Youth and Age

The very first shooting department I wrote for Field & Stream was about Ted Williams and how his approach to hitting a baseball could do great things for your shooting. Williams was able to perform his prodigies by dint of extraordinary physical gifts and a mastery of the science of hitting that has never been equaled. Thus it was, in reading Ted Williams, the Biography of an American Hero, by Leigh Montville, that I became more excited than is good for me when I ran into the following:

“The young man has to overcome the things he doesn’t know to succeed. The old man has to overcome the things he no longer can do.”

How, I wondered, does this apply to hunting and shooting?

The first thing I can tell you is that it applies differently. I’ve seen veritable kids pick up a gun for the first time and do extraordinary things. I once watched a member of the New York Knicks, someone who had never held a gun before, pick up a trap gun and go through a round of 25 to figure out the way things worked. Then he finished the 100 targets and ended with a score in the 90s. That same sense of timing and distance that got him nothing but net, plus the ability to concentrate at a professional level, broke those birds.

However, if you had set him down in the wilderness with a rifle he probably would not have done so well. What makes an effective hunter is not lightning-like reflexes, superior hand-eye coordination, and the ability to judge distances in small fractions of a second. It’s things like patience and the ability to interpret what you see around you even when it’s all very subtle and takes place over a long period of time.

A 60-year-old shooter, by and large, can’t compete with 30-year-old shooters. The 30-year-olds will have learned just about everything they need to know, and their eyes and reflexes and other physical gifts will not yet have started to deteriorate, where the 60-year-old will be painfully aware that the rot has set in.

But a 60-year-old hunter has an advantage over the 30-something because by now there’s very little he hasn’t seen and doesn’t know how to cope with. Sixty-year-olds don’t get ugly surprises; they hand out ugly surprises.

In the case of T. Williams, no one ever studied the science of batting so thoroughly. By the time he matured as a player, there was no problem a pitcher, or a ballpark, or the weather, or anything else, could hand him whose solution he would not have. Even when his body began to fail him, he could call on alternate means of doing things. In the end, of course, time put a stop to it, but not before at the age of 38, he hit .388 for the season (1958) and led the American League in batting.

Not bad for a geezer.