It all started with a flyer. An announcement promoting open house for Cub Scouts at my son’s elementary school came home in his backpack. Tiger Cubs began in first grade. Tiger Cubs? That was a new one. Back in my day, it was Bobcat and second grade. But we went, and my son joined as a bright-eyed first grader. The BB gun range at Cub Scout day camp soon followed. He had already handled my ancient Daisy Model 25, and as he and his fellow Cubs shot BB guns, he seemed to know what he was doing. Minute of balloon. Good enough, for now.
In the blink of an eye, he was a Webelo, and he fired an air rifle into hay bales at the county fairground. Good sights and groups began to form. All the while, I just observed and offered advice and coaching from beyond the ropes, just any other parent, never telling the staffers who I was, what I have done or what I knew.
Then came the first trip to Camp Bowman at Goshen Scout Camps. Back to Bowman. It was a remarkable experience to go as an adult to the camp I attended when I was young scout and then worked at--some of the best summers of my life--as the shooting sports director. Who gives a 21-year-old gun nut the keys to a rifle range? Their own shotgun range? And the ability to pass on the passion, disciple in and responsibility of teaching safety, marksmanship and the positive use of firearms to hundreds if not thousands of young people? The Boy Scouts of America—with the help of the National Rifle Association of America. It was why I became an NRA Certified Instructor more than a quarter century ago.
The range there was once mine. And I spent my volunteer weeks at Camp Bowman, shouldering my daypack and heading for the range over several summers as an adult leader with my son's troop. Walking the same creaking floorboards that were once my pacing grounds, giving familiar range commands when allowed, and coaching scouts on the fundamentals. Passing on things I have learned about teaching and diagnosing marksmanship over the decades to the young staffers there. In my day, a Scoutmaster and shooter, Jake Jaquith, did it for me, and I was able to do it for the Bowman staff a generation later.
Skills my son might not take from me (after all how much can I know, I'm merely his dad) but transformative when passed from me to a young staffer and then to young scouts, him included.
In my hands is a rifle, a touchstone to those days. As I look into the polished silver, the bright gold inlays, I see the reflection of an out of control den meeting led by a somewhat eccentric, certainly disheveled den mother with, I’m not kidding, macaroni noodles in her tangled hair. I see the flame of our camp stove go out time and time again in the brutal winds of a Dolly Sods mountainside. Mountain House is best served cold. Is it supposed to be crunchy? I see his bright eyes reflected in the flames of a campfire, in the dim light of lantern as he sits and jokes with his friends after a grueling day at summer camp when his job as Senior Patrol Leader had pushed him to his limit.
I see the knowing nod given to his father as he leaned back over his left-handed Browning T-Bolt (given to him by a dear friend who, too, carries the burden of left-eye dominance) put his hands cockily behind his head knowing the final qualifying group was 50 feet downrange. A hard-won merit badge merely awaiting retrieval of the final target. I see the confidence he built as he shouldered my Benelli and did his best to beat me and his Scoutmaster at wobble trap (he didn't, but he will).
His journey was his. Aided and mentored by some great leaders, especially his Scoutmaster. And it wasn't easy, but then again nothing that matters ever is. There were times I kept silent and watched him succeed. And kept silent and watched him fail. After the fact, praising the former, offering advice and encouragement on the latter. It was his journey to take and his footprints to make.
It has been a long journey. And a chapter of ours together ended with a drive to his new campus. The night before he left I was able to present him with his first gun he received as a man. An adult in the eyes of the state and the world. It is a Henry Golden Boy Eagle Scout Tribute Edition lever-action .22. A gift from a friend. One that does not know him personally but knows well the journey he has accomplished. It arrived well after the ceremony and the cake but just in time.
Beyond the Eagle Scout badge inlet into the stock, the stylized majesty of eagle wrought in metal, the words of encouragement and the Trail to Eagle engraved in the stock, it bears a serial number with his initials and the date he joined me as a brother Eagle Scout.
He didn't take it with him to school. I will hold it for him. And at times, I will pull it from the safe, and see the reflections of the long journey taken by a man and his son, from a first grader to college freshman. Growing up and growing into our roles together. From a Tiger to an Eagle. From a boy to a man. It’s his. But I get to hold it for a while. And see the reflections. It is mine for a time, as was he. And that's enough. One day it will hang on his wall. And on it, perhaps in the flickering flames from the hearth of his own home, there may be reflections of a man and the boy who grew into one.