Have you ever reflected on your life and discovered that you harbored a lifelong curiosity or passion that had lain dormant; pushed to the back burner because of lack of opportunities, fear, or because of other responsibilities in life? I did.
A few years ago, as my 40th birthday approached, my eldest daughter, Becky, joined the Army Reserves and was at boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. In the brief letters we received, she told us about her rifle and grenade training. Her enthusiasm was evident on the page and, all of the sudden, I realized I was envious.
Allow me to back up a few years. From a very young age, I loved guns. I was drawn to them. Sure, I played with dolls and “girly” things, but if there was a toy gun present, it was in MY hands. At my grandparents’ house, I was a helmeted soldier with a submachine gun strapped to my back. At home, if the neighborhood kids were playing Cops and Robbers, I was cop because, in our more innocent days, the bad guys didn’t have guns. When we played Cowboys and Indians, I was always a cowboy, brandishing my shiny cap pistol from the dime store and feeling superior because the Indians only had bows and arrows made of sticks and string. I think I may have also liked tying the neighborhood boys to trees with rope. Hmmm…
As a girl, I also wanted to hunt. My dad hunted duck and deer with my grandfather and his cronies. I wanted to go so badly, but I was a temperamental and boisterous kid prone to tantrums. I didn’t display the kind of maturity or obedience that one needs for proper gun handling, so I lost out on that opportunity.
Eventually, I outgrew the Cops and Robbers play and moved into my teens. I no longer thought much about my toy guns or hunting. My interests moved more towards Steve Martin comedy albums and Tiger Beat magazine but there were still some signs of a latent gun lover. Do you remember the “antique” photography trend in the 80’s? My sister and I loved those. I’ll bet you can guess which of us in each picture is holding a gun.
Later, I married and had kids. My husband is not a hunter, so for years I didn’t think about guns or hunting at all. Then came the day that I realized I was envious of my daughter’s rifle training. I was 40 years old. My dad no longer hunted, my husband didn’t shoot. It was time to stop blaming circumstances and take responsibility for myself and what I wanted to learn. I live less than 3 miles from a wonderful indoor shooting range. Very timidly one afternoon, I walked into that range and signed up for an introductory NRA pistol course. I was the only woman in the store and when I went to the class, I was the only woman in the class. Intimidated? You bet I was! But, I did it anyway. At the end of the classroom time, the instructor took me into the range, put a .22 Ruger Mark II (the one with the wood grip and thumb rest) in my hand and ran the target out about 10 feet. The first 5 rounds I ever fired out of a gun pierced the target in an area the size of a nickel. I loved the weight of the pistol in my hand. I loved the “BANG” and the slight recoil. I loved the smell of gunpowder in the air and the taste of it on my lips. I was hooked. I fell in love that day and my life has been forever changed.
A few months after taking that pistol class, I was browsing around the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website and I ran across a workshop called Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) that offered a variety of classes over the course of a weekend . The list of classes included rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, Dutch Oven Cooking, bird watching, game calling, fishing…there were roughly 30 topics from which to choose 4 to attend in a weekend, but the gun classes were enough to make me yearn to attend. Here’s the sticking point: the event was to be held in western Nebraska, which is roughly a 5-hour drive from my home. At that time, I didn’t even drive downtown by myself. I couldn’t conceive of driving 45 minutes to the next city, let alone hopping in the car and driving across vast stretches of minimally traveled highways, but I simply could not let this opportunity go. What did I do? I whined to my mother, who is an active and awesome lady, and begged her to accompany me on this adventure. Thankfully, she agreed. We attended our first Becoming an Outdoorswoman workshop in October of 2006 and I have attended every year since, sometimes with Mom, my sister, and my daughter, Amy. Once, I even went alone and these days, I don’t hesitate to hitch my camper to the truck and drive wherever I want to go…all by myself, believe it or not.
Women in the Outdoors (WITO), affiliated with the National Wild Turkey Federation, is another organization that holds an outdoor workshop in my area. My sister went one year and had so much fun she talked me into attending the next year. I immediately joined the planning committee. At this year’s workshop, I became an instructor.
These workshops not only provide wonderful instruction and encouragement. I have been amazed at the number of like-minded people I’ve met from across the state and now have network of outdoor connections. It was through talking with another woman over dinner at a seminar that I learned of the newly minted Nebraska Master Naturalist Program, which trains volunteers in a variety of environmental and conservation topics in the hopes that they, through volunteering, spread their knowledge and enthusiasm for the outdoor environment. I finished that training in October of 2011 and have enjoyed volunteering for several events that involved kids in the outdoors.
In the years since that initial pistol course, I have also obtained my CCW. I hike, bike, camp, fish, geocache, kayak, and cook in Dutch Ovens. I’m not afraid of life anymore and I know I am capable of learning and growing. I have gone from being a “Wannabe” to feeling like I need to give back to the outdoor community that has fostered many positive changes in my life. I’m no expert and there have been some hilarious foibles along the way, which I will share with you in the future. I’m just a novice with a passion that I’m so excited to share with you.
And to think it all happened because of a pistol.