When I was growing up cartoons only came on TV on Saturday morning. There were no video games, and fun was mostly found playing football, cowboys & Indians, or army. Everyone in my family was a hunter and guns were a part of our life and my childhood. I killed a lot of small game and a few deer before I ever kissed a girl. Times have changed.
In most families both parents work. Many kids spend many hours a week at daycare. Evenings are cluttered with homework, television, sports, and extra curricular activity practice. Weekends are filled with soccer, football, baseball and similar endeavors. As parents make an effort to find a moment of sanity, or catch up on chores, kids often end up watching episode after episode of Sponge Bob or other silliness.
I have four children, two are now adults, the others teenagers. They’ve been exposed to guns their entire life. The youngest three enjoy shooting or being around guns; the oldest could care less. I’m responsible for both the gun interest in the youngest and the lack of the same in the oldest. Let me explain.
When my oldest was five I started taking him to the range with me. He was excited about the adventures – I thought because he liked guns. In reality, his enthusiasm came from the opportunity of doing something with dad. I assumed his gun interests were similar to mine. He learned to shoot rather well, but I noticed he quit having fun. I realized I’d made a serious mistake.
When my next oldest son was four, I got him a BB gun and we cut photos of animals from hunting magazines and taped them to cardboard boxes. We went on hunts in the yard, and it wasn’t long until he’d killed all sorts of paper animals. At five, he progressed to a .22 rifle that was light enough for him to shoot off-hand.
After a few shots on paper, so he could see he was hitting what he aimed at, we graduated to fun targets. With mom at work we’d raid the fridge and steal vegetables. We took crackers out of the cabinet, bought some balloons and lollipops. I even ordered some swinging steel plates. Why, when he shot these targets there was a reaction; sometimes an explosive one. He found this exciting but also demonstrated to him the destructive power of a firearm.
When he turned six a friend who builds custom rifles loaned me one he’d put tougher for a small kid. It was too heavy for him to shoot off-hand but the stock fit, the trigger was crisp, and it was chambered for a cartridge that did not knock his boogers out. I let him shoot a few shots at a deer target and three weeks later he killed a spike buck. It was a heart shot at 60 yards he still brags about.
Since then his interest in guns has become more professional. He’s more eager to learn how they work and anytime he has a chance to shoot a gun like he uses when he plays his Modern Warfare game, he’s excited. Still, I make sure that whenever we shoot its fun. I try to end each shooting session with a game or challenge.
This has had a cascading effect on the other, younger kids. My son runs in the house to tell mom about the cool things we did or how well he shot. Our two girls want to be part of that excitement. They associate shooting with fun. It’s my job to make sure that does not change.
This has even had an effect on my wife. She was not a shooter when we met but she was not afraid of, nor did she have any aversion to guns. Over the last few years our son’s shooting enthusiasm spread to her. She’s been to Gunsite Academy multiple times, she’s hunted in Africa, and taken several deer here at home while hunting on her own.
Here is a lesson for husbands and fathers: Mom’s matter – where the mom leads, the kids will follow.
My mother was a hunter and shooter, and so are my sister and I.
Safety is of course a concern. You need to ingrain firearm safety into your kids. When I was in Junior high school, we were all given the hunter’s safety course. Get this; we even loaded shotgun shells in the gym and shot clays on the baseball field. That won’t be happening anymore but the Hunter’s Safety Course is a great safety education experience for a youngster.
With my son I made sure he understood gun safety, and never refuse to let him see or handle a gun as long as he exercises proper protocol. I also encourage him to call me out anytime he sees anything unsafe. When he does, I listen. If he’s wrong, I explain why and if he’s right, I admit my mistake.
Getting kids interested in shooting is really very simple but you have to understand their interest in shooting is driven by different things than yours. A half-inch group will mean little to a seven year old but an exploding tomato will mean the world. Here’s a simple test. If you’re out shooting with your kids and they’re not smiling, you’re doing it wrong.
A Psychologist on Kids & Guns – Samantha Mann
Parents employ methods of discipline loosely based on scientific principles of a behavior modification theory called operant conditioning. Any reward, or more specifically a positive reinforcer is defined as any event following a behavior that increases the frequency of that behavior. Therefore, if you are trying to increase the amount of time that your child is shooting, what happens immediately after the trigger is pulled must influence them to do it or want to do it again. The positive reinforcer they experience can come from you, such as a pat on the back, or from the target, such as a dynamic reaction.
Any parent who has given the horsey ride and heard the squeals and the “do it again!” understands this.
