Once upon a time, I was married. I married a woman who’d grown up on both a ranch and a farm and she was comfortable with guns. In fact, she was the one that talked first about getting her CHL, which got me interested in the whole idea of guns for self defense. What do you do, when you become interested in a subject about which you know next-to-nothing? I can’t speak for anybody else, but the first thing I do is read – I read everything I can get my hands on, even if I don’t understand it. And when we’re talking about a subject that involves the possibility of inflicting bodily harm if not used as directed, the last thing I want to do is to go off half-cocked, as it were. Which brings me to the subject of a good ol’ fashioned dove hunt, Texas Style . . .
Now, I’m not one of those guys who assumes that, since I know my way around a handgun, the same skill set is going to transfer to rifles or shotguns and somehow automagically make me an expert. Nope. I’m going to assume that it’s time to go back to grade school and pretend I know nothing. This policy has stood me in good stead with subjects as varied as “learning a new musical instrument” to “learning how not to kill someone my first time out hunting.” So when I was invited by my now-ex-wife’s family to come up to the spread n’ do some dove huntin’, I agreed, and quickly started reading up on the subject. Followed immediately by plugging into my network of friends, looking for one or two who know more about it than I do.
Thankfully, I have several friends that grew up hunting for sport, so it didn’t take long for me to learn enough to keep from becoming the TTAG Idiot du Jour, or whatever we’re calling them nowadays. They also imparted a number of useful tips for the hunt. For instance, having some way to tie my pants legs to my ankles might be a good way to keep from getting all sorts of nasty bites from deer ticks and the like.
I was also able to discover beforehand that, just because you’re shooting on private property – and your hosts own the property – that you still need one of those game licenses lest the local game warden come a-callin’ and discover that you’re in violation. My in-laws scoffed at this. They insisted the risks were “slim and none, and Slim just left town.” Uh huh. It would be just my luck that the game warden would show up and pick me as the lucky winner of some hefty fine, so I bought the license without complaint.
Hunting with my ex-wife’s family is usually a family affair. It’s not one of those “men folk trudging out to the field, hunting and killing dinner, whilst the women folk stay home, cooking and cleaning. No Little House on the Prairie for this clan. No, they all generally show up and while the men shoot, the women either shoot birds or shoot the breeze with each other. Of course, those who are not shooting generally think the whole concept of “quiet” is over-valued, but I’m not enough of a hunter to point out the obvious.
I’m pleased to report that the first time I went out, I was able to bring down probably eight birds. Not the best haul from our merry band but certainly not the worst. It also tickles me no end that the game warden DID show up, and they trotted me out with my license. For some reason, he didn’t ask to see anybody’s ticket, and I volunteered mine. But lets just say I was glad I had it.
My second experience doin’ the Nimrod thing came at the invitation of my church. It was a decidedly more masculine affair, and (because my pawn shop 12-gauge pump decided to crap out on me) I was shooting a semi-auto 20 gauge which seemed to bring me marginally more luck than I’d had before. I got a dozen of the little bastards and succeeded in not looking like an idiot to my fellow hunters. That’s a good day in my book.
Fast forward…post-divorce. It’s time for the annual ex-wife’s family sojourn to hunt dove on the farm. This time, I’m not anywhere near the Panhandle, which is just as well, since I’m not invited. But my intrepid ex-, for some reason, decides that she wants to hunt.
Remember, back a few paragraphs ago, when I asked the rhetorical question about how you prepare for something when you’re unfamiliar with the rules, regulations, and customs? Yeah, well lets just say that my ex is not wired the same way I am. That is not to imply that she’s willfully reckless. But she does have a tendency to assume she knows more than she does and to show little patience with anyone who dares question her on the topic.
I received a phone call a couple of weeks prior. “Hi. I’m going up to the Panhandle for the family reunion/dove hunting thing,” she said. “I need to borrow our daughter’s gun. Can you send it up with her?”
Let’s pause for a nanosecond. Our daughter indeed has a gun. A weapon we purchased for her to teach her to shoot. It’s probably one of the most popular guns out there – a Ruger 10-22. As in .22 long rifle. Not a shotgun. A rifle.
Now I may not be a hunter but I am a thinker. And I think I remember reading somewhere that the projectile from a .22 long rifle can travel somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5 miles over open country, which the Panhandle most decidedly is. I’m thinking “oh, this can’t be good.” So I ask the ex-Mrs., “um…you’re going dove hunting, right?”
“With a rifle.”
“Are you going alone?”
“Is this some sort of initiation thing, or are you going with your brother, brother-in-law, nephews, or someone else that knows their asses from their elbows about guns?”
“I’m going with all the guys. Why do you ask?” she replies.
I think a moment. Even post-divorce, it’s never a good idea to needlessly anger your ex. Even over the phone, hundreds of miles away. Seriously. “Um, hon…you can use the .22 for plinking, target practice, or small game like prairie dogs, but it’s not the right weapon for hunting dove.”
“I don’t care,” she retorted. “I just need a gun.”
I patiently explained the whole “you could end up killing someone without even seeing them, and spend the rest of your natural life in prison for negligent homicide” thing, doing my very best not to sound sarcastic, condescending, or in any way talking down to her. After all, I was clueless about these things not that long ago, myself.
Fortunately, I was able to convince her that the 10-22 was the wrong tool for the job, and she’d be a lot better off bumming a gun off someone else. She was reluctant to believe me, but what clinched it, I think, was the prospect of her relatives laughing her off the property if they saw her bring a rifle to a shotgun shoot.
So that takes us back ’round to my initial question. I have a finely-honed sense of self-preservation. And I do my best to avoid doing stupid stuff. I like the motto of a San Fransisco-based dot-com I knew of a dozen years ago. Their slogan was “Find out what sucks. Don’t do that.” So when you’re confronted with a new and unfamiliar situation – be it a new gun, a range you’ve never visited before, or perhaps a new shooter who is the very definition of a newbie – how do you handle it?