The mentors: Jude Fleshman and Dale Ranke

The mentors: Jude Fleshman and Dale Ranke

Bona fides: Nearly eight decades combined membership at Hilltop Sportsman's Club, where both have served numerous terms as president; the trap shooting range is named for Ranke and the archery range for Fleshman

Growing up in Westerville, my neighbors from North Carolina had an impressive gun collection. I can't remember if they ever offered to take me hunting, but if they did, I probably politely declined after getting bored out of my mind at our middle school fishing club. So I was a total novice when I arrived at Hilltop Sportsman's Club in Orient.

First things first: You need a hunting license to legally fire a weapon at an animal. You can take a safety course to get your own license or buy an apprentice license to accompany licensed hunters into the field.

I didn't think to get licensed, so I learned how to shoot a shotgun at the trap range but had to merely observe rabbit hunters at work.

Even with nary a hare in sight, it was my most educational experience, enriched by countless tidbits and anecdotes from my instructors, be it about the importance of safety (always point your weapon away from people, and wear lots of orange) or the difference between rural and urban game (deer in the wild are paranoid, but deer in the city are oblivious).

We began at the trap range with a 20-gauge shotgun rather than the more powerful and popular 12-gauge. Ranke taught me to rest the butt of a shotgun in the pocket of my shoulder and lean my cheek against the handle so the barrel would point wherever my eyes did. Feet entrenched at 10 and 4, I missed quite a few clay pigeons before I switched to one-eyed shooting and nailed three straight targets.

After some delicious brats, Fleshman's son showed up with a hunting dog and we roamed the Hilltop club's 160-plus acres. Fleshman schooled me in the common sense of rabbit hunting: Look for tracks coming in and out of hiding spots such as drainage pipes and brush piles; rustle the foliage to scare critters out of hiding; and team up to stalk both sides of a wooded area while a dog flushes out the game.

The verdict: I learned so much more than I could fit in this story, but I'm still miles away from being an effective hunter.