“Well,” he said. “Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot the trap house.”
Such was the advice of Maryland state Sen. Michael Hough when I met him, along with his wife and three children, at the Thurmont Conservation and Sportsman’s Club on Tuesday night to shoot trap. I had never held a gun, let alone fired one before, but you only live once, and if you have the chance to go shoot at a biodegradable white disc with a Remington 12-gauge 1187 in the middle of nowhere with a state senator, it would be journalistically unethical to say no.
Or something like that.
Anyway, going into the experience, I thought two things. One, that “shooting trap” was a rich man’s game, kind of like something the dudes who wrote the Constitution would do after they signed their names via a pen with a feather on it. And two, “shooting guns,” as it were, is a manly thing, the type of exercise only guys in camouflage and boots and beards — holding things like fishing poles, hammers and deer antlers — could do.
And that really isn’t me. I’ve always found the whole “masculinity” thing illusive. If I touch wood, I get splinters. I’ve changed a car’s oil a couple of times, but never alone. My only camping experience was exhausting because I couldn’t sleep, fearful that coyotes would eat me. In short, “shooting guns” and “Colin” go about as well together as “deer” and “headlights” would at 3:30 in the morning.
Or, in other words, I showed up in a Dave Matthews Band T-shirt.
But here’s the thing: Everyone was just so nice. Any reservations were blasted to pieces when I arrived a few minutes earlier than Sen. Hough and got to talking to Chuck Farmer. Easily one of the best teachers of anything I’ve ever met, Farmer sort of ran the place. Or, well, if he didn’t, then he was the guy everybody went to when they needed something, and no matter what came before him, he was happy to comply.
That included me, when I stepped up, earplugs buried in ears, for the first time in my life with a gun. Alongside me were Sen. Hough, his wife, JoeyLynn, and two of their kids, Grant and Catelynn. Farmer stood by me through each shot, attempting, mercifully, to guide me through the ability to hit one of those discs.
“It’s 5 percent physical and 95 percent mental,” he told me. “So you’ll be fine.”
After receiving a plethora of tips from Chuck, making almost the entire Hough family wait in vain for me to even figure out how to hold a gun, I yelled “pull!” A white disc appeared. I fired. And boom. Just like that, the first time I ever pulled a trigger in my life, I nailed my target. I didn’t even realize what had happened.
“There you go!” Sen. Hough said with a smile.
“Good job,” Chuck reaffirmed.
I, meanwhile, began working on my acceptance speech, ready to thank God, the town of Thurmont and, of course, Dave Matthews. But almost immediately, the rotation came back through and it was my turn to shoot again. I missed. The next time came. I missed again. And then I missed again. And again. And again. And again. In fact, I missed every other target at which I shot until the second-to-last disc.
Thinking two out of 25 ain’t half bad (it’s all bad!), I asked Sen. Hough’s daughter what she came away with.
“I think I had 20,” she said nonchalantly. “But I need to go again.”
Turned out, Catelynn is something of a shooting superstar, having competed in a ton of competitions. Suffice to say, she wasn’t impressed with my effort. And with good reason — there were as many kids there, getting their reps in, as there were adults. Take Dalton Caudill, who nailed 22 of 25 targets. Or Kai Ringer, who landed 20. JoeyLynn hit 16. And she knew what she was doing because she provided me with paperwork explaining how the injury rate for those participating in the sport is actually significantly lower than in everything from hockey to football to wrestling.
Oh, and she would also know because she beat her husband in a shoot-off to end the night after they tied at 12 through a run of 25.
That’s OK, though, because Sen. Hough was chock-full of excuses for why he came up on the losing side of the familial competition. It was dark. There were bugs. He didn’t realize something was off on his gun. I was wearing a Dave Matthews Band T-shirt. If there was an excuse ... er, I mean reason ... he had it.
None of that mattered, however, when I was driving home, thinking about how thankful I was for the experience and recalling Sen. Hough’s advice. I didn’t shoot him. I didn’t shoot the trap house. And there were at least 23 white biodegradable discs I didn’t shoot, either.
So by that metric, at least, nobody walked away a loser.