A grown man understands what it means to live and to die — knows that, as Chanse says, “life is a cycle, and it’s not always going to be fair like when everybody who plays gets a trophy.” A grown man knows how to sight his target through a rifle’s scope and how to manage the simultaneous surges of fear and excitement, counting out his breaths and slowing his heartbeat.
A grown man pulls the trigger.
‘A family tradition continues’
Late one afternoon, Chanse urged his dad upstairs to the gun safe. It is too dark outside to shoot, but he wanted to see their arsenal anyway. Scott covered Chanse’s eyes with one hand while unlocking the safe with his other. “Time for gun show and tell,” he said.
Inside are two dozen unloaded guns, including four that belong to Chanse. Scott reached into the safe and handed them one at a time to his son, so he can feel each gun’s weight and learn its history.
Out came a German Luger, still in its holster. “A gift from my great-uncle,” Scott said. Out came Chanse’s great-grandfather’s 12-gauge shotgun and his grandfather’s 20-gauge. Out came a small .22 single-shot rifle, in a black case labeled “My First Gun,” the Christmas gift Chanse received in 2009. Scott had hidden it behind the couch until Chanse opened everything under the tree: toy trains, hunting boots, football cards and a nutcracker statue. “Guess that’s it,” Scott had said, before glancing behind the couch and feigning surprise. “What’s this?” Chanse had torn through the red paper as the song “White Christmas” played in the background. “Awesome!” he had said, turning the gun over in his small hands. And then: “How’s the blowback on this one, dad?” And then: “What can I shoot with it?”
Maybe other fathers would have waited longer, but what choice did Scott have except to include Chanse in his hobbies? His wife had disappeared to Pennsylvania before Chanse turned 1, making Scott a single parent, and he had devoted himself to the task. He accepted a swimming pool job with flexible hours and took the boy with him everywhere — fishing, camping and, before long, out to the deer stand. It was a place where Scott knew what it meant to be a dad, and where he felt confident in the lessons he was teaching. Respect for the power of a gun. Patience while waiting for the target. Courage to pull the trigger. Hard work to clean the kill and process the meat. When Chanse finally got his first buck, an eight-pointer, Scott took more than 20 photos of the two of them posed with the kill, its eyes still open and blood running from its nose. Chanse had set his rifle on the deer’s neck and lifted the animal’s head by its horns, his adrenaline making the buck feel almost weightless. He called his grandfather on the spot. “I did it,” he said. Scott shouted in the background: “A family tradition continues.”