Published Saturday, March 24, 2012
BOX SPRINGS, Ga. – James Rutland, one-time hurdler at the University of Georgia and later a successful high school coach, handed me an air rifle - a Red Ryder Daisy model with no sights - and said that before the afternoon was over, he would have me hitting a penny with the BB gun.
At the outset, I had difficulty hitting golf-ball and baseball-sized plastic balls that lay motionless on the ground. And he is going to have me shooting a penny out of the air! Even I didn't believe that was possible. However, he had more confidence in me than I had in myself. This is a man who knows his business like no other.
As he worked with a smooth and encouraging voice and cogent teaching style, I had the thought that if he were a golf professional and taught with comparable success, he would become a very rich man.
In just over an hour, there was a marked improvement in shooting skill. "Hit that blue ball right behind the red one," James instructed. I missed.
"Now aim at the white one right behind the yellow one."
This time I shot straight and true, and the white ball jumped up a couple of inches and rolled away.
Then he tossed a round medal medallion, about the size of a drink coaster, in the air, and the misses stretched past a dozen. Made you feel incompetent.
"Find it and shoot it," he coaxed gently. "You are shooting under the target. If that object were a quail, try to shoot the top of its head."
Suddenly there was a succession of pings, as the BBs bounced off the medallion. Then he threw up an aspirin about the size of a quarter. It took a few misses before my BB pellet smacked the aspirin dead center, shattering it into tiny flecks.
It came as a resounding shock that my marksmanship was so dramatically improved in such a short period of time. Made me want
to immediately search for the nearest quail plantation.
It was something of a "Eureka" moment for a quail-hunting advocate who needs more quail in the freezer this time of year. A bird supper with quail that have been soaked in buttermilk for a couple of hours and fried by an expert like Joe Barnett, the laugh-a-minute-chef from Washington, Ga., brings about an unforgettable evening. The better you shoot, the bigger your guest list.
James Rutland learned to shoot and also teach from time spent with the master, Lucky McDaniel, who taught instinct shooting to such luminaries as John Wayne, Audie Murphy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Lucky was so good, he could throw a BB into the air and then hit it with his BB gun. Lucky helped improve the marksmanship of more than 100,000 people.
James has told friends that he thinks his instruction would be beneficial to baseball players, for example, who depend on hand-eye coordination to stay in the big leagues. Based on recent results this spring, somebody in the Braves' front office should summon Rutland, who was endorsed by McDaniel before his death as the only "qualified teacher of instinct shooting in the world."
At nearby Fort Benning, the Rangers know all about James Rutland because they have been taught by this instinct shooting disciple. In his files are letters from generals who send notes of thanks for his teaching courses to soldiers.
James is a teacher who has patience and accentuates the positives. You miss a shot and he will say, "You came so close."
Miss again and he will say, "You're getting closer."
He won't let up until you have hit aspirins and pennies, making you aware that there is much to be said about confidence, which is increased tremendously by this accomplished man who has more confidence in you than you have in yourself.