Rifles photo

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

After my fragile form stopped shaking from the laughter induced by Frank Bruni’s “Day of the Hunter,” a sober realization crept over me. Despite our differing lifestyles and world views, we do agree about something: He wrote: “It was impossible for me not to be nervous around guns..”

Same here. There are a number of words you could substitute for “nervous” that would perhaps be more accurate: “Vigilant,” “Watchful,” and “Suspicious” are three. I’m highly suspicious of all guns at all times because, like all experienced hunters, I’ve had a good many demonstrations of what guns can do.

I’m also suspicious of people handling guns. I found that, as a rule, veteran shooters are pretty safe. It’s the beginners that scare me. They’re dangerous because of a mix of fear, incompetence, and ignorance of the rules, or etiquette, if you will. On more than one occasion I’ve had my rifle or shotgun plucked out of a rack by a new shooter, and admonished the person that you never, ever handle someone else’s firearm without permission. I’ve also seen riflemen point their muzzles at the horizon and jack a round into the chamber. Or, when picking up any firearm, not check the chamber, which you always do, never mind whose gun it is.

Then there are shooters who claim to be experienced, but are not. Once, in Wyoming on a prairie dog hunt, a group of us watched the gun handling of a fellow who claimed to be not only a veteran shooter, but a member of an Army rifle team. He did not say which army, but the likelihood that he was telling the truth was about the same as Barrack Obama claiming to have competed at Camp Perry. His antics caused us to move away and stay away.

If you’re teaching a new shooter, you can’t take your eyes off them for a second. Literally. If your gaze goes elsewhere even for a couple of heartbeats, something terrible can happen. This is nerve wracking, but necessary.

During World War II, there was a wisecrack than ran, “Whatsamatter, bud, get nervous in the service?” In my case I did, and I stayed that way.