Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Friday, January 04, 2019
The Good, The Bad and The Lucky

A Christmas Story
Christmas is a time for memories and it might surprise you that some of my most vivid ones are of the guns and hunting variety. If for no other reason, this was the season when I could focus all my youthful attention on convincing mom and dad that a certain firearm was a necessary factor in positive growth and a healthy, emotional well-being.

As much as I loved fishing, wing shooting was a passion of equal intensity, so much so that I never attended a high school prom and only saw a mere handful of football games. The same fall and winter social calendar was also in play throughout most of my college years. From dove to quail, pheasant to chukar, ducks to geese, it didn’t matter – I had my priorities.


Of course, the starting point for me – as with most everyone – was the BB gun. But unlike Ralphie in the holiday classic A Christmas Story, the object of my affection was not the Red Ryder range model, but rather the Daisy 25 pump-action, something my youthful brain intuitively understood could help create requisite muscle memory for the bird shooting to come. A lever action with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time was fine for wannabe sheriffs but certainly no choice for a shotgunner of the future.

For parents, the BB gambit hinged on the hope that a youngster could learn respect for a firearm with a rifle that could inflict minimal damage to all but the most unfortunate offenders who, as the movie suggests, might actually manage to shoot their eyes out. Apparently, it was a lesson well learned since I can’t recall any kids with eye patches in elementary school or junior high.

It was also a means of buying time before youngsters moved on to the next stage where .22s became their fixation. Perhaps it was the result of a more suburban California environment or the seductive prose of a well-placed ad in Outdoor Life – probably both – the .22 mania never overtook me. Instead, I lusted for the black oxide, walnut-grained profile of what I considered to be the very pinnacle of kid sharpshooting – a bolt-action Sheridan Bluestreak pellet gun. This was no wimpy .177 Crosman but a serious .20 caliber that if one was manly enough and capable enough of exerting ten full pumps of power, the noisiest of neighborhood crows would never again know solace. It was a gun with weight and wood and metal, peep sights if you could afford them (I couldn’t), or even a Weaver scope (something I assumed kids toted in the hills above Malibu). Still, no matter how much I wanted to understand the incremental steps of a hunter’s learning curve, the shotgun beckoned.

Once again, Christmas morning was my deliverance. There, underneath the tree, was that long box covered in paper and ribbon; a membership in the fraternity of real wing shooters. In the form of a single-shot Stevens 20-gauge, it was also a classic of sorts, an ultimately functional shotgun devoid of vent ribs or any affectation, but full of promise. Clearly, the downside of receiving such a gift on Christmas day was the obvious fact that the hunting season was all but over and the next honest opportunity was the dove opener come September first. In the interim, during the long months of spring and summer, you had to content yourself with trudging up into the foothills with a friend, a borrowed, spring-loaded hand trap, a box of shells and a knapsack stuffed with clay pigeons. With the concept of sporting clays decades away, this was the best, if not primitive, alternative. It was, of course, a different time when the whoomph of shotgun blasts a canyon or two away generally elicited little concern.

By the time there were actual doves corkscrewing overhead, I was ready from both safety and technique perspectives but not so much when it came to having only one round in the chamber. With a single-shot, looking down after a miss presented the toughest of learning curves. Suddenly failure was a fresh and bitter pill that you had to choke down, all the while going through the mechanics of unloading, reloading and re-focusing, not to mention recalculating lead, swing and follow through. At that moment, it would have accomplished little for anyone to remind me how good this was for my wing shooting skill set. I could think of only two things: Take better shots and get a 12-gauge pump as soon as humanly possible.

Eventually, a Winchester Model 1200 showed up on Santa’s list, although I would have much preferred its predecessor, the then-newly-out-of-date Model 12, especially a Pigeon Grade. (I could dream couldn’t I?) In my life to follow, there were more shotguns to replace those of my youth except there was nothing to replace the progression they were a part of. As a youngster, it was sometimes viewed as an intolerably long learning curve. That is, until my youthful group of hunting buddies encountered an outsider who wanted to join the fray and exhibited habits or tendencies counter to what we had all learned as kids. Taking the field with someone had become a solemn thing, not only in terms of safety but of trust. If we didn’t like how they handled themselves afield or, perhaps more importantly, could not depend on their capacity to keep secret the hard-earned locations of our best hunting spots, they were quickly disinvited from future hunts.

As mean-spirited as such decisions might appear, I am proud to say that throughout my young career and beyond, there was never even a close call. Not a pellet to the arm or a what-the-hell-was-that moment. This is why, at Christmastime, I choose to write a column on gun control. Times may change, but the progression to responsible gun ownership should not. This is why I do not fear the 18-year-old who finds the shotgun of his dreams under the tree. I fear the 18–year-old who finds his first gun there.




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