KEVIN TATE: First deer gun truly left a mark to remember

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

This season, we’re letting my little boy try to shoot his first deer, and the rifle we’ve assembled for him made me think of the first deer gun I ever fired, not that the two have anything in common.
The guys who will someday comprise the group my little boy will remember as his Old Men have been working since late summer on a special firearm for him to use, and the rig we’ve developed weighs about six pounds, shoots as flat as a Delta bean field and has less recoil than a baby’s sneeze. The first deer-shooting setup I ever fired was somewhat different.
In 1898, the German gun and ammunition designer William Brenneke, whose last name must mean “Iron Shoulder” in some long-forgotten tongue, introduced a self-stabilizing slug that could be accurately fired from a smoothbore shotgun. When whitetail deer numbers exploded across the Deep South, his product found a new market.
My dad hunted with the slugs fired out of a Browning Auto-5 Light Twelve. The gun had a vent-rib barrel and a plastic plate on the butt with Mr. Browning’s profile carved into it. Fed low-brass loads of fine shot, it was a delight to use shooting birds. Stoked with super magnum slug loads and fired at paper to see where they’d go, “delight” is not the adjective that comes first to mind.
I was probably 8 or 9 years old and we’d set up a makeshift range in an empty field using a cardboard box for a target and the back of a Honda 3-wheeler as a rest. Under close supervision I sat in a folding lawn chair, propped the gun across a rolled-up furniture blanket, gently squeezed the trigger and set off the Fourth of July.
Even today, when the biggest shells go up from Ballard Park to mark our nation’s birthday, when they detonate against the heavens and stream white fire to the crest of every horizon, when they thump a boom from cloud to ground compressing the atmosphere and taking the closest viewers’ breath away, I think of a five-round box of 12 gauge slugs and an October afternoon long ago.
That day I fired the first slug shell because I wanted to and the second because I was afraid if I didn’t, I’d never do it again. I fired the three after that because I couldn’t feel anything by that time, anyway.
The truth is, I was hooked from the first shot. The bruise was the envy of the whole fourth grade and I think I can still see something of Mr. Browning’s face etched into my shoulder, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’ve had plenty of misses in my time, but none from recoil-induced flinching. When you start with 12 gauge slugs, nothing really kicks much after that.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.