Last weekend’s Friends of NRA banquet—supporting the NRA Foundation—was a big success, thank you. Nationwide, in events like ours, the Foundation has raised a couple hundred million bucks over the last two decades for shooting programs and education. Washington State has received the better part of three million in grants for dozens of programs. The current byline of the Foundation is “Building America’s Shooting Sports generation one NRA Foundation grant at a time.” Last Saturday, we did our part.
As much as I enjoy serving as master of ceremonies for banquets and other fund-raising events, such as Ducks Unlimited, Chukar Run and Forterra, it was very pleasant to simply attend and hang with homeys. I liked being able to have an in-depth conversation about some of the issues with which we are all grappling these days. I was struck by the talk of our kids, their shooting sports futures and the “heirloom” firearms—even the brand new ones in the room that night—we might leave them.
There were quite a few firearms in the auction and raffles, and several conversations in the room revolved around how this or that plinking firearm or hunting rifle or shotgun would be a perfect gift for a kid or grandkid coming up through organized safety training.
The whole thing got me thinking about my own heirloom firearms. I have several, I guess; the sweet little Daly over-under I reclaimed with money The Old Man left me, One I bought for myself in 1963, and a couple from my Aunt Veva—one of which is known as “Van=s rifle.”
I heard about Van’s rifle in the late 40s. I was eight, and already disappearing for hours, making arrows from long cedar shingles, and turning apple boxes into rabbit traps. I was showing clear signs of squandering my life on the outdoors. My mom’s oldest sister Veva watched with trepidation.
One day, she and Uncle Vic drove into East Wenatchee from their San Francisco home with an old Winchester single‑shot .22 rifle. Made around the turn of the last century, it was the about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The Old Man immediately enrolled me in an NRA shooting course.
Aunt Veva explained that this little rifle had belonged to her first husband, Van. Since they had no kids, he would have wanted me to have it. I was ALWAYS to handle it safely. When I was grown, there was a “real” rifle I might receive. “A very fine gun,” she said, “Van’s favorite.” Her brother Kenneth had the rifle, since Aunt Veva didn’t want any guns around her house.
Uncle Kenneth was known as an exceptionally quiet man. He had his reasons. In 1941, Marine Pfc. Kenneth Davis was stationed at the American embassy in Peking. 180 Marines were surrounded by 40,000 Japanese troops. Unable to evacuate China before Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, they became prisoners of war. For 45 1/2 months, they were shuttled from prison camp to prison camp. They worked the Manchurian coal mines for a watery millet soup, rice and fish heads. My 170‑pound uncle weighed 100 pounds when he was liberated on September 12th, 1945. He was a quiet guy, but I figured that after all he’d seen most things were just not worth talk.
But he loved to hunt, and he loved to talk about it with me. I many times wondered why he ignored adults to talk to a silly boy who spent all his time afield. I saw less of him as I became an adult, but when I did see him we could talk for days about the things outdoor people never tire of reliving. That talk always came easily.
I lived with the little .22 rifle, collecting bulls-eyes on targets and rabbits in the brush. My own kids learned to shoot with it. In time, I forgot about Van’s rifle, still in my Uncle Kenneth’s care.
One morning in the ‘80s, my mother called me in Denver. Kenneth was dying… Could we go to Franklin (Nebraska) to see him?
As weak as he was, Kenneth and I talked and talked. This time, we talked more about Van. Herman Van Temmon was a hunter, like us. In 1938, he and a buddy were in the woods, out of San Francisco, shooting at pine cones with a new .22 automatic pistol. Somehow, Van walked from behind a tree and into a bullet. He told me Veva was devastated, but never blamed the guns.
Van’s rifle was a Remington Model 30, .30‑06—an early sporterized version of the 1917 Enfield. In my uncle=s care for well over 50 years, it still looked new. He handed me the rifle. “I promised Veva… And Van, too, I guess. It’s been yours for a long time,” he said. “Take it home.”
The safe pleasure of shooting sports and “heirloom” firearms with stories; these are fundamental parts of the outdoor heritage we leave our kids and grandkids, I think.
No, I have not yet crossed paths with a wild turkey willing to give itself to my family’s sustenance. Others, however, are having success, and sharing what they know. To wit: the following note from Stan Wills of Crab Creek fame.
“Fellow Hunters… I have been hunting a big turkey I named ‘Goliath’ for several years.
