Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Most Inspirational Firearms Person In My Life Doesn't Have A Name

Well, I am sure he had/has a name but for me, the most inspirational firearms person in my life was a guy whose name I will likely and sadly never remember. He was not Jim Corbett, not Elmer Keith, not Jack O'Connor, not Bill Jordan, not Jim Cirillo all great shooters in my esteem) - he is nameless. 

He was a firearms instructor, not as his primary job but as collateral duty to his career job as a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. I met him at the very beginning of my career in federal law enforcement at the Border Patrol Academy in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, GA. That was way back in 1979. We were at the range, him an instructor not much older than I was at the time and me a trainee. I was shooting a revolver for the first time in my life; well, I shot a few times before that specific day while at the FLETC range but was doing the same that day as I had on those other days - miserably. I had gotten a good and probably well deserved arse chewing from the range master who told me I literally could not hit the broad side of a barn but in my defense all I had really ever shot before with any regularity were 22 rifles at summer camp. 

I was feeling pretty dejected after being shamed in front of the other BP trainee classmates - as I recall I was THE worst shot of us all - and was getting ready to go clean the Colt revolver when one of the other instructors walked over to me and pulled me aside as the others went inside into the cleaning room. In a voice smooth as silk but still somehow a bit gravelly, he asked me if I wanted to stay behind and learn how to shoot. His long mustache, reminiscent of Wyatt Earp's, swayed a bit in the breeze as he talked with pipe held in his hand the wafting aroma of No. 79 tobacco filling my senses and reminding me that was one of my great-grandfather's favorites. In a bit of an uplifted mood, I said yes. So my training began, training that eventually led me to become  better shot, a much better shot.

I don’t remember all of the details, it was over 40 years ago, but this is how I remember it: We stayed late that day, it was the last class of the day or maybe he had me come back to the range after my last class. He had me shoot at a bullseye target, the one we used regularly in our training. I fired 6 shots from either 10 or 15 yards. Maybe two or three shots hit the paper. He had me move the target closer to 10 or 5 yards. He had me try shooting at that distance a couple or few more times with pretty much the same dismal results. Then he had me do something a bit different. He told me to post a new target but to turn it around backwards before stapling it to the backer. The next thing I knew, I was shooting at a blank piece of paper. I could not believe it, every shot hit paper and I shot a group albeit a huge one. Yes, every shot I fired hit the paper, in fact I probably had a group double the size of my head (mind you it is a big one even when not over inflated). I did not completely get it at first because when I tried again on the bullseye side of the target, I was terrible once again. I tried a few more times with little tor no success at bettering things. Then he told me to try another thing, one that shocked me. He told me to aim at the target and once I had acquired the right sight picture to close my eyes and only then to squeeze the trigger for that surprise shot. I aimed, closed my eyes, shot again, my group was probably the size of my open hand.

With calm determination, as he clenched the stem of a briar pipe in his teeth, he explained what had happened. That was, he said, that when I saw the bullseye, I was essentially trying to hard and gripping the grips to tightly and trying to hold them exactly in the center of the bullseye and when I should have squeezed the trigger I had jerked it wildly each time. He then with a coolness I had not seen from other instructors explained how I should be doing it. He said it plainly, slowly and calmly. My shooting improved but on the blank paper side again.

When my group got down to fist sized, he had me post a new target with the bullseye facing us. This time I had to aim in and keep my eyes open. My group opened up somewhat on that try but was still as small as my open hand or thereabouts. He kept at me and I kept at it. We shot after hours, for hours, over several weeks until I was proficient and when I graduated from the BP Academy, I was classified as a "Marksman". With a couple or few years after that, I routinely qualified as an expert. Soon after I got into the Customs Service in 1983, I started to qualify pretty much as expert or above every time; yeah, that meant I qualified as a Distinguished Expert and I did that with some decent regularity.

The next thing I knew, I was asked, in great part due to my shooting abilities, if I wanted to become a Customs range officer as part of my collateral my duties. I jumped at the opportunity. I received my firearms instructor training from the NRA at the Allentown (PA) Police Department’s range way back when. Shortly after that, I traveled back to Allentown where I participated in a competitive match at the same PD range. There were literally hundreds of shooters and even though the competition was limited to standard departmental approved and or issued carry firearms, there were an awful lot of shooters with tricked out revolvers and pistols and competition style quick draw holsters. In other words lots of shooters with competition guns not issue or agency approved carry guns – and even though those guys were obviously long time competitive shooters - I won the third place trophy for my division shooting an issued revolver. I never competed again though, I was a stickler for doing it by the rules and it was obvious that way too many who competed did not and even were given leeway by range officers who looked the other way. It just was not for me.

Anyway, I have to say, that nameless Border Patrol Agent – on temporary assignment to the BP Academy who coincidentally was there when I was in training - was the most influential firearms person in my firearms life, maybe the most influential person in my life in general. If not for him, I may have been drummed out of the academy or maybe with luck would have just barely passed firearms training. I never would have developed the passion I wound up having for firearms and shooting nor passed it on to others. So, as it turned out instead, I became a very good shooter and years later when I held collateral duties as a Customs firearms instructor, a period of about 16 years, I taught many a miserably failing shooter how to hit that at which they were aiming. 

It was always good feeling getting someone’s score up to passing and even way above it for quals when other instructors had given up on them. I thought of him, tat nameless BPA, each time that happened. I and those I taught owe it all to that nameless BPA who looked a bit like Wyatt Earp with his huge mustache and yet had the wisdom and aura of a pipe smoking granddad teaching his grandson to shoot for the very first time and getting him to do it right that time and always after. Many years later, I taught my daughter and then my son to shoot and tried to do my best to do it in his style; although, I am sure I was never as calm as was he. Anyway, while my daughter discovered boys and forgot about shooting when she was a teenager, my son became and remains a pretty good shot if I must say so myself but his shooting skill says it better than I ever could put in words. 

Damn, how I wish I could remember that BPA's name so I could try to look him up to thank him again and tell him how it all turned out with me loving shooting as much as I do - with me teaching others including my daughter and son how to shoot and hit their target. He will forever remain nameless to me but still will be the most inspirational firearms person - if not the most inspirational person overall - in my life because he took the time and made the effort to teach me right and he inspired me for my lifetime and inspired me to pass that inspiration onto others. 

Thank you whoever you are, in my book of life you are a great man!

All the best,
Glenn B