Orange Card Certification (Psst....It's Free. And Fun.)

Five-year-old Joey:  "Harold, when are we going hunting?"

My step-son is a canonical boy:  Around age 1, his mother reported him fashioning pistols and shooting her with his toast.  He likes taking things apart.  He loves archery, and he's fascinated by firearms.  We live in Kentucky, so most consider this not Neanderthal DNA expressing itself, but the natural order of things.

So yeah, hunting.

As with many things in my life, I found myself in the 1.5 day Kentucky Orange Card certification class this past Friday and Saturday through an odd chain of events:  We actually read the 4-H letter from our local Ag Extension office.  (We get the 4-H letter because we signed-up for a community garden plot last year, but I dropped the ball and we never planted it.)  In the newsletter was a blurb about Scott County 4-H Shooting sports:  Archery, air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle, .22 pistol, and trap.  It appeared this was all free.  There was an additional blurb:  In order to participate in the things that go boom, you needed your orange card certification.

What's an orange card?   Basically, it's like a driver's license:  You've gone through enough theory and practical training you might possibly not kill yourself or others in the process of trying to kill something and eat it.  Once you have one, you're eligible to hunt anywhere in the US, Mexico, or Canada, once you purchase a license.  I signed-up the now 13-year-old Joey through a painless electronic form, charted it on my calendar for a month hence, and did what everyone else did in February 2014: I watched it snow.

Last Friday night rolled around, and Joey and I piled into my Dad's old chevy truck and headed to the Extension office.  Inside we found a group ranging from ~10 years old through their 50's sitting on some folding metal chairs.  Many family groups attended, and I was proud to be there with Joey.  At the front was a 30-ish gentleman, and girl who looked college age, and a heavyset guy with a badge, and open-carry semi-auto pistol and a contagious grin.

And a projector.  And some powerpoint slides.  And a corny video that was like Driver's Ed. "Blood on the Highway," but for stupid ill-advised hunting behaviors.  Great, I thought to myself, this is gonna be just as 'fun' as the CCDW class.

In short, I was wrong.  The room was overheated, but the guy running it--Jamie Cook--was just a joy.  He eventually propped open an outside door and the temp dropped, just as everyone's attention focused-in.  He interacted constantly:  "What kind of animal is this?"  "Who can name this thing?"  There were enough young kids participating that it infected the adjacent adults and by the close of the session, I found myself joining-in.  It helped that there was an array of (unloaded) weaponry on display at a table at the front, everything from a KY Flintlock to bolt-action rifles and various pistols.   We ended the night and got home energized.  Joey barely slept, and I was up past 11 doing dishes.

Saturday was half classroom and half range-day.  We began in the classroom with archery, and Joey was rapt.  He's loved bows since he was 8, and that love hasn't really wavered.  He looked particularly smug around the admonition to "NEVER DRY-FIRE YOUR BOW."  Then we progressed through ammunition, firearms and trapping.  Tidbit I didn't know: It's illegal to hunt in KY with more than 3 shells in your shotgun.  Many guns have a block to make sure you can't load more than 3.

Next exam time: Joey missed 3 and I missed 2 out of 50.  Passing is 80%, so we were gold.  After scarfing some breakfast buffet at Big Boy, we went out to the range.

There, we learned we'd be doing a skeet station, and a practical hunt simulation.   We had ~100 participants at the range, so it looked like a long afternoon.  Our group drew the skeet portion first, and so we headed over, squishing through the mud.   Becky ran the skeet thrower, and the other trainee fellow handled the firearms.  Participants could choose between a 12-gauge pump-action or a 20 gauge single shot breach loader.  Mostly the adults and bigger kids went for the 12 gauge, and the kids went for the 20 gauge.

Joe and I took our place in line, mid-pack.  He looked pretty pale when the first 12 gauge blasts went off, but I didn't question him on it.  He seemed determined to go through with it.  Myself, I'd never fired a shotgun, either.   Today would be the day for both of us, it seemed.

(Image by Kevin Kelly, posted to Twitter)

Each shooter could take up to three shots.  Most were obviously enjoying themselves--free ammo and free targets--so they took all three.  The first shooters were kids without parent participants, and many did surprisingly well, hitting 1 or 2 clays.  The son/father team right in front of us went and the son rang up all 3 targets with the 12 gauge and dad missed all three.   Yikes, is that gonna be us?

Joey went up and selected the 20 gauge.  As often when he's really nervous, he was quiet, almost shut-down.  But, he did fine with the gun.  Missed all the targets, but he carried through with all 3 shots where some kids bailed after #1.

My turn.  The guy gave you one shell at a time.  Okay, safety off...close the action (wow that pump is satisfying...)..."PULL!"  Orange clay goes arcing from my right towards the distance.  BAM.  Miss.  Rack, eject, load, rack....breathe..."PULL!" Same trajectory, better arc with the gun, squeeze, BAM!

"You got a little bit of 'er that time," the fellow encouraged.  The kick was, well, there but not unpleasant and not the mule-hit I was expecting.

Last time.  Load.  Breathe.  "PULL!"  see it...see it...don't stop your arc...BAM.  Disintegrated.

I was giddy.  First autocross run giddy.  Five year old and I got a train for Christmas giddy.  I remember thanking the gal running the thrower for providing this program for free.

The second rotation was less interesting: Simulating a hunt with air rifles in groups of 3.  It took a long time, and I talked with a fellow taking the class, a former reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer named Kevin.  Turns out he used to cover the Cincinnati Reds for the Enquirer, and we compared notes about working as a reporter in an industry in transition compared to working for a multinational corporation (in an industry in transition).  I love conversations like this, learning about a whole different life than my own.

We wrapped-up about 4:30 and headed home.  Our orange cards should be here in ~2 weeks, and I'm compulsively shopping shotguns.

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