Where to learn to shoot? Where does a fiftyish female English professor with bad aim and a bad attitude go for some bangbang?
UD contemplated this. She considered an NRA class; she considered the many kind shooting invitations from gunnies that she got via this Inside Higher Ed series. She considered taking things slower, the way professors do, sitting around libraries reading about guns rather than shooting them...
And then it - as it were - hit her. Down the dirt road from her Upstate New York country house lives H., a big tough mountain man and owner of many rifles and shotguns.
H. is about pig roasts and buck hunting with a bow and scaring the geese off a neighbor's pond by blasting away at the air above them for hours.
When H. bombs up to UD's house in his all-terrain vehicle, there's something - despite the sweat and the fatigues - regal in his bearing: He sits straight and high, with many dog attendants, master of the mountains.
H. is all that UD is not: A man, for whom women's inferiority is an obvious truth, a Red Stater, an enthusiastic outdoorsman (UD loves her little country house and environs, but you won't catch her tromping the hills all day), a joiner (this weekend, H. goes on a group outing to a loggers' convention)... No doubt H. regards UD with the same amazement with which she regards him; but since they both have a sense of humor, they enjoy talking together.
And so, just now, UD presented herself at H.'s place and asked him if he'd teach her how to shoot.
"Of course," said H. "No problem. Listen, I'm taking my wife to Cobleskill at the moment. I'll come by your place at around four o'clock and take you down to mine and we'll shoot."
"Do you have a gun light enough for me?"
"I have just the thing." He went and got a rifle and showed it to UD. "No kick. Smooth and easy. You'll see."
"What will we shoot at?"
"I'll set up some cans."
UD walked back up the hill to her house and told Mr. UD, who was on the deck reading The Theory of Communicative Action, about her appointment to shoot cans.
"The question," he said, after thinking about this for a moment, "is not what you will shoot, but whom."
"Yes. I certainly hope I don't shoot H. Or myself."
It's 4:17 and here comes H., powering up our hill on his ATV. Mr. UD's mowing the grass.
"Where's your honey?" H. asks Mr. UD, who doesn't quite understand the question.
"Your honey's right here!" UD calls from the house.
"My God, they have ears on them, don't they," says H.
"You have a woman problem," UD tells him, and he laughs.
Les UDs walk down to his place while H. mounts his ATV again.
H. is waiting on his back deck -- it has a long view of a wildflower field and then forest and then hills -- with a 22 caliber rifle. "See how lightweight this is? Now I'm putting the bullets in ... Sure, you can put them in... Just drop them in with the rim in this direction... And I've made a target for you."
On the lawn below us, instead of cans, sits a large upright cardboard box, its back panel removed. A white circle's been painted on it.
H. shows UD how to rest the gun on her right shoulder and hold it in her left hand. "The sight on this is really no good. You can try seeing through it, but it'll be hard. Just aim without it and see what happens. Just get off some shots."
So that's what UD did. UD fired the gun repeatedly, calmly, easily, focusing as well as she could on the target. After fifteen shots, they went down to see whether she'd hit the box at all.
Mr. UD and H. found quite a number of bullet holes in the target, one of them near the center of the white circle.
"Now I'll show you a real gun." H. opens the door to his garage and walks over to a way-serious looking safe. Size of a refrigerator. Fort Knox City. He twirls the gold handle on it and opens it to reveal, leaning together, many guns. "Plus there's one I keep in my bedroom in case someone comes in."
"What the difference between a shotgun and a rifle?"
He brings out some shotguns. "They don't use bullets. They use pellets. You use shotguns for shooting birds."
He also brings out a couple of specialty items -- a Nazi knife, and a tiny pistol with a folding trigger, also of Nazi provenance.
"You told me you were applying for a pistol license. Why not just use this one?"
"This one's unregistered, and because it's from Germany, I'd have to send it back there, and go through all kinds of international paperwork. Not worth it... Still, I'd use an unregistered gun like this one if I had it handy and had to defend myself... You know what they say: I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six."
He hands UD a much heavier rifle than the 22 she just used, with a much spiffier looking sight on it. "I want you to try to shoot this. There will be some kick. Give it a try."
We're standing at the entrance to his garage, and one of his dogs scampers about, anticipating an afternoon of hunting. "I don't want to kill your dog."
"Aim at the ground."
Bang. The kick doesn't bother UD, but the blast does. She understands now why everyone at the NRA range protects their ears. The greater power of this weapon is immediately, viscerally obvious to UD, who, as she thanks H. and prepares to leave, considers the fact that although she wouldn't even touch a gun at the Virginia gun show she went to a couple of weeks ago, she seems here, in the calm of the countryside on a sunny day, quite willing to let it rip.