My boy has recently turned 12, which means it’s time for me to pass on some things that aren’t related to video games.
When I was growing up, my father immersed me into the world of firearms, along with a myriad of somewhat related interests. I know he didn’t learn these things from his father, because his father bailed on him when he was but a toddler.
My father shared with me exactly one story related to his interests from when he was a child.
He told me that in his early teens, the first thing he recalled ever really wanting was a fine old rifle, a lever action along the lines of the fine Henry rifles you see today. A lever action rifle with a deep blued finish and warm mahogany woodwork that he fell in love with. This rifle he saw was hanging on display in a furniture store, just another furnishing such as they did back then.
He decided that nothing would do but that he have that rifle, and as his mother was sternly disapproving but too Minnesotan to actually say “no” in clear language, he knew that he would not gain the funds from her but she would not stop him from earning it himself. He spent the entire summer working around the neighborhood at what jobs he could scrounge, mowing lawns, weeding in gardens, washing cars and cleaning and such.
Finally, the day arrived where he had earned enough to pay the asking price for that rifle. He went downtown, entered the store, made his purchase and took his new most treasured belonging home to examine and develop his first relationship with a firearm. To learn it’s feel, it’s balance, and the intricacies of it’s inner workings.
He took the rifle to his room, cleared a space on the only open area available to him, the floor, and carefully disassembled the entire weapon, laying each piece spread out in a geometric pattern so that the order in which he took each gear and lever apart would make sense when once he went to put it back together.
He felt the tension of the springs, the smoothness of each stone ground piece of metal, and marveled at the way each metal part had it’s own special and perfect fit against another, as intricate and precise as any fancy clockwork, but meant to puncture a primer and launch a bullet towards what could mean meat and a meal for a hungry family, or another night going without.
He laid each piece out fully, cleaned and polished each one, and used a fine cloth to place a light sheen of oil upon them but not so much as to attract dust or dirt to foul the action. You might say he spent that summer of mowing lawns dreaming of the day and reading up on what to do once he had the rifle in his possession. Now that the day had come, he was putting that book study and day dreaming to hard use.
With the rifle fully apart and spread out in front of him, he decided he was missing some important tool and went down to the garage to get it. He didn’t tell me what it was, but the impression I had was that his long departed father had kept a tool bench out there, and he had gone for a pliers or screwdriver of some sort.
By the time he returned to his room, in that brief span of time, he found the floor empty. Clean.
Very, very clean.
The pieces were all gone.
The carpet… was freshly vacuumed.
In the time it had taken for him to open his door and head out to the garage, his mother, my grandmother, had opened the door to his room…. and vacuumed.
She just vacuumed up all the pieces, drove that thing right over everything, scooping them all up with the rough spinning brushes and sucking them into the old fashioned dirt-filled bag.
My father made no bones about the fact he went ballistic. He told me in no uncertain terms how this marked his first true knock down drag out verbal battle with his mother, they went at it with plenty of Minnesotan passive aggressiveness and guilting being done by both sides.
In the end, my father never could find all the pieces to put that rifle back together, no matter how hard he tried. He claimed she must have held some back from the vacuum to throw out somewhere else just to confound him. She denied this completely, and who could say what the truth was?
This affected my father profoundly. It wasn’t long after this that he ran away from home the first time, and he told me it wasn’t the last time he did that. The last time was when he ran away and joined up with the Navy, not to speak with her again until he mended fences shortly after getting married and adopting me.
That rifle was a turning point for my father. A watershed moment, something that he used to later define himself.
He became the complete sportsman, perhaps as compensation, who knows? Who can say what is psychology and what is genuine love for a hobby or passion for an interest?
Whatever it is led him to master all manner of the art of the firearm, leatherworking, knifemaking and throwing, fishing and hunting and even such esoteric skills as the building of a log cabin in the wilderness using handmade tools.
When I came of age, when I turned 12, it was my father’s time to teach all of these things to me, and I was an eager student. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was as obsessive to learn every part of this adult world of skills and mysteries as only a young boy with nothing else to do with his free time can be.
