"Ready on the right?" barked the stern voice.
"Ready," we answered.
"Ready on the left?"
"Ready," we again answered.
"Ready on the firing line?"
My finger tensed on the trigger.
There was a short pause, followed by, "Commence firing."
The shots rang out in disorderly fashion - a random one here and there, followed by a whole bunch at once, then a series of four or five in a row, then perhaps another burst, followed by a few final shots.
Where was I? At boot camp? Or perhaps at some nut-job militia hideout deep in the Idaho hills?
Neither, since both the service and the militias don't take 7-year-olds. (At least they didn't used to. By now, they may.)
Nope, I was just outside the limits of My Home Town, on the indoor firing range of our Fish and Game Club, as we were almost every Saturday night of the summer.
Saturday night delight
At first glance, my brother and I were improbable candidates for target shooting. My parents were New Yorkers who moved up here pretty late in life. So for them to even be aware of the Fish and Game Club seems a distant possibility. But I think that's exactly why we got there: My father, though a total city slicker himself, figured his kids were going to take advantage of everything the country had to offer.
I'm sure he also thought eventually we'd be messing with firearms, so we'd best learn how to do it safely and effectively. And thanks to that program at the F&GC, we did.
I think there were several instructors, but the only one I remember was Karl Griebsch. He was perfect for the job. He was patient, deliberate and thorough with all his instruction, and he drilled firearm safety into my little head so well that I've never lost my respect for weapons.
One demonstration he did is still crystal clear in my mind. He took a board and put it on the floor. Then he unsheathed a hunting knife, raised it far overhead and plunged it into the board. He took out the knife and pointed to how deeply the knife had penetrated, which wasn't very deep at all. Then he took the board, set it up at the end of the range and fired at it with a .22, which went right through the board. I don't remember anything he said when he did that. Then again, I didn't have to - it spoke for itself.
Shooting at the club was a lengthy adventure, and we got out scandalously late, getting home just in time to see firearm safety at its worst, when "Gunsmoke" came on. We all loved that show and watched it religiously - never realizing how ironic it was, coming right after our F&G Club session.
My memories of target shooting at the club are vague: I can't remember anything besides what I've already mentioned. However, there's one memory I had of the F&G Club that never left me.
It wasn't of those Saturday nights. In fact, it took place before I ever handled a gun, and for good reason - I was 4.
The Fish and Game Club highlight
Back then, in 1951, the Fish and Game Club used to hold a fabulous July 4th bash. I assume they had a picnic (I can't remember it), but beyond that, they had all sorts of shooting demonstrations by the club members. There was the usual demonstration of pistols, rifles and shotguns, shooting targets and skeet. But on that July 4th there was something special - trick shooting.
The trick shooter was not a local; in fact, he was a nationally famous professional. And here's what he was famous for: On a target stand, he set up a 20-by-28 steel sheet. Then he stood a ways away, picked up a rifle (without a telescopic sight) and proceeded to shoot out the profile of an Indian, much like the one on the buffalo head nickel.
It was unforgettable, literally, as the image has stuck with me for more than 60 years. I don't think of it often; instead, it comes to mind at odd times, one of which was last Sunday morning. The Amazon Queen and I were having coffee, talking about going to Jeff and Kathleen Leavitt's wedding that afternoon, which was being held at the Fish and Game Club. And suddenly reminded of that magical day in 1951, I told the AQ all about it. Of course she wasn't as impressed as I wanted her to be, but since she never is, it was neither a shock nor a great loss - especially since I got to bask in the memory anyway.
We went to the reception fashionably late, as bon vivants like yours are expected to, and since by that time the food had been moved indoors, we naturally followed it. I went to get something in the kitchen, and when I came out, there was the AQ, staring at the wall, with a look on her face that was a combination of amusement and wonder.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Look," she said, pointing her chin at the wall.
I looked and was gobsmacked!
There on the wall it was - the steel sheet with the outline of the Indian.
It was even better than I'd remembered - to me, a real work of art.
So who was the marksman? Well, to be more precise, there were two of them, only one was a markswoman. They were a husband-and-wife team, Dot and Ernie Lind, who went by the sobriquet The Shooting Linds. They were sponsored by Winchester Arms and Western Ammunition, and they toured the country for 30 years, putting on demonstrations of their "bullet hole art." I don't know all the profiles he did, but two others I know were Uncle Sam and Abraham Lincoln.
Ernie used a .22 with a special tubular magazine he inserted through the stock. And while he was shooting, Dot was setting up and handing him more magazines, which he sure needed since it took about 250 bullets for one profile, which he did in three minutes.
Just for the record, Dot was no mere ammo hauler. She was an expert marksman (marksperson?) herself and was hired as a consultant for the filming of "Annie Get Your Gun."
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this whole shtick is that none of my memories would have come to light if it hadn't been for the efforts of my pal Chuck Jessie.
At the F&G Club, Ernie Lind actually shot two profiles - the Indian and one of Lincoln - and both had been stashed in the Fish and Game Club's back room for decades. Chuck saw them from time to time until one day Honest Abe mysteriously disappeared. Chuck quickly decided to frame the other and hang it on the wall before it, too, disappeared just as mysteriously.
This is a perfect example of how our bits of history either get preserved or lost. And when it comes to this fond little piece of my childhood history, I'm grateful that guys like Chuck Jessie are not asleep at the switch.