Guns unfortunately create a loud noise and sometimes kick. Both can lead to a certain amount of anxiety. This relates to a behavior modification theory called classical conditioning. Many children – and even adults – are afraid of guns for that very reason. Introduction in gradual increments is the best approach, and be smart; start with a .22 LR. Remington’s CB loads are a low noise option. When the child asks if the gun will kick or be loud, be truthful; help them prepare for what’s coming. It only takes a single bad experience to instill fear in child. If the fear is strong enough, one instance can create a lifelong phobia.
If done intelligently, shooting and hunting are excellent activities to share with children. They will learn much more than just how to shoot or how to hunt. They will develop good self-esteem, coping skills, relationships, self-reliance, and independence, while experiencing healthy recreation and an overall philosophy of life and death. This will reduce their risk for delinquent behavior, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and even giving in to peer pressure.
A lot of folks are outraged about various big box stores like Dick’s and Walmart discontinuing the sale of ARs, or upping the age of purchase to 21. I guess they feel like these monster corporations have betrayed them, and that we should boycott or punish them for not supporting the Second Amendment. Well, um, we should have never started buying our gun stuff there in the first place. We abandoned real gun stores for convenience, and to save a couple dollars, they went out of business, and here we are.
I could care less. In fact, it would not bother me if Dick’s and Walmart stopped selling guns, along with gun and hunting related accessories, all together. Neither have ever been a real gun store anyway. Though I’m sure there are exceptions, those behind the counter are, in most cases, not qualified to sale or even handle a gun. And based on my experience; their enthusiasm for customer care almost equals my interest in cat videos.
When I was growing up there was a local bait & tackle/gun shop about two miles from my house. On weekends—during my paper route—I’d stop there on my bike. The guy behind the counter would let me look at and fondle the guns that interested me, and he even knew a thing or two about firearms…and young boys. I could usually talk him out of some part I needed, that was just lying in the clutter on his workbench. (If you grew up near my hometown—and are older than 50—you will remember Ray’s Bait Shop. I’d rather go back there for one hour than spend a day in Cabela’s.)
We’ve seen the death of the local gun shop. With that, we’ve lost places where real and practical knowledge could be dispensed. Dick’s, Walmart, and others have contributed to this near extinction; they retail firearms so cheap, the local guy cannot compete. (Few realize how small the profit margins are on guns.) What they fail to deliver is service—service before, during, and most importantly, after the sale. And those conducting the sale do not have the experience to get that feeling when someone is trying to buy a gun, with possible bad intentions in mind. (You do realize an FFL dealer can deny a sale to anyone they think might be a danger don’t you? Local gun shop owners take this serious.)
And then there’s the knowledge they do not have to share. Local gun shops are operated by folks who are experienced with, and passionate about, what they do and the things they sale. That passion carries over to the customer. The absence of that passion is like a cancer to the gun and hunting industry. It’s why Dick’s and Walmart could care less about your firearms or hunting interests—they have none of their own. It’s also the reason some gun manufactures are struggling; they hired management types from other industries who lack our passion.
Be mad at Dick’s and Walmart if you like, I could care less what they sale. When I buy gun stuff locally, I’m going to buy it from a guy who smells like Hoppe’s #9, a guy who was installing a trigger on a rifle that morning, a guy who closed his shop early yesterday to go to the range, a guy who frequently has a shop full of like-minded folks bitching about anti-gunners, a guy who knows what a pre-64 model 70 is, who Jeff Cooper was, and who actually gives a shit if I hit what I shoot at, or ever come back in his shop again.
With the help from Dick’s and Walmart, the local gun shop can once again be real. With all the new gun owners in our ranks, they’ve never been needed more than right now! You think Dick’s and Walmart are a gun stores? Well, bless your heart. You’ve never been in a real gun store have you?
For 2018 there will be a new feature at Empty Cases. It’s called “Ask the Gunwriter” and it’s sponsored by Mossberg. I receive gun or hunting questions every day and I do my best to answer them all. But I realized there might be other folks with the same question, looking for an answer. So now, when someone submits a question—a good question—I’ll crate a video response and post it on the Empty Cases website and on social media. If I do not know the answer, I’ll reach out to other—smarter—folks in the industry for help.
The really cool aspect of Ask the Gunwriter is that if you submit a written question your name will entered for a chance to win a Mossberg Patriot Revere chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor. But even better, if you submit a video question, your name will be entered 10 times! In October, I’ll draw a name and announce the winner. For instructions on submitting a question, click HERE
But, before this all gets kicked off I thought I’d save some folks some time and tell you what questions not to ask; remember, to be selected your question has to be good.
