Wanna step outside? An unforgettable Christmas present

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 21, 2023

By Dan Kibler

For the Clemmons Courier

One of the Christmas presents I most remember pulling out from under the tree and unwrapping was one that really wasn’t a surprise.

It was 1969, I had turned 13 about six weeks earlier, and later on Christmas morning, my father and I would get on a Braniff 727 at Dulles Airport and jet to Houston to spend a week duck-hunting with my uncle on several of southeast Texas’s finest rice plantations — public and private.

The only problem? I didn’t have a shotgun. The birds and squirrels I had killed up to that time had fallen to my grandmother’s side-by-side, 20-gauge Fox shotgun. There was no way we were going to Georgia to pick it up on the way to Texas.

That’s why the long, thin package under the tree was something I pretty much expected. When the wrapping paper came off, I was holding a shiny, new Savage 20-gauge side-by-side, bored full/modified, with 3-inch chambers so I would not be at a disadvantage when black ducks, mallards and widgeon started strafing out little makeshift blinds around the waterholes out in the rice stubble.

I killed several ducks that next week, and I killed a 4-foot western diamondback rattlesnake that was sunning along the path from our boat to a blind on the gulf side of a barrier island south of Galveston.

Plenty of North Carolina boys may be expecting their first firearm under the tree in a few days. They probably won’t start out shooting at decoying ducks, and most of the firearms might wind up .22 rifles — if they’ve graduated up from BB or pellet guns. With any luck, they’ll have a hunter-safety certificate already in hand before they push the safety off for the first time and snuggle that index finger into the space in between the trigger guard and the trigger.

It was literally years before anybody gave me any shooting instruction beyond taking my time, squeezing the trigger — not pulling it — and not stopping the swing of my shotgun when things looked right for the pellets to intercept a speeding dove. I wasn’t really proficient at rifle-shooting or wing-shooting until a much older age — which caused undue embarrassment on a number of occasions.

Thinking about that long-ago Christmas present — which now occupies a spot in my son’s gun cabinet, waiting for the grandson to get big enough to use it — gave me mind to something the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is doing to promote shooting in 2024.

The commission is introducing a 12-month, themed target shooting “challenge,” the “Top Shot Challenge” at six of the commission’s shooting ranges around the state. Challenges will change on a monthly basis, with rifles, handguns and .22 rifles being the three competitive categories.

Shooters can try the challenge once a day until they complete it; they’ll receive a themed patch when they master it.

The commission ran a pilot program this year at the John Lentz Hunter Education Complex near Ellerbe in Richmond County. The December challenge was the “Tannenbaum Challenge,” featuring Christmas ornament targets shot at 100 yards with a .22 rifle, 18 shots to hit all 10 targets.

“We’ve seen a sense of camaraderie among the participants,” said Noah Secrist, who manages the Lentz complex. “We have every level of experience participating, from people who are new to target shooting to old pros at the sport.”