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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

At the Shooting Range

The range in Boulder where I fired a 9mm pistol, a .45 and a rifle

The last time I fired a gun I was 17 and still at school, It was an optional activity, shooting at a distant target from a prone position with a .303 Army rifle. I wasn't bad. I got my one-inch grouping and left it at that.

In Boulder I was invited to spend a couple of hours at an indoor range and handle some of the guns I am writing about for my bounty hunter chum - a 9 mm pistol, a .45 and a rifle, not unlike the one that's been in the news this past week. Out of curiosity, and on the basis that anything I can experience that helps me understand his life is worth doing, I went along. I was also interested to see gun enthusiasts at work - or is it play?

It was fascinating. I was first taken into the workshop in which some people choose to make bullets to their own specific requirements. I was shown a number of basic safety procedures, like never putting my finger near the trigger until ready to fire, and always pointing the gun down-range. I learned never to assume that a gun was unloaded, always to check that the magazine and chamber are empty before doing anything. And I learned how to load - both the magazine and the gun. Before entering the shooting booths I was given ear-plugs, ear and eye protectors, all of which made communication difficult. A lot was done by sign language. What I wasn't prepared for was the erratic and irregular sounds of shots from neighbouring booths. They made me jumpy. Even holding a bullet in my hand made me pause to think. It's a lethal projectile, designed to do specific damage upon impact.

I'm pretty sure this is a 9 mm bullet.

Firing required far more concentration than I'd expected. I found myself tensing up and tending to wince slightly as I squeezed the trigger, resulting in a couple of erratic shots - but not so erratic as to pepper the ceiling. Yes, there were a few bullet-holes up there. Other than those one or two strays, my grouping wasn't so terrible. The pistol I managed reasonably well, ditto the rifle -  from a seated position. It was the .45 that threw me. Such a powerful thump, and quite a kick. I simply found myself wanting to move on from that. The imagination, as ever, playing havoc with my mind.

I have to say that, much as I was grateful for the experience, I never felt quite comfortable. For example, I was surprised to find the smell of gunpowder - which I've always enjoyed at fireworks parties - rather sickly and heavy. Maybe that's because we were indoors. But I think something else was going on, something that rendered the sounds and smells rather oppressive for me as a beginner. That was, I suspect, the ever-present thought in my head that what I was holding was a weapon, and a lethal one at that. I really