the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model, air rifle!”
His dream, however, seemed to be thwarted at every turn by the admonition, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
I hate that movie.
I just never understood the allure of fiction that seems to hit so close to home. The travails of a middle class, suburban family and the way Christmas always seems to draw such a sharp distinction between the responsibilities and realities of grown-ups and the self-absorbed fantasies of children… well, I can’t see why anyone would think that’s funny. That’s hard, dark stuff, man! Hearts are broken…. dreams shattered… the poignancy of lost innocence and the bitter resentment of adults toward the carefree joy of youngsters… it’s an ugly, ugly thing. It’s not funny. It’s mean.
I think I was about eight years old when I got my Red Ryder, and yes, it was a Christmas gift, hidden behind everything else at the back of the tree. I knew what it was. My parents knew I knew. But I didn’t get to open it until every last thing had been pulled from under the tree… the socks, underwear, and flannel shirts. It probably wasn’t even the New Year before I was hit by my first riccochet (and not my last). I don’t even remember what I shot… only that it was impermeable to BBs and rejected my shot, sending it back at my head, post-haste. Of course, the incident went unremarked in the family history. The tiny red mark faded long before I returned home to the call of the porch light. No one ever knew but me.
Do I digress? Maybe a bit, but I think not.
It’s December now, and that means time to start looking seriously at Christmas gift giving. Firearms are on the top of the list for many a hopeful recipient.
For various reasons, it seems like more and more parents are giving firearms to their youngsters, and the manufacturers are stepping up to provide for this market. There are the traditional, youth offerings from companies like Crickett or H&R, but the “serious” gun makers are also getting deeply involved. There are youth guns from Browning, Weatherby, Remington, and many more. Youth models on the AR platform are also available for young shooters.
I think it’s pretty cool, although I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when I see a 10-year old sporting his new deer rifle. I was 12 before I was allowed to have a “real” gun, and that was a shotgun. My dad was extremely safety conscious, and he didn’t believe a kid should be shooting a centerfire rifle (or even a rimfire without direct supervision). I wasn’t even allowed to shoot slugs, except when hunting from an elevated stand, and seated next to my dad or grandfather. My first handful of deer fell to 20-gauge, #3 buckshot.
When I finally got my first deer rifle at 15, it wasn’t a 30-06 or even a .243. It was a Winchester Model 94 Trapper, in .30-30… a short-range, relatively low velocity rifle. Of course, it was perfect for the coastal swamps and bays where I hunted, but all I saw was that it wasn’t the sexy, long-range piece of gunmakers’ art I’d been drooling over in the catalogs.
My dad’s justification was, again, safety related. The coastal plain of North Carolina is about as flat as any place you’ll find in the US. While the swamps and forests can be pretty thick, the truth is that there aren’t many geographic features that will reliably stop an errant bullet. This is significant enough that some counties in NC actually require centerfire rifle hunters to use elevated stands (at least 8′). Despite my solemn oaths to only use my rifle from a tree stand, my dad was savvy enough to know that a 15-year old doesn’t always have the wherewithal to pass up the occasional, unsafe shot (truth is, a lot of “adult” hunters don’t have the restraint). That .30-30 would discourage me from taking long shots, and if I did, the bullet would still be in the dirt within 400 yards.
I chafed at what I saw as overly-restrictive rules, expecially because so many of my friends didn’t seem to be so encumbered. But looking back, of course, I see the wisdom (isn’t that always the way?). I think about some of the things I witnessed or heard about, and it’s honestly a bit of a miracle that none of my friends seriously injured themselves… or anyone else.
I expect most of us think we’re pretty good about it. We consistently observe the rules ourselves, and we demand the same from the people with whom we hunt. I’m pretty certain that I could ask every hunter I meet if they consider themselves safety conscious, and every one would answer with the affirmative. Muzzle control, trigger etiquette, target identification… they all come as second nature to each of us as we spend more time afield and at the range, and become more and more familiar with our firearms.
Familiarity. We know what that breeds. Contempt… usually demonstrated through complacency.
I know it happens. I catch myself doing it, and I have observed it in others… often (but not always) directly proportional to the length of time they’ve been hunting. I think some folks just don’t know any better, some don’t realize, and many others have just begun to relax their diligence since nothing bad has ever happened to them. Personally, I may be a little more diligent (and less tolerant) than some because I have had a couple of very close calls that were only mitigated by my adherence to basic safety precepts.
