The Match

            I’d been waiting a long time when the car came. I’d been waiting because it was a waiting time, a time when you wait for the sun to start sliding down, and the woods to start cooling off enough for game to move.
It was a Saturday in November of 1955, and I was twelve years old. I’d had to work that morning, and not got away until after dinner, but the three dollars I’d made would be a big help and was sure worth all the blisters from the post holes.
The mile walk to Moss Turner’s woods had been a slow and a hot one and near as I could tell by the sun, it was about 3:30 PM when the car came.
It was before the wildlife boys released all the deer and a fellow could hunt most anywhere just for the asking if he minded his manners, his gun, and the gates.
I’d been waiting for over an hour when the car came. It had stopped in the ruts without turning around and a man and a boy had got out. I’d hoped they wouldn’t stay long because this was a good spot. Then the rifle fire started and I knew it was no use to wait anymore. I’d been hoping for a squirrel or rabbit, and was in the middle of a bottleneck between two large woods. Everything, coming and going, had to come by me on one side, or the other, in good range of my Savage bolt action twenty-two. All those plans were ruined by the arrival of the car, and the incessant firing.
I knew I didn’t know these folks, but I was some disgusted, and I had just enough sand to walk out so they would see me and know they had ruined my hunt.
When I eased into the road I’d been standing there for several minutes before either of them saw me, and wouldn’t have then if the boy’s gun hadn’t jammed and the man hadn’t fumbled his knife while trying to clear it. He bent to retrieve the knife and that’s when he saw me.
“Hi, guy”, he said. “Where did you come from?”
“I been sitting back there in the bottleneck waiting on the heat to break and game to start moving.”
“Oops”, he said. “I guess we ruined that.”
“Yes sir.”
“Well never mind. Say, can you shoot?”
“Yes sir.”
“I mean can you really shoot?”
“Well, I kill most of our meat every winter.”
“You ever shot competition?”
“No sir.”
“Would you like to?”
“I guess I would, but I can’t afford it. I got to make my shot count.”
“Would you like to if the ammo were free?”
“Well, I reckon I would, but why would anyone give me ammo?’
“Tell you what I’ll do. I got about ten bricks in the trunk. I’ll furnish the ammo. You shoot against my son and if you beat him I’ll give you a brick.”
“Mr. what do I need with a brick?”
“A brick is a box of ammo.”
Well I was beginning to wonder about this man when he walked to the car and got out one of his ‘bricks’. I knew right away what it was; only I thought of it as a case. It was ten fifty round boxes, and I’d never bought but one fifty round box at a time, usually with money I made from the sale of game or pigeons. We were talking 500 rounds which should equal 500 squirrels.
“Let’s see if I got this right. You give me ammo to shoot against your son and if I win I get a free brick? What if I lose? I don’t have anything to match your brick.”
“Doesn’t matter. Competition will improve my son’s shooting and I like a good match. That will be our reward.”
It didn’t seem quite level headed and I wasn’t sure what my Dad would say, but I could truly use that brick so I decided to take the offer. When I agreed the man said they would be ready in a jiffy.
He went back to the car with the boy in tow. They stored the rifle the boy had been shooting. It was a lever action made by Marlin. I’d seen and read about them in the sports magazine at the school library. I dreamed about owning one some day. I wanted a repeater but Daddy said, “Better to learn with a single shot so you know you have to make it count.”  They got out another gun. It was a twenty-two but not one I recognized. It was a bolt action similar to mine but with a thicker barrel and a strap. They walked back to where I was standing.
“I’m Larry” the man said, and this is Larry, Jr.”
Larry, Jr. was a bit taller and heavier than me. He was dressed better. He had khaki pants and a shooters vest over his shirt, and he wore new looking boots. His dad was dressed almost identically. Both had neat haircuts. Neither was striking in any way either exceptionally handsome or ugly. Minus the hunting coats they weren’t people you would notice on a street corner or remember tomorrow. Larry, Jr. was two years older than me and the only other thing I know about him was he had shot a gun before.
His daddy started me with fifty rounds. He started us both shooting at empty ammo boxes at approximately fifty feet with the understanding that two misses was the loser if the other man made his shots.
