Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rites of Passage

"Dad?" he asked in the car as the dark fields and bright signs flowed around us.
"What, buddy?"
"I hope the guy in the shirt with the glasses is at the match on Saturday. I forgot to tell him thank you for doing my safety briefing and stuff."
"Yeah? Well, I don't know if he'll be there, but I'm glad you want to say thanks."
"Yeah. He took his own time from his shooting just to help me get started."
I smiled in the dark as he sipped his milkshake in grown-up fashion and turned the radio back up. We were almost home.

Obviously, this is NOT the obligatory VP debate post. You can find that here or here.
I didn't watch the debate. I didn't even listen on the radio until the last half hour or so. I took my son to the weekly USPSA shoot instead. I do not regret my choice; it's just too bad that his brother's grades have dropped, so he couldn't come with us.

Tonight was Kane's first chance to shoot, but it didn't start out that way. I've been bringing him and his brother along for a couple of months now, except when their grades or behavior aren't good enough. They watch people shoot, load magazines, pick up brass and magazines, reset steel, even paste targets--the only jobs they haven't done are RO and Scorekeeper. I haven't let them shoot because, frankly, I've been worried. It's a lot to keep track of all at once, when you're trying to shoot, move, make reloads . . . . I didn't want to push them into doing something they weren't ready to handle, because I certainly didn't want to put them or anyone else in any danger. And, as long as I'm being honest, I've messed up before. We were shooting at an outdoor range and having lots of fun a couple of years ago, and Kane wanted to shoot my P220. My .45 ACP P220. Sure, I said, why not? I loaded one round, we moved up to about three yards, and I stood behind him and held his hands on the grip. He did a great job, squeezing the trigger smoothly back in one motion and hitting more or less dead center. But I, on the other hand . . . well, I cupped my hands under his, rather than wrapping them around his hands to help him control recoil. The pistol came up so hard that it hit him in the forehead, and he was clearly shocked at the violence of the recoil. I couldn't stop thinking about how eager he'd been to try that, how much he had trusted me without even really thinking about it, and how badly I'd let him down. I've never let him shoot a centerfire handgun since, but the experience hasn't dampened his enthusiasm. And when he saw people shooting USPSA courses . . . . he was hooked in the first moment.

With all these things in mind, I packed our trusty old Ruger MkI (that's right, not a MkII, I shoot a MkI while the rest of the world has moved on to the MkIII) and a couple of boxes of .22's tonight. We don't have a holster for the old plinker, but I knew the guys at my club would work with us. I told Kane that we would find someone else to give him his safety briefing (mandatory before your first time in any case) and then talk about how well he'd done at that. No guarantees, I told him; he could do well at the safety briefing and I still might not let him shoot, and although I would listen to his briefer, I reserved the final decision to myself. I was still nervous, if truth be told. We talked about the safety rules as we drove back up to the range; I can tell Kane to "show me your trigger finger" at any time, and he'll make a fist with a perfectly straight index finger to show where the finger belongs. It does my crusty old heart good, I tell you.

We arrived to find a very small crowd, since the first of the month is the dreaded Classifier night (Classifiers are standard stages shooters run to find out how they stack up to "standard" runs by Grandmasters on the same stage--they're usually challenging, but with low round counts--old-fashioned IPSC-style stages, you might say. People who have their classifications often avoid them, but I shoot them so I can find out my classification--and because it's still an excuse to bust caps.) The course tonight was simple, but not easy: from a box behind a bar a little above navel height, the shooter was to engage two targets, each half-covered, from above the bar. The two were about 15 yards away. Between the targets were four poppers, arranged so that one was behind (and guarded by) another, and the shooter was required to engage these from below the bar. Personally, I tanked it twice. I used the Gun Blog .45, which worked very well, but I managed to miss a popper each time--and since I only loaded the 8-round magazines and not the chamber, that left me doing a reload before I could make that last shot. I did not cover myself in glory.

But when I was done, it was time to get Kane a safety briefing. He'd picked out the shooter he wanted to ask for help, so we approached him and he readily agreed. We retired to the safe room, where I picked out a comfortable chair in the corner, sat down, and shut up. He did a great job with Kane, but I have to say with no bias whatsoever that Kane did a great job himself. He listened carefully, he followed every direction to a T, he asked thoughtful questions, and he laughed at his instructor's jokes (the mark of a great student.) When he was done, his instructor seemed to take it for granted that he would fill out a stage sheet and go shoot. Having seen his safety briefing, I couldn't help but agree, so we headed out to load magazines and fill out his form.

We loaded two MkI magazines with nine rounds apiece, Kane plunked them into my FOBUS dual mag carrier. They rattled like broomsticks in buckets, but they were where he wanted them. We don't have a holster for the old .22, but it was agreed that Kane would start from low ready. After filling out his form (Shooter #62, Kane Gwinn, USPSA # N/A, Class U, Production, Minor) we headed into the range area with eye and ear protection firmly in place. Kane only had to wait for two shooters, which probably helped cut the nerves. It might not have hurt that the shooter before Kane, a very good A-class shooter with years of experience, scored a zero after he forgot to duck below the bar to engage the four poppers. He ended up with 2 Charlies, 2 Deltas, 4 steel, and 4 Procedurals. Oops!

