OPINION

Norman: A difficult lesson to learn about guns

CHARLIE NORMAN

When I was about 10 years old, my parents entered my name in a drawing to win a .410 shotgun at the local Sears Roebuck store there in Odessa. Of all things, my name was drawn! First and only thing like that I ever remember winning.

Charlie Norman

Of course, I was too young handle the gun properly, but it was good to have for the future and keep in the family.  For over 60 years I’ve had some, but not much experience with guns, and I have mixed emotions.

But I do have stories. For instance, we had a BB gun around the house and it was fun to shoot. I mainly just shot at cans, trees and cardboard boxes I’d set up around in the yard. Once, I aimed at a sparrow high up in a neighbor’s tree and shot that bird right in the head. It fell to the ground, and my excitement for being such a good shot soon morphed into one of remorse for killing an innocent little bird... remember “Opie” killing a mother bird with his slingshot? Well, that was me.

My folks used to go visit friends out in the country a few miles southwest of Odessa. These friends had a son we called “Bubba,” probably age 13 at the time, and a couple years older than me. They gave us each .22 rifles to go jackrabbit hunting, with the instructions to “Be sure to be careful.”

They explained it was good thing to kill those rabbits because they carry disease, eat up what little vegetation there is out there for other animals, and were beginning to overpopulate the area. So we felt justified to shoot as many as we could find.

One time I’ll never forget. We’d just started out and Bubba was to my left and up in front of me about 10 feet. Sure enough, a rabbit darted from behind a bush on my right, and ran right across in front of me. Impulsively, I raised my rifle to shoot as I followed the rabbit from left to right, and I pulled the trigger. Nothing. NOTHING!

Providentially, the gun did NOT fire --- the safety was on. I would have shot my friend in the back! He never knew of this, and I had nightmares for years. I told no one.  Shortly thereafter, I went with my mom while she visited another friend out in the country. Again I had a .22 with me and just milled around the old farm house looking for things to shoot.

Soon, I spotted a rabbit running into a nearby bush. I quietly and slowly made my way there, stalking my game, and spotted it hiding under the bush a few feet away. I took careful aim and shot it straight on. Once again, my excitement for being such a good hunter transformed into regret, as I pulled the remains of a bloody cottontail out from the underbrush.

That really wasn’t much fun after all. Made me sad actually.  

A year or so later, I was visiting my cousin Paul and his family outside Littlefield.  They too lived in the country, and my Uncle Ned gave us each a small .22 Remington pistol to target practice with, so long as we agreed to “be extra careful.”  Ten minutes later, I let out a kind of scream like I’d never screamed before. Somehow I’d gotten my left hand ring finger over the front end of the barrel of the gun and it went off.

It almost blew my finger off. Fortunately, the relatively small bullet went right through my finger slightly below the top knuckle. God was with me that day, and the ER doctor was able to treat me so as to not lose my finger or part of it --- which obviously could have had long-term ramifications.

Nightmares again. I still have the quarter-inch scar to prove it.   One of my dad’s favorite pastimes was hunting. Not much to hunt out in West Texas, except for dove and rabbits, but he loved the challenge of bird hunting, so that’s what he did. One time, during my college years, he took me dove hunting about an hour’s drive south of Odessa. He gave me a double- barreled shotgun, and we set out for the stock tank, where my dad knew the dove would soon be flying in...

Within a few minutes time, here came the the birds. I raised my gun and shot twice. Got a dove each time. My dad was proud of and for me. Me, not so much. We walked over to retrieve the birds, and I watched him wring their necks, toss the heads aside, and put the dove in his shoulder pouch. I thought “I’m done.”

To my dad’s credit and other true hunters’ passion, he always, always never killed just to kill. He’d take his game home, clean it and use it for food for the family or giveaway. I get that and I don’t begrudge other hunters --- it’s just not my game.  I guess the first time I knew I was a real “softie,” is when I took a good friend’s 8- and 10-year-old daughters out for an afternoon movie back in 1976.

I offered to do this, just as favor, so he and the wife could have a nice lunch out and afternoon together. “Bambi” was showing... well, it had been decades since I’d seen “Bambi,” and I had sorta forgotten how it all went. Then it starts to hit me... I remember now. 

Uh oh... Well, the shots rang out, and there I am crying, holding on to these two adolescent girls who are trying comfort me. Not Good! Embarrassed? A little. Did I get over it? Pretty much. But I’m telling you, I ain’t gonna go see “Bambi” again anytime soon... just saying.

That’s my story on guns and killing. (One reason I like fishing so much is, after the thrill of catching who knows what, you can always just toss it back in for another day of fun/challenge). 

P.S. Oh yes, I still have that .410 shotgun and have used it successfully and unabashedly on occasion out at my house in the country. Rattlesnakes and copperheads enter my domain on their own risk. And I don’t clean 'em for vittles either. I leave ’em be — that’s for the vultures. It’s their specialty.

Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at chas234@windstream.net.