As I steadied my new Winchester 12 gauge (a recent gift from my husband) and pulled it tightly into my shoulder,I became acutely aware of an insistant pounding in my chest, increasing in intensity as my intended target came into view. I clicked off the safety,aimed carefully, and gently squeezed the trigger. KABOOM! My gun let loose with unexpected power, pushing me back from where I had stood. Immediately, I could tell I had hit it. I stared ahead, silent and stunned. Then I saw it. My eyes scanned the grass below. Blood. Not alot, but enough. Hunters are usually jubilant at the sight of blood. This however was not a good sign, because unfortunately for me, the blood was dripping out of my own nose. The target blurred as my eyes watered involuntarily.
"OUCH" was my only thought. My nose throbbed and my shoulder ached, yet I had to laugh at the scene I found myself in, as my husband rattled on and on next to me about where I had hit the paper target. A little low and to the left. Not too bad. Pattern could've been better though. Maybe I had lifted my head or dropped the barrel when I pulled the trigger. What did I think? Finally, at my lack of response, his eyes left the target and he glanced over at me. "Oh my GOSH! Are you OK?" His eyes bugged out at the sight of my bloodied face. I was fine, I reassured him. He expressed concern over the possibility of two black eyes. Indeed, physically, I was slightly bruised and bloodied, but I was more concerned about my bruised ego, than my eyes.
Easily learning to shoot my PSE compound bow accurately years ago, I had wrongly assumed learning to shoot a gun would come naturally. Shooting is shooting, right? But with just one shot from my Winchester, I was jolted into reality. Shooting guns was completely different, entirely foreign and left me feeling totally out of whack!
I wasn't accustomed to the weight and feel of a gun, nor the stance. I wasn't even remotely close to being in a "comfort zone" with the explosive noise and recoil. I decisively and promptly left our shooting zone and headed for the house to seek out a lower gauge gun that offered me less to worry about; less power, less noise, and less kick-in-the-nose recoil. I was starting over. Slowly.
First, I unlocked our gun cabinet and located our .22 rifle and our 20 gauge double barrelled shotgun. Then I located the proper ammunition, grabbing a box of .22 longs and 7/8oz. 8 shot target loads for the shotgun.
Meanwhile, my husband readied the targets in a wooded clearing backed by a nice high hillside. Donning eye protection and ear plugs, I first concentrated on my form, so in the future my nose would stay intact. I made sure the butt of the stock was firmly in my shoulder and my cheek was resting snuggly alongside it. I kept a firm, but relaxed grip and leaned slightly forward into my target. Then I began shooting.
I began with the .22 rifle at only 15 yards. After five rounds, I moved to 20 yards, repeated with another 5 rounds, then moved to 25 yards. I finished at 30 yards, and felt more comfortable shooting already. Next, I picked up the 20 gauge, and moved back to my original distance of just 15 yards. I repeated the entire process with the 20 gauge until ending up at 40 yards. To simulate actual hunting scenarios, and for variation, I then shot the 20 gauge while sitting on the ground, moved up to a stump in the woods, then ended my lessons shooting in a sitting position with my back against a tree. Not once did I hit myself in the nose!
I was now more at ease handling and shooting a gun, yet I wanted to learn more. I checked out our state's DNR website, located an adult hunters safety clinic in the area, and signed up. This class was offered for those 18 and older, and included a self-administered 6-8 hour instructional CD-ROM, and a six hour hands-on field day, including shooting clays. It culminated with our written test, which was passed easily by all in attendance. This class proved to be a wonderful decision on my part. It advanced my comfort level with firearms as I was able to handle various guns and learn how to load and unload all the different types of actions.
I experienced my first opportunity to shoot clays and found it addicting! My faults were quickly identified by the instructors as they easily eyed the reason for my missed clays. A common mistake among beginning shooters, I wasn't following through on my shots, and was stopping the swing when I pulled the trigger. Once revealed and corrected, I went on to hit the next 2 out of 3 clays, much to my delight! My confidence soared with each clay released and I felt unbelievably comfortable shooting.
Since then, I have taken my 20 gauge out regularly and practiced shooting. I enjoyed my first spring turkey hunt (yet another story to be told), though I never pulled the trigger. Learning to shoot has been a much longer process than I anticipated, but a very fulfilling and satisfying endeavor (despite my bruised beginnings). For other beginners like me, I suggest you obtain the aid of an experienced shooter when starting out, take your time, learn well, enroll in a hunters safety class and practice,practice,practice.
Now, it's time for me to go back to the gun case, unlock it, pull out the 12 gauge and start over. Slowly and carefully. The next time I aim at a target, I'm confidant the blood won't be coming from me!
© July 2002