Billy’s First Shot


bootsIt’s a cold fall morning in Northern Wisconsin as the five of us make our way through the grey. Dad leads, my two brothers and I follow, each carrying a gun at our side, safety on, pointed at the ground—just like dad taught us. The fifth member of the group, my nephew Billy, carries a Winchester 67 single-shot, bolt-action .22 caliber rifle. He’s never pointed the gun at anything but a pop can, but today that’s going to change.

When my great uncle Jim returned home from WWII, my grandpa had a gift for him: the Winchester 67. Jim enjoyed the gun for years, then passed it down to my dad, Gary. It was the first gun Dad shot, and his dad—Grandpa George—taught him how to care for it and how to handle it safely. A generation later, Dad taught my brothers and me to use that same gun. Its small size and weight and single-shot chamber makes it easy to handle – a perfect first gun. But it’s so much more than a gun. It’s a piece of our family’s heritage, tied to the respect and reverence we share for hunting as a way of life, an heirloom that unites us across generations.

My nephew stops suddenly. He pulls back the manual-action bolt till it clicks, sets the wooden stock against his shoulder, and takes aim at a foraging grey squirrel. The rest of us freeze.

It’s a long shot, and Billy misses. There won’t be a trophy kill, but that doesn’t change the significance of the moment. Billy flips the smoking shell from the chamber, takes a live round from my dad’s hand, and drops it into place. He continues walking slowly through the leaves, eyes scanning the trees, with the Winchester 67 at his side, safety on, pointed at the ground—just like his grandpa taught him.

That day is just one of the countless memories that come to mind when I see the Winchester hanging over the door in my parents’ home. Dad continues to take great care of it, and it’s as trusty today as the day my great uncle came home from the war. It’s a beloved tool and a rite of passage, and to most of us out here, those are the things that matter; taking pride in doing things a certain way, caring for your tools, respecting the hunt, and always making time to honor tradition with family.

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Experience a family tradition, as a beloved knife becomes a symbol of the hunt. 

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