“Tonight he met his match. Here is his story. We are driving down the road where he hangs out. John yells ‘big Bird on the right!’ I look and it is ‘Goliath.’ I jump out and shoot. ‘BOOM!!!’ I got him! Then I wake up from the dream. …Oops.
“In the waking world, the 2013 season of Turkey hunting has started. The youth season was fantastic. I took out Erin, a 12 year old girl, and her father. She shot her first turkey. It had a nine-inch beard. Everything was perfect. The turkeys were everywhere and talking like crazy. We managed to get real close and she made a great shot. I don’t know who was more excited, her or her Dad.
“John & Rick came over for the opener and we saw & heard lots of turkeys. I called a big tom in for Rick and he missed. I called a big tom for John and he missed. Rick went home early with a sour taste in his mouth for missing—he could hardly wait to return. John redeemed himself the next day with a double—he got two nice birds on his own as I could not hunt the evening hunt. Now it was my turn.
“I had watched the big tom roost the night before. As I was heading back to the truck I heard several more toms gobble off in the distance. One sounded bigger than the rest. Before I got back to the truck at least 6 different toms had gobbled. Tomorrow was going to be fun.
“I was up at 3:30 and out the door by 4:00 A.M. It was colder than usual (10 degrees). A storm was on the way and I needed to get this done before the snow, sleet, rain & wind blew in—typical for this time of year. I pulled up and got out of the truck an hour before daylight. I could already hear gobbles. I eased thru the trees headed for a spot near the big tom of last night. He was gobbling already.
“I slipped up against a tree, sat down, and waited for sunrise. Except for the cold it was perfect; clear skies with lots of stars and turkeys gobbling in the distance. Soon I heard the distinct sound of a bird flying down. …Probably a hen. Still too early for the toms to fly down—they are always the last. 15 Minutes later I heard him gobble—on the ground. I waited a few more minutes before I started calling. Turkeys are just like people, they have their morning routine and no matter what you do they won’t deviate from it. When the time was right I gave a little “yelp.” He gobbled right back. I was ready. I could hear putt’s from the hens, they were close.
“Then I heard a branch break, then another. How big IS this turkey? What is making that noise? The turkeys went quiet…. Snap…. Snap…… Something was coming my way and it was BIG. Holy Sh…! It was cow moose, followed right behind by her calf. They walk within 5 yards of me. I had never seen moose in this area before. I had heard they were here, but really people I am hunting turkeys, not moose. I watch as they disappear over the hill. Back to reality, Stan.
“Quiet… Nothing. No putts, no gobbles. The moose had busted my hunt. I decided to stay put just in case. I waited several minutes. Softly, I hit the call with a yelp…nothing. I tried a little louder and I got a response about 150 yards away. This was a different bird. I hit the call with ‘Yelp, putt, putt, putt,’ …Another Gobble. He was coming. For the next 10 minutes every time I hit the call he responded. Soon I could see him. He was the big Tom. It was time to quit calling and make him find me. I watched him disappear behind trees and small mounds for the next 15 minutes. He was close, but not close enough. John & Rick had both missed earlier by shooting too soon and not waiting for Tom to get close. He was 50 yards away. He disappeared again behind some weeds. Suddenly, there he is! It is ‘Goliath.’ Holy Sh…! Don’t choke now, Stan. My heart was racing. Should I shoot or wait? 45 yards… Wait. 40 yards… Wait… He stops. He looks up and GOBBLES!! Holy Sh… that was loud… I can’t move. Steady, Stan here he comes. 35 Yards… He stops behind a tree. GOBBLE! GOBBLE!! I slowly turn toward him. He starts walking thru some brush and small trees… 30 Yards… I have no shot… A bug lands on nose. God I need to scratch that. 25 Yards… Still no clear shot. He stops again. Nothing… He is looking at something… Is it me? Don’t blow this, Stan… The bug flies away. thank God. Goliath hasn’t moved. Neither have I. Here he comes again. 20 yards… He fans his tail. He turns away from me. I can shoot. No! Wait for him to turn, I tell myself. He folds his fan back in and starts feeding with his head down, away from me. Soon he is behind another tree. 15 yards… I can’t believe how close he is. He is huge. Something catches his attention. He looks my way. He sees the sun reflect off my glasses. It is now or never. ‘BOOM!!!!’ 13 yards… Big Bird down…
“I get up and run to him. I grab him by the neck and the saga of ‘Goliath’ has ended. I get back to the truck, take a few pictures and head for the house just as a hail storm hits. I had not even noticed the clouds roll in. Goliath had a thick 9-inch beard, his spurs were just under an inch and he weighed 22 pounds. It was worth the wait. Stan”
You gotta love May. You can scratch an outdoor itch with the wild turkeys that are still afield, a family hike most anywhere, or with fishing for anything from truck trout to smallmouth bass, walleye, salmon and halibut. Engage in your fall hunting fantasies right on through the deadline for filing your special hunt permit applications (22 May)and on up to the drawings next month. Mostly, though, May gets me thinking about our heritage.
