There once was a day when it was presumed that all Southern males intuitively knew how to handle a firearm. That day ended in Georgia when the state required everyone born after 1961 to take a hunter education course before applying for a hunting license.
With the onset of deer season for firearms this weekend, I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience in the classroom back in 1996 when I took the state’s 10-hour education course
so that I could go hunting with my then-girlfriend’s father. In hindsight I see the inherent danger in this scenario on several levels, but at the time, I blissfully signed up and dedicated myself to the art and science of hunter safety.
All hunters over the age of 12 are required to take the course, so for 10 hours of instruction, I found myself in a large, auditorium classroom on the Macon State College campus filled with more than 100 12-year-old boys. I looked like Jethro Bodine in sixth
grade cypherin’ class, two feet taller than my fellow pupils. Our assigned text was a coloring book.
The instructor was a pudgy man dressed in camo and khaki in alternating weeks. He led off his first lecture with all we really needed to know:
“Now, future hunters, the key to hunter safety is muzzle control,” he said with a nasally twang while holding a deer rifle out in front of him.
I energetically wrote this down in my coloring book.
The second class began with a series of videos starring Jim Varney, “The Misadventures of Bubba,” “The Misadventures of Bubba II” and “Bubba Goes Hunting,” in which Varney, channeling his Ernest P. Worrell character in the form of Bubba, teaches kids, presumably, important safety rules about hunting and guns.
Filling the margins of my coloring book with notes, I drew judgmental stares from the kids on
either side of me. I couldn’t tell if they were worried I was going to blow the curve or if they couldn’t believe I was so dense as to need notes on such important subjects as wearing orange and not shooting in the direction of another person.
The night of the final exam – yes, I studied – I was not the first one to finish. I bubbled in
my answers, reviewing each step of field dressing a deer and other notable components of hunter education. While my anxiety level wasn’t quite what it was when I took the SAT, I felt the pressure of being the only adult and needing to pass the first time. Although, to be honest, if I had failed, I would have enjoyed more misadventures of Bubba.
But I passed with flying colors, and soon armed with a 30-06 deer rifle, a hunter education
certificate, head-to-toe camo and an orange vest, I found myself in November of 1996 sitting in a deer stand on my future father-in-law’s land, shivering in the darkness. This is when I learned that real hunter safety involves keeping warm and not going to sleep and falling out of the tree.
I hunted with Mr. Barron for four or five years, firing my gun only once. I saw the deer clear as day, but subconsciously, I think I didn’t want to hurt it. My reluctant aiming
resulted in a warning shot that sent the deer scampering away unharmed.
Fortunately, our oldest son came along and weekend visits to the in-laws didn’t require sitting in tree stands anymore because everybody wanted to see and play with the baby.
My lack of success or longevity as a hunter doesn’t really bother me. I learned one truth
through it all that has served me well ever since: muzzle control. If you learn this simple but profound skill, you will keep yourself safe in a lot of circumstances.