John Stewart’s Target Is Beyond the Crosshairs

John Stewart’s Target Is Beyond the Crosshairs


I’m eight years old, and I’m sitting
in the front seat of my dad’s
blue Ford pickup truck. It’s dark, it’s cold. We’re driving in the middle
of nowhere in Texas, and I am nervous. Because tomorrow, I’m going to be shooting
my first deer. In between me and my dad,
there’s this big gap where my older brother Colin
should be. But he’s not with us
on this trip. My dad loves hunting,
grew up hunting. There’s family legends that he would trap animals
in the front yard, like squirrels and rattlesnakes, and take them back to the house and scare the crap
out of my grandmother. So he loved it, and I think
what he loved the most about it was just being out in nature, and he wanted to share that
with us, so me and Colin
went with him a lot. And he especially loved
going with Colin, because he was
really good at it. In fact, Colin was really good
at most things that my dad really liked– sports, you know,
shooting cans in the backyard. Things came easy to him. He was kind of like
an outdoors kid, and I was more of, like,
an indoors kid. I was good at reading. (laughter)
And video games. So being without him
on this trip, I wasn’t feeling great. We finally get
to our destination, it’s still pitch-black, and it’s a big ranch where the hunt’s going
to take place the next day. There’s a bunkhouse,
and there’s a campfire, where there’s a bunch of dads
and sons gathered around. So we unload the pickup truck. We put the stuff
in the bunkhouse, go over to the campfire, and I’m kind of looking around
the campfire to see if there’s any other kids
who look just as uncomfortable as I’m feeling in that moment. And I see this kind of
wimpy-looking kid, and I get hopeful, and I, like, sidle up
next to him in the glow of the campfire. I actually realize
that he’s got a buck knife and he’s kind of
handily skinning a deer like he’s done it
thousands of times. And I realize, “Oh, man,
I am alone in this.” So we go to bed and wake up at
probably 4:00 in the morning– that’s another joy of hunting. It’s still pitch-black, and the weather–
the, the weather has dropped. The temperature
is really, really cold. My dad calls these storms
“blue northers.” And I still remember
walking out of the cabin and the crunch
underneath my feet, as the ground had frozen. And I’d never felt that before
as a kid growing up in Texas. So I’m in my oversized
camo gear, I have the rifles
on my shoulder, and I take all the stuff–
crunch, crunch crunch– out to the blue Ford pickup. And we drive out to… a box. (laughs) If you’ve never been hunting
before, this is literally
what you do is, you sit in a box for hours and you wait for the deer
to come, and you shoot it. Simple as that. So we get into this box. My dad brought along
a sleeping bag because it was so cold. And he stuffs me
into the sleeping bag and puts me in the corner, and I zip up the sleeping bag
over my head. And I’m just shivering in there, just praying
that this deer does not come, so I don’t have to shoot it. But sure enough,
a couple of hours go by, and my dad whispers,
“John, John. “Come on over here, son. “There’s a big doe over here. This is your chance.” So I unzip the sleeping bag, and I walk over to the stool
where my dad’s sitting. I take his place on the stool, and I position the rifle
just like he showed me, on my shoulder. We had been preparing
for this moment for months– going to shooting ranges,
target practice. I knew exactly
what I needed to do. And he’s kind of
hovering over me, helping me position the gun
on my shoulder. And I get it in a good place, and I’ve got the rifle pointed
a couple of hundred yards away, and I look through the scope,
find the crosshairs, and I’m looking
for the neck or the heart. That’s where you’re supposed
to shoot the deer. One shot so it goes down quick
and it doesn’t suffer. So I find the heart of the deer
in the crosshairs, and I could still remember the steam coming off of the fur
of the animal, it was so cold. And I steady my breathing. I’ve got my finger
on the trigger, and all of a sudden,
I notice that the crosshairs start going blurry. And I realize that I’m crying. So I lower the rifle, and I look over at my dad,
and I say, “Dad, I just can’t do it.” So he picks up the gun
and he shoots the deer. (chuckles) Years later, I was thinking
about this moment, and I asked him
what he was feeling. He must’ve been
so disappointed in me. And he kind of grinned
and chuckled. And he said,
“Are you kidding me? “It takes a lot of guts to
stand up to your dad like that, “not to mention
all those other people. I’m so proud of you, son.” Thank you. (cheers and applause)

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