The Southerner's Handbook

How to Take Your Best Shot

The tricks to becoming a good shot

Illustration: Clint Hansen

Although I’m a card-carrying Yankee, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the South and can testify that if I wanted to live there and gain social acceptance, I would need to know how to tell a story, put on a pig pull, pick the hell out of the guitar, and shoot well. This last may seem an odd addition to the list, but the fact is that in the South, skill with firearms has long been venerated, and I’m here to tell you the two secrets of becoming proficient—or better—with a gun.

A friend of mine once said, “All the really good shots I know have the nervous systems of serpents.” Serpents don’t worry about whether they’ll look stupid or inept if they can’t hit what they aim at. They probably don’t think about very much at all. Oh, they may think, Pickup truck make me flat, or Don’t bite setter because owner has gun, but it probably doesn’t go beyond that. Good shots, like serpents, think about nothing.

If you’re at a dove shoot with people watching you, for example, you’ll come to the (correct) conclusion that it’s impossible to hit a dove with a charge of shot. Because you’re now thinking that you look like an oaf, your brain will short-circuit your nervous system, your hand-eye coordination will go elsewhere, and you’ll slink from the field like a whipped cur.

However, if you master the Way of the Reptile, your brain will not even consider such questions, and you will shoot as the serpent strikes, Grasshopper.

The other secret is practice. I don’t mean go out once in a while and shoot casually. I mean go out a lot and shoot until there’s a pool of your blood on the ground.

I mentioned guitar playing earlier. I myself was only a proficient amateur guitarist, but I played with professionals, and the differences between them and me were talent (they had a lot more than I did) and the amount of practice they put in. They played compulsively. They played all the time. One of them, who went on to win a Grammy or two, once spent four hours on the toilet simultaneously combating intestinal travail and working on his guitar licks.

You may be one of those rare and gifted people who can pick up a gun, cold, and hit with it, but most likely you’re not. If so, buy a ton of ammo and shoot it, and as you do so, think about absolutely nothing.