illustration by Jay Taylor
Upon reflection, I never should have taken my son shooting. I shouldn’t have even told him that we had guns in the house. I should have known better.

Wait. That sounds like the beginning of a tragic story about a child who gets his innocent little hands on a loaded weapon and accidentally does the unthinkable. No, no. This isn’t that kind of story at all.

It started in a bar (the Old Monk, if you must know). Several of us had gathered for a pint after work, and the discussion turned to firearms, as it sometimes does when Jeff Whittington is present. Jeff works as a producer for the public radio station in town, KERA, which can be found at 90.1 on your FM dial. If you’ve ever heard Jeff on the radio, you might guess from the dulcet sound of his voice that he’s a milquetoast pacifist. You’d be wrong. Off the air, Jeff loves to talk about two things: the number of pull-ups he can perform and guns.

To shut him up, I said, “Ever been to Elm Fork?” Elm Fork is a shooting range in northwest Dallas. Great place. They’ve got two sporting clays courses. If you don’t know what “sporting clays” is, think tiny Frisbees, only instead of playing catch with them, you shoot them. “Let’s get a group together,” I said. “Head out there this weekend and shoot.”

Which brings me to my son. He’s nearly 10, right? The Boy had never fired a gun. It was time. Plus, I figured the only way I was going to get a hall pass from hymeneal headquarters for a Sunday afternoon of shotgunning was if I sold it to her as a father-son outing: “Woman, this isn’t just me and the boys goofing off with guns. This is archetypal, mythopoetic male bonding stuff. You ever read Robert Bly’s Iron John? No? Well, sweetheart, while The Boy and I are out there laying waste to every clay brave enough to take flight within range of our mighty, well-trained guns, you get to stay home and thank God for blessing you with a womb, thereby sparing you from the fearsome task we unfortunate men must undertake.” Bang! Kablooey!

The group included yours truly; The Boy of Yours Truly; Jeff the Mellifluous; Eric the Nomad; Elizabeth the Kid Sister-Like Co-Worker Who Understands That Hanging Out With Guys Is Fun, Even If Other People Cast Aspersions; and Gordon Keith. (The latter is just some guy I know who lives in Preston Hollow and looks like Hank Williams Jr.) Along with The Boy, neither Eric nor Elizabeth had ever fired a gun.

The day of the shoot dawned crisp and clear. Nailing my first pair of clays felt satisfying in a primeval way, like crushing a driver 280 yards. My stepfather, the son of a Greenville, Texas, cotton man, taught me to shoot—and golf, too—when I was in high school. He’s now my ex-stepfather. A bad case of tinnitus keeps him from the sport today. It had been two years since I’d shot his old Ithaca 600 20-guage, and shouldering it made me remember some of the most comfortable time we’d spent together while he was still married to my mother. A gun can be good for more than just killing things.

I tried to instill in The Boy a sense of ballistic appreciation, along with the mythopoetic stuff, and, you know, how to avoid shooting yourself and those nearby. He proved an able acolyte—which is what created the problem. By the time we’d reached the last station of the day, with just two shots left in the round, The Boy found himself even with an adult. 

“If you don’t hit one of these,” Eric said as The Boy loaded two shells, “we tie. No pressure.”
The Boy laid down his gun and closed his eyes to focus his mind. I’m not making this up. A group behind us was waiting. I told The Boy to stop messing around and get it done. He lifted his gun, calmly said, “Pull,” and powdered his last two clays.

That’s when I realized my mistake. The same mistake I’d made when I introduced him to soccer, which now threatens to consume our lives and discretionary income. Not to mention karate and basketball and, oddly, long-distance running. He excels at them all. And here I’ve introduced him to shooting, yet another sport for which he possesses a freakish aptitude. That means the gun, the shells, the lessons, the stylish camouflage raiments from the Beretta store. Just shoot me now.

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