It’s one thing, and bad enough, when we become complacent about firearm safety ourselves. It’s another altogether when we reflect that complacency to our kids. When we give guns to children, there is no room for lacksadaisical.
Maybe I’m a reflection of my dad, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe not, but when it comes to kids and guns, I believe in absolutes. There is no try to be safe. You are safe or you are not, and if you are not, then you lose the privilege of using the gun. We can try again later, but until the lesson sinks in, the shooting is over the moment that muzzle covers an unintended target, or the finger goes inside the trigger guard while the gun isn’t pointed downrange. Gun safety, in my opinion, is too serious for “three warnings” or constant leniency. The potential consequences are simply too significant.
But even when we’re sure we’ve drilled safety into their young heads, we can’t stop there. It’s one thing for a kid to know better. It’s another thing altogether for them to consistently follow the rules… especially when no one is there to catch them at it. You may think you have the best-behaved kid in the world, loaded with responsibility and intelligence. But listen to the interviews of parents after some kid shoots his best friend while showing off his new rifle, or when some youngster gets into the closet and finds dad’s pistol and accidentally blows his brains all over the bedroom. Those parents thought their child knew better too.
And here’s the thing. The kid probably did know better. But that didn’t stop him from making a bad judgement call. The reason it didn’t stop him is because he’s a child. Without diving into an extended discussion of childhood development and psychology, suffice it to say that they simply don’t reason like an adult (should). Their perceptions of cause and effect aren’t really consistent, and the concept of irrevocable consequences is largely unformed. The thought of death, or especially of causing death, is abstract… it’s just not real.
An adult may think he has impressed the idea that “this is not a toy” on a kid, but the truth is, to a kid, everything is a toy. The gun, then, is merely a toy with special significance. For some kids, it’s simply impossible to resist that tabu, especially if they can use it to satisfy their own curiousity, or to increase their esteem among peers or siblings.
“Look, this is my gun I got for Christmas. It’s not a toy. It’s very dangerous. Here’s how you put the bullets in.”
Another mother sobbing for her dead baby.
Sorry, this conversation has drifted a long way from a stupid comedy about Ralphie and the ridiculous lamp. But has it?
We all laughed, at least a little, when he bounced that BB off of the sign and cracked his Coke-bottle glasses. It had been so long foretold, it was simply inevitable.
But isn’t that how real tragedy happens? What makes it tragic isn’t always what actually happened, but what could have happened to prevent it.
Look folks, we all know better… even if we don’t always do better. But when it comes to our kids, don’t they deserve more than that?
Here are some thoughts to consider:
Supervise your children any time they’re around firearms.
- I don’t care how responsible you may think your own little “Ralphie” may be, kids should not be left alone with firearms. They sometimes do things they don’t even know they might regret, and that’s a lesson I don’t think any of us wants to teach the hard way.
- How old is “old enough”? I don’t know. I think it varies from one kid to the next, and from place to place… but seriously, at the very least think more than twice before letting a pre-teen run loose with a gun.
- Even when you do turn them loose, provide an atmosphere of supervision. Remind them of the safety considerations and then set and enforce rules. Let them know that if they violate those rules, the best they can hope for is to lose their shooting privileges. The worst is unthinkable.
Lock up those guns.
- If you honestly believe your kid would never mess with the guns just because you told him not to, you are deluded. It is as simple as that. I know from my own childhood experience, from my friends, and from my friends’ kids, prohibition simply doesn’t work… even with the real threat of a serious ass-whipping as a consequence.
- There’s simply no excuse not to lock them up. If you can’t afford a safe, use a lock. The manufacturers give away trigger and cable locks when you buy a gun, or you can pick one up from almost any sporting goods store for well under $10. Or go to the Project Childsafe website and locate a local source for a free lock and safety kit.
- If you believe you need an accessible firearm for home defense, consider one of the quick-access biometric safes. They’re not that expensive these days. If you can’t afford that, then at least lock the gun away when you’re not where you can see it… or keep it with you as you move around the house. The news archives have way too many stories about kids who died because dad’s loaded gun was unprotected in the bedside table, even while mom and dad were right in the next room.
Demonstrate and practice safe firearm handling.
- Nothing teaches a kid good or bad habits better than observing a mentor. If you model the behavior you teach, kids tend to make a positive association with those behaviors.
