Dad and I took to the hills this weekend - his 60th birthday is coming up, and I lined up a half-day grouse
hunt in the mountains of western NC to help celebrate. We had to leave poor Dean at home due to some logistical hurdles, but with Kim at the NCAFP conference at the Grove Park, Dad and I took off to Weaverville NC to meet up with our guide from Curtis Wright Outfitters.
Grouse hunting reminds me a lot of combat – it is exhausting, you rarely see what you are shooting at, you often come home empty-handed, and it is a helluva good time. (NB: Words of wisdom from my former commander: “Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling." General James N. Mattis, USMC).
From handling a weapon, you get an innate familiarity with its functioning. Under stress and through intense training, it becomes a literal extension of your very self. The Marine Corps also has a way of distilling various things down to their core attribute - for example, the safety selector switch on the M16A2 service rifle. Safe. Semi. Burst. Simple enough to just call it the "Selector Switch" or something like that, but the drill intructors in the Marine Corps insist on calling it the "Kill Button." It makes sense, when you think about it, and it subtly reinforces the idea that is what a weapon is for, and nothing less, in case less attentive recruits begin to forget where it is pointed.
There were times I recall from Iraq that I went from “finger straight and off the trigger, weapon on safe” to 4.5 pounds of pressure on a five pound trigger, sights on the target, with the weapon on "Kill." It wasn’t something I had to think about, it just happened. I wasn't ever even aware of the shift from safe to fire - rather, as the immediate stress subsided I caught myself sighting down the barrel of a rifle with set to “fire.” Before long, and well before we deployed, I had put enough rounds out in training that I would just walk around with my thumb perched on the selector switch, so as not to have to look for it when the time came.
Walking the hills outside Weaverville NC with Dad brought this thought flooding back. For the first two or three flushes, we never even saw the bird - just had the dog lock up and heard him fly, maybe we even imagined a slight glimpse of brown on brown hurtling through the hardwoods. After a late trailing shot on the second bird (mostly to save face) I relocated my second finger to that little round button on the right side of the trigger guard on the Remington 870 LW 20 ga. Kept the first finger straight, ready to acquire the trigger, and the second finger poised on the kill button. Nothing less would work, these hills were so steep and the birds were so fast.
We never got a bird, although we had a few more flushes. It would have been nice to have Dean - the guide's dog kept taking off down the mountain after deer or some other such animal. But hell - a nice December day on the mountain with Dad, you hardly need to actually get a bird.
Happy Birthday Dad. Thanks for hunting with me all these years.