I also grew up on what was known as a 'Rural Route', meaning it was a gravel road cut through a forest of towering pines. We lived on several acres near the bottom of the hill. At the top of the hill was the local Gun Club--an anomaly for certain--and every weekend we could hear the muffled clap of weapons' fire as the club members worked out their aggressions on the shooting range. It all seemed like a reckless and unpatriotic waste of time to me, and I couldn't imagine ever doing such a thing myself.
I live in Texas now, and you know where this post is going. I'm also a member of the Brazos Writers group, and one of the group's mandates is to arrange novel learning experiences for its members, on the assumption that these events will either inspire or add authenticity to what we're writing. And that's why I spent my Saturday aiming projectile weapons at targets and blowing the hell out of innocent gourds.
(That's me trying not to laugh.)
We were invited up to the very large, secluded property of two of the Brazos Writers members, to learn about antique and vintage firearms and then shoot them. I decided to go because I'd never done it before, and guns aren't unpatriotic or even unusual here, which mitigated some of my natural Canadian unease. I write science fiction mostly, so I'm not sure if I'll ever use the information about the firearms themselves, but I wanted to at least know what it felt like to shoot a target; to have that much deadly power in my hands.
The range was located outside of the town of Bremond, Texas, which had a main street and possibly two stoplights. I'm sure we were only able to find the place because of the huge GREAT PUMPKIN SHOOT sign the owners had helpfully put up in front of their long driveway. This is what part of the property looked like:
The woman in red is Helena, who owns the property with her husband Art. She destroyed the cartilage in one of her knees, which is why she's on crutches. I couldn't take pictures of the entire place because it's so big and thickly forested they bartered a bulldozer from their neighbors to make drivable trails (you can see the bulldozer in the background). Their neighbors keep cattle.
We could walk to the shooting range from where we parked the car, but Art drove us in this military truck (it might be a Jeep, I'm not sure).
I took this just before getting onto one of the two benches in the back. The man in the denim is Mark, who almost fell out when the truck lurched into gear because there wasn't a tailgate. We weren't even at the range and the adventure had already begun.
While we waited for the stragglers and the lost to arrive (two BW members went to the Bremond police station for help finding the place; the cops didn't know where it was either. I hope they never need an ambulance), Hangman cooked us breakfast using authentic chuck wagon pots and pans over an open cooking fire. We ate 'bearsign' (like doughnuts, except they look like what bears do in the woods), small, tough cinnamon buns and breakfast tacos (scrambled eggs and beef mixed together then served in a soft tortilla shell) and drank cowboy coffee. Everything was delicious, and I spent the whole day smelling like woodsmoke.
Here's Hangman cooking. His real name is James, but he's gone by Hangman for so long that many people don't know his given name.
Hangman has a typical Texan sense of humor, which is to say he really enjoyed making things up to see if I would believe them. Such as when he hid the label of a glass bottle of vanilla extract in his hand and tried to convince me it was a 'special elixir that would make me irresistible to the male of the species'. I think he was a little disappointed that I knew what it was (apparently a lot of people whom he's done this cooking for don't, but he might have also thought I was younger than I am). But that didn't keep him from daubing it behind my ears.
Hangman, Art and Art and Helena's son Matthew were the ones who taught us about the guns and how to fire them. This is Art:
And here's Matthew.
Matt had just come back from trying to kill a coyote that had eaten four of his neighbor's calves. He found the 'yotie', but it was too near his neighbors' house; he was afraid that if he shot it and missed he might hit a human. The rifle on his shoulder is a modern sniper rifle, which was as long as the roof of Matt's pickup truck and possibly weighs more than my son. It's so heavy that you have to be lying on your stomach to fire it, or the recoil will knock you over. When I tried it (oh, yeah, I sure as hell did), Matt had to move it for me so I could aim. I didn't have it positioned right and ended up with a bruise on my neck from the kick. The rifle was so powerful that firing it felt surreal. I did hit the target I was aiming at, but with the scope on the thing there was no way I could have missed.
Make no mistake--these people might be called hicks, rednecks, or other, nastier things. Their front yard looked exactly as you might picture it, with big pieces of metal, broken machines, dirty plastic containers and bales of wire scattered around. They had an actual train car next to their long driveway, and were nestled so far in the woods that you couldn't see the road. And they love their guns. Along with the 24 antique and vintage firearms that belonged to Art and Hangman, they had the sniper rifle, a modern rifle made in Italy, a 9mm and .45, and a handgun called 'the judge' that I didn't see but sounded like a canon when someone fired it. They recycled the brass casings for the bullets to use to make more ammunition. They go hunting for food and Matt keeps the loaded .45 next to his bed at night because they'd had prowlers coming around.
It would be easy to dismiss them, and back when I was in my early teens and listening to the distant sounds of handguns from the shooting range on the hill I probably would have. But a long time ago my dad taught me never to dismiss anybody, because everyone has a story to tell, and now that I'm older and somewhat wiser I know what he meant.
So I listened, and heard about Matt's time in the army, and how he was injured during a practice parachuting jump, and how he can fix just about anything with an engine and how very, very much he knows about weapons and how to use them. Art and Helena are both writers, and Art and Hangman have taught seminars at writer and fan conventions about old firearms and how the pioneers made their food. All three of them were among the most patient, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, generous and encouraging teachers I've ever been lucky enough to learn from.
We did not discuss politics, however, though Hangman teased me a lot about my Canadian heritage and how that makes me a subject of the Queen.
And after breakfast, I learned how to shoot a gun.
Continued in part Two