When I was born, World War II was a couple of months from ending. My father was stationed at Barksdale Field outside of Bossier City, Louisiana, as a high-altitude physiologist and trainer of B-26 bomber crews on the oxygen systems in the airplane.

When the war was over, he immediately was accepted into the University of Utah Medical School. After medical school, he then spent two more years specializing as an intern in general surgery for the Coast Guard in Staten Island, New York, and then the Wellborn Clinic in Evansville, Indiana.

By the time we finally got back to Idaho and settled in Pocatello, I was 7 years old and in the second grade. Normally, the children in my grandfather Merkley’s family were taught firearm safety and instructed in principles of marksmanship and to handle firearms, specifically rifles, before 7 years of age. I got a late start in that instruction, so my father and his brothers made sure I was brought up to speed as quickly as possible.

My Uncle Floyd and my Grandmother Merkley’s brother had farms in Blackfoot and Wapello, Idaho, where we could shoot firearms and ride horses. Within a few years, my father bought some farm property off the old Bannock Highway where we could shoot firearms as well as ride our own horses.

By the time I was 10 years old, I had a Savage Model 5 .22 rim-fire rifle and my father was taking me to the Arco Desert to hunt jackrabbits in the sage brush between the highway and some farms whose owners knew the Merkley family and had given my dad permission to hunt the rabbits that constantly saw the farms as an ideal place for food. That preliminary training with a .22 rifle ingrained the basics of firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting into me.

At first it was quite a challenge to try to line up the sights on moving rabbits and hit them, but constant practice began to pay off. I eventually was able to quickly line up the sights, fire and hit my target in one smooth fluid motion. I also started to became more aware of my surroundings and saw more rabbits than I had when I first started learning to hunt them. I still own that .22 rim-fire rifle, although I came to favor my dad’s Winchester Model 62 .22 pump rifle.

Those first lessons in firearm safety in the field, hunting and awareness of my surroundings served me well when at 11 years of age I received a high-powered rifle for Christmas in preparation for deer hunting with my father and Uncle Veral during the next fall deer season.

My father loved jackrabbit hunting, but wasn’t particularly fond of hunting deer, elk, pronghorn, mountain sheep or birds. He did, however, feel he had a responsibility to train me the way his father and older brothers had trained him, because there wasn’t a state hunter safety program at that time.

Big game hunting was a great adventure for me. It was a time my father gave up some of his time to camp and hunt with his brothers and me for a few days while another doctor covered for him and looked after his patients.

Early on, I realized that I wanted a rifle that would reach out and hit with more authority than the one I received for my 11th Christmas. When I was 16, a friend of my father asked to go hunting with us. He brought a .300 Weatherby Magnum Mark V as his hunting rifle. He got his deer at about 500 yards with one shot. The deer dropped as if he had been pole axed. Late that afternoon after we returned to camp, he noticed me looking at his rifle and asked if I would like to shoot it. I said I would and he set up a can full of water at about 100 yards for me to shoot at. At the shot, the can full of water exploded, the but of the rifle hit my shoulder hard, and rose upward, hitting me in the jaw hard enough to make me check to be sure my jaw was OK. I handed the rifle back to him and said, “Wow, I gotta get me one of these.” My father said that was OK, but I had to buy it myself since he was through buying firearms for me. To this day, I hunt deer with my father’s Remington Model 721 in .30-06 Springfield and I bought my own .300 Weatherby Magnum to hunt larger ungulates and even deer or pronghorn if I think I will be shooting at 300 yards or more. I also learned to shoot it without hurting myself. I now consider the recoil of a .300 Weatherby pretty tolerable and my grandsons who are 16 or older are comfortable shooting it also.

However, I think those jackrabbit hunts with .22 rim-fire rifles with my dad were some of the best hunting memories I have.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.