Stay on target, stay on target...

May 12, 2007

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Check this shot-up shit out (Fig. 1). Mike and I are clearly as good as Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon."

Today, my friend and coworker Mike and I went out to a gun range and shot a box of ammo at a paper target.

A hobby that Mike acquired a year or two ago is clay target shooting with a shotgun. He had explained to me the complexity and sportsmanship of shooting on a clay target range. From what he described, it sounds pretty hard. He finds it relaxing. Me — I don't know if I'm up for another hobby. Between reviews and this blog, it's not like I need a new recreational time-filler to tackle.

However, Mike also has a handgun — a Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic. I'd never fired a gun in my life (BB guns don't count), and I've always been curious. Mike isn't a huge fan of handguns because he prefers the outdoor sporting aspects of a shotgun target range. (Shooting on the handgun range is done indoors in stalls, like you see in all the cop movies.) But he offered to take me out to the range and fire off the 9mm.

Earlier in the week he told me: "No matter how prepared you think you are, the first time you fire it will still be jarring. It's loud and the kick will surprise you. It's a lot of power in a small package."

Yes, I think that sums it up perfectly. A lot of power in a small package.

We drove out to the range and the attendant asked me if I'd shot at this range before. I had not, so I had to read and sign a legal release, which had ominous wording that went something like: "I release liability of the range personnel and recognize the nature of firearms means that risk of accidents cannot be eliminated completely, and can have consequences including death, serious injury, or permanent disability."

And I'm thinking, geez, I just want to fire a gun. I don't want to die. Maybe it's not too late to simply walk out the door and call it a day.

I don't have an FOID card (duh), so I was Mike's responsibility on the range and he was my safety guide and instructor. We went into the range room and he showed me how to load the gun, pull back the slide to chamber a round, put the safety on and off, release the clip, and so forth. And, of course, "Always point the gun down-range, loaded or not."

You hear and see these things countless times on film and television, but let me tell you, when you're holding a real gun for the first time, with the bullets right there, the consequences set in, and you take no chances, while making sure that you mentally toss away everything you've seen on TV as potential bullshit. I made sure to play close attention to Mike's basic safety lesson, and treat the gun carefully. Perhaps too gingerly at first. ("It's not loaded, right?" "I just press that, right?")

Meanwhile, in one of the other range slots a small young woman was firing a revolver. Try as I did, I could not keep myself from jumping every time she fired a round. It's extremely loud in a confined space like that (even with earplugs), and it's unsettling when you're not sure when it's coming. I must say, though, that the longer you're in there, the more used to it you get.

Mike took a turn shooting at the circular target from 5 yards, explaining to me the basics. Then came my turn.

The first time I held that loaded gun in my hand was nerve-wracking. To anyone who says it's not, my response is that you probably aren't thinking enough of the consequences of what you're doing. (Either that or I'm thinking too much.) I was reminded of that scene in "Unforgiven" where Gene Hackman gives the gun to the biographer played by Saul Rubinek. ("Hot, ain't it? You didn't even put your finger on the trigger.")

And pulling the trigger that first time is indeed jarring. The gun kicked back with a lot of force, and as prepared as I was, it still felt like a small explosion in my hand. I instantly felt like I'd lost all control and aim of the gun, and it took a moment to reset between shots. I was putting a good five or six seconds between shots in order to re-aim. (Hey, I wanted my results to look good!)

A while later, some other guys were firing a .45 a few stalls away. And I thought the 9mm was loud.

After every few rounds we'd change the paper target out with a new one. There was a staple gun there to staple the targets to the cardboard and I kept expecting the staple gun to explode in my hand like the 9mm. When it didn't, I was like, "Did it work?"

Mike and I took turns firing off clips. We eventually moved the target back to 7 and then 10 yards. The more I fired, the more comfortable I felt. I started out practically afraid of the gun, and by the end of the hour I was Dirty Harry.

Or not.

For someone who never fired a gun before, Mike said I did pretty well. I was able to hit the red bullseye several times and keep it pretty close in the black. Mike's aim tended to go low. At one point he attributed it to possible distortion by his glasses. As for my reasonable first time out, I attribute it to my awesomeness. Or beginner's luck. But awesomeness sounds better.

I certainly wouldn't recommend it to everybody. It's a little unsettling, and not really all that sporting. But I kinda liked it, and I'd probably do it again. There's something fun about shooting up the place.

Firearms: It shoot what it shoot.

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4 comments on this post

    This is Bill Selliger of the Southern Cal bowling league. I just got a report that a member of your team, a Jamahl Epsicokhan, drew a firearm during league play. If this is true, it controvenes a number of the league's bylaws and also article 27 of the Illinois Penal Code.

    Curious. Surely with all the movies and TV you watch, you should be a firearms expert by now? Or is that just the media making scapegoats? Maybe you should have played Doom or GTA3 before going to the gun range? Apparently these 'Murder Simulators' train you to use a gun and become an expert marksman in mere minutes. They also remove all the moral objections you may have to shooting a human being. I remember the first time (only time) I fired an MP5 on a corporate event. They wouldn't switch to full-auto (damn), but it still kicked more then I thought it would (Quite a different feeling to the shotguns I'd used clay-pigeon shooting).

    Hi, I am from holland and if you maybe know carrying a weapon here is forbidden. I always thought it would be a real kick if you fired a real weapon. For a while ago i had the oppertunity to fire a real weapon. It was a lot smaller then i thought it would be. After a few rounds it kicks in how deadly a weapon is and what kind of power it haves! Really want to go to U.S. to shoot different weapons! Nice Story

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