A frantic string orchestra builds into a loud crescendo as The Walking Dead flashes across my television screen. My body automatically tenses. Adrenaline begins the race through my veins.
I’m thankful I’m sitting on a comfy couch in a world where zombies do not exist. I hate zombies. I have a deep-seated fear of a zombie apocalypse. But The Walking Dead? For some reason, every Sunday night, I’m hooked.
Minutes into any given episode, there’s a swarm of walkers. I cringe as I see Daryl shoot a walker with his cross bow, the arrow so gruesomely pierced through the bloody skull. When Rick uses his shotgun and a few walkers’ heads explode, I am both fascinated and revolted.
“I would kick ass in a zombie apocalypse. Just blow ’em to bits,” my longtime friend says as a walker narrowly misses biting Maggie on screen.
“I’d probably be one of the first people to die,” I admit. My friend laughs. Because we both know it’s true—besides my “irrational” fear for zombies (bath salts people, BATH SALTS CAN CREATE ZOMBIES), I’m petrified of weapons in general. How would I ever defend myself? I’m the first to admit – I am easy zombie prey.
This seems to be a common fear among the public. No, not zombies, but weapons in general. If you watch the news, countless people are trying to revoke the second amendment. Politically, I don’t think we should give up any rights. I want the option to bear arms if I want to. But actually handle a gun? Or a knife? The few times I’ve seen either in person, my body literally shook from fright. Sword fighting movies make me sick. Movies with too many gunshots, too much blood, too much careless brandishing of any type of weapon, give me so much anxiety that I stand up and leave the room.
However, a percentage of America doesn’t possess this fear. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2014, 37% of Americans with children under 18 at home own a firearm. That’s an estimation of roughly 317 million American gun owners. My dad is one of those statistics – a licensed owner of a shotgun and a handgun. So one late August evening this past summer, I mentioned my fears to the gun owner himself.
“You don’t have to be afraid of guns. You have to respect them. They’re lethal weapons, yes. But if you know how to safely handle one, it can protect you. They’re less scary once you know what you’re doing. You should come with me to the shotgun range one day. An instructor can teach you, and I’ll be by your side,” my dad said.
It took me until November, about four months later, to take him up on his offer. I decided that I should face this fear straight on. How scary could it be? My dad has been hunting for years, since before I could remember. An instructor would be teaching me how to operate and properly shoot, and I was glad it was going to be my dad by my side the entire time.
My dad happily agreed to take me, despite the cold weather. So on November 19, 2014, my best friend Nikki, my little sister Isabella, my father and I headed up to Thunder Mountain in Ringwood, New Jersey, to go to the shotgun range. It was about 26 degrees out, but felt like it was below zero with the wind chill. It was 8 o’clock at night—the only time we were all free to try shooting before the holidays. The darkness blanketed us.
We pulled up to a small, one-story building next to a small field that had a few wooden huts scattered across it. Within ten minutes, a cute twenty-something year old man named Nick, wearing camo pants, Timberlands, and what appeared to be at least three layers of sweatshirts, walked across the field with Nikki, Bella, my dad and I towards a concrete pavement patch in the middle of the field.
“This is a 12-gauge, pump-up shotgun,” Nick said as he handed me the weapon. The gun had camouflage print, matching Nick’s pants. He spoke loudly so I could hear him over my ear protection.
“Put five shotgun shells into your pocket. You’ll load one at a time. Then you slide the pump up, loading the gun. Once it’s loaded, you have to always keep the gun pointed downwards until you’re ready for the clay pigeon – the clay disk that I’m going to release when you say ‘pull.’” Nick explained as helped me load the first shotgun shell and pump the gun. He then brought the gun up to my right shoulder and propped it against my inner shoulder.
“Press your face against the gun. Your right cheek. Keep your face against it. Squint your left eye, so your right eye is lined up with the gun’s barrel. You’re going to follow the barrel with your eye, and when you think the clay pigeon is about to be right in front of the barrel, you shoot. With shotgun shooting, you have to shoot where you think the pigeon is going to end up. You have to move the gun slowly upwards to follow the pigeon before shooting. It’s a moving target, so it’s a little harder. Don’t panic. Just breathe.”
I stood in position. My face felt frozen against the shotgun, but my fears seemed to have vanished as I held the gun. The entire field was silent.
Nick reminded me to breathe and say pull when I’m ready. I lifted the gun. It’s really loaded. My heart started thumping but I encouraged the adrenaline. It was controlled. I took a deep breath. My right pointer finger was on the trigger, and my left hand was on the barrel where Nick placed it. I squinted my left eye awkwardly, and my right eye stared down the barrel.
“Pull,” I said.
The orange clay pigeon disk soared across the black ink sky. I pulled the trigger and felt the gun jut back against my shoulder. I missed. I took a deep breath. The power, the loud burst from the shotgun, is actually what I expected. I imagined Rick shooting walkers and wondered how the hell he’s so precise. I imagined criminals in the real world using these weapons, and wondered at how they could possibly do such a thing. These thoughts don’t panic me or make me want to run, hide, or give Nick the gun back. Instead, I’m overwhelmed with respect for the weapon in my hand. It is deadly.
“Not bad. A little higher next time and you’ll get it,” Nick said. I laughed and let the gun face downwards.
“You ready to go again?” my dad asked from behind. I nodded and reached for the next shotgun shell. I shot about 15 rounds. I missed all of them. Nikki shot 15 too, and got one. My dad hit 18 out of his 25 shots. My little sister filmed and snapped as many pictures as her hands would allow in the cold. Nick and my dad excitedly bonded over bird hunting. As we exited the field, Nick smiled at me.
“It’s really cold out. You should come back on a warm day. It’ll be easier. But you did a good job. And you handled the gun well. It’s not that scary right?”
“It’s not that bad,” I admitted.
“I don’t even know why you guys would come on such a cold night,” Nick said.
“Just preparing for the zombie apocalypse.”