When I was a boy, my constant companion from about age 8 on was a Daisy lever-action BB gun. It's still at my parents’ house. When I received it as a birthday gift, a love affair was born. I've owned and shot many types of firearms down the years, but like a first girlfriend, there will always be a special place in my heart for that Daisy.
I was thrilled when I learned about the Oconee County 4H BB gun team. I met our coach, Mr. Hubert Cox, and he met my kids. The rest is history. Each of the past two years, two of my children have competed on the team. Competition consists of firing single-shot BB guns indoors at tiny targets 5 meters away (which defy adult eyes). The kids shoot in four positions: prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing. Along the way, they learn the fundamentals of gun safety. Competition even involves a written test! Ultimately, they become excellent shots.
In 2008, Sam and Seth competed. Our team finished second in the South Carolina competition, behind the Pendleton team. We had the option to go to the national meet but didn't. This year, Sam and Elysa competed. Our Oconee Sharpshooters team racked up many individual medals and finished second, once more behind the always excellent Anderson Aces of Pendleton. Last month, our team (and those infernal Anderson Aces) went off to the International BB Gun Championship at Western Kentucky University, sponsored by my beloved Daisy Corporation.
If you were ever under the delusion that shooting isn't a real sport, I can remove that notion. The kids we saw there (ages 8–14) were from all over the nation, and they were real competitors. The first match was in 1965, so many of the teams represented were very experienced. There were more than 40 firing positions up and down a vast gymnasium. In this sport, the parents help act as coaches so the adults were as excited as the kids were calm.
That's the thing about this sport. It's kind of the opposite of others. The trick is to bring the kids to the firing line relaxed so that the muzzle of their gun is as still as can be. Adrenaline is the enemy; so is caffeine. Mr. Cox once told us, “I want your kids as close to asleep as possible when they shoot.”
Sitting there, loading and cocking the gun, helping my children sight-in on the practice targets, I was thrilled at what I saw. Up and down the hall, coaches, parents, and families were sitting calmly, helping their kids, talking to them in quiet voices, patting them, encouraging them. No angry parents screamed at the judges. (Many of the judges and range officers were former soldiers and Marines so who was going to do that anyway?)
As I sat on the ground by the shooting mat, I was reminded of a great bit of wisdom I learned through this wonderful sport. When we started, I always looked at the target while my child pulled the trigger. My binoculars up, I watched for the tiny hole to appear in the center of the black ring.
But one day I realized I should be watching my son, watching my daughter. The BB will hit the mark if I guide my child. So I began to watch their breathing, their position, the way they positioned their feet or pressed their cheek against the stock. The way they stayed on the sight until the shot was finished. I learned to ignore the target. Wonder of wonders, bull's-eyes appeared! Attention to the child, sitting down on the hard ground with him, touching her on the head, talking calmly and with gentle, careful words got the job done.
I owe a debt of thanks to the Daisy Corporation. The competition they sponsored was world-class, family-friendly, and just loads of fun. Daisy has always done right by me and now by my kids.
But I owe a greater debt to Mr. Cox for his time and effort. He helped me to see my role as a parent in a new way. We're all coaches for our kids, and the best way we can coach them is right there on the mat. If we do it, in life or in shooting, they'll hit the bull's-eye. We just need to remember to worry about the kid more than the target, in every aspect of their lives.