We got to the knoll with a minimum of complaints and just as our script predicted, deer started trotting by our lookout, looking over their shoulders at the hunters who bumped them. Most were does and fawns, but soon a young buck, maybe 22 inches wide but willowy, came over a rise. I whispered to Merlin that a bigger buck might be next, and I worked the bolt of the rifle to slide a shell into the chamber. The bolt face picked up the shell, but wouldn’t finish the job by pushing it into the chamber. I opened the bolt to see if some obstruction was halting the advance, but the chamber was clear. Finally, I inspected a shell. It was heavy, with a telltale belt at its head. A 7mm Rem. Mag.

I’m still unsure how I managed to confuse the shells. Were 7mm shells mistakenly put in a .270 box? Did I put the wrong box of shells in my gun case? Was it the result of a hectic finish to sight-in day a couple weeks earlier?

Whatever the case, it was a classic case of inattention. Just as I teach in Hunter Education classes, I should have read the head stamp as I loaded shells in my gun. But it was a teaching moment, as I explained to Merlin why we were done hunting and had to walk back to the truck. He learned, at my expense, a bit about the exactitude of riflery and how all guns are not created equal.

Our walk back was hardly stealthy. We kicked rocks, talked out loud and let the wind get behind us. Waiting on the seat of my truck was the box of 150-grain .270 shells. Our drive home was fun and chatty, but Merlin said a couple of times that he wanted to see me shoot a deer.

Many of you are probably just as committed as I am to taking kids hunting, but just remember my experience. Make sure your young partner has a good time by staying warm, fed and happy. But don’t neglect your own gear – including the basics – or you won’t complete the experience of harvesting an animal together. And that’s arguably the best teaching moment of all.

Andrew McKean