Shooting Tin Cans

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I remember the first time I learned how to hold my Mamiya correctly in dim light. Opened all the way to 2.8, the f-stop was at its limit and keeping the camera steady was difficult. I held the image in my gaze through the top of the viewfinder and kept seeing it shaking in my hands as my breath moved my body. Finally I realized that on an exhale everything holds still, that for a second – or two – the camera wouldn’t move. I released the shutter, and the negatives I developed later that night weren’t blurry.

Shooting a rifle is the same, really. Gazing down the sight as the barrel rests against your shoulder, you can see the target shuddering in and out of view with each breath. Exhale and the world stops and holds still for a second – or two – and one gentle release of the trigger will land that hot piece of metal exactly where you intended.

My liberal friends get quiet when I talk about my love of shooting. Not people, I always remind them. I don’t even really like pistols, with their convenient size and weight, their dark purpose. Pistols aren’t for feeding yourself. They’re for defending yourself – which means anticipating a bad situation. Or being offensive, which means creating one. I like rifles, with their heft, and the way you have to tuck them into yourself. Tin cans are my targets, windy afternoons my challenge. I feel calmer after I shoot. The mental space I have to enter in order to be a successful shooter requires a clearing the mind of all outside noises and mental distractions. It’s zen, I tell my friends. And then they change the subject.

I was going to get my California Hunting License this Fall, before I shattered my elbow. Mentored by obsessive buck hunters, I wanted to sit on the side of a hill with binoculars until my back and legs cramped up, waiting. Shoot through the lungs, not the heart. But could I do it? Stare down the scope and pull the trigger? Field dress, and leave what we didn’t want for the coyotes and mountain lions? I want to be able to do it. Deer season is over. Only 11 months until the next one.

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