It was the last turkey shoot of the spring and the fire barrels just wouldn’t get going. One guy was pouring diesel fuel over the smoldering logs and cardboard. “This is the last bit of fuel I got,” he said, dumping the plastic jug in for good measure. The smoke stank, prolific black clouds of it pouring out under the white lights of the athletic field. It was a cold night for it, and the half-dozen guys standing around were burly in red flannel and hunting jackets. They shifted in a body around the smoking barrels whenever the wind changed. “Got a metal rod in your truck? Poke those holes and get some air in there,” one guy offered. “That’s how we do it up yonder.”

I’d never been to a turkey shoot before. I had figured you didn’t shoot at actual turkeys, which it turns out you don’t. I had also figured we’d be shooting those paper gobblers with .22s, which would have given me a slim chance of not looking like a dork.

Nope, shotguns.

They laughed when I asked. “A .22’s got a range of about a quarter-mile. We’ve got enough trouble with the neighbors as it is.”

Come to think of it, a rifle shot off at the high-school ball field in the middle of Saxapahaw would land about square onto my front porch. I felt a rush of gratitude to these gun-toting neighbors for their plain good sense. They were sweet old boys, too. Someone set me up with a 12-gauge and let me have a practice shot at a paper bull’s eye, set on a wooden stand, not as far away as you could throw a rock, but farther than you could spit.

We stood around as folks trickled in, talking about snakes and hawks and the alligator somebody finally proved lives in the pond down the road. (Its name is Sam.) We paid up for shooting rounds, and the chance to win turkey, ham, money or bacon. A bunch of knee-high kids goofed around behind the fence, playing in the dirt and scaling the bleachers. One little guy ignored them with the dignity of born privilege: He was toting a gun slightly longer than he was, wearing full camo, standing seriously among the men.

Without warning, the shoot began. Someone started yelling out names. Everyone but me seemed to know what to do. People were walking around with loaded shotguns in all directions, while I stood turning in place. Up at the line, guns went off, blam, one after another. The guy who runs the gas station on the corner yelled for me to go get a shell. I got it. He took the shell from my hand and gave me the loaded gun. I shot. The target rocked slightly. The round was over.

They pulled down the bull’s eyes and picked the one with the most holes closest to the center, an obscure process–something akin to reading X-rays. The whole thing had taken about 90 seconds.

My shot was terrible, of course. A couple of guys came over to see my target, which was almost intact enough to reuse. They showed me their weapons and patiently explained just how you aim a shotgun.