The guns, gear, and gadgets will all fawn over are interesting, but the real stories – the good stories – are always about people. Those are also the stories I like to write the most. Here is one direct from the pages of the January 2018 issue of Gun Digest magazine. For those who may not know, I write the handgun column for Gun Digest and generally contribute a feature each month. Under the new editorship of Luke Hartle – yes, he is a yankee, but I think there’s enough redneck in him to balance it out – Gun Digest is becoming an excellent version of a modern firearms periodical. I’d suggest you check it out. You can subscribe HERE
The old man shuffled to a cabinet on feet that’d carried him for almost 80 years. He grinned, leaned close enough I could smell cows, corn, and diesel, and said, “This here’s the good drawer.” It contained a hoard of shot shells. He picked up a candy stripped example, handed it to me, and said, “This’ns worth five hundred dollars.” Marv had my attention.
Marvin “Marv” Briegel worked hard all his life, but the only paycheck he ever received was during his three years in the Army. Marv is a farmer, always has been, always will be. He’s damn proud of it too, because he knows it’s a profession too good for most. Marv’s also a hunter. On his farm along Nebraska’s Republican river he once used a 270 Winchester to put a Boone & Crocket whitetail on his wall. That wall, by the way, is in a vault that’s part of Marv’s otherwise inconspicuous farmhouse.
Inside it’s the Marv Show, and it starts with a four-bore shotgun. “I ant shooting that!” I said. Marv grinned, “I ant letting ya.” Then there are the near dozen lesser gauges, Herter’s rifles, and an example of every Knight muzzleloader made. But the Marv Show is mostly about cartridges. I spent hours fingering through drawers of paper-patched cartridges, all-brass shot shells, and other munitions I’d never seen, all while Marv gave John Madden-like color commentary. “Now here’s a shell you don’t see often. I got that’n from an old boy in Oklahoma. That’s a window shell. You know what a window shell is?”
As editor of Gun Digest’s 13th Edition of Cartridges of the World, I’m sometimes referred to as the, “ammo guy.” Amazingly, while deer hunting in the no-stop-light town of Arapahoe, Nebraska, I’d uncovered a physical manifestation of the encyclopedia I’d worked so hard to publish. Historical cartridge collecting is a niche but serious endeavor. Marv’s passion likely exceeds that of Trump voters and, yes, even turkey hunters. He’s even been to Germany to scavange ammunition antiquities.
I asked how a fellow might start cartridge collecting. Marv said, “My first was a 45/100 Pacific Ballard,” Nudging me with his elbow, “but rimfire cartridge boxes are where a guy should start. They’re affordable and easy to find. Just make sure they’re full”
But most of Marv’s collection is shot shell related and I asked why. “With shot shells the information is printed on them, and it matches what’s on the box. It’ll tell you gauge, shot size, and so on. With rifle and pistol cartridges all you got’s the head stamp and no idea bout much else.” Then, with the intensity of a stock trader sharing his first inside tip, Marv leaned in, looked around like, to see if anyone was watching, and whispered, “Robin Hood. Any Robin Hood shot shell is good and the boxes are better-n gold.”
I left Marv a signed copy of Cartridges of the World and a .25 caliber wildcat cartridge I’d based on the 6.5 Creedmoor. Marv gave me something a bit different; a little, but well endowed, bobble-girl off the dash of his – dirtier on the inside than outside – pickup truck.
Passing through the vault door I looked back and Marv was fondling the cartridge I’d given him. He’ll put it in a drawer and someday show it to some guy like me. The bobble-girl? She’ll go on the dashboard of my truck, just to remind me who the real ammo guy is. I named her Casey.
First, let me implicitly state that I don’t care how you kill your meat. I don’t care if you shoot it at 800 yards with a 6.5 Creedmoor and I don’t care if you poke it in the ass with a spear. Hell, I don’t care if you club it with a Louisville Slugger. If you kill it to eat it – or to feed another – and you kill it legally…I don’t care.
Several prominent outdoor writers have attempted to address the ethics of long-range hunting. I’m not going to do that. Arguing the ethics of how a hunter legally kills is – at least to me – like arguing the ethics of how someone has sex. If it’s legal, and if you’re not the one on either end of the activity, it’s really none of your business.
What I want to offer is not a limit on how far you should shoot at an animal, but a pragmatic look at hunting as a sport and ultimately, enjoying the shot you may or may not take. We hunt for meat, for horns, and for hides, but mostly we hunt for fun, and to contribute to the conservation and management of wildlife. Some find fun in seeing how far away they can shoot at, hit, and kill, an animal. This could be because they want to show off, because they do not know how to get closer, or because they believe hunting is mostly about shooting.
Yes, hunting is ultimately all about the shot, but it’s not about making the shot as much as it’s about getting the shot, ideally a shot that should be a sure thing.
