I am sure every adult who has ever fired a gun, can recall the first time they pressed the trigger, felt the recoil and observed the impact. Some don’t experience this into their adulthood. But for many of us, that experience came in our childhood. For this guy, my first time shooting was around the age of 10. I still vividly remember it. I was with my step-father, grandfather and my brother who is two years younger than me. We were in a remote area, behind the Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington. Later, as a young man I would make trips with my brother to the same spot and shoot the same .22s we had learned on. That was back when you could do that. Before the events of 9-11 changed the way the United States secured its infrastructure. The new policies shut down the dam and surrounding areas to the general public. A piece of my childhood will forever be trapped behind that dam.
My grandfather had bought two firearms to use with his grandkids, of which I was the oldest. The first I ever used was a Marlin bolt action .22 caliber rifle with a little seven round detachable magazine. The second was a Ruger MKII .22 caliber semiautomatic pistol. Under the instruction of my grandfather, who was a retired LEO, my first shots were on the Marlin from a bench at a target about 20 yards away. I remember he wouldn’t let me use the detachable magazine. He made me hand load single rounds and shoot them very slowly and deliberately. I can remember the grin I had on my face after the first round went down range. I was hooked. I also remember him talking about safety and pointing the firearm in a safe direction, but I don’t recall him quoting the four basic rules of firearm safety. He just laid down his expectations and treated me like an adult until I proved otherwise.
For those that don’t know, the four rules of firearms safety basically are:
1-Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
2-Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
3-Never point your firearm at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
4-Be aware of your target and what is beyond.
I remember feeling like I was getting the hang of it when he let me use the magazine. After a while I was feeling pretty sure of myself. Once, I loaded the magazine, inserted it, then I cycled that bolt action so fast and dumped all 7 rounds into the target before my grandfather could say anything. Once I was done, he gave me an earful about that kind of behavior not being safe. I lost the privilege of using the magazine for the rest of the day. Humbling, but lesson learned.
I would continue to go up with my grandfather every time I visited. I knew he didn’t always want to make the trip as he was getting old and the hike from the road to the shooting pit was over rough terrain, but he usually agreed as it was a nice way to spend time with his grandkid. He started letting us use his old .38 S&W service revolver too. When I turned 16 and was driving, my brother and I would go up on our own armed with the same .22 caliber rifle and pistol and my grandfather’s service revolver and spend hours hauling guns and ammo the half mile through the rugged quarry to our shooting pit. We would “borrow” my grandfather’s cigarettes and cheap beer and soda and head to the pit. The cigarettes were for smoking and the cans of beer were for shooting and the soda was for drinking (seriously). We’d shake up the cans of beer, place them on a large gravel hill then shoot them from 100 yards. They would explode in glorious fashion then tumble down the hill. Of course there were extra cool kid points to be had if you could hit the cans as they rolled down the hill. They would tumble, we would shoot and blast them back up the hill and repeat the process until the can was too perforated to roll anymore. If my grandfather ever knew what we were doing with his smokes or beer he never said anything. I am sure he would have kicked our butts if he ever found out. (Side Note: I do not condone consuming alcohol before or during firearms use. I never did that and won’t ever do it. Never shoot or handle firearms impaired. Nor would I condone underage smoking. As a kid I thought it was cool, but now as a father with hindsight, I wouldn’t approve and besides it’s not legal.)
After we were done shooting, we would go back to the garage and clean the guns. The smell of Hoppes gun solvent and gun oil is still one of my favorite scents. Every time I catch a whiff of it, I am transported back in time. My grandfather would always inspect the guns after my brother and I cleaned them. One time I brought him back a rifle that was liberally lubed with gun oil. He wasn’t too happy about that and made me go back and clean it. He explained about dirt and debris being attracted to all that oil. Copy that. Another lesson learned.
As a 17 year old, I even took this hot girl I had a thing for up to our shooting pit. I wanted to impress her with my shooting skills (or so I thought). Actually it was just another excuse to spend time with her. Not sure if it was the guns or my charm and handsome good looks (probably the guns) she seemed to dig me and would become my wife three years later.
My grandfather lived long enough to only meet two of my children. My wife and I have had three more since. Yeah you read that right, five little ones. During the last couple years of my grandfather’s life I approached him and asked to borrow the Marlin and Ruger in order to teach my children when they got older. He just gave them to me. They still remain some of the most sentimental gifts I have ever received. He died about a year later. Because my brother shared all of those experiences with me I gave him the Ruger and I kept the Marlin. They may not be worth much, but to us, they are priceless. Through 1000’s of rounds of .22 long rifle, lifelong memories were made and seared into our little minds and souls.