When Kane's turn came, he didn't hesitate, but there was some discussion. The bar was right at eye level; he couldn't engage over the top. The RO suggested that he engage all targets from below the bar, but a voice from the peanut gallery suggested that he be allowed to stand in front of the bar and engage freestyle. This was quickly seconded as I carefully and silently studied my shoes. I didn't want to favor Kane, but more than that, I didn't want to embarrass him or put any more pressure on him. I brought the pistol case when I was summoned, let him take it out safely and carefully, and withdrew to the crowd. I can't be sure, but I don't think he was nearly as nervous as I was. His RO took him through indicating readiness, loading and making ready, and the low ready stance; the little gamer was planning to start with his sights on the first target when the beep went off. At the beep, he brought the pistol up quickly and squeezed off two shots at the left target, then swung over slowly to take two shots at the right target. Then he dropped to one knee to engage the poppers (Later, he explained that "I didn't want to do it an easier way unless I had to.") He missed several times, but once he found his sight picture, he rang the things like bells, going through two magazines. Since they were calibrated for 9mm, he only knocked one down--my guess is that he hit that one near the top edge. But when it was time to unload and show safe, he stepped out of the box, handed me his magazines and asked to go again. The smile on his face was clear and easy to read. And me? I was just proud. The kid did great.

And so another gun nut is born. He's going to need a holster for that .22 of his, and one of these days I want a .22 upper for the Gun Blog .45 so we can all shoot it more. But in the end, Kane's vision is his limiting factor. He sees very poorly, and his glasses can't help that much. Focusing in three focal planes with standard sights has to be next to impossible for him, but he does well with a red dot sight on his .22 rifle. He may be the only middle-schooler shooting in the Open Divsion if he sticks with this, because the red dot really makes a huge difference for him. And it wasn't a perfect night for him; he came close to "breaking the 180" (pointing the muzzle back up range toward the other shooters, an automatic disqualification if it happens) when he dropped a magazine and tried to retrieve it. But he handled even that very well, and when his instructor and I each took a moment to remind him about the 180 rule afterward, he accepted our advice with equanimity. His comment on his only regret? "I wish Donovan was here."

In a way, Kane opened my eyes tonight. I wouldn't have let him shoot if I hadn't thought he'd been handling himself more maturely lately, and certainly not if he hadn't gotten his grades up. But even so, I found myself riding a wave of surprise and pride when I watched him take his safety briefing and step to the line to shoot his first stage. I've raised him for six years now, but the kid managed to surprise me. He's really not the kid I thought he was, and even the next time he does something stupid and immature (and he will, sooner or later) it won't change the fact that he was this new, grown-up little man tonight at his first USPSA shoot.


Anonymous said...

I can certainly see why you are proud of your son.

An congratulations to you too -- this was a VERY well-written piece. I was IN the picture from the beginning.

Old Fud

Jeff Pulice said...

Just beautiful. you are a great Dad, and he's lucky to have you. It made me decide to take my Dad shooting.

Anonymous said...

Simply awesome.

KK said...

Congrats dad - this is the fun stuff. It only takes a little support from a father to put a son on the path.

It's the direction of the path that our dads are judged on.

So congrats again on setting him on the right path...........

Unknown said...


Great story...

My daughter is 14 months, so it'll be a while before i get to see that day. But I am looking forward to it.

- N.U.G.U.N.

Brandon said...

Good job, Dad. You found something that the boy enjoys enough to work for, and it's something you can share with him. He'll remember the time you spent with him on this for the rest of his life.

instinct said...

Great post and a good way to raise your son.

My dad taught us all to shoot when we were around 8 years old and I can see him in this. Your boys are very lucky indeed.

Michael said...

Awesome! We take our son to the range on a fairly regular basis for plinking but alas, none of the three of us have done any competitive shooting. ...yet. Tomorrow, I'm taking my dad to the range for the first time. That will make three generations of us shooting together!

freddyboomboom said...

Tell Kane I said "Bravo Zulu" and have him look up what it means.


PS: Bravo Zulu to you, too, Don!

HokiePundit said...

Congrats, both to Kane for a good first outing and to you for letting it work!

Anonymous said...

Brought a tear to this old man's eye and reminded me of my dad teaching me to shoot a single-shot .22 rifle.
The rifle was his first, a gift when he turned 12. I still have it.

Anonymous said...

BRAVO! And a well done to the youngin'. We spend a lot of time raising our kids and providing for them, and these moments of revelation/quiet pride come along all to rarely. Enjoy it, and remember, he's still a kid prone to the childish impulses and errors of the age. Again, a BRAVO to you, sir!

Matt G said...

I look at the unacceptable possibility of what could have been, and I look at how it turned out, and I marvel at the near photo-negative contrast of the difference.

Thank you for rearing good boys to grow up to be good men, Don Gwinn.

J.R.Shirley said...

Big, big smiles. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Anonymous said...