Badge of Honor
I squinted my eyes. It was the middle of the day and it was bright and dry. My hands were sweaty; they are always sweaty. It was quiet and all I could hear was the wind rustling the leaves of the trees. I slowed my breathing and swallowed. My throat was dry and swallowing only seemed to make it worse.
I take a deep breath and yell “PULL”
There is a sudden pop of a spring and an orange disc arcs into my line of vision from the right. I squint again and squeeze. In an instant. My eyes close. There is an explosion. The butt of the gun bounces off my shoulder. Pain. My eyes open. I see the white wad of packing paper fly and the shards of the orange disc fall.
I breathe. I lower the gun and rub my shoulder. I am relieved I hit my target.
“Nice! Three out of five ain’t bad”
Summer camp 2003. I grew up in the boy scouts and I would go to summer camp almost every year. Each year I would come home quote unquote mastering a new skill. This year was shooting. Specifically, a shotgun.
The shooting instructor was rough like someone in the military but surprisingly kind and patient with all of us. He took the time to explain technique to you and make sure you had it down. Each of us were given a turn every day of camp during instruction.
As someone who is left handed I worried that I would have to use my right. I remember him saying to the group on the first day.
“Now some of you may think that I’m gonna make you all use your right hand to shoot. On the contrary. I want you to use the hand you’re most comfortable with. Heck, If I tried to wipe my behind with the opposite hand I’ll get crap smeared all up my back, so you better believe I want you to shoot with your dominant hand.”
He taught us safety and how to find out which eye was our dominant eye. A skill I teach to people today. I’m left handed but right eye dominant so when I shoot I have to squint to look down the barrel.
One of the boys in our group on his first turn shooting set the gun up on his shoulder like he was firing a bazooka. This was honestly how he thought he was supposed to hold it. The group snickered and chuckled and the instructor calmly walked up and adjusted the boy's stance and placed the gun properly braced against his shoulder.
“Now you want to make sure that you press the gun tightly to your body or the recoil is gonna bounce it on your shoulder and turn it into hamburger meat.”
No judgement just a brief correction and then an explanation.
Every day when we would meet at the shooting range we would go over information and then we would each get five shoots. In order to earn your merit badge, you had to make the majority of your shots.
Each day I would hit some and miss some. I had to work on leading the target and following through. When we got to the last day of camp I had to make three of my five shots in order to complete my requirements.
When shooting we are allowed to use a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge. The 20 gauge has less kick, but the 12 gauge has a wider spray. I decide to go with 12 gauge to increase my odds of hitting it even though the kick always made me blink.
First shot. Line it up. I squint my right eye and line up my sight with my left.
The clay pigeon flies in from my right and I get a bead on it. “Follow it. Lead it.” I think to myself. I pull the trigger. The gun fires and I blink in reflex. Hit. One down two to go.
I hit my next shot. Not dead on but still counts. I feel good. I only have to make one out of the next three.
I miss the next one. I was too eager and shot while the clay was too low. It’s ok I have two shots left.
I take a moment wipe my hand on my shorts. I make sure I have my sight lined up. Based on where the clay entered my vision in the previous three shots I get the gun ready.
The orange disc flies I follow it. I take my time lining it up and I follow it too far. By the time I pull the trigger I’ve moved the gun out from my shoulder. It fires and the stock bounces of flesh bone. Pain, like someone just threw a rock at my shoulder. I wince and open my eyes and see the packing from the shell fly as the disc falls unharmed out of sight.
I hear the clay break at it hits against the ground. I missed.
No one noticed that the recoil had gotten me and I tried to hide it. My shoulder felt hot.
I had to make that next shot. Everything was riding on that shot.
I didn’t play sports, so there was no football camp for me. I was never a muscular kid, in fact I was pretty scrawny. However, being able to shoot a shotgun. That was pretty manly. Sure I had earned my rifle shooting merit badge, but a shotgun, that had power. I could go home and tell others what I did that summer. No I wasn’t weaving baskets. I was shooting guns. No not dinky 22s, Shotguns, 12 gauge shotguns even.
Making that shot was important to me. I needed to prove that I could do this. By the next week I had a purple bruise on my shoulder. I showed it to all my friends. It was my badge of honor.