Now as a father, I want my children to have the same fond, life-long memories. While I want them to enjoy shooting, it is not something I wanted to force on them. My three oldest started showing interest a couple years back. I live in the city, so it isn’t easy to just hop in the truck, drive out to the woods and have at it. It takes an hour and a half for us to get out of our county which is a no shoot area. I didn’t want my kids to have their first experience with a firearm at a busy, stressful range. I wanted it to be intimate and on our own terms.
My three oldest were 4, 6 and 9 years old when they shot for the first time. I was at my aunt and uncle’s place way out in God’s country with the freedom to exercise our 2nd Amendment rights. I brought my grandfather’s old bolt action Marlin. Their first shots would be on the same rifle that I took mine on.
Month’s prior to this event I would spend time with the kids going over gun safety. We would go over how to operate the rifle, spent some time dry-firing and going over sight picture. By the time it was time to go live, they all had a basic understanding about safety and how to manipulate the rifle. Even still we went over it all again and did some dry fire practice before I let them shoot. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a bench to shoot off of so they had to shoot standing or prone. They chose to stand. My kids are slight in build, and even the lightweight Marlin caused them to want to lean way back. I wanted them to focus on being safe, getting a good sight picture and solid trigger press so I had to help all of them support the rifle so they could concentrate on the basics. I helped hold it and they did the rest. They all did great, even my 4 year old son. My 9 year old daughter and 6 year old son were making good hits at a fairly close range. We were shooting at orange clays, so they always got excited to see the clays burst when hit.
We then transitioned over to a lightweight Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 topped with an Aimpont red dot optic on top. Man, what I would have done for one of those as a youngster. My little kids had much more success with this rifle as it was easier for them to hold thanks to the red dot, pistol grip, telescoping stock, larger magazine capacity, vertical fore grip and light weight. You know all those things that make black rifles evil and more vicious. Their fundamentals were better, their stance was improved and their hits were more accurate. Funny how that all works.
Once we went through a few sessions of each kid getting a few turns I made a mistake. I demonstrated one of my ARs to the family. It was suppressed with a CRUX sound suppressor so it was tamed a bit. No biggie I thought. I then said, “Hey, that’s not too loud, right? Here is what it sounds like without the suppressor.” I then proceeded to remove the CRUX and let off a few more rounds. As one would expect it was loud. Even with their hearing protection my kids jumped a little. My 4 year old basically said “Eff it”, got up and walked away crying. It took a while to calm him down and he didn’t want to shoot for the rest of the day. In my excitement to show them my passion, I went a little too far too fast with my littlest. Lesson learned. Take time, get them comfortable and tailor instruction to their maturity level and ability. Both my older son and daughter took turns shooting the AR15 with my assistance. My son had the same grin that I had the first time I shot. He loved it. He even took a turn shooting my VEPR12, again with my assistance. He took one shot and that was enough. He smiled, rubbed his shoulder and called it quits for the day. It was hot, we had a good run and it was time to go inside anyway.
As they get older I am giving them more experience with a larger variety of firearms. For example I have a PDW SBR AR with red dot that is just too small for me, but it is the perfect size for them. Yes, the scary SBR is also perfect for younger, smaller children and slighter framed adults. I also have them on a little semi auto Savage .22 that I have suppressed with a red dot on top. They love that one (almost as much as I do) as it is light weight, quiet and easy to hit with thanks to the red dot. I will one day buy a 9mm sub gun which I think will be a big hit for them.
They all enjoy shooting and get excited when we go, but my oldest son is the one who sticks around the longest. He can’t get enough. And like his old man, I need to slow him down sometimes just like my grandfather did for me when I was a little guy. I took the time the other day to interview each child on what they remember about their first time. They all, in some form or fashion, said that it was fun. My daughter and oldest son noted the Marlin was a bit hard to hold and the 15-22 was much easier. My oldest boy talked about the recoil and how it increased with caliber size. It gave me a kick to hear them each talk about that experience to the best of their ability in their own words. I was also pleased to know my youngest son didn’t seem to remember me shooting my unsuppressed AR resulting in him getting upset. Looks like I dodged that bullet, no pun intended.
I look forward to the many more years I can spend with my children in the great outdoors, reflecting, hiking, camping and shooting. I hope shooting will be a part of their childhood they carry into adulthood and pass down to their kids. One day, I will give my grandfather’s rifle to my kids so my grandkids can learn to shoot and carry on the legacy of fun and responsible firearms ownership. Start them young. Watch them grow. Create those memories. They will last a lifetime and beyond.