I remember the first time I looked down the sight of a shotgun and took aim at a target.
It was an old but exceptionally good and clean .410 — a small gauge shotgun ideal for rabbit hunting (my family decried how the 12 gauge ruined a good rabbit or bird with too much shot). My target was an empty tin of Maple Leaf Vienna sausages propped up on a stump.
My father talked behind me, told me how to rest the weapon against my shoulder, how to squeeze the trigger, not jerk it, and line up the sight on the end of the barrel. Truth be told I was a little terrified as I pulled the hammer back (“Never pull the hammer back until you are ready to fire — and always clear the area around your target before and after,” he ordered sternly).
I put my fears aside, and found the will to pull the trigger; my nose burned with powder and my ears went dull as the shot blasted off and the pellets managed to knock the can off the stump.
“Good shot, nice job!” my father said patting me on the back, although I could only hear his sentiments muddled through the ringing in my ears.
I was 13 at the time.
There is no doubt the idea of a near-youngster firing a deadly weapon is one that fuels the fear in a great many people in today’s world. And you can’t blame them, I guess, when we see so much gun violence, and unspeakable tragedies like school shootings and massacres all over the U.S. media.
Still, I will say the very first time I fired a gun I learned two very important things: how to properly and safely use it, and how a gun is something that needs to be respected. But the question is, how soon is too soon to learn such a thing? And who’s to say the lessons I learned would be learned by all?
I raise the scenario now because it seems the Newfoundland Federation of Hunters and Anglers is pushing for the legal age for hunting with a gun to be lowered from 16 to 12 — under strict adult supervision — as a means by which to get more young people involved in hunting.
You see, kids today are more likely to be blasting enemies on their PlayStations or X-Box video game consoles (which, if anything, desensitizes one to the reality of an actual weapon) than they are to be picking Vienna sausage cans off stumps.
Maybe that’s for the best. Or maybe it’s not. But what a great debate it raises.
Newfoundland and Labrador is a place that has always had a connection to the woods and water where hunting and fishing are traditional and continuing parts of everyday life for many people.
Some of my best memories of my childhood are the times I spent in the woods with my father, whether it was cutting wood, picking berries, trouting (I sucked at that...), hunting rabbits with dogs (my father used hunting dogs during a time when snaring was the much preferred method of rabbit-catching in NL) or just having a boil-up.
He showed me how to fire a gun when I was 13, but I was never allowed to take one myself until I was the proper legal age (so please, no derogatory comments about my old man being reckless or unsafe, he was smarter than you are I promise you).
I always used it safely and responsibly, even bringing home the occasional rabbit or grouse.
But I wonder would that be the case for all? Hard to say.
I don’t hunt anymore because I don’t have much time to spare — and besides, who has the patience to be getting all the registrations and doing all the courses and getting all the documents/cards needed to take a gun into the woods these days? It’s hard to get up across the bog with a filing cabinet latched around your back on top of your grub bag.
But I’m nevertheless glad for all the experiences I had in the woods — with or without a gun, because the truth is I enjoyed everything about being in the woods from the quiet to the scenery to the wildlife — because they are part of the overall appreciation I have for this place.
I agree we need to find ways to get young people more interested in doing things that make Newfoundland and Labrador so wonderful and unique, like spending some time in the woods or by the pond or on the water.
I’m sure many will argue that arming a pre-teen isn’t necessarily the way to do it. Others will argue that it is and is something we’ve been doing for generations.
But it definitely raises an interesting debate.
Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com
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