It’s hot. I can see the heat coming in waves off the rough-faced rocks. We are standing on top of a canyon that overlooks a river, looking down into the riverbed. My girlfriend is learning to shoot and doing well. She has a knack for this, and is far safer with a rifle than most new shooters. She’s relaxed, and although her arms tire quickly, they are steady. Our current target is an old hubcap at the base of a small hill. “Relax,” I tell her. “Deep breath, lean forward.” BANG-PING! She looks at me and smiles, and she empties the rest of the clip into the hubcap.
It’s a special girl who will go shooting with you these days. In Montana there are a plethora of women who enjoy shooting, and are far better shots than I’ll ever be, but in other places, the reality is quite different. So, I am always grateful for the chance to share these experiences.
She was there when I shot my first grouse. We were walking along an old forest service road in the evening. We’d been hunting for an hour or two and we hadn’t seen anything, so we were on our way back to the car. The sun was just beginning to get low in the sky. The earth was dark and soft under my boots. The rain had just let up the day before, and I could smell the wet pine needles. We rounded a bend, and the ground went from dark, soft, wet earth to hard gray gravel. I had just enough time to yell “Cover your ears!” before shooting the grouse that suddenly materialized in the middle of the road. She took a picture of me, all sweat and smiles, holding my first grouse. To this day, it is one of my favorite pictures because of the memories it brings.
After all, the shooting is just an activity, no different than bowling or go-karting together (albeit far more dangerous, but much like driving a car, if you’re safe the dangers are minimized) and like any couple, what we are really doing is creating memories.
After our first grouse, she had a chance to be a part of her first pheasant hunt. We were back home visiting my parents and what had up until that point been only a tradition for me and my father became another defining moment in our relationship. We end up doing a great deal of walking over the course of our pheasant hunts, especially if the shooting is slow, and no matter how cold it is there always seem to be an abundance of mosquitos more than happy to suck every last drop of blood out of your body. We walk for hours and the mosquitos were particularly vicious that day, but she didn’t complain once. She talked to my father and our hunting partner almost the whole time, and was happy as a clam just to be along for the hunt.
The shooting is not what’s important. Of course it’s fun, and if I’m hunting I’d way rather shoot what I’m after. But the experience is what matters. And being able to share that with someone I love is a blessing that I am always grateful for.