Way too often, the general population forgets that firearms are well suited for things other than being weapons. Simply put, firearms can be used for recreational enjoyment and for building camaraderie. Over this past Labor Day weekend, I was fortunate enough to join a group of people for an afternoon at the local range that helped me remember the enjoyment and contentment that shooting can bring a person.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment occurrence, but one that was planned well in advance. Joe, a friend of my partnering firearms safety instructor Bob, had recently purchased a new 300 Winchester Mag rifle and was excited to get it sighted in so it would be ready for the upcoming deer hunting season. Fortunately, I received an invitation to join them that was quickly accepted, because, as jokingly mentioned, is there anything better to do than get a chance to shoot!
Saturday morning brought a bright, cool morning with a nice westerly breeze making it a perfect day to head to the range. Time seemed to stand still as I waited for the 11 o’clock rendezvous with the others. Bob’s son, Sam, and Joe’s girlfriend, Samantha, were able to join us, and the five of us were like little kids heading to the swings and slides at the local playground. As we double checked our supplies, our discussion turned to maybe taking some additional time to do some trap shooting as well, so with a slight detour, shotguns and clay pigeons were quickly loaded into the truck and then we headed to the range.
The rifle range was not vacant when we arrived and the group of people that were there watched intently as the five of us unloaded our combined arsenal of rifles, spotting scope, shooting sticks and ammunition and then graciously gave us control of the range since they had been there for quite some time and were winding down their adventure. We place a couple of targets at the 100 yard range, but elected not to clutter up the other group’s targets at the 50 and 25 yard backstops with our targets. With safety glasses and ear protection in place, we were ready to call the range hot and see how that 300 Mag shot for Joe.
With a loud echo from under the protective roof announcing Joe’s first shot, total silence followed as everyone awaited the pronouncement of shot placement from Bob, but we were all disappointed when the result was, “not on the paper.” Another similar shot and we all decided that Joe needed to shoot at a closer range to see if it was him or the new bore sighting job. A quick trip to the 25 yard backstop and one shot later, it was obvious that a bullseye meant it wasn’t Joe.
Some scrap paper bordering the target at 100 yards was added and Joe began the slow process of adjusting his scope to accuracy as the rest of us took turns firing the other rifles. Surprisingly, my first shot with my Winchester Model 88 didn’t land in the center of the target, so a second shot was needed to confirm the problem. My second shot was just as bad and I looked to Sam for assistance, “would you mind taking as shot to see if the problem is me or the scope?” I asked. Sam had already confirmed his .270 short mag was accurate and gladly took a shot for me. His shot confirmed my expectations; someone had played around with the scope during firearms safety class because we both shot high and to the left.
Sam reminded me, with his startled response after shooting the 88, that it had an unforgiving recoil when bench shooting. Challenged with this thought, I was fully aware that my chance of flinching was likely as I joined Joe in the scope adjustment shooting while Bob set Samantha up to shoot a Browning .270 semi-auto with reduced recoil ammunition. This was her first attempt at rifle shooting and as Bob and I have learned in our many years of firearms safety instruction, we don’t want the rifle kick to scare off the shooter. Sitting at the bench next to Samantha, I inattentively overhead portions of their conversation, but missed her comments responding to Bob’s direction on how to put the crosshairs on the target. Samantha took two careful shots at the target, but was not fortunate enough to hit any paper. Since the .270 was mine, I offered to take a shot to see if that scope was bad as well, and when I looked through the scope I laughed. Somehow, the crosshairs had separated and there were four distinct lines pointing somewhere toward the center. Bob took a look through the scope and laughed as well, as it answered what he thought was an unwarranted question from Sam about trying to putting three of the points on the bulleye of the target. It was not a good scope day for me!
Joe and I were able to fine tune our scopes and shot some nice patterns, which fortunately came at about the same time as our shoulders were telling us it was time to stop shooting. Bob and the two Sams (yes, Samantha was generally Sam), enjoyed shooting other rifles and Samantha seemed to really enjoy shooting my Winchester Model 100, which is a semi-automatic .308. As the other party packed up and left, Bob and I set up our shooting sticks and we all took a couple of turns using those and our 30-30’s for some fast shooting at the 50 yard target. But soon, quietness overtook the activity; everyone’s shoulders agreed that it was time to call it quits with the rifles.
But not to call it quits at the range entirely. A quick trip brought us to the shotgun range and we quickly set up the trap thrower and convinced the hordes of mosquitoes that we were there to stay. Thoughtfully, Mother Nature graciously acknowledged the fun we were having and called up a nice breeze to whisk away those nasty blood sucking insects. We started throwing clays with one person shooting and a second person doing “back-up,” shooting only if the main shooter missed.
I was fortunate enough to back-up Samantha, who also didn’t have any real experience shooting shotguns, but I was even more fortunate the one time I decided to just watch her shoot without being in a ready position because she squarely hit the clay pigeon and dusted it. The excitement, joy and confidence on her face will remain engraved in my mind. I was also reminded me of one of the reasons I continue to teach firearms safety, because of the intangible rewards.
Soon our competitive natures overtook our patient shooting and at times we had four shooters seeing who could hit the clay first. When I took over running the thrower, Bob suggested making the competition just a bit harder by starting in the two hand ready position, rather than in a ready position. This was reassuring to me, since it looked like at times maybe someone was going to shoot the clay pigeon before it even left the thrower. With two to four shooters, not many clays made it intact, and lots turned to powder as they got hit from many directions. Somewhat surprisingly, but not unexpectedly, no one really tried to keep track of who was the better shot; we all knew it didn’t matter and we all knew we were having fun.
Some hundred plus clays passed through the thrower and a countless number of shotgun shells blasted away as the five of us were lost in a world of play, we were just like the kids at the playground. But like anything fun, an end had to appear and as Joe and Sam fired off the final 12 gauge shells, our afternoon at the range came to a finish with smiles, congratulations and new and renewed friendships abounding.