i had never fired a gun in my life.
sure, i’ve played paintball… i’ve wielded one of those foam dart crossbows… once i even held an actual piece in my hand… but it wasn’t loaded.
essentially, i spent my life pussyfooting around the whole subject of deadly weapons.
until i grew a mullet.
i step confidently out of my vehicle after driving hundreds of miles to visit a friend who has guns. my mission? to fire one (or all) of them. we’re in rural america — the good land — god’s country. if there’s one place a mulleted american feels welcome it’s here. i’m ready to smell gunpowder. i’m ready for hot steel in my hand. i’m ready to take life.*
my friend (we’ll call him dusty) walks up and offers a firm handshake. i can tell he means business. dusty owns and operates a resort on a beautiful lake. he builds and maintains all of the cabins himself. but we aren’t going to build anything today. we’re going to destroy.
destruction comes naturally for me now. for months i’ve been destroying stereotypes, prejudices and invisible barriers. i’ve also been destroying the sleeves of every t-shirt i own and the confidence of anyone my camaro happens to dust.
dusty invites me to hop on an ATV that will take us deep into the woods. in the back i see a selection of guns. my mullet starts to pulse. we’re getting close.
the action starts with a .22 caliber rifle. dusty calls it a glorified BB gun but warns me that it could still hurt or even kill someone. this is the first of many times that dusty will warn me about my newfound capacity to inflict lethal harm.
dusty takes a clay pigeon out of a box and perches it on a tree branch. he hands me the rifle and gives me a few instructions. i line up the orange circle in my sight and look over my shoulder at the small crowd of locals that had gathered to watch me lose my firearm virginity. they’re ready. i’m ready. at the last second i think of something badass to say before i shoot — something that will really impress the onlookers.
"say goodnight, ambassador pigeon!"
i shout as i pull hard on the trigger. nothing happens. someone laughs.
"did you take the safety off?"
"i’m not an idiot, dusty…"
just to be sure, i check the safety. turns out he was right. i covertly nudge it off and line up my sight once more. this time i skip the snappy line and just fire away.
direct hit. the pigeon shatters and falls to the ground. i blow nonexistent smoke from the rifle’s barrel and act like i am putting it back into a holster. some of the locals scowl at me. dusty grabs the gun and puts the safety back on.
dusty hands me ear protection and a much heavier sidearm. it’s a shotgun. the real deal. with it comes a new set of instructions — including a warning about ‘kickback’ or something. i laugh, explaining that my camaro has more kick than anything this pea shooter could put out. he grabs a few pigeons and some ear protection.
"you’ve got three shots. just yell ‘pull’ when you’re ready to shoot."
i ready myself — running my fingers along the cold, smooth barrel and visualizing the target.
the first pigeon soars high overhead. i turn to fire and nothing happens. the safety is still on. dusty grabs another pigeon as the locals chuckle. it’s not even funny anymore.
i turn off the safety, but before i raise the gun i take a moment to look inward.
what kind of man are you? — i ask myself angrily — don’t you realize the power you hold in your hands? are you not aware that it comes from the same primal place as the hair keeping your neck warm? does not this gun, like your camaro and your hairdo, induce an ache deep within your loins? within your very chromosomes?
"what the hell is going on?" — dusty barks, his arms shrugged in the air. apparently my soul-searching inner monologue is taking longer than i realize. i raise the gun and commanded the pigeon’s release…
my shot hits its mark, blurring the clay into a cloud of orange and, just like that, i become a man.
on the way back to the cabin i told dusty how different i felt — how amazed i was by my power and by the way that thousands of little pellets join forces to obliterate their target. dusty informed me that there aren’t ‘thousands’ of pellets in a shotgun shell.
perhaps he was right. who knows. one thing was for sure — my mullet now smelled like manhood. and that’s the only fact i needed to know for certain.
*turns out you can’t take life without proper legal permits.