I have loved to go shooting and hunting since I was a small boy in the 1960s. The first bit of hunting I did was in the wooded areas around my father’s house just outside Clatskanie Oregon. Clatskanie is a quiet little town northwest of Portland and a little south of the Columbia River. The town is named after the little Clatskanie River that empties into the great Columbia downstream. My dad, a Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy at the time, had given me a little Ithaca Model 49 .22 rifle for my 8th birthday. He had purchased it used from a local shop and presented it to me one day while we were out shooting. I’m not sure there are words in the dictionary to describe the excited look on my face when my dad handed me that rifle and said, “Happy birthday son.”
There was an old log out back somewhere. I haven’t been there for many decades and I don’t remember exactly where, but I remember dad telling me it was OK to shoot that direction and that I could practice there if I wanted to, as long as I asked him first and was being supervised. Although my father had taught me to shoot years previously, it was against this log and with my little Ithaca Model 49 that Dad taught me the responsibility that comes with having a gun. He made me memorize a special poem by Carl Kauba. I have never forgotten it or the lesson it imparts.
A Father’s Advice
If a sportsman true you’d be
Listen carefully to me …
Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone.
That it may unloaded be
Matters not the least to me.
When a hedge or fence you cross
Though of time it cause a loss
From your gun the cartridge take
For the greater safety’s sake.
If ‘twixt you and neighboring gun
Bird shall fly or beast may run
Let this maxim ere be thine:
“Follow not across the line.”
Stops and beaters oft unseen
Lurk behind some leafy screen.
Calm and steady always be:
“Never shoot where you can’t see.”
You may kill or you may miss
But at all times think this:
“All the pheasants ever bred
Won’t repay for one man dead.”
With my dad looking on and teaching me as I went, I practiced shooting at old cans and sticks that I propped up on that log. I learned many lessons shooting my little rifle: aiming; breathing; concentration; and patience. My Ithaca Model 49 was a single shot rifle, so accurate shooting was important. I only had one shot and I had to make it count. My dad taught me to calm down, slow down, relax, take my time, manage my breathing, press the trigger gently and let the gun do the work. BAM! Bulls-eye!
My father loved the outdoors. He was a large and powerful man who feared nothing and no-one, but he was a gentle soul with a kind heart. I think those qualities are part of the reason he made such a good policeman at the time. Dad did not believe in killing for killing’s sake. He was not and never would have been a trophy hunter. He was not critical of trophy hunters, and neither am I. He simply didn’t feel that taking a trophy was a legitimate reason for him to kill. He taught me to respect all life, even the life of an animal I might need to kill in order to eat. Armed with that understanding, as well as my little Ithaca .22 and the training in shooting that both my dad and my grandfather had given me, I got my first taste of hunting.
The area around Clatskanie was chock full of little critters that could be readily taken with my .22 long rifle. Bobcats, foxes, badgers and raccoons were plentiful in that area at that time, but I never shot any of those. Frankly, other than raccoons, I hardly saw any of the others. Squirrels, on the other hand, were all over the place. Consequently, I cut my teeth on hunting squirrels.
I think Oregon was where I came to love the outdoors more than anything. I have always loved to fish, hunt, and hike and spend my hours in the open country. There is something about it that is ingrained in my being. My dad was that way too.
When I would visit my grandfather, who lived in Belmont Shore (a beautiful community in Long Beach California), he would take me to the shooting range near his house to shoot my little .22. Having learned how to shoot in the country, it was my first experience shooting at an actual shooting range. My grandpa and I spent many happy hours at that place. Some of my dearest memories of my times with him were made there.
Grandpa Charlie had grown up as a barefoot country kid in Chandler Indiana, so he had hunting, shooting and “the country life” permanently affixed to his soul. Sometimes we would drive all the way to Mount Baldy near San Bernardino to go camping and hiking. We’d each grab a rifle and away we’d go. Naturally, I had my Ithaca .22. That little rifle was with me during some of the best memories of my childhood. Every time I pick it up the memories of times with my dad and my grandpa come flooding back into my mind. They were good times and they helped form my love for the outdoors and for outdoor things early in my life.
The Ithaca Model 49 I used for the video embedded in this article is the very rifle my father presented to me for my 8th birthday. It has taken many a squirrel, just a few rabbits and put a number of other small meals in the pot over the years. It still shoots perfectly and is ridiculously accurate for a little kid’s gun. It’s my son’s now. I hope one day he will give it to one of his children as my father gave it to me.