At first we fired turn-a-bout, after a coin toss. Larry, Jr. won the toss so I shot first. I hit the box squarely in the middle and Larry matched it. We were free hand, unsupported firing, and ten for ten, with no misses. Then his old man turned the boxes with the end out for the next group, which made the target less than half the size we started with. We kept the distance the same so we aimed a bit longer, and were more particular but at ten rounds apiece we were still evenly matched. Even though Larry, Jr. had better sights on his gun it looked heavier and I thought that might be a disadvantage, but I was beginning to doubt I’d get that brick. Now his old man said we would decrease the distance to about fifteen yards but we would start shooting at match sticks. Also we should shoot simultaneously but at different matches. He made two furrows with his hands by piling the loose sand in a row and then he put twenty matches in the furrow about four inches apart. Larry, Jr. would shoot from the left and I would start on the right but we could decide when and how fast to shoot.
It was in the back of my mind that tomorrow was Sunday and a day Mama would not let me hunt or fish. If I were to get any meat I needed to get on with it and this was taking a long time. It would be hard to explain why I’d piddled away the afternoon with nothing for the pot. Still….. if I won the brick…..
I guess there are two real keys to match shooting. Concentration is one, and practice is the other. Most of my training was to be able to hit close to center on a squirrel head size target from usually less than a hundred feet. That I could do consistently but this was all new to me and I guess I lost my concentration when I started thinking of that empty pot because I missed the third shot. I saw Larry, and Larry, Jr. both smile, but my next two took the heads off neatly and Larry, Sr. began to frown Then Larry, Jr. missed one.
We paused now and Larry, Jr. said to his pa he’d like a drink.  Larry, Sr. went back to the car and came back with three of those little cokes that he had in an ice bucket.
While he went for the drinks Larry, Jr. had talked to me for the first time.
“You’re awful good”, he said.
“So are you.”
“How much does winning mean to you?”
“I’d sure love to have that brick. I’ve never had a brick.”
“You ever had a larruping?”
“No, what is it?”
“It’s what I get if I lose.”
“But what is it?’
“Pa will larrup me.”
“But what is it?”
“He’ll whip me bad when we get home.”
“Won’t your Ma stop him?”
“He’ll whip her if she tries.”
“Here comes your pa.”
“Don’t say nothing about this.”
Larry, Sr. walked up and handed around the drinks and as rarely as I got a coke and as much as I loved them, I couldn’t enjoy it for what was running through my mind.
My Dad was sick and we were in hard times but never would he whip us unless we did something really bad, and never would he lay a hand on mama in anger.
When we toed the mark Larry, Jr. wrapped the sling around his arm some way and he took a long time sighting and getting his breath calm and then not breathing as he squeezed off the round
I missed the next two shots, but Larry, Sr. gave me two boxes of ammo for being such a good sport. Larry, Jr. was all smiles. We shook hands all around and they got in their car and took off.
It was less than an hour to sundown and I’d a mile to walk. Mama didn’t like me to be late coming in, so I didn’t see much hope of a squirrel unless I got really lucky walking home. I decided to hug the wood road as long as possible even though I’d have to deal with the gate which I generally dodged.
It was a barbed wire and post gate with a hoop to pull the poles together, a pain to open and close especially for a youngster my size. I always had trouble with it and this time was no different. It got away from me and I dropped it but as it hit the ground I caught a flicker of movement in the corner of my left eye and when I checked out the movement saw just about the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen, adjusting in his bed, an easy shot at twenty five feet even in the fading light. I potted him. It had been a good day. I had a fat rabbit and a hundred rounds more than I expected.
I struggled the fence back in place and I could almost hear Mama saying how good this rabbit would be and Daddy saying, “It ain’t every boy can pot a rabbit with a single shot rifle.”
That was my only match, ever and I threw it. I’m not even sure I wasn’t conned out of it, but I’m sure of one thing. I wouldn’t be Larry, Jr. for all the bricks and cokes and marlins in the world.
The Match_published in Precision Shooting_September 2004

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