Over the past recent months break, I have been contemplating several things surrounding my involvement with guns, shooting, repairing firearms and reloading ammunition. The two questions I am often asked are, “How did you learn all of this stuff?” and “How did you get so interested in guns?” Well, I cannot really say for sure because there were so many people involved (either knowingly or not knowingly) in the process.
I have thought about the numerous people involved in my progress down this enjoyable road and believe many deserve acknowledgment.
It is hard to say what drew me into guns and shooting. I have always been fascinated by them.
Was it watching old Westerns on television like “Gunsmoke”, “Dirty Harry” movies, etc.? Was it my Mother’s desire for me to become a better reader by buying me “gun books” if I would just read them? Work? Who knows exactly, but let’s say “thank you” to a few old friends and family.
My Beloved Daisy
My first memory of shooting was with a Daisy BB gun that was given to me by my parents on my seventh birthday. I’m sure that you all had one. Mine became worn out due to heavy use. I shot it every chance I got behind the house…when I had BB’s.
At the age of nine, I learned that my Father owned two rifles…a bolt action Stevens 22 and a Savage 30-30. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, him taking me out to shoot “his” 22 rifle for the first time. “Safety” was the number one rule that day. We went to an old sand pit where he drew out the sight picture on the ground. I couldn’t tell you if I hit anything then, but it was the greatest thing at the time – I actually fired a “real” rifle! I later learned that the rifle had been given to him by his Father and was the one he learned to shoot with. Maybe this was it?
Over the next few years, I only shot “his” 22 bolt action rifle since that was the only one I (we) could afford to shoot as much (almost as much) as I wanted. I eventually fired the Savage 30-30, yet it was never the same as the Stevens 22 he and I had learned on. Was this what got me so hooked?
ROTC And More…
In high school, I started competing with air guns and 22 target rifles. Col. Clark Kershner, USA Ret., was our team coach and ROTC advisor. This was my first “formal” marksmanship training. Col. Kershner was a patient coach, an excellent leader and a dedicated teacher to all of his students. I cannot tell you how much personal effort, money and time he put into that team. Maybe it was Col. Kershner that helped lead the way?
Maybe it was Lt. Col. Gene Kelly, USAF Ret., who loaned me his personal Anschutz 22 caliber match rifle to compete with in high school? After reading a newspaper article about our high school rifle team doing well in a few matches, Col. Kelly called me to his home. He opened a case that contained the fanciest 22 caliber target rifle I had ever seen – it had every imaginable attachment you could think of. With great joy, Col. Kelly told me to take the rifle and use it as long as I wanted to. He had already called my parents to make sure it was okay with them. Maybe the confidence that Col. Kelly had in my abilities was what pushed me towards better marksmanship?
My First Handgun
Could it have been Ted Hotaling? Ted and his wife Elaine had been friends of our family for years. Ted had been a serious pistol shooter in the military and knew his way around a handgun. My Father sent me to him to help me pick out my first revolver. Ted knew the “Art of the Deal”. He picked out a good one and negotiated an excellent price but, at the time, I was short $50. Ted, who had a tendency not to listen well, asked for what cash I had on me. I reluctantly handed it to him albeit light, thus buying my first handgun. I spent several years trying to repay him but kept getting torn-up checks in the mail and cash returned in various ways. Maybe it was Ted who kept the fire stirred of the gun deal?
When I got into law enforcement, I had many instructors that helped mold me into a better pistol shooter. The one that stands out the most is Captain Brady Davis, PCSO Ret. Captain Davis didn’t do anything really different than any of the other instructors, but he had a way of motivating you to train harder and train somewhere other than “here”. He would build a fire under you to learn and teach others everything you knew, as everyone’s lives may depend on these skills. I cannot tell you how much this mentoring changed my outlook about sharing my knowledge so others can learn. Was this the one that helped make me a better instructor?
Around this same time, I was learning how to shoot handguns. I discovered I needed to shoot a lot more – more than I had the money for ammunition. I joined a local gun club and met a stranger at the range. This stranger later developed into another life-long friend, Wayland McGlohon. Wayland asked me if I knew how to reload my own ammunition. When I responded negatively, he handed me his business card and told me to drop by his house one night to “show me how”. After the first box of 357 Magnums, the rest was history. Maybe it was Wayland that got me into this hobby?
When I was competing heavily in IPSC and was needing some pistol work done, I met another soon-to-be friend and retired NCSHP Trooper, 1st Sgt. John Rowe. Mr. Rowe, as I always referred to him, was an older man when I met him and was quite set in his ways, to say the least. Many did not banter words with him and he did not suffer fools well. For whatever the reason, he liked me. After several visits to his home/shop for gun repairs, he asked me if I knew how to “take apart my own 1911”. When I responded negatively, he said for me to sit up here and he would show me. When I protested, he responded, “I wasn’t asking you, son, I was telling you”! This led to over 20 years of mentoring and guidance in gunsmithing work by Mr. Rowe. Maybe it was he who pushed me further down the road of gun repair?
Or, maybe it was Mr. Charlie Schweikert, retired USA small arms repairman? Charlie is the best I have ever known on the repair of anything U.S military since WWII. I cannot tell you the guidance, assistance and friendship he’s given me over the last 20 years when it comes to military small arms repair.
Maybe it was my wife who encourages me and doesn’t complain no matter how silly she believes the next gun purchase is? You know the line…”It’s just one more baby”. I cannot tell you how many times she has given me a fine gun just because she knew it brought me great joy. Maybe it’s the patience she has whenever we stop at a gun shop, gun show or “drop by” a buddy’s house to pick up the one part I need? Maybe it’s just being willing to ride three hours during the Montana winter, one way, to see Shiloh Sharps Rifles and their manufacturing facility? You know that was the highlight of her trip!
Could it be any number of fellow shooters that have loaned me gear, ammunition and guns during matches or while on the range? In many cases, this equipment was being loaned to compete against themselves. I have never been to a range and needed something where a fellow shooter did not try to help.
Maybe it was the various gifts of fine firearms from family and friends? Certainly, those are all very motivating and it always causes me to take a minute and think about the person who owned the gun before me. Some say that you never actually “own” a gun, you are simply a “caretaker” of it until the next person gets it.
The Next Generation…
Recently, my son won a Ruger 22 rifle on a “Youth Day” at our local shooting range.
I cannot tell you how excited and proud he was to have won his “own” rifle! For that matter so was I. Over the past two months we have gone to the range more since he has his “own” 22 rifle than of all the other times combined. That “Youth Day”, the numerous people who volunteered their time that day and the club for giving away this 22 rifle, have helped my son get more motivated to shoot. Thank you!
All this is to say that we all have people in our lives that have helped guide us down the road to becoming a better shooter. Maybe we should take the time and tell them
“Thank You”, for their part in our lives. For those that are no longer with us, I suggest that we honor their memory by helping out a new shooter. Teach someone how to load their own ammunition, clean their own gun, volunteer at your local club, or simply take a kid to the range.
It’s time we start paying it forward.
Read all of Jim’s Gems here: