Continuing on with my retelling of magical Christmas events, I can’t leave out our visit to Camp Albert. There is a hunting property near Standish, Michigan, which had been owned by a friend of my stepmother’s family for years. In 1987, this particular piece of property was established as “Camp Albert”. Camp Albert has become the congregation place of most of the local hunters, their wives and children and various family friends. Each year at the start of rifle deer season (consistently Nov. 15th in Michigan), big groups come together to enjoy good hunting, friendly camarade and the state’s best steak fry around an open fire pit. In recent years, my father and stepmother purchased Camp Albert from family friends to ensure that this tradition would be carried on into the next generation.
Just after Christmas, and during our holiday stay in Michigan, my father and stepmother (Jan) were kind enough to take us out to Camp Albert. I think there is no place in the world that my father feels more at home than in the rustic setting of this property. As his anticipation of going out there with his grandsons mounted, he asked if he could teach Jake to shoot a BB gun while we were there. I panicked.
Should a not quite 8 year old boy have a gun in his hands? Could Jake possibly separate the gun in his hands from the images of war he watched with his video game obsession? Would he know and retain and remember that he is NOT EVER ALLOWED to target practice at his brother or any other living being? Once he knew how to handle a gun, would he be able to resist the temptation to touch a gun should he ever encounter a situation where there was a gun within his reach? Though I owned two in my youth, suddenly BB guns terrified me and I couldn’t shake the idea that I have still never watched the end of the Christmas Story just in case Ralphie did in fact take out his eye with a little Red Ryder….(Yes, really.)
I conferred with Ryan, and he didn’t seem to have a clear answer, either. Being that we’re both pacifists by nature, neither of us have a gun nor do we desire them in our household at this time. So, I did what any good mom would do… I tried to put to do a poll on facebook. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good enough internet connection with my phone, so I resorted to my back up plan; I texted parents on my contact list that I trust, some that hunt and some that don’t to get a good pool of answers.
First, I texted my friend, Lisa. Lisa has two boys just like I do, and though they are younger than my own, I knew that she would immediately understand my concern as a mother. Lisa and her family are also avid hunters, so it would seem her perspective would be additionally insightful. Her response to my inquiry was that she would let her oldest son shoot a BB gun, with guidance, at Jake’s age.
While waiting for her response, I texted my beloved cousin, Lane. Lane has 3 young daughters, (which I plan on stealing one day) and so I knew he would think like a parent. Additionally, he is a teacher (and now principal, I believe) at a school, and he has a lot of experience with children from that facet of his life. Finally, to say that Lane is an avid hunter would be a huge understatement, as he writes articles about hunting for magazines and is actually considered in many circles to be an expert on the topic. His response was very much like Lisa’s. He stated that he thought it would be safe to introduce BB gun shooting as early as the age of 6, provided that the child was under very vigilant adult guidance and the opportunity was taken to start enforcing gun safety. His recommendation was very encouraging to me.
But, I was afraid that Lane and Lisa might be a bit trigger happy, given their affinity for hunting, and so I had to consult my trusted friend, Jeannette, who is also a parent, and who has no dead animals hanging from her walls. Like me, Jeannette had some reservations about letting children under 10 near guns. Though, admittedly, she was not a hunter and had not really given much thought to the topic as her daughter has had no interest in the subject.
Given that the majority of responses were encouraging, and that at Jake’s age I had already had a gun… and that Jake was begging with the best ever puppy dog eyes… and that my dad was obviously very excited and had been waiting his whole life to shoot with “his” boys… How could I say no? I explained to my father that he needed to reinforce the lessons of gun safety and granted permission.
Jake listened carefully as my father explained to him that you always walk with the barrell of a gun pointed down. He understood as my father explained that you never hold your finger near the trigger of a gun until you are taking your shot, even though you are to leave your safety activated until that time also. Jake understood that he could not point any gun, play or otherwise at people, animals or houses. He listened as my father and Ryan explained to him how to use iron sites and a scope, and all the workings of the BB gun and a pellet gun.
It turned out that Jake’s arms weren’t long enough to hold the BB rifle properly, so my father sat Jake down at a snowy picnic bench, aiming at an elaborate set up of cans and plastic bottles for targets. Jake starred down his target with determination, and this was the culmination of all of our efforts:
I’m not sure which moment I liked best. Jake’s sharp shooting skills, my husband’s proud response, or my father’s overwhelming enthusiasm. Regardless, this confirmed in my mind that Jake and Ben will take hunter’s safety as soon as they are old enough, and if they develop a continued interest in hunting, I’m sure they will enjoy many years of Camp Albert with the family.