I might have memorized entire decades of Field and Stream, not to mention many a years’ worth of Shooting Times and Guns and Ammo magazines. My favorites were the ‘Stupid Criminals’ section, but the stories in the back of Field and Stream were also of particular pleasure.
Now, I’m not a hunter or a fisherman. I kind of never really got into it for itself. I don’t need to hunt my food to feed my family, and I don’t see much point to doing it for sport. I can do it and I’ve certainly done it, but the camping out part and the shooting at targets was perfectly all right with me, I never really felt the need to go kill something to call it a good trip. If there is a need, such as to feed your family in hard times, sure, but just as a way of keeping score, nah. And I have a very nice supermarket right down the street.
Likewise for fishing, I know how to do it and Lord knows I’ve done my share, but if I have to choose my favorite way to spend an afternoon, it isn’t going to involve a boat on a lake with a rod in my hand.
But shooting. There is a powerful satisfaction in firing a weapon, in practicing your marksmanship and directing the rounds to go where and how you intend them to go. It’s not solely about power although there is certainly a part of that. But a firearm is a magnificent thing unto itself, a marvelous work of engineering. The clockmaker’s art combined with the physics of force and pressure, the mathematics of ballistics, the awareness of your environment for windage and humidity, the physical mastery of your nerves, your muscles, your heartbeat itself and the keenness of your sight all combining to place this small chunk of lead just so.
Self control. Self awareness. A general awareness of everything around you. Responsibility for your actions, the handling of the firearm, the safety of your movements at all times.
I’m not going to go full Hemingway, but there is a different feeling you have when you hold a firearm with the intent of shooting it on the range, even without a deer at the other end of your sights. A knowledge that what you are doing and the how of what you are doing matters, and that doing it right is how an adult acts. It’s important for itself.
And the shooting skills, there are no ways to cheat code those. You do it and practice it and if you do not shoot straight and true that target will show it. If you have a nice tight group shooting from the standing offhand, you accomplished that and nobody can take that away from you.
So, in partnership with Cassie, we have purchased for the Cub his first firearm, and I think it’s a fine one for him to learn the basics of safety, range responsibility and shooting technique with; a Ruger 10/22.
Now, it’s not quite my 10/22. When my father bought me one, and yes he did, what he bought for me was the original Ruger 10/22 carbine way back in 1982 or so, the blued metal rifle with the wooden stock, 10 round magazine and barrel band and all that.
A fine weapon, but oh my it’s not a patch on what is out there now.
In the decades since I fell in love with my Ruger 10/22, the rest of the world apparently decided it agreed with me that it was a mighty fine rifle for the price… and oh my isn’t it an easy thing to customize?
So now I go looking around for a Ruger 10/22, and I come to find the market is flooded with variant models, special editions, and an entire cottage industry built around supplying custom parts of all sorts, from magazines and barrels to the wildest stocks you could imagine.
What to do? I kind of wanted to do this purist thing, but damn, there is some cool stuff out there now.
What I ended up doing is finding a mighty good deal on a 10/22 carbine, but instead of the traditional wood stock it had a synthetic stock in digi-cam that looked quite nice, part of the “All Weather” variant.
It’s been a few weeks now, and we’ve been shooting several times at a fine local indoor range. In my next post, I’m going to launch right in to how that started out and how he’s been doing, but for right now this post sure seems long enough to be going on with.
I do want to say that as important as it is for me to give him this opportunity to learn firearms himself, it’s just as important that he be given the choice to decide how much he wants to learn, and to be able to make an informed decision as to whether he wants anything to do with them at all.
I don’t want my son to grow up to be me. What I want is for him to have the world opened up to him, to understand all that I can teach him that is within it without fear, and then to have the freedom to choose what he wants to do, not because it is all that he knows but because what he chooses is the best that he wants from all that there is to look from.
It’s gonna be a wild next 6 years, I can already see that.