It’s hard for me to imagine a more intimate activity between a father and his young child than when he begins to teach his child how to shoot. It begins with a fathers judgment that his child is old enough and mature enough. And it begins with the childs belief and faith in his fathers teachings. But most of all it is a mutual signal of complete trust between the two parties. At the age of 6, I was privileged to have been invited into this American tradition by a decorated marksman.
I’m not sure when Dad began his shooting career. I know that he was Captain of the Pistol team at Akron University from 1932-1936. I know that he was Captain of the Pistol Team at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. during that same time period. You see, he attended Akron U. ROTC program full-time and worked at Goodyear full-time, concurrently. And I know that he had a set of Colt Woodsman pistols, .22, .38, and .45, all with hand-made walnut grips that were tailor-made for his hand. Lastly, I know that his shooting career ended the day Barbara was born in 1940 because my mother would have nothing to do with guns in the house once they had children. What would today be a nearly priceless matched set of Colt Woodsman pistols was sold and only the gun case and the grips survive today.
During his shooting career he amassed 26 medals and awards and he attended the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio every year. And while they were certainly not all First Place awards, they are an impressive display nonetheless. He pinned these medals to a small sheet of black velvet that hung in the workshop where he and I worked on various wood projects together. These medals were symbols and remembrances from days long past, and as such, they were a personal part of his history. They were never on public display and although he rarely talked about it, I was well aware just how good he was. I certainly believed in what my father was about to teach me. He did tell me the story about shooting at Goodyear. All the tire companies (Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone) in Akron had shooting teams. They would shoot on the practice range at lunchtime and to simulate match conditions, he would shoot against all comers in whatever caliber they chose. The rifle team couldn’t wait because my father only shot pistol. They would shoot for that days lunch money. He rarely lost.
We began my shooting career with a Daisy BB gun. It was small, clumsy, and inaccurate. But I surely loved it from the very first shot. Before long I was being shown the nuances of breathing and squeezing the trigger. We didn’t hang paper targets in those days. Instead, my father cut three copper pipes; one at ¼”, one at ½”, and one at ¾”, all one foot long. He drilled a hole in the top of each and we strung them from a branch of a tree about 50’ away. This was a challenge on a calm day, but when the wind started, the little pipes started to swing and that was when it got interesting. It was easy to know which pipe you hit since the smaller pipes made a higher sound. I improved at such a rapid pace that the time came when Dad thought that his friends might like to see.
Every year my father had a cookout for his staff. This was a group of senior managers who undoubtedly were very sure of themselves in every respect. One of the things he liked to see from people was how they reacted in unusual situations. I was the bait and so we played a little game. First, everyone shot against me, the 9-year-old kid. Second, you put down a quarter as a wager, my father fronted me with the first quarter. Third, you could shoot at any one of the three pipes. The sound of a copper BB hitting a copper pipe was unmistakable. Fourth, I would only shoot at the ¼” pipe which would make a high-pitched ‘ping’. Whomever hit the pipe first, won the quarter. Of course, my father knew that I rarely missed. He didn’t believe in gambling of any sort, but to him this, in no way was gambling; this was a sure thing. (See shooting for lunch money, above)
One at a time, each of them stepped up and put down their quarters until they had either run out of quarters or had figured out the game. Each one walked away shaking their heads with a little laugh and jokes from each of their friends. My father learned a lot about the people on his staff and I walked away with a rather large bag full of quarters, minus the first one, which I returned.
When I went to summer camp I got my first taste of shooting a .22. I was hooked. This was much cooler than the old BB gun and I got awards for it instead of quarters. And those early experiences with the BB gun and summer camp were my only shooting experience before I got to high school. But I carried with me a confidence in what I knew I could do. When I found out there was a rifle team there, I couldn’t wait. That was when I found out quickly that there were always people out there that are better than you. Just one of the life lessons that shooting has taught me.
I worked at every aspect of this sport until I was as good as my abilities would take me. We were fortunate enough to compete against some of the best in the sport. And although I didn’t always win, we learned something new about shooting every time. We also learned about ourselves, about teamwork, and about supporting each other. We were undefeated my senior year and so we also learned what it means to be a champion. I was only on rifle teams for 4 years, 3 years in high school and 1 year in college. But during that time I had collected 32 of my own awards, trophies, and medals. I proudly pinned them to my own piece of velvet and they are tucked away next to those of my father, where they belong. They are as much his as they are mine.
© J T Weaver
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