December 1999

Why I Shoot

It’s been a tough year for the serious shooter, the firearms aficionado who’s more than casual about his or her guns and who helps comprise the core of the Gun Tests readership. Between murderous teenagers fomenting America’s anti-gun sentiment, to an onslaught of litigation by municipalities directed against law-abiding gun manufacturers, to the complete capitulation of once-stalwart Colt’s Manufacturing, the year now ending saw setbacks abound in the furtherance of America’s firearms freedoms. One headline from The Wall Street Journal, quoting a disaffected gun enthusiast, summed it up: When you shoot, “You feel like a smoker.”

But not me. And probably not you, either. So at this time of year-end resolutions, this time of looking forward, it might be a good idea to look back in order to remind ourselves why we shoot.

For me, shooting reminds me of my grandfather. His picture dressed in his post-Pearl Harbor Navy uniform, sits atop my dresser. And the 1936 Ithaca 20-gauge side-by-side he gave me nestles disassembled in its leather mutton chop carrying case in a corner behind a door. Granddad presented it to me when I was 16 years old, a recent graduate of a hunter-safety course, and his simple instructions speak to me now across three decades: “Always treat it as if it were loaded, never point it at anything you don’t intend to kill, never kill anything you don’t intend to eat.”

I shoot because of my dad, and the cold dark mornings when he and I trudged along the railroad tracks to get to our favorite slough by the river, anticipating the morning’s pass shooting at mallards as that gray first light seeped into the trees and brought relief to the cattails. The Remington 1100 he gave me now serves as a passable sporting clays gun and when I shoot it, a memory of good times returns.

I shoot because I’m interested in the technology of firearms. I marvel at what John Browning accomplished nearly a hundred years ago, with a blowback mechanism and a refinement of metallurgy that can scarcely be improved upon. I shoot because of my interest in history, and the fact that at every milestone, every conflict, every societal shift, every great leap, every evil stemmed, a gun of unique design and capability was there.

I shoot because I enjoy the sheer beauty of firearms, the way the wood and the metal fits, the precision and the artistry of the engraving, the richness some guns exude when you bring them to your shoulder. I recall a visit to the great English gunmaker Purdey in London some time ago and I held in my hands a jewel-like demonstration action for their standard double-barrel that was crafted in the 1880s—yet still served as the best way to show how Purdey’s interceptor sear worked. To me, it symbolized the timelessness that only great art can evoke.

I shoot because it takes science, engineering and some skill to make a gun do what you want it to do—all disciplines that I admire, when they don’t elude me, which is far too often. I shoot because it’s more fun than video games, and doing it well gives me immense satisfaction, even if doing it poorly gives me a corresponding level of frustration.

Bottom line: I shoot because knowing how guns work, securing them well, handling them responsibly, using them safely, legitimately and knowledgeably (however, at times, inaccurately) gives me the kind of internal satisfaction that only a gun lover can appreciate.

As this century ends, and another one beckons—and as we brace for the aftershocks that influence America’s love/hate relationship with firearms, we’d do well to remind ourselves why we shoot, and why shooting’s not such a bad thing.

Granddad would agree.

-Tim Cole