Sunday, July 8, 2012

Go To A Shooting Range

Before this excursion, I had never shot a gun in my life. That is, unless you count the BB gun that my brother got when he was thirteen. By the time that I got to shoot that gun, the barrel was bent and a BB ricocheted off of the garage that I had a target propped against and hit me in my shoulder. As a kid, I spent a lot of time home alone.  My worst fear was to have somebody attempt to break into the house while I was home. I would have imaginary knife fights while jumping off of the couch. When somebody eventually broke into our house, I wasn't home. These events led up to more scared alone time until I moved into a safer neighborhood with my mom. At the time, I was an awkwardly large kid that was afraid to put my feet on the ground when the lights were out because I didn't want to 1. step on a mouse or 2. have a mouse run over my foot. Although there were mice in the house, this never happened. Despite all of fear that I experienced when I was home alone, I've never considered a gun as a solution to help me feel more secure. I did grow up with a gun in the house, though. I don't think there were ever bullets to accompany it. Its purpose wasn't for protection, its role was more of a reminder of the harm that could come from them. This particular gun was the gun that my aunt used to commit suicide before I was born. Let me be clear; I will probably never have a gun in my house, but I'm not against there use by others. On the flip side, I doubt that I will ever be a gun advocate. I simply feel impartial on the topic. When my future brother-in-law, Nate asked me if I wanted to join him at a shooting rage a couple of days before his wedding, I was excited. As a gift to me for performing his wedding ceremony, he told me that he would also pay for me. I was even more excited.
When I started to do some research, I was surprised to find that the first Sporting Clays shoot was held in Connecticut in 1980. So despite the fact that Sporting Clays have been used by the British since the early 1900s, they have been in the US for a shorter period of time than I have. Wikipedia calls sport clay shooting as "golf with a shotgun". As I've never really done either, I can't disagree. Although  I've only gone to a driving range, I got much angrier on the golf course than while I was shooting a gun. Highland Hideaway Hunting is located about twenty miles south of where I live. It is situated on over a thousand acres of prairie and wooded areas. Here they had ten different shooting stations set up for different hunting simulations. At each station, upon the shooters call, two clay pigeons are thrown into the air (or in the case of one station, across the ground). The goal is obviously to shoot as many of them as possible. 

Before we started shooting, we met at the clubhouse and were shown the guns that we would be shooting. They were all shotguns. The man recommended that I use the Stoeger Condor Semi-Automatic. He said that this was the most basic and easiest gun for beginners. The second gun was Baretta Over and Under. What this means is that gun has two barrels where the bullets are stacked vertically. As I was the only one of the six guys there that had never shot a gun, I requested for the man to explain how to shoot the gun. He told me that besides using protective gear (ear plugs and sunglasses), there were only two things that I had to keep in mind. 
First was to hold the shotgun in the cup of my shoulder. "Hold it where it is comfortable, but keep it snug, otherwise the kickback might throw out your shoulder." Then he told me that the second thing to keep in mind was to keep my face on the gun and stare down the barrel. "Besides that, you'll be alright," he said. That was it. Time to shoot. Next, we broke up into two groups of three. I was with Nate and his best man, Joe. The other group had Nate's dad, Jeff, his brother-in-law, Thomas, and another groomsman, James. As it turns out, Nate, James and Joe were all in a trap club in high school so I mentally divided the groups into two different groupings. The experienced group and the casual shooters. I wasn't sure how to set my expectations. 
In general, I've got pretty good aim. But I didn't know how much this would carry over to a gun. The closest basis for comparison that I had was playing Duck Hunt on the Nintendo. I thought about the time when I was a kid that I spent an entire day trying to get to the highest possible level. As it turns out, after level 99, the game freaks out on you. I never played it again after that day. As I walked up to the first shooting station, I kept repeating over and over in my head, "Face on the gun. Gun against my shoulder". The station was made out of PVC piping and it looked like a mini plastic goal post. Its purpose was to provide a visible area of where (and where not) to keep your gun. I decided that if I hit one clay pigeon that day, I could walk away happy. These were my first two shots of me ever firing a gun. When watching the clip, the first two shots are coming from the other group.

I know that it is difficult to see, but I hit the clay pigeon with the very first shot that I ever fired. Booya. I immediately knew that I was going to have to adjust my goals. Maybe I could get the best score. After the first two shots, Nate showed me how to take the used shells out of the gun. I flipped a latch and folded the gun in half to expose the shells. Smoke wafted up in my face and I couldn't help but think that it smelled exactly like a firecracker. Which, I suppose, isn't too far off. After the success of my first round of shooting, I forgot to hold the shotgun against my shoulder and got punched. Then I forgot about the second pigeon. Once again, I was going to have to adjust my expectations. 
After a few stations with decent success, our guide, Danny, told me that he couldn't believe that I had never shot a gun before. Danny was nineteen, had been shooting since he was fourteen and had been working at Highland Hideaway Hunting for most of that time. He told me that I was doing really well for a beginner and awesome for somebody that had never shot a gun before. At that point, I decided to adjust my expectations for one final time. I decided that I wanted to finish with the top score of the second tier of shooters. There was something primal and manly about wielding such a powerful object of destruction and watching the pigeons explode as they were hit. When we were done, my adrenaline was pumping. We compared our scores and I did, in fact, get the highest score of the second tier. I had a lot of fun and being a natural didn't hurt, either. 

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