Bonnie to my Clyde

I took Lydia to the shooting range today.

I’ve enjoyed shooting since I was a kid. It started when my parents gave me my first archery set. I still remember that first bow. It was a yellow fiberglass recurve made by Fred Bear, the godfather of modern archery.

I loved that bow and spent years of my childhood shooting it in our back yard. I got so good that I could pretty much hit anything I wanted.

As I entered my early teens I hankered for a more serious bow; something I could use for deer hunting. I mowed lawns and shoveled driveways until I saved up about $200 and bought my first compound bow, a little Browning Nomad. From there I moved up to a gorgeous Martin Warthog a few years later.

One of the first times I used a firearm was when our next-door neighbor took me squirrel hunting one Fall afternoon. He parked me in a thicket of hickory trees with an old double-barrel, side-by-side, 12-gauge shotgun. It had two triggers, one for each barrel.

I was sitting on the ground with my back against a huge tree stump when I saw a squirrel scampering among the branches above. I brought the old shotgun up to my shoulder, got my cheek down onto the stock and put the bead on that little guy. My heart was pounding with a mix of excitement and fear. I pulled the trigger and was immediately consumed by a thunderous blast that sent the gun flying out of my hands. I sat stunned for a moment, my ears ringing while a cloud of sulfurous smoke hung around my head.

I was worried I broke the gun when I dropped it. I picked it up and it was fine. I broke open the breach to check the shells only to find that in my excitement I had pulled both triggers at the same time, firing both barrels.

Around that time I began to realize that my right shoulder hurt really badly.

You see, I had my back against a tree stump. When I fired the gun—both barrels at once, no less—there was no where for my shoulder to go, no way for it to absorb the force of the recoil. And so, rather than just have that energy dissipate through motion and mass, it all went right into my 13-year-old shoulder. That’s why the gun leapt out of my hands.

I was stiff and sore and bruised for weeks.

I did, however, get the squirrel. Of course, with the hailstorm of lead pellets I threw at it, there was no way to miss.

I realized as the years waxed that hunting wasn’t my thing. I didn’t enjoy it that much. It was nice to stroll a field for quail or sit in the woods in the afternoon sun looking for squirrels. But, something about freezing my extremities in the woods at 5 AM—the kind of hunting you do for deer—just wasn’t for me.

But there is something about shooting that I enjoy. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of hitting the bullseye, or the way the mental focus required to shoot well helps me forget the daily stress of life. Whatever it is, I always feel better after shooting.

That’s why I regularly go to the range with a pistol or two and shoot a few dozen rounds. It does my soul good.

And today Lydia came out with me.

I’m glad she did because I got to observe something really cool.

We covered all the safety stuff and I had her dry fire the gun a few times to get used to the trigger. Then I taped up the target (a silhouette with a small orange bulls eye) and sent it out five yards.

Her first four or five shots hit the silhouette, but not very close to the bullseye. I thought, not bad for a beginner. Lots of people miss the paper all together and I know guys that are “shooters” and can’t hit the bullseye much.

And then …

Lydia proceeded to put the rest of the rounds—five or six—into the bullseye. And for the rest of our time shooting, she was able to deliver really consistent, and above average, results.

I was really impressed.

(Note to self: stay on her good side.)

Afterwards, I asked her how she was able to start hitting the bullseye and she said it just took a few shots to figure out how the sights worked. Once she was able to line them up properly she was off to the races.

There are probably a few lessons here. For instance, never shoot a double-barrel shotgun with your shoulder pressed up against a tree stump. Lol.

But watching Lydia dial herself in was a good reminder to me that you can’t hit a bullseye if you’re not willing to miss a few shots. In fact, those initial misses are critical because they provide feedback and a kind of baseline that you can use to dial in your performance.

I was reminded that if I’m smart, I can use my misses as investments towards my eventual hits—that if I shoot enough and continue to make adjustments, I’ll be able to hit anything I’m aiming for.