There is no shortage of issues. In several recent gatherings, Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association homeys have been formulating The Washington Outdoor Kids Bill of Rights, and looking at the inclusion of hunting and shooting traditions. We’ve struggled over proposed and actual road closures, along with access to our public lands. We consider the future implications of too much indoor activity, adults not standing up for protecting open and scenic lands and wildlife habitat, lack of shooting ranges and firearms safety training programs in schools. These are just a few of the things impacting the recruitment of adults and children into active, long term outdoor lives. This is important stuff.
For now, though, let’s talk about our shooting heritage and keeping kids safe around firearms; let’s talk about the NRA Foundation and its work.
You may know that the NRA Foundation is the largest charitable supporter of shooting sports in the US. Since its inception in 1991, the foundation has raised and awarded 200 million dollars to more than 180 different NRA shooting sports programs. These programs include training and educational opportunities, such as programs for youth education, law enforcement training, hunter education, conservation, firearms marksmanship training and safety, and range development. The “Friends of the NRA” program was created specifically to provide a stable long-term funding source for important work outside NRA’s efforts in the political arena.
The NRA Foundation (a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization), through thousands of friend events, raises “tax-deductible contributions in support of a wide range of firearm-related public interest activities of the National Rifle Association of America and other organizations that defend and foster the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Americans. These activities are designed to promote firearms and hunting safety, to enhance marksmanship skills of those participating in the shooting sports, and to educate the general public about firearms in their historic, technological, and artistic context. Funds granted by The NRA Foundation benefit a variety of constituencies throughout the United States including children, youth, women, individuals with physical disabilities, gun collectors, law enforcement officers, hunters, and competitive shooters.”
To date, Washington State has received more than $2,700,000 for work on behalf of safe shooting and education for all ages. That money went to 4-H programs, Boy Scouts, Junior ROTC, range repairs and upgrades and various safety programs in the state. For example, 4-H received up to $10,000 for safety and shooting equipment and supplies for programs and competitions with pellet rifles, .22 target rifles, bows and black powder gear. 4-H programs involve boys and girls from third grade through high school in various shooting disciplines.
Over the past two decades, the foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $90,000,000 across the U.S. Nearly twenty million was raised in well over a thousand Friends of NRA events last year. Now it is our turn.
A week from tomorrow, our local Friends of the NRA banquet happens. This banquet, in partnership with many others, will support ranges, equipment and safety training. No more than half the money raised at friends’ events goes to meals and production costs, and 100% of net proceeds go to qualified local, state and national programs. Last year alone, Washington State raised $480,000. Half of that stayed in our state, and the rest went to help national programs such as Eddie Eagle (teaching firearm safety rules to youngsters), Y.E.S. (Youth Education Summit), and other educational and shooting programs.
Pick up your dinner and raffle tickets at Brothers in arms and Midstate Co-Op. Dinner is $35 and the raffle tickets are $50 for three tickets—this raffle winner will receive five firearms and a 24-gun safe from the Grizzly Safe Company on West University Way.
When I was a kid, millions of us learned to respect and safely use and handle firearms in NRA certified shooting programs. Today, the NRA Foundation=s money could help us build a safe and secure shooting and training facility here in Paradise. We need the range and the training. What would happen to firearm accidents and firearms violence if the safety and marksmanship programs were required of every kid in the United States?
For many, “NRA” still triggers a visceral—and largely inaccurate—response. A time back, a colleague and I were talking about guns on campus. She looked at me and said, “The NRA? Oh, wow, I don’t know about them!” After a moment, she said, “Oh, by the way. Do you know where my daughter and I can learn to safely handle a handgun?”
It’s about our future, really. Get your tickets and come play.