The Red Ryder Rides Again

Most outdoor presents to others, of course, are really gifts we would like someone to give us. And with children (who need us to supervise them), the presents are really for ourselves.

I had walked by this particular item dozens of times since I regularly peruse the hunting and camping aisles of the local Wal-Mart. But it always seemed to me too juvenile to buy for myself. And it brought back mixed memories.

When I was 9 or 10, my grandparents’ yardman had given me a Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun. I shot it thousands of times—at pebbles, at leaves, at targets, sometimes using sights, sometimes using “instinct,” which I had heard would help later when swinging a shotgun at quail. One time, I remember taking 15 minutes and 100 BBs to break down a glass bottle. Learning a skill, feeling empowered, produced a lasting contentment and enjoyment.

Finally, though, I had an excuse to buy another BB gun. The grandson of a good friend had just turned 8, and the three of us were headed to a South Texas ranch for the weekend. That meant three carefree adventurers of various ages on the loose with a new gun.

Not to overstate a good deal when I see one, but really, the Red Ryder is one of America’s great bargains. They come in two sizes, a short-stocked model for younger children and a longer stock for older children…and adults! A real wooden stock! One cock of the lever, and you’re spitting out BBs at 350 fps. And a 650-round magazine capacity—almost enough for a whole day. All for $25. What more do you want?

We didn’t bother to unpack. We grabbed the gun and started shooting at an empty soft drink can in the yard. A hit was confirmed by a metallic ring. We shredded a paper target. We bounced BBs off a fence post. Even the grandson pulled the trigger a time or two. We walked over to a pond and sprayed the copper orbs at floating pieces of wood. Miniature geysers erupted on the surface. It was very satisfying to witness the visible cause and effect. We stopped only when the kid started outshooting us. It should be illegal to have this much fun.

Three weeks later, same place. Only this time my friend brought his daughter, who attends law school, and I brought a full-sized Red Ryder. She had never held a gun before. We introduced her to gun safety and the fundamentals and left her to practice. An hour later she was still cocking, aiming, firing. I gave her the rifle and she took it back with her to an off-campus apartment. She told me she has a new use for her phone book, which now looks a little mutilated.

More recently, I was with my son and his new wife at the same undisclosed location. She was new to appreciating the practical side of the 2nd Amendment. But she quickly discovered the confidence that comes with handling a gun well. Now she owns a Red Ryder—a wedding present from me. Yes, I realize that’s a little unusual. But then again, I gave my son a longhorn steer calf when he graduated from high school.

Let’s see. That’s four Daisy Red Ryder BB Guns I’ve bought in less than a year, including my own. They ought to give me a commission. If you have a hankering to pull the trigger on a low-decibel, spring-cocked, backyard Daisy joy stick, don’t forget that any gun is dangerous if pointed in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, no one better try to pry the fingers of an 8-year-old or a certain law student or my daughter-in-law off of their new-found Red Ryders.

Lamar Smith enjoys spending time on a ranch in South Texas that has been in the family for a hundred years.

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