Bound by our human limitations, we might not ever come to know the reasons that things happen the way they do in our lives–the good or the bad. Somehow, though, we most often seem to ask why about the unfortunate events.
When I was growing up, folks didn’t talk about tragedy the way we do nowadays, especially in the Scots-Irish Presbyterian household in which I grew up. Of course, no one talked to a therapist unless they were certifiable, if you know what I mean. Depending on the circumstances, maybe, just maybe, that was a good thing.
I believe everything happens for a reason, but at the time, neither Jessica H. nor I knew the very specific reason why she had invited me to the first LA Bossy Hens Women in the Outdoors event that took place near Bunkie, LA recently. Since it was sponsored by the Wild Turkey Federation, one could assume most of the women attending were turkey hunters—hence the name “Bossy Hens” for their local chapter.
But first, I have a confession. I have never been turkey hunting. Actually, I am not a hunter at all. If you’ve read the blog stories about past duck hunting trips that I’ve made with my sons, you might not have picked up on the fact that I was just shooting photos, not ducks. Please, let me clarify.
It’s not because I’m against killing animals for food. It’s not that I can’t stand the thought of a dead duck (or other animal), because I clean and cook the ducks, plus I cleaned squirrels with my father until my baby brother was old enough to take my place. However, Daddy never taught me how to to shoot a shotgun. He just took me along to shake the vines!
Through the years, my sons who hunt, now 28, 26, and 17, have all asked me to practice shooting their shotguns with them or to go shoot ducks with them. My answer was always “No thanks”, followed by either evasion or a feigned disinterest. So, when I printed the registration for the Women in the Outdoors event, I signed up for Basic Shotgunning and set a goal to get over my aversion to shotguns once and for all.
Fast forward to last Saturday morning and the Basic Shotgun class. Under the canopy on the table lay three shotguns, and Mr. Randy talked about each one, pointing out the differences. We would take turns shooting either a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge shotgun at a “following” bright orange clay pigeon. Since a 20 gauge has less kick, that is what we would shoot.
Muddy Mary went before me, shattering clays mid-air with her personal shotgun, a sweet little over-and-under. She was a dog-gone good shot already, which made me think that I might be the only woman in this group who didn’t know how to shoot a shotgun.
Fighting the Shrinking Violet Syndrome, I forced myself out of the chair after the fourth woman had taken her turn. As I approached Bubba, the brave instructor, I told him that he most certainly had his work cut out for him. Bubba just smiled and said, “You’ve got this. It’s easier than you think.
Bubba: “Do you have any experience with guns?” Me: Well, not shotguns.
Bubba: “Are you afraid of guns?” Me: Uh, I don’t know. Maybe.
When he placed that long, heavy powerful hunk of metal and wood into my hands, a flicker of fear ran up my arms and through my core like a lit fuse to a stick of dynamite. It took me a few seconds to force my jelly arms to firm up and get a grip.
Bubba then patiently showed me how to hold the gun properly and how to aim at the clay pigeons. After giving me ear muffs and getting me into the proper stance and gun hold, he then loaded one shell into the chamber and instructed me, “Now, take off the safety, and when you’re ready, shout pull”.
It’s now or never. It’s all or nothing. Everyone is watching, and I can’t back out now. Ready, aim, “PULL!”. KABOOM! I missed the clay, but I shot the gun. I SHOT THE GUN!
Bubba loaded another shell into the chamber, and I repeated the process, missing again. After shell number five and just as many misses, my shoulder couldn’t take any more, and my body was trembling like the Tin Man’s.
I didn’t care that I didn’t hit any of the bright orange clays, as I returned to my chair on the fringes of the group of lady hunters, all chatting gaily about some recent event. They paid me no mind, and I was glad of it.
For at that moment, I was fighting back tears as adrenaline coursed through my veins and emotions swallowed me up. The tears won the battle, falling slowly over the rims of my eyes, one salty drop at a time.
The first was a Tear of Sadness. The second, a Tear of Regret. The third, a Tear of Triumph. And lastly, a Tear of Relief. And as quickly as those tears had washed ashore, they receded.
I had done it. I had made the first step toward accomplishing my goal of conquering this unacknowledged reason that I don’t like and avoid shotguns. On my second attempt, I approached with a newly-gained certainty and confidence, hitting two out of the five clays.
By my fifth turn, I was able to load three shells into the gun without help, raise it to my shoulder, shout pull, and hit 3 out of 3 clays, two rounds in a row.
And it was exhilarating. The chains of fear and worry had fallen from my body and my soul. I had literally been set free.
Through the tears, I had clearly seen what had been holding me back all these years.
The Tear of Sadness was for the older brother I had lost to a shotgun accident in our home when he was 12 and I was five. This tragic accident happened in 1960 and was the underlying reason for my latent fear and dislike of shotguns–a fact I had never consciously faced until after I had taken those first five shots.
The Tear of Regret was for not overcoming my phobia sooner so that I could have hunted with my two oldest sons when they were growing up.
The Tear of Triumph was for my fresh victory over a stagnant fear.
And the final Tear of Relief was for the feeling of relief that I don’t have to be afraid any more.
It took over 50 years for this to happen in my life. Why now, I don’t know, but better late than never.
I, the Bayou Woman, now have no excuse not to hunt with my sons next duck season. Whether or not I will be comfortable doing so remains to be seen. Whether I can hit the broad side of a barn also remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I want to borrow a Remington 1100, 20-gauge shotgun and “strike while the barrel is hot”, so to speak, and practice shooting clay pigeons so that I may continue to familiarize myself with this new tool, the shotgun.
Again, I want to say thank you to Jessica H., Bubba, Mr. Randy, Mrs. B., and Mrs. Cathy and the Women in the Outdoors founders. You all played a huge part in this chapter of my journey to becoming the best outdoors woman I can be. As avid shooters and/or hunters, you are all an inspiration to me.
Thanks for helping to set me free,