As I grew up, one of the things that I was taught was how to handle a gun. I started off with a BB gun and moved my way up. It was essential for survival in the wilderness and gun safety and proficiency was important to my dad.
When we first moved to Central in the early 1980s, the community often came together to support one another through games and activities promoted by local businesses and community groups. One of those events was a turkey shoot.
I was intrigued when my dad asked me if I wanted to go, because I’d never hunted a turkey, mostly because they don’t live in Alaska. As it turns out, no turkeys were harmed during the turkey shoot; though two frozen ones were raffled off. Instead, it was a shooting competition divided up by caliber and age groups.
My age group was set up with .22 rifles or pistols. As I hadn’t ever had practice on a pistol, I stuck with my rifle and went against 7 other kids in the 8-11 year old range; I was only 9.
The first round had targets set up at 10 yards. You got 5 shots, four in the inner circle which was about 4 inches wide, advanced you to the next round where the target was pushed out another 5 yards.
Everyone passed the first round and one missed during the second round which really surprised me because they were all using scopes while I was using the stock iron sights that came with the rifle.
The next round they pushed the target to 25 yards and you only got three shots in which two had to hit the inner ring. I missed with my first shot as I tensed up and went wide, but nailed the next two.
Two more kids dropped out and the target was pushed to 35 yards. With the target at this range, they moved to traditional paper targets with value rings. Top three scores advanced.
I put all three in the ring just outside of the bullseye which gave me a score of 12 out of 15 and put me into second against my best friend who scored 14. A girl took the third slot with a score of 10.
For the final round, they moved the target to 42 yards and set it up in front of a metal target that would sound if we hit it. A spotter with a scope watched the target and we each got one shot.
The girl had the lowest score so she went first. The metal target dinged and the spotter declared that she had hit the outside of the three point ring high and to the left.
I was next and all I had to do was set my shot inside of hers. However, with open sights, I couldn’t really see much of the target, let alone the tiny hole she put in it. I squatted into a crouch, calmed myself, took a deep breath, started to sight in as my dad had taught me, then exhaled half my breath, checked my alignment and fired.
“On the line. 4 & 5 left!” the spotter called.
I was elated! I’d clipped the edge of the bullseye, which was, in my opinion, a matter of luck. The competition had drawn over a small crowd of adults who applauded appreciatively since I’d made the shot without a scope.
My best friend waited for the range to be cleared and sprawled on the ground. His dad had given him a gun rest to brace his rifle against. The seconds passed by as everyone quieted and watched him shoot.
“On the line. 4 & 5 right!” the spotter called.
“Well! Who won?” someone asked.
The paper target was retrieved and measurements were taken, but no one could declare a winner. So we went for another round, this time at 50 yards.
Since I’d gone first last round, my friend went first this round. He sighted in and fired more quickly this time. His shot was followed by a ding and the spotter calling, “Mid 5, 11 o’clock.”
People cheered and patted my friend on the back. His shot was good and left me with less than an inch to beat him. That may sound like a lot when you think of a small caliber bullet, but at this distance, I couldn’t even distinguish the different rings with open sights.
I settled into my crouch and took a breath. I could hear everyone else holding their breath as well and I felt the pressure mounting. My gun began to sway and I was a hair from pulling the trigger when I stopped and stood up.
Standing meant I was more likely to sway, but I felt more comfortable like this. The angle to the target seemed more apparent, but the stress was getting to me. My dad walked over and leaned in close. I lowered my rifle and he said, “You don’t have to take the shot. I’m proud of you either way.”
I nodded and said, “I want to try.”
He nodded back and stepped away. I took a deep breath and held it. I loosely sighted in on the target, let out some air, aimed and pulled the trigger.
“Miss!” called the spotter. “We have a winner!”
I knew it was a long shot, but I felt the wind get sucked out me. How’d I miss? I’d heard the ding.
People began to congratulate my friend and I heard a couple of others ask the same question that was going through my mind.
“We heard the ding.”
“I didn’t see it hit the target,” the spotter defended. “Maybe he went wide and hit the metal target next to it.”
This seemed plausible since there were 4 metal targets spaced about 2 feet apart, but that would be a really wide shot. I was standing and I could sway more, but still.
I felt the sting of the loss hit the corners of my eyes and I took a couple of gulps of air to calm myself down. After all, I suddenly realized I had no idea what the prize was!
I was walking over to congratulate my friend on his win when one of the people who helped with the targets came running in, holding up the target in one hand and yelling. No one could hear him over the cheers of the crowd.
I shook my friends hand and we both began to laugh. “Great shot,” I told him over the crowd.
“You too!” he replied. “Too bad you went wide on the last shot.”
It was at that moment the spotter started yelling over the crowd and it took a moment for them to calm down.
“I was wrong,” he began as he held up the paper target, “Matt did hit the target!”
More confusion arose as the spotter pointed out his error. After the first shot, the shot was marked on the target with a red sharpie. On the edge towards the bullseye, the red mark was missing.
“Matt nearly put his shot through the same hole! His was closer to the bullseye! He wins!”
Men crowded around the spotter to look at the target. The flipped it over and inspected the exit and confirmed that my shot had passed through the tear of the previous shot.
People began pounding on my shoulder and my friend’s dad demanded another shot. Declared it a fluke. Said they couldn’t prove it. But the crowd drowned him out. They got into their truck and left, leaving behind his mother and sister.
I was awarded $40 in cash, a brick of .22 shells, a 20 gauge shotgun with a box of birdshot, and a scope which I never used.