I’m better with a rod than a rifle. Make that rods. I have several and each one is named. Cutthroat is my 6-weight fly rod. The first fish I ever caught with it was a Yellowstone cutthroat trout. I also have 4-weights for small freshwater streams and 8-weights for big saltwater bones.

Needless to say, we are a fishing family. I fished before I had children, then backpacked my babies on the water before they could walk. The tick-tock rhythm of the rod on the river is mellowing for high-strung me. My husband knows this and never complains about my ever-expanding collection, but it stops at fishing gear. There’s no gun rack in our basement. At least there wasn’t until Grandma died and we inherited Great-Grandpa’s guns.

Grandma lived to 102. She was remarkably hearty and magnificently wrinkled.  She let go for good on her birthday last summer and hidden treasures started trickling out of her house. Three of Great-Grandpa’s guns came home with my husband. Well, two and a half really: two shotguns and parts for a third.

The shotguns, a 1947 Winchester and a 1937 Parker Bros., are beautiful in an antique way that can’t be duplicated on today’s assembly line.


Beautiful wooden stocks adorn the author’s inherited guns.


“Those are incredible,” said Michael Messick, gun collector. “Beautiful guns. The stocks are gorgeous.”

Messick’s gun obsession far surpasses my rod fetish. When we showed him Great-Grandpa’s guns, I knew he desperately wanted to load one. Then he one-upped my suspicions by offering to mentor our family through the intricate game of guns and into the sport of hunting.

I coach his kids in hockey, so him teaching my kids gun safety seemed like a fair trade. Messick is a principal; he’s built to be patient with kids. He’s also training to be a hunter education instructor. Based on our success this fall, I’d say he’s beyond training status.

We shot targets a few times before officially hunting. The day we fired Great-Grandpa’s Winchester, Messick was thrilled. His calm, educated voice turned a bit schoolgirl-giddy with excitement. My husband was loading a 68-year-old gun that hadn’t been fired in 50 years. We all held our breath. The beauty fired like it was built yesterday.

“It was fun to see he had the same model of gun my grandfather had,” Messick said. “We shot our grandpa’s guns at the same time. Just seeing that history passed down was pretty neat.”

With targets successfully taken care of, Messick took my son dove hunting through Idaho’s Passport program. The program gives new hunters a one-year shot at hunting with a mentor without having to take hunter ed. Idaho’s program is part of the Families Afield Initiative in 39 states. Nationwide, program results tally more than a million new hunting families.


Michael Messick helps the author’s son learn to shoulder a shotgun before hunting season.


“Over the last decade, Families Afield has helped remove barriers that new hunters faced when entering our sport,” says Samantha Pedder, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. outreach and diversity manager. “When provided the opportunity to try hunting, and when connected with a mentor very much like Messick, you can expect a successful introduction to hunting.”

Messick and my son came home with rabbits when the doves disappeared. My son puffed his skinny, little chest with pride when we served his rabbit at a dinner party.  Turns out, rabbit stew is much better than fish soup.

Then the true measure of Messick’s mentorship boomed with my bold husband, a borrowed muzzleloader, and a cow elk tag. Messick tromping through crusty snow right along with him. The text came shortly after sunrise just as my boys and I were heading to the hockey rink.

“I got one!”

The surprise was surreal. My husband had filled our freezer, and with a muzzleloader no less. We were officially part of the million new hunting families, all thanks to Great-Grandpa’s guns.  

“The opportunity exists in the majority of states to purchase an apprentice hunting license and now together we must step up to mentor new hunters, both youngsters and adults,” Pedder says. “Doing so benefits the future of hunting and conservation.”

It’s a future our family is trying to get a handle on, and our nightstand is proof of that. Two books are stacked on it: I’m reading The Writer’s Guide to Guns and Ammunition by NSSF, while my husband is halfway through a book about butchering wild game.

When I’m not reading or writing, I’m wondering. I wonder if Great-Grandpa named his guns like I name my rods. If so, his Winchester should be Evo. Short for evolution, because inheriting his guns stirred an evolution in our family, allowing us all to learn something new to do outside. Thank you old man. And many thanks Messick.


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