Best outdoorsmen aren’t flashiest
The second shooting competition in which I ever competed is one that I’ll always remember.
I was new to Metallic Silhouette shooting and had no idea what to expect. There was a guy wearing a very nice S&W Model 29, a really accurate handgun. He was hanging around the sign-up table and talking to people, and he offered to take me under his wing. He introduced himself as Freddy, and asked me what kind of gun I was shooting. I told him and he quickly advised me it would be OK to start out, but if I expected to do well, I’d need a gun like his. He predicted that he’d probably win the match and I began asking questions, figuring I could learn a lot from this guy.
When the match started, I watched him carefully, figuring I might find out something by watching his stance and grip. The targets were shot in groups of five with the easiest targets coming first. He missed three of the first five and eventually scored seven targets from the total course of fire of 40. He was a terrible shot. I shot ten targets with my “unsuitable gun” and got a trophy for second new shooter. I found out later that this was Freddy’s average, and that he always took a new shooter under his wing so he could pretend to be a great shooter.
I have no earthly idea why a guy would do this, but I’ve witnessed it over and over again in my outdoor career. I see it at rifle, pistol, and shotgun events. I see it in hunting situations and I see it on fishing trips. What I don’t understand is that these guys don’t seem to know they look worse after they reveal they were only pretending to be something.
When I was in the eighth grade, we had to put together a North Carolina book as part of our history grade. A few years ago, I looked at my book, and it was a sad attempt, though it did get me promoted to Ledford High School. My writing was atrocious, my art was even worse, but I did learn something from it. I learned the motto of the state of North Carolina. It is emblazoned right across our flag, Esse Quam Videri. It means “to be, rather than to seem” and I think a lot of us have forgotten what the state motto means.
I don’t know if it was the influence of my daddy, Lewis Thomas Jones, or if I somehow was influence by seeing people strive to be someone they weren’t, but I’ve always been troubled by pretentiousness. When Daddy saw someone trying to impress others that they were of a higher station than where they truly belonged, he would just shrug his shoulders and say, “They’re just putting on airs.”
I have no problem with having a nice boat, or ATV, or truck, but I’m afraid some of us might be getting too wrapped up in having nicer stuff than the next guy. Sure, you do need good equipment in a lot of outdoor pursuits, but the amount of money you spend is no measure of your outdoor savvy. The most impressive outdoorsmen I’ve ever known were not showcases for expensive gear. They didn’t try to impress those around them with predictions of wins or big fish, or a boatload of ducks. They were the real thing and they didn’t have to pretend.
On the second day of my first National High Power Rifle Championship, I was shooting with a little grey-haired Army Reserve shooter from Alabama, named Billy. When we shot the first stages, I noticed he was quite a shooter. I had seen higher scores, but this little guy could shoot. When we went into the pits, we got everything in order and were sitting behind our targets waiting for the other relays to begin shooting. A really good Army Reserve shooter, Ray Crouse, came by and chatted with Billy a few minutes. Billy then went to get a cup of water and left Ray and me.
“Do you know who Billy is?” Ray asked. I told him I didn’t, and Ray explained that my shooting partner that day was Billy Adkins, several times National Champion, and 1,000-yard Service Rifle National Champion. Billy was so good with his iron sighted M14 Service rifle that he’d once won the Wimbledon 1,000-yard match against precision bolt-action rifles with scopes. The NRA had added two new championships the next year, because there was no provision for a service rifle to beat the scoped rifles. Billy won both Championships.
I shot with Billy for the rest of that day and he never mentioned his accomplishments. Eventually, I asked and he was quite humble, saying he had a lot of time on the range and the reserve furnished him with really good rifles. The point of all this is that the respect gained by being modest is much more valuable than those first impressions made by big talk and expensive gear.
It was only recently that I remembered Esse Quam Videri, and since that time, I’ve wondered if my dislike of pretentiousness came from the state motto or if it comes from Daddy. I suspect the state motto might have struck a nerve when I was a 14-year old boy, or maybe it’s just my nature. I do know that if I have learned anything in my 60-some years, it’s that there is honor in humility and little in pretense.
Mark Twain once said, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and look like an idiot, than to open it and absolve all doubt.” I wonder if Freddy ever heard that quote?