Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
My journey started in a classroom inside the old armory in Jersey City. A ten-year-old sitting, with butterflies in his stomach, among men mostly twice his age. They seemed like giants back then, but most were probably teenagers or twenty-somethings. They were not nearly as intimidating as the true titans that lined the walls. All of them were rugged men with beards and heavy boots, adorned in flannel, plaid, or olive green. The session and test are a blur, now as they were then. We filed out to mingle around the outside of the building and the men joked and planned and shook hands. The hunters, new and old, piled into pick-ups and station wagons, a time before the modern SUV, when trucks were four-wheel-drive with manual transmissions and manual hubs, large metal beasts with rumbling exhausts that a person climbed into instead of just getting in.
We finished the indoctrination into the hunting fraternity in the meadows. The place has long since disappeared into the marsh, but years ago a tower stand stood above the cattails, throwing clays out into the swamp. A shooting range was arranged nearby, but both fell victim to development and the fear of hearing shotguns too close to the suburbs. It was at night, surrounded by those same grizzled faces. The tower would throw clays spinning out over the cattails and into the darkness. I stood there, stomach in knots, with a lump building in my throat. I almost tiptoed up to the instructor and the station at which I needed to stand. I was carefully handed an old single shot and I robotically followed the steps to safely load and handle the firearm. I nodded my readiness and the clay flew out and froze against the dark night sky. The shotgun thundered and the night time exploded. This was no youth model. It wasn't even a 20 gauge. This was the one-size-fits-all, one-gun-does-it-all 12 gauge. The recoil bruised my shoulder and the muzzle flash befuddled my senses. I wish I could tell you if the second shot was better, if any of the clays were broken, or anything else that happened after pulling that trigger, but excitement, adrenaline, and a little bit of terror consumed my entire body. I can say I vaguely recall, as if sleep walking, the slaps on the back and shoulders as I left the range and retreated to the truck.
My body was buzzing on the way home and for days later. I had become a hunter, or at least had taken the first major step in becoming one. I now possessed "the card", my hunter education identification card. I was one.