I learned to shoot a tree, and maybe my roommate

There was no particular reason for Jim to have his rifle with him on his deck one summer afternoon. And I was not expecting him to ask me if I wanted to try shooting it at the nearby tree. Of course, I had answered “sure!” This was a random moment where I was offered a chance to do something fun for a change.

Jim showed me how to aim it through the sights and at the tree he pointed out to me to hit. I was just 15 and this was the first time I ever fired a gun, and when I squeezed the trigger on the 30-06 rifle it kicked my shoulder HARD. I peered at the splintered hole I just made in the tree with the powerful rifle I fired. Nice! I hit it on my first shot! And it went right through the 8-inch trunk!

The feeling of pride and achievement only lasted for a second as Jim slowly took the rifle back from me and said his next words. The moment I heard them, I felt an icy-cold shock of extreme dread and fear. There was an odd look on his face – something was wrong.

“Wait here” Jim said as he took off towards the woodpile my roommate Bill was restacking. “I’m going to check on your roommate.”

“Wait here. I’m going to check on your roommate.”

Behind the tree – a hundred or so yards down range – there was a clearing where Jim apparently had my roommate assigned to work for the day. The hole I just blasted in the tree pointed to the bullet’s path – leading directly to the clearing, and my roommate!

“Did I just kill Bill?!” my panicked mind raced. I only did what I was told; I aimed at the tree and pulled the trigger. Now I started panicking even more as I realised I had hit the tree pretty much chest-height to an average person. I had no idea my roommate was working right behind the target I was told to aim at!

Jim quickly walked and disappeared around the bend as I stood in stunned silence. “Did I just do manslaughter? Was this some setup to send me away to jail? Why the hell did he randomly hand me a rifle and get me to fire it?! Is he resurrecting Bill from the dead?” The endless questions flooded my racing mind as I saw and heard nothing from the other side for way too long.

After what felt like an eternity, Jim walked back around the clearing like nothing happened and told me to head back to lumberjack in the woods. Bill was indeed alive and well, and had no idea the danger he was previously in. Jim didn’t tell him. I NEVER mentioned it to him – how could I? How do you even start that convo? “Hey roomie, so I fired a hunting rifle in your direction today and shit myself fearing I killed you; glad to see you’re still bullet-free!” Kind of a hard chat to have. But I will never forget the heart-stopping feeling of thinking I literally killed someone in the forest with a high-powered rifle. That feeling sticks with you as if you did the real thing in cold blood. Particularly that roller-coaster feeling of going from the rush of blasting a hole through a tree on your first shot, to immediately crashing from profound guilt and fear.

That lesson stuck with me; even if someone tells you to take a shot, do yourself a favour and check what’s behind the target they’re pointing at before you pull the trigger.