When I had enough time to make it to the gun range, I would generally try to improve my handgunning skills, or sit down at a bench and indulge in one of my all-time favorite pastimes - sighting in a rifle and making it shoot tighter groups.
In one of those rare moments of leisure time as a younger man, I was sitting on the porch of the local shooting lodge, watching people bust clays.
I was next to a member, and I was being a bit over-enthusiastic, waxing about the thrills of a good round of skeet - something that was certainly old and boring to him. But the thrills of it were new to me.
I commented I really should try to get more into the shotgunning sports because I had this one nice shotgun at home, and rarely pulled it out of the closet to use. And it was certainly too nice to take in the field.
While this club was open to the public, the members looked on it as "their" club - there was a noticeable cliquishness, and many of them were quite snobbish about the unwashed heathens who came out to pay more than member fees to bust clay pigeons and enjoy the shooting sports.
The member on the porch, probably tired of my new-found enthusiasm for something he had been doing most of his life, decided to shut me up.
Staring straight into my eyes, he asked: "What kind of Remington is it?"
His voice dripped with sarcasm, and I was taken aback at the unvarnished hostility in it - then managed to get out haltingly, "It's a Browning. A Citori."
I am sure this mention of an upscale over-and-under did not impress him much, given the number of expensive imported custom guns one saw at this club - but at least I managed to splutter out an answer to his nastiness.
A whole other set of columns could be started here about the problems in the shooting fraternity with superior, supercilious attitudes, looking down respective noses at newcomers to our sport, insulting them for their lack of knowledge and consequently driving them away with snotty, demeaning comments about their lack of knowledge.
This attitude can frequently be found in varying degrees at gun counters. Some salespeople, with no earthly conception of the fact that they are driving people away from something in which they should encourage participation, speak knowingly in indecipherable terms, making the customer feel incompetent because he is not privy to the mysterious, wonderful knowledge of guns this "expert" possesses.
But I digress. This started as a shotgunning article, and it is going to remain one.
One of the great lessons of my shooting life came in a dove field in Mississippi many years ago.
My cousin, Louis Guedon, and I had taken my uncle, Leonard "Buzz" Williams, down to a patch of browntop millet planted by Louis' family to bring in doves.
And boy, did it.
Like tiny, brown jets with afterburners, the little supersonic buzzers zipped over the field at perfect shotgun range. They had been feeding for days on the bush-hogged grain scattered over the ground, and now these usurpers with big noisy sticks were keeping them away from their easy evening meal.
Louis and I had a veritable ball - if shooting a lot constitutes lots of fun. We were dusting the fields with lead shot, if not bringing down very many birds.
I can still imagine those doves, frustrated beyond belief, flying over and sitting in nearby trees, chortling at the terrible shooting of the two younger men in the field.
I can also imagine them sticking wingbone to beak and emitting loud, shrieking whistles and waving frantically to incoming birds, shouting "DON'T FLY NEAR THE OLD DUDE! HE CAN SHOOT!"
As the shadows grew longer, it came time to wrap up. Louis and I tallied up to find we had each burned through two boxes of shells. Louis had 10 birds. I had eight. But we had us some fun, and were chuckling away until Buzz walked up with his limit of 12 birds, disgusted because it had taken him 13 shots to fill his limit.
Driving back out of the swamps, Louis and I were properly chastened, and I couldn't stand it any longer.
"Buzz," I began, "how do you do it?"
"How do I do what?"
"How do you shoot the way you do?" I said. "To my knowledge, it's been years since you picked up a shotgun. I bring you back up here for a visit, bring you down in the swamps for a special dove hunt, and you absolutely skunk us!"
"And," I continued, just getting warmed up, "the other night I took you out with us hunting armadillos with Q-Beams and handguns. I know for a FACT you haven't shot that Model 19 Smith & Wesson .357 in years - and it sounds like a young war when we all start with everyone shooting - and nobody ever got a shot when it was your turn to shoot first, 'cause you always killed the damned armadillo with the first shot!"
"Son," he started, "your granddad was one of the best men who ever lived. Even during the Depression, when sometimes it was hard paying the bills and finding money for food, he always figured how to keep me in ammunition."
"If you had burned as many .22 shells and shotgun shells as I did coming up, it's just something you never forget how to do."
Buzz then said something that has stayed with me all my life:
"Anyone - barring physical limitations - can be the best in the world at what he does, if he wants to work at it hard enough," he said.
I never forgot that. It came to me one day at a pistol match where I watched Jerry Miculek, the world's fastest revolver shooter and a long-time member of Team Smith & Wesson, smoke a stage in four shots fired so rapidly, it sounded like one long shot. He fired the four shots and hit four targets in about one second. There was a collective "Oooohhhh!" from the audience, and Miculek turned and walked back up to the safe line where he leaned into the shooting bench, and started to shake.
It was an amazing sight. His body convulsed like an electrical charge was coursing through it, shaking uncontrollably until he regained control of himself.
I elbowed my shooting buddy, who was also a contestant, and like me, far down the quality list below Jerry Miculek.
"You see that?" I observed. "That's exactly why you and I will never reach his level. Not just because we won't practice as much as he does, but because every time he steps up to that line and pulls that gun, he's competing against himself.
"This little ol' chickenscratch tournament doesn't mean anything to him. But doing the best he's ever done every time he steps up there is a dedication you and I will never have."
I think expert shooters, just like experts in any field or sport, offer great life lessons to us. Not only do they astound us with their expertise and seeming ease with which they accomplish their goals, but they encourage us to do better, to get better, to improve ourselves in our endeavors.
And if that endeavor happens to be shotgunning, well, I'm still a lousy wingshooter - and won't ever practice enough to become expert at it.
But at times, I have practiced a lot, and managed to produce respectable scores on the skeet range - with a Browning Citori and even with several different Remington shotguns.