Jeff Johnston is Realtree's newest blogger
A while back I saw a photo my mother snapped from the den window. It depicts a frigid day in rural Oklahoma, of our front yard that was blanketed with snow. All that was visible was a flock of blackbirds under a feeder and two odd, black specks just in front of the birds. I asked my mom what it was. She reminded me that it was me, wearing a snow camo suit—a white sheet—as I belly-crawled toward the birds with my gauze-wrapped blowgun. The odd black specks were my boot soles. I was 5 years old. Fortunately I don't know how blackbird tastes because I missed the shot. But my camouflage was solid.
On my eighth Christmas I was given Papa's 20-gauge single-shot. Its stock was too long, but of course I had to shoot it immediately anyway. So after my father placed a cardboard box, I placed the gun under my shoulder, cocked the hammer and squeezed. The boom, the kick and the rich-smelling wisps of shotgun shell smoke that lingered in the winter air was pure glory! However delighted that I'd dead-centered the box, we soon noticed fresh blood on the snow. I remember my father's puzzled expression as his eyes followed the blood trail, then up to my face. I was too numb to feel it, but the gun's hammer had dead-centered my cheek. My dad snuck me inside and sewed me up on Christmas day. It took a year of practice to quell the worst flinch in history, but I wear my scar with pride.
Early on we mainly hunted quail, ducks and squirrels. My first game animals were two green-winged teal—taken with that 20-gauge on one shot. We raised bird dogs and fished a lot. I was lucky to have a rifle range—an open pasture and a pond dam—in my back yard. I learned ballistics, sighting-in, trigger control and the fundamentals. I suspect that dam is mighty thin. Behind the range I learned about hunting, respect and the woods which I hold sacred.
But what do I love more than hunting and nature? America. Specifically, American freedom. Without it, all else suffers. That's why I love guns.
At age 12 I pointed to the American Hunter magazine on the table and declared I wanted to be an outdoor writer. Really I just wanted to make a living by hunting. Immediately after receiving a degree from the University of Oklahoma, I wrote a letter to the NRA begging for employment. It worked. Over time I jockeyed my way to its Publications division and became an editor of American Hunter. That 10-plus year ride taught me valuable lessons—primarily that I don't know as much as I think. In late 2013 I resigned from the NRA and started a full-time freelance writing career, mainly to seek asylum from Washington, D.C.-- to live in a place where entry into my sanctuary is but a short stroll.
Like many of you, I feel most alive in wild places; hunting merely gives me a purpose to be among them. Upland birds, waterfowl, big game, foreign game, turkeys, predators, you name it. Mature whitetails with a bow probably gets me going more than anything. But what do I love more than hunting and nature? America. Specifically, American freedom. Without it, all else suffers. That's why I love guns. For me and 90 million of my Second Amendment-exercising brothers and sisters, firearms are a means of hunting, protection, food, and fun with the family. The Second Amendment is the strongest means we have of protecting those things. Americans, left independent, prosper. Guns are the tools of prosperity.
I don't expect much to happen when I die. The world won't pause, and at this time I don't really believe in wasting good earth by being planted in it. I'd just hope that someone might utter, Jeff was a passable shot.
I hope you like the writing. I know you'll like the guns. --JJ