- Vice versa, if you are a slob with a gun, your kid will become a slob with a gun, no matter what lessons you think you’re teaching. And just because you got away without killing yourself or someone else, your youngster may not be so lucky.
- No one… neither child nor adult… respects the “do as I say, not as I do” approach.
So go on out there and get your kids that new rifle or shotgun for Christmas. Teach them to shoot and hunt, and all the things that go with the shooting sports… including woodsmanship, patience, responsibility, and respect for and appreciation of safe gun handling.
November 27, 2013
I don’t think anyone is new to the idea that, the older you get, the faster the years go by. It’s an odd, chronological phenomenon that really can’t be explained through normal scientific methods. I think it’s got something to do with quantum physics, since apparently things can simultaneously exist in more than one state. Time exists in one state when viewed by the youngster who waits interminably for some magic age, whether it’s 10, 13, 18, or 21. It exists in an altogether different state for those of us looking back at the days when we waited interminably for some magic age.
Whatever it is, I can’t believe it’s been almost seven months since I was passing up shots on the turkeys because they were, literally, poking around in my driveway. Now I want to invite one over for Thanksgiving dinner, and they’re nowhere to be found.
Yeah. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day.
It’s not quite the holiday it was when I was a youngster. It used to mean a week off from school, which usually translated into at least a couple of days freezing my toes off in an old pair of Red Ball, rubber boots, while listening to the hounds chase deer through the Black River swamps.
Those were some pretty precious times with my dad, I remember… and the memories, while they certainly include (vividly) the ache and tingling of frozen feet, more prominently feature the warmth of the front seat of his little Toyota Corolla wagon on the early morning drive to the hunting camp, and the comforting aromas of coffee, pipe tobacco, and gun oil (Hoppe’s #9, of course) mingling with the uniquely earthy smell of our canvas hunting coats.
But I’m drifting. Here I was, talking about tomorrow and all that other stuff was years ago when three or four generations of family all lived within a short drive of one another. My dad’s gone now, as are my grandparents and a couple of uncles. Cousins have married and moved on, and I’ve moved a couple thousand miles away from the home place. Those big family gatherings are little more than fond reminiscences now.
To my grandfather, family was the most important thing. A true, southern patriarch, he presided over the holiday table with a pretty stern, albeit unspoken, expectation that everyone would be there. And everyone usually was. Thanksgiving at Paw-Paw’s house was a generally raucous affair with siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles… babies and old-timers and everything in between. His big, formal dining room was focused around a banquet-sized table that was always laden with enough food to feed a small country. Turkey and ham graced the center, along with all sorts of vegetables and casseroles. Pies and cakes burdened the sideboard, protected from the illicit tresspass of larcenous fingers by Paw-Paw’s stern and watchful gaze.
I guess I’m getting a little maudlin here, but I also can’t help remembering how those family gatherings grew for so many years, and then declined as us young’uns got older, started families of our own and started to scatter around the countryside. Then, as so often happens, came the deaths of the older generation. When my grandfather passed away, the family tried to keep things going but it was never the same.
And here I am, looking at tomorrow and a table set for three… Kat, myself, and our friend Diana. My daughter and her mom are up in CA, planning dinner with some neighbors. My mom will be joining my youngest brother and his family in NC. And those cousins and their extended families… I’m barely even in touch these days.
At least Christmas usually brings most of us back together, and as I look at it now, it’s right around the corner. I’ll barely have the Thanksgiving leftovers gone before we’re packing up for the long haul back to NC.
From past to future, while sitting in the present… strange, huh?
Thanks for bearing with me.
November 11, 2013
I know some people think, “it’s just another job.”
But it’s a job with a serious commitment that goes beyond anything else the civilian world might offer.
It’s a job that can, at the drop of a hat, rip you away from your home, your family, and your loved ones.
It’s a job that can put you in harm’s way.
It’s a job that can demand the ultimate toll.
It’s a job that is as valuable in peacetime as in times of war, because not only do you stand in defense of our country against the openly hostile machinations of our enemies, but you stand ready as a deterrent to blunt the will of others to do us harm.
For that I salute you. As a citizen, I thank you.
July 4, 2013
It’s the 4th of July. Independence Day.
I’ve no desire to get all political here, but it’s worth a thought.
When you celebrate them today, slow down and think about what they mean… and what they cost. Take a moment to recognize just how good we’ve got it here.
It may not be perfect.
But it’s good.
May 27, 2013
As we start off this holday Monday, I want to offer my humble salute to all the men and women who have served our country, past and present, in times of war and in times of peace, in harm’s way and on the home front.
Lots of other people are offering up the somber and the serious, and it’s right and well to do so. But there’s nothing wrong with a smile or two. So here goes, if you’ve got a couple of minutes… enjoy!
December 21, 2012
Merry Christmas to everyone! I’m hitting the road for NC, and will likely be offline until Christmas Eve, so wanted to offer up my musical Christmas card. Hope you enjoy. And if you don’t like the music, then at least I hope you appreciate the sentiment.
December 19, 2012
So ever since switching over to the new site at the beginning of this year, I’ve got to say a lot of things have changed. My readership has gone down drastically, my posting schedule has dropped off (hard to be as motivated), and I’m not seeing the opportunities to test and review products. The truth is, without the promotion from the old host site, I’m not getting exposure outside of my circle of regulars (thank you guys!). I never got paid much, but I’m getting nothing now… neither ads nor pay-per-post. And without a big audience, the major companies aren’t particularly interested in sending me expensive things to write about. But I can write what I want, when I want, how I want, and whatever I turn out here is mine and no one else’s. Freedom isn’t free, I suppose…
It all goes hand in hand, of course, and I’m not gonna bemoan it. I’m simply pointing this out as my way of saying, I haven’t got a lot of new stuff to recommend for Christmas gifts this year. And that’s probably OK, because if you haven’t done your shopping by now, nothing I could promote here is likely to get you off of the hot seat. Seriously, if you’re stumbling around and looking for gift ideas at this point, you’d probably do well to roll on over to one of the big box department stores… or hit your local Cabelas or Bass Pro.
Or, grab the construction paper, glue, and magic markers.
It’s not that I haven’t had any ideas or suggestions, especially when it comes to building out your library. In February, I reviewed my online friend, Tovar Cerulli’s book, The Mindful Carnivore. It was a really interesting look at hunting from a really different perspective. I also reviewed Steve Rinella’s book, Meat Eater, and while I didn’t personally care much for it, I know a lot of other hunters who really enjoyed what Rinella had to say.
For the wannabe gunsmiths out there, the collectors, or the serious afficianados, I also really like the Firearms Guide series of DVDs. For pure information about pretty much any gun you can think of, this is a great and growing resource. I also think this disk would be required for anyone who writes about guns, whether you’re a journalist, blogger, or novelist.
If you’re looking to stuff some stockings, ammo makes a great (and weighty) option to really make those socks sag. Toss in a box or two of Winchester ETips for their favorite hunting rifle, or some Barnes VorTX handgun loads for that hog pistol.
But if you’re looking for something really new and unique for the hog hunter on your list, I may have the perfect thing. It arrived in an unsolicited email the other day, and I almost deleted it. For whatever reason, I clicked on it instead.
There’s something about a nice hip flask that’s always sort of appealed to me. Maybe it’s the fantasy of the “gentleman hunter” coming through, or maybe I just like to have a nip from time to time, but pulling the flask from a convenient pocket, unscrewing that cap, and tipping it up just makes returning to camp at the end of a long day a little nicer. The introduction to this email suggested that the sender was the manufacturer of a nice hip flask, with a wild boar on the front of it. I clicked on the attached photo to see what we were dealing with, and I was pleasantly surprised. This is not the standard, stamped stainless steel, made in Taiwan piece of junk.
I went ahead and visited the web site, Taliesin Pewter, and enjoyed a virtual visit to an English craftsman’s shop. They make a lot more than just flasks, but since that’s what I came to see, I poked around a bit. These are some nice pieces, and honestly, I don’t think the prices are too out of line either… in the neighborhood of US $70 (based on current conversion rates). In addition to the hog, there are several sporting designs, including stags, waterfowl, and grouse.
This is definitely something I’d like to find under my tree on Christmas, and I bet many of you guys know someone who’d like something like it as well.
If you’re still shopping, good luck. If you’re done… well, good luck anyway. You know there’s someone you’ve forgotten.
November 22, 2012
Remember it for what it’s all about, and I hope those of you who can are enjoying the day with the people closest to you. And while you’re at it, spare a thought for the folks who can’t be home… our troops overseas, the hard-working people who keep the country running (law enforcement, emergency personnel, etc.), and those who just happen to be separated for whatever reason.
And if you think about it, why save one day out of the year to be thankful for our blessings?
May 28, 2012