Copyright 1989
Sam Elmore

THE INSTINCT SHOOTER


My older brother Britten (nicknamed "Slim") grew up with a .22 rifle close at hand. He was a FINE marksman, even as a kid, and put supper on the table many a time with that rifle. He credited his success to being born with good eye/hand coordination, which is probably a true picture of any proficient marksman. In the military, his marksmanship was graded at the Expert Rifleman level.

At one of our family reunions, in brother Barge's back pasture, we held a family "target shoot", with various types of guns in competition. The prizes ranged from the ridiculous, to the grand prize of a sugar-cured, hickory-smoked ham.

Everyone had a fine time, and the shooting competition was pretty good, all things considered. Even Mama Hattie took a turn with her old Sears and Roebuck single-barrel .410; (with which she had once murdered a mule....but that's another story).

By elimination, the competition narrowed down to two shooter's; Barge (nicknamed Todd), who was a fine shot in his own right, and Slim, the "instinct" shooter. It was obvious that the contest would not be settled quickly. Shot-after-shot, using their personal guns, they both scored easily on the fixed targets.

To break the impasse, Slim suggested that they select just one gun, then have a paper plate thrown for each shooter; whoever put the most shot in the moving target would win the ham. They both agreed.

"Which gun ye' want to use?", Slim asked, as he surveyed the variety of firearms on the big picnic table; "We only got nine kinds, and six gauges, to pick from."

"I don't want to use any of these", Todd replied.

"What ye' wanta do, then.....throw rocks?"

"Naw.....I'd druther shoot Papa's ol' gun."

"PAPA'S gun? Where's it at?", Slim asked.

"Yonder in the house", Todd said; "I've had it since 19 and 51."

"Wa'al, go GET it", Slim enthused; "I'd like to shoot that thang again my-own-self."

Todd looked around, locked eyes with his oldest son, and nodded. Away the lad sped and, in a minute, came out with Papa Abb's shotgun; a twelve gauge Remington double-barrel, which had (as Papa called it) "double-plaid-Damascus" barrels.

After fussin' over the gun for a bit, it was time for the final event. I was elected to throw the paper plates, from behind the shooters, as they called for them. Todd won the toss and elected to shoot first.

He broke open the shotgun and inserted a shell, laid the open-breeched gun across his left arm and stepped up to the safety rope. Todd eased his left foot forward, snapped the gun closed, and said "PULL!".

The paper plates I threw were the heavy, coated kind, about fourteen inches in diameter. I threw Todd's plate like a frisbee. When the plate came into his peripheral vision, Todd began tracking it with the sight rib and.....suddenly, the plate caught a whiff of breeze and flared. It seemed to stop and just HANG there; forty-five feet away and broad-side-to. It looked as big as a number two wash-tub!

Papa's ol' Remington roared, and the paper plate disintegrated! There wasn't anything left but a few pieces of the rim; the biggest piece about an inch long. Todd opened the breech, removed the empty shell, and laid the gun in Slim's arms like it was an arm-child.

The women and kids cheered and clapped their hands, and Mama hugged Todd as high as she could reach (which wasn't much, because he was 6'4" and she was an even 5'), then she turned to Slim and said:

"Wa'al, it's your turn now, son."

Slim didn't know what, if anything, to do. The look on his face was like that cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, after he's been snookered by the Roadrunner and is falling into the bottom of the canyon. I guess the right word is "forlorn".

Slim stepped up the rope, loaded a shell, and glanced back at me.

"You ready?", he asked.

"Yep.....jest call it", I answered.

He settled himself, shouldered the gun a couple of times, dropped the stock below his shoulder, and said "Pull".

I sailed the plate, just like I had the first one; except this time, I guess the rim was facing down, like a frisbee ought to be flung, and it took off! I mean, it never made a sign of flarin', slowin' down, or anything else. When Slim saw the plate was likely gonna fly forever, he drew down on it and fired. The plate flew into two distinct halves. He had put the wadding right through the center of that narrow target; a fine shot, given the circumstances. To put the kindest possible end to the matter: Todd won the ham.

After the contest, everybody milled around, talking. One little group included Todd's father-in-law, Mr. Eph, who had brought his own .22 rifle to the contest. His rifle was almost as old as he was (70-something), but he had enjoyed taking his turn at the target shoot. Now, his rifle was laying across the hood of a pick-up truck, breech open.

Several men stood around the truck, talking about shooting styles and such. I asked if any of them shot "by instinct", like Slim supposedly did. That led to a general discussion of what constituted instinct shooting in the first place. Someone (it might even have been me) suggested that Slim demonstrate instinct shooting for us, with Mr. Eph's rifle.

"Mr. Eph, you hit them targets pretty good with this ol' thang", Slim ribbed him good-naturedly, as he picked up the rifle.

"Wa'al, I can't see good as I once't could, but I can still shoot a little bit."

"You didn't do too bad for a man your age, with a wore-out ol' rifle like this'n", Slim chided; "but, if ye' gonna do some REAL shootin', you gotta shoot a movin' target."

Slim looked around him on the ground, and said:

"One-a you boys thump up that empty cartridge hull."

"Pshaw.....can't nobody hit that devilish thing in the air with no .22 rifle!", proclaimed Mr. Eph.

One of the nephews picked up a .22 short cartridge hull from the ground, and got in position to thump it.

Slim reached in his pocket, took out a cartridge, and loaded it into the breech of Mr. Eph's rifle. Several folks were already laughing at the very idea of Slim trying to hit a .22 hull in the air, with a rifle. I did NOT join in their laughter.

"Go ahead, son", Slim said; "thump it up."

The boy thumped the cartridge hull up in the air. Against the blue sky, it was clearly visible to everyone. POW! went the rifle; PING! went the cartridge hull, as it made a 90-degree-turn in mid-air. A clear, unmistakable, hit!

Mr. Eph's mouth dropped open. What a shot! Slim ejected the empty hull and, leaving the action open, laid the rifle back on the truck hood. Mr. Eph picked up his rifle and stared at it like he'd never seen it before.

Oh, they wrung Slim's hand, patted him on the back, and fussed over him like he was a movie star. Not me. I'd been through this routine before. I KNEW what he'd just pulled on 'em.

One of Mr. Eph's grandsons picked up the empty cartridge hull that Slim had ejected, following his miraculous shot. The boy turned the hull idly in his fingers. Finally, it dawned on him what was different about it.

"Guh---Guh---Grandpaw! Uncle Slim wuz usin' RAT-shot!".