I'd made time to get out of work early on Friday and go to the rifle range.
This had been one of those weeks (indeed several of those weeks), most of the days back to back meetings with no break even for lunch, and most of the meetings heavy on negotiating the pricing for next year, something which puts me up against people a level or two above me. And the weekend was slated to be full of kid activities. And for several weeks I'd been itching to make it off by myself for a while to go shooting -- ever since I took the oldest boy a month ago. He had a great time, and I enjoyed taking him, but you can't settle down to do careful shooting when you're keeping on an eye on an excitable seven-year-old at the shooting range.
Friday afternoon proved to be the perfect time. The weather was temperate and partly cloudy, and there were only two other shooters on the rifle line. To the uninitiated, going to the shooting range might seem like a loud, if cathartic, activity. Particularly under these conditions, however, it's the opposite. Good target shooting means making every part of yourself still. Hold the rifle so that the sights don't appear to dance across the target. Make your breath steady and smooth. Squeeze the trigger gently so that the rifle doesn't move as you fire.
You put on your ear protection, and the world becomes quiet and a little distant. Calm is a necessity for shooting well.
I had got a new scope for my my dad's .22, and I wanted to sight it in. The windage on the new scope proved to be way off, so this was a process of taking a careful shot, finding the hole off to the left, adjusting the windage knob, and trying again as the shots gradually tracked in towards the center of the target.
As I was reloading, the ranger officer came by.
"Some people would say that's a nice rifle," he said. "That'd be wrong. It's a beautiful rifle."
I nodded. "It's my dad's."
"Take good care of it, and maybe someday it'll be yours," he said.
I hesitated a moment. The range officer is a personable guy, probably in his late sixties. About dad's age. Volunteer personal information or let it alone?
"Well..." The word hung in the air for a moment. "Unfortunately, it already is."
He put a hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry. That's a terrible way to get a gun."
"Thanks. That was ten years ago, but the rifle is... I think about fifty years old."
"Take good care of it. I've got a ninety year old Winchester for the same reason."
We talked for a few more minutes about the care of old guns and then he moved on.
It is a beautiful rifle, a Marlin Golden lever action .22 rifle. The model has been manufactured by Marlin for over a hundred years now with various minor changes along the way. The first version was put out in 1891. The latest change that I'm aware of was the addition of a safety button in the 1980s, which isn't there on mine, which Dad bought while he was in high school back in the mid sixties.
Shooting together was not a major part of my relationship with my father. The rifle dates from his high school days, when he and some friends used to drive out into the Mojave Desert east of Los Angeles to shoot. They went to different colleges, however, and the rifle went into storage in a closet at my grandparent's house.
My early connection with shooting was the result of a special issue of Boy's Life focused on shooting sports. It had an ad in it for a Daisy BB gun, and I begged and begged to have one for my tenth birthday. Eventually, my parents agreed, and I spent many hours target shooting in the back yard with it. Dad was sympathetic, having himself spent hours with a BB gun as a boy. When I first got the BB gun he taught me how to use it, firmly instilled ideas of gun safety in me, and shot it with me a bit, but shooting was always primarily a solitary activity for me.
When I was older, he eventually told me about the .22, and brought it home from his parent's house. I think we probably took it out to a range at most a half dozen times during my youth. Dad was far less interested in guns than I am. If it hadn't been for my abiding interest in shooting, the .22 probably would have remained at his parents' house indefinitely.
Still, among the things that draws me to shooting is the way in which it connects to history. A well taken care of gun remains usable for a very long time. My dad's .22 is fifty years old, but the steel is still its deep, oily blue and the walnut stock is still a beautiful piece of woodwork. With decent ammunition I can shoot one inch groups at fifty yards, and so long as its taken care of it will still do as well another fifty years from now. There aren't many things we buy these days designed to last and function for a hundred years. These can. If I'm given the time, I could teach not only my children but my grand children to shoot.