Pass it on

By Doug Humphreys

The target was huge, and was only 50 yards from the tip of my nose. Despite a rock-solid bench, I couldn’t hit the darn thing with my muzzleloader. My shoulder was sore from repeated attempts, and I’d created a fog of smoke that smelled like rotten eggs and was less than appreciated by the other shooters on the line. The Colorado muzzleloader season was only a week away.

I sat at the bench staring blankly through the blue haze, because I had no idea what to do next. Then a voice from behind me asked, “Those front stuffers can be a real pain in the butt, can’t they?”

Without turning to look I responded, “Yep. If it weren’t for bugling elk I wouldn’t even shoot these darn things.” I didn’t really say darn.

He replied, “Ah, I see. Having trouble getting close enough with your bow so you thought you’d try a muzzleloader? Been there.”

I turned around to see who was reading my mind and discovered I was speaking with a giant dichotomy. A man in his late 50s stood well past 6 feet with broad shoulders, a barrel chest and rough hands, but he had friendly eyes and a contagious smile beamed beneath wispy blond hair.

“Hi, I’m Doug,” I said.

“I’m Paul. Whatcha shootin’?”

I showed him my new Knight carbine which he looked at with interest, but then he asked again, “Nice rifle, but what are you shooting?”

He dug through my possibles bag to find lead cast bullets and black powder, while I looked on as confused as ever. He walked back to his truck and returned with granular Pyrodex and the then-new Power Belt bullets.

“How much black powder are you shooting?” 

“110 grains,” I answered.

“Holy smokes! I bet your shoulder is black and blue. That much powder and those big, old lead bullets.” He adjusted my powder measurer to 85 grains, poured a load of Pyrodex and then loaded my rifle with a 245-grain Power Belt. “Try this. Sometimes less is more.”

I put the rifle back on the sand bags, settled the front sight in the middle of the stark white paper plate and squeezed. When the smoke cleared there was a black hole in the middle of the plate.

He grabbed my gun, reloaded it, gave it back to me and said, “Aim 6 inches high at the hundred-yard gong.” I obliged, and the sound of the gong echoed down the range.

When I turned around, my new friend handed me a pack of Power Belts and a can of Pyrodex.

I asked, undoubtedly with another confused look, “Why?”

“Oh, my knees pretty much keep me out of the elk mountains these days. If you tell me the story when you get home we’ll call it even.”

“I can’t promise I’ll have much of a story to tell, but sounds like a good deal to me. Thank you Paul.” I was still a little dumbfounded.

When I pulled into the shooting range two weeks later I could see Paul standing at the firing line, this time leaning over a young man with a scoped rifle. I could tell by the look on the boy’s face that he appreciated whatever it was that Paul was telling him.

I’d hooked the horns from the bull I’d shot only days earlier over the edge of the truck bed, because, well, that kind of thing is fun to do as you’re pulling into a shooting range.

When Paul was done with his pupil, he looked up, spied the horns sticking out of my truck bed and shot me a toothy grin.

When I stepped from the truck the smell of rotten egg was heavy in the air. I followed the trail of blue smoke to a guy sitting at a bench staring down the range at a target with no holes in it.

I asked, “Those front stuffers can be a real pain in the butt, can’t they?”

Without turning to look he responded, “Yep. If Illinois allowed rifles I wouldn’t even shoot these darn things.” He didn’t really say darn.

“Can I make s suggestion?” I looked up and saw Paul standing a few benches down, still with a toothy grin.

Everything you’ve ever done was taught to you before you did it the first time. There are teachers for education, coaches for sports and YouTube for just about everything else . . .except hunting.

It is absolutely necessary that hunters pass what they know to each other, and more importantly, to those who have never hunted but want to. The heritage depends on it.

One small gesture on your part could be a game changer for another hunter. Some piece of knowledge that is simple to you could be a revelation to someone else. Never miss an opportunity to share what you know. Just take a minute, and pass it on.