To keep things in perspective let’s identify the real challenge involved in long-range hunting. It’s the hitting and killing of the animal. For most hunters, once the distance exceeds about 250 yards, the shot becomes difficult. The challenge therefore is making the shot and that’s something that can be done much more practically, and with no chance of a bad outcome, on a shooting range. Yes, shooting at long-range takes skill and success at it can be satisfying, but it’s skill that can be tested, and satisfaction that can be found, without blood loss or potentially bad outcomes.
Should you enjoy the shot or the hunt?
In November I was hunting free-range scimitar horned oryx in Texas. The country was so open the only place you could pee in private was on the other side of the truck. I figured my shot was going to be long. I’d even practiced extensively out to 500 yards and was prepared and confident. On our last stalk we managed to work to within about 420 yards of a group of oryx. Thinking that was as good as we were going to do, I began to measure the wind and look for a place to shoot from. It was exciting but not heart pounding exciting.
My guide, Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts, suggested we try to work up a narrow draw and get ahead of them. I figured this fruitless; we would have to cover about 200 yards within their vision as we paralleled their path. We took off, ducking from bush to bush, hunkered down, and fast stepping. 20 minutes later we set up where we thought the oryx would come to. We were in the open, exposed, with no cover. We waited, waited some more, and finally Steve spotted the long sweeping horns of the lead oryx. For the next 30 minutes those oryx moved around us, sometimes within 30 yards. The problem was not getting a shot, it was getting a shot at the only bull in a group of 15.
My knees were screaming and my heart was pounding. I figured the oryx could hear both. All that noise was probably why they were looking at us, confused, like a wino when he has a full bottle in each hand. Finally, Steve identified the bull, and between racing heartbeats and clumps of greasewood; I shot him at 54 steps. The shot was easy, getting it wasn’t. And that’s where I think too many hunters are doing it wrong.
I believe hunters would have more fun working for the sure shot and not the difficult one. A sure shot means there’s less chance the animal will run, suffer, or be lost. A sure shot means you have not just found, but hunted the animal. Hunters should brag about the surety of the shot they manage to get, shooters brag about the difficulty of the shot they took. If you’re a hunter and a shooter you can brag about not buggering the sure shot you took.
I’ve made some astoundingly long shots on animals, but the deed was one of marksmanship. Striving to be a good marksman is a worthy goal, striving to be a good hunter is just as worthy, if not more. Finding a practical and realistic balance between the two is noble. Professional hunters, like Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts and Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris, strive to get their hunters close. Some would argue it increases the chance for success, but I submit it mostly increases the value of the hunt/experience. Sometimes the closer you get the harder your nerves are to control, and feeling those nerves is a wonderful thing, a thing that is near impossible to experience from a quarter-mile away. This is why outfitters sell hunts as opposed to shots or animals.
Unfortunately too many modern hunters are trained by television as opposed to a professional, a father, or grandpa. And sadly, real hunting doesn’t make good television. This is partly because its damn near impossible to film. Why? It’s difficult to get a hunter close to an animal, and damned difficult when a guy with a camera is tagging along. It’s also partly because it’s hard to relay the difficulty of the challenge to the viewer. When you’re shooting at an elk at 700 yards, the challenge is clear and easily defined. When you have to use stealth and predator skills to cover 700 yards, it takes a choreographed production, lots of hard work, and good music to convey the challenge, excitement, and adrenalin the hunter is struggling to control.
I frequently say, “it’s all about the shot.” Part of that – actually the largest part of that – is about getting the shot. Making the shot should be easy and it should be sure. Anything less than that and you’re essentially depriving yourself of the fulfillment of the reward your genetic wiring has programmed you to seek.
Long range hunting basically boils down to – let’s see if I can make that shot. Hunting, real hunting, boils down to – let’s see if I can hunt that animal and secure a sure shot. Those are dynamically different things. Shooting animals at distance is sometimes part of the hunt. It should not be the only part – or goal – of the hunt.
Here are three simple rules I’d suggest you follow to help make the most of your hunting experience. If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier. If you’re not sure of the shot, don’t take it. If you cannot abide by these rules you might want to do your hunting on a shooting range. Steel targets are easy to sneak up on. They won’t run off if you miss, and they’ll not suffer needlessly from bad hits.
Like I said, hunt any legal way you like; I really and truly don’t care how you do it. The point I’m trying to make is that maybe you should be the one who cares. We hunt largely for fun but to also satisfy our genetic makeup. I’m just telling you how you can find more fun and satisfaction, and become a real hunter and not just a shooter.
It’s a new year. Might I suggest you resolve to become a better shooter and hunter, and then learn to mesh the two disciplines in a way they compliment each other.