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2006-12-26 - 3:54 p.m.

It's 4 p.m. I'm going to write this and get out of this office. I'm jumpy with a late cup of coffee and I want to play loud music.

My dad took my girlfriend and me shooting on Sunday. We went down close to the Potomac, in a field there, where the farmer had piled up big heaps of top soil the color of wet coffee grounds. The farmer sells it to gardeners and contractors for when they plant grass in front yards. My dad taped a paper target to an empty Busch Light box and set up a chair and some milk crates about forty yards away. I hadn't shot a gun since I shot his muzzleloader when I was in high school. I'd shot it from our back yard, into a little tree in the woods. I remember putting the bullet right in the middle of the tree, my dad saying, "nice shot," and also the little puff of smoke that comes first and then the big kick and the big jet of smoke that comes second. I've shot small-caliber pistols before but have always done more watching than shooting.

My girlfriend went first. My dad set her up with a .22 Winchester. She was nervous. We both shot ten rounds and it was fun. We didn't hit the orange of the target, but we "grouped" them, my dad told us. Then we shot a .300 Savage. My grandad, Pap, had given it to my dad when he was in high school. She went first and I stood behind her and to the side, to take photos. I wasn't thinking about how loud it would be. Compared to the .22, that gun is serious business, and the concussion of the bang made my ears pop a little. Then they rang. I covered my ears after that. I shot it three times. It's a cannon, a precise cannon hurling hot metal in a straight, long line.

Very much a process. I found that it went like this:

Pop out the lever to send the spent cartridge flipping out of the chamber. Smell the burnt gunpowder.

Put a shining new cartridge into the chamber. Pop the lever back in, forcefully, to make sure the round's ready.

Put the rifle into position atop the milk crates your dad has set up for you. Look through the scope. Find the target, which moves like a mosquito through the scope, the slightest movement of your thumb or wrist muscles shooting the paper target wildly left and then right.

Settle down. Don't freak out about the power you've got in your hands. Try to calm your heart and your breathing. Do things steadily, slowly, quietly. Notice that your dad, chattering instructions a second ago, is not making making any noise. Though you know your girlfriend is taking photos with your camera, you cannot hear the shutter-release sound. You hear wind and your heartbeat. The world is as big as the round slice of quivering earth you can see in the scope.

Inch your finger toward the trigger. Increase the pressure on the trigger. Steady the X of the scope on the top of the orange circle. You know it shoots a little low. Increase pressure. Why hasn't it gone off yet? Increase pressure.

Bang like getting hit in the head by a fastball. Not so much loud as it is like somebody passing a white-and-black sheet past your eyes for a split second. Things go blank and then resume. The slate is wiped blank and then it fades back in. The world is quieter. Your ears ring. Your heart stopped for a moment there. You've made a piece of metal pierce the world.

That's the steps.

And then, for the third gun, my dad started out by saying, "Now, this one is a little different. It's tricky." He loaded my girlfriend's three shots, and she shot them, the kick on those three much bigger but the bang about the same. She said she was going to have a sore shoulder from those three. I shot the first one he loaded for me, and then I loaded the second myself. I tried to do what he told me, my thumb holding the hammer back while I eased my index finger on the trigger, trying to ease the gun to its safety position so that I could aim and go through the process, and then my dad said, "Make sure you've got a good hold on that hammer," and then, with the rifle on my lap, pointing at the target but up a little, at the edge of the trees by the river, BANG, and I didn't mean for that to happen, and oh, shit.

"Jesus Christ," my dad said, and oh, shit, and no other sounds for a while. And, oh, shit.

And then we all calmed down and gathered up the gear. I said, "I don't like that gun very much," and we went home.

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