As you all know, I am a manly man, a doer of deeds, who constantly seeks out new physical experiences and adventures...
OK, so I don't do anything manlier than home repair, and even then, I'm impressed with myself if I can patch a hole in drywall and not be able to point out the spot where it used to be from 11 yards away1. Nonetheless, somehow I found myself at a shooting range on a Friday night, making holes in a paper silhouette with a Glock 9mm.
This happened courtesy of my friend Eric, who - despite being a skinny computer geek - participates in things like scuba diving and paintball and other (shudder) physical activities. I know, right?
Anyway, I was supposed to go to Jody's company holiday party, but the logistics failed to work out. As we'd already arranged a babysitter in the person of the Right Honorable Thomas Seaver, I called up Eric and suggested a Guys' Night Out. He in turn suggested the gun range as our destination.
This is a new entry in his manly-pastime schedule; he's only been at it for a couple weeks, although has already managed to squeeze in five visits to the range and has purchased his own personal sets of ear and eye protection. It has been on my "to try" list for a while, so I figured, what the heck. Lower barrier to entry than paintball. So off we went.
Now, Eric, as I said, has all of two weeks on me in this sport, but nonetheless decided to pull an Obi-Wan and take charge of my teaching himself. Spoiler Alert: this worked out better than it did for ol' Ben, as I have so far not turned to the dark side or killed anyone, even accidentally. It probably helped that I already knew basic gun safety2.
First impressions: holy crap, is it easy to get in. You just walk up to the counter, hand them your driver's license, and walk away with a gun and ammunition. They didn't do a background check, or even make me listen to a safety lecture!
(Attention, criminals: this is, however, not a recommended way to acquire a gun and ammunition. First, there's that whole surrendering-your-driver's license thing, but beyond that, you're in a building full of people who either have a gun in their hands or several guns within arm's reach. Not a good place to make a run for it.)
So there I was, carrying a real, live gun and a box of bullets. We walked through an airlock-style arrangement of doors designed to keep the lound booms from making it out to where people aren't wearing earmuffs, and there was the range. It's a big, long, concrete room with a row of stalls across the short dimension, each with a clothesline-type arrangement for moving the paper targets out to the desired distance, and red stripes on the floor marking off every 2½ yards. I was going to let Eric go first - the ol' watch-and-learn - but he told me to go for it. Yikes!
We started with a .22-caliber revolver. .22-caliber bullets are relatively small4. They are so small, in fact, that the cylinder holds ten shells instead of six, which I assume is a feature specifically designed for shootouts with the type of smartass who counts their adversary's shots. "Ha-HA!", they cry, leaping out from behind their cover. " You're all out of... " BLAM!
Eric reiterated the Prime Directive of range safety (keep the gun pointed downrange at all times), showed me how to load the gun, and then put me into a basic stance. Having recently watched an episode of Mythbusters that featured shooting stances, I decided to try showing off: "This is called the 'Weaver', right?" "Nope, this is the Isosceles." Smackdown!
Having been given basic instruction by Eric, my thoughts during that first shot went something like this: "OK, pick up the gun, hand on the grip, finger straight out along the barrel. Feet shoulder-width apart, arms out, bent a little at the elbows. Left hand comes up to support the gun. Line up the sights. Pull back the hammer. Move finger onto trigger. Breathe in. Start to breathe out. Give the trigger a gentle squBOOM!eeze?"
It took several seconds for me to remember to finish breathing out. That's how I learned that there's not much travel left in that trigger once the hammer is cocked. I've heard the term "hair-trigger", but now I know what it feels like.
I did all right with my first grouping, but despite the relatively light weight of the gun, my arms got tired fast, and my shots spread out on the target like an expanding cloud. After 50 rounds, I yielded the lane to Eric, who proceeded to show me up. After he'd also shot his way through 50 rounds, we traded the revolver in for a Glock 9mm, a.k.a. "generic TV gun". These shells were a lot bigger, but it still held ten at a time. (Not being a revolver helps.)
The Glock's trigger, unlike the revolver's, was not a mindreader; I definitely had to squeeze with intent to get the gun to fire. So I wasn't so surprised by the timing when it went off. Instead, I was surprised by the very-much-louder boom. And the recoil. And the fact that the spent cartridge went flying up and out as if a tiny kicker had punted it from inside the chamber. You didn't prepare me for that, TV!
I was pleased to see that my shot had poked a hole right through the X in the middle of the silhouette target. My next two, however, were outside of the red zone entirely, in the 9 ring. Eric said that's because the gun surprised me with its power and I was now afraid of it.
Now, if you're going to pick something to be afraid of, guns aren't the worst choice, but it is kind of silly, not to mention counterproductive, to be afraid of the one you yourself are trying to shoot. Eric advised me to relax: "The gun won't hurt you." (This was not entirely true, as I accidentally put a thumb behind the slide on one of my shots. Pro tip: this is not recommended.) So I took a break and centered myself, and likewise centered my next several shots. All together, out of 20 shots aimed at the center from 7½ to 10 yards, 18 were in the red, and 11 of those were in or on the innermost ring. Not bad for a first-timer.
Anyway, after Eric took his shots, we turned our stuff in, paid the bill, washed the dust off our hands and faces, and went to dinner.
What I learned: guns are freaking loud, shooting them can in fact be fun, and I don't totally suck at it. Good to know.
- 1 11 lawns, that is.
- 2 Source: patter from Penn and Teller's bullet-catching trick.3
- 3 "Illusion, Michael."
- 4 ..which just makes the fact that they can kill you even more impressive, I suppose.