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Muddy Mary Shooting

Try the shooting sports. You might like them.

Triumph over tragedy

When I was growing up, folks didn’t talk about tragedy the way we do nowadays, especially in the Scots-Irish Presbyterian household in which I grew up. Of course, no one talked to a therapist unless they were certifiable, if you know what I mean. Depending on the circumstances, maybe, just maybe, that was a good thing.

I believe everything happens for a reason, but at the time, neither Jessica H. nor I knew the very specific reason why she had invited me to the first Louisiana Bossy Hens Women in the Outdoors event. Since it was sponsored by the NWTF, one could assume most of the women attending were turkey hunters.

But first, I have a confession. I have never been turkey hunting. Actually, I am not a hunter at all. If you’ve read the stories about past duck hunting trips that I’ve taken with my sons, you might not have picked up on the fact that I was just shooting photos, not ducks.

It’s not because I’m against killing animals for food. It’s not that I can’t stand the thought of a dead duck, or other animal, because I clean and cook the ducks. Plus I cleaned squirrels with my father until my baby brother was old enough to take my place. However, Daddy never taught me how to shoot a shotgun; he just took me along to shake the vines.

Through the years, my sons who hunt, now 28, 26 and 17, have all asked me to practice shooting their shotguns with them or to go shoot ducks with them. My answer was always “No thanks,” followed by either evasion or a feigned disinterest, even though they had gotten me to shoot a .22-caliber pistol and rifle.

So, when I printed the registration for the Women in the Outdoors event, I signed up for Basic Shotgunning and set a goal to get over my aversion to shotguns once and for all.

Under the canopy on a table at the event lay three shotguns, and Mr. Randy talked about each one, pointing out the differences. We would take turns shooting either a 12-gauge or a 20-gauge shotgun at a “following” bright orange clay pigeon. Since a 20-gauge has less kick, that is what we would shoot.

Muddy Mary went before me, shattering clays mid-air with her personal shotgun, a sweet little over-and-under. She was a dog-gone good shot already, which made me think that I might be the only woman in this group who didn’t know how to shoot.

I forced myself out of the chair after the fourth woman had taken her turn. As I approached Bubba, the brave instructor, I told him he most certainly had his work cut out for him. Bubba just smiled and said, “You’ve got this. It’s easier than you think. Do you have any experience with guns? Are you afraid of guns?”

Uh, yes, but not shotguns.

Uh, I don’t know. Maybe.

When he placed that long, heavy, powerful hunk of metal and wood in my hands, a flicker of fear ran up my arms and through my core like a lit fuse on a stick of dynamite. It took me a few seconds to force my jelly arms to firm up and get a grip.

Bubba showed me how to hold the gun properly and how to aim at the clay pigeons. After giving me ear muffs and getting me into the proper stance and gun hold, he then loaded one shell into the chamber and instructed me, “Now, take off the safety, and when you’re ready, shout pull.”

“It’s now or never. It’s all or nothing. Everyone is watching, and I can’t back out now,” I thought.

Ready, aim, Pull!” KABOOM! I missed the clay, but I shot the gun. I shot the gun!

Bubba loaded another shell into the chamber, and I repeated the process, missing again. After shell number five and just as many misses, my shoulder couldn’t take any more, and my body was trembling.

I didn’t care that I didn’t hit any of the bright orange clays, as I returned to my chair on the fringes of the group of lady hunters, all chatting gaily about some recent event. They paid me no mind, and I was glad of it.

At that moment, I was fighting back tears as adrenaline coursed through my veins and emotions swallowed me up. The tears won the battle, falling slowly over the rims of my eyes, one salty drop at a time.

The first was a tear of sadness. The second, a tear of regret. The third, a tear of triumph. And lastly, a tear of relief.

I did it. I made the first step toward accomplishing my goal of conquering this unacknowledged reason that I don’t like and avoid shotguns. On my second attempt, I approached with a newly gained certainty and confidence, hitting two out of the five clays.

Happy Shooter

By my fifth turn, I was able to load three shells into the gun without help, raise it to my shoulder, shout pull, and hit three out of three clays, two rounds in a row.

And it was exhilarating. The chains of fear and worry had fallen from my body and my soul. I had literally been set free.

Through the tears, I had clearly seen what had been holding me back all these years.

The tear of sadness was for the older brother I had lost to a shotgun accident in our home in 1960 when he was 12 and I was 5. It was the underlying reason for my latent fear and dislike of shotguns — a fact I had never consciously faced until after I had taken those first five shots.

The tear of regret was for not overcoming my phobia sooner so I could have hunted with my two oldest sons when they were growing up.

The tear of triumph was for my fresh victory over a stagnant fear. The last tear was one of relief that I don’t have to be afraid anymore.

It took more than 50 years for this to happen in my life. Why now, I don’t know, but better late than never, as the saying goes.

Thanks for helping to set me free.

Capt. Wendy Wilson Billiot is the Bayou Woman. Learn more about her and read her blog at www.bayouwoman.com.



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