The sun is just up over the horizon, as the gear is loaded into the truck. If you want the best spot at the gun range, you best get up early. The afternoons are a flurry of volleys, excited laughter as a youngster takes up the sport for the first time, range officers going into full point on someone who isn’t monitoring their trigger finger.
But mornings? Mornings are quiet, just myself, a friend from work perhaps, hair mussed, clothes sort of wrinkled from snagging them fresh from a laundry basket, we do look a sight. The air is cool and sluggish, the lanes down which we would shoot, extending out into the shadowed distance. A couple of targets had fallen over into the sand, where they sunned themselves like sleepy predators on the silvery shores of a foreign land. Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! The air was still, but it was not the stillness of peace. We were ready, a couple of savages with Savages, a stranger not knowing might think.
But who sees us and what we look like matters little as that first target goes up. We are here to hone our skills, to help each other learn, to put a piece of liberty on a small piece of paper one round at a time. At home, there are rounds of a higher caliber, fancier guns, but for today, we simply wish to work on our skills, and for that, a quality firearm and a few boxes of small rounds will suffice.
I’ve had days I couldn’t shoot a good group on a humpback whale. I’ve had various tiny chunks taken out of my hand because I wasn’t paying attention to those small caliber creatures that bite. I’ve made mistakes both on and off the range, like anything else in life, learning and growing from it.
But the confidence that learning to safely and responsibly handle a firearm gave me, has never left. You learn to discern, by instinct and practice from where the threat will come. You learn to respond in kind, clamping down your teeth as your finger pulls back and your heart flies out of your chest with a volley. Everything narrows down to that heart, that finger and that target, and the mere incidents of what is around you fade to shadow, the inner truths hidden there in the smoke that lingers after the sound is gone.
As the rifle goes up to my shoulder, I thought of my first whitetail hunt, taught the craft by those that loved me, passing down a tradition of survival and preparedness. I field dressed the animal with coaching but no hands-on assistance, there in the fading light, my hands consecrating to us that which was, by God’s will and man’s patience, accepted as a gift.
I grew up that day, in more ways the one, having learned and watched and waited, until I was ready to handle my firearm, ready to use it as a responsible steward of the land, looking at the deer on the ground, the first worthy blood I had been worthy to take. Sacrifice with grace, for which we are both thankful and repentant.
As I look back at those who remain, I see the next generation and the best generation, side by side. I see fathers and mothers and neighbors, blue collar, white collar. We all come from different backgrounds, with different wants and needs, but we all have something in common. That is the belief in our fundamental God-given right to bear arms, not just for the hunt, but for the defense of our Land and the welfare of our family. We are not gun “nuts” or “extremists”, we are law-abiding, ordinary citizens armed with the steel of eternal vigilance. We are simply shooters, and our grouping is tight.