Since we have to start somewhere, let's start with this. A couple of years ago, I was given a bag full of shotgun shells. They were old, some of them paper hulls, partial boxes, two or three of this and that. They were all factory loads, not corroded or swollen, so I took them to the range. I ran into a friend out there and he and I set up a mechanical thrower, then we used the old shells as we tried to break the birds we threw for each other. When the first of the paper hulled shells was fired, it was the smell that took me back. The powder was different and it had a distinctive smell. I picked up that hull and sniffed it and I was back at the beginning.
On a summer evening in New Hampshire in 1964. A seven year old boy with his grandfather behind him on the line at the trap range. I'm the only child forward of the fence and all the men are indulging my grandfather, letting him take his time, instructing his grandson. It's an old side by side 12 gauge, the smallest shotgun they could find. I listen to his instructions, always the focus on safety, where I keep the muzzle, how I load it, how I should stand and sight the gun. If I had to swear on it and there was any way to check, I would say I broke six birds. But it's immaterial. My memories of that night are joyous. The rhythm of the string, loading the gun, then shouldering and pointing it above the house, calling "Pull!" and following the bird as I try to gauge when to fire. The smell of the gunpowder, picking up the hulls, and as the evening ended, going downrange to help pick up the unbroken birds.
We rode home in his big Ford sedan, my shoulder throbbing, and he taught me to clean the gun on his desk just inside the back door. I went upstairs, still grinning, and that was the first time. There's an unbroken line from then to now. But down inside somewhere is a small boy with a shotgun and his grandfather leaning in to say, "Let's see you break the next one. Lean forward, that's right, just put the bead on the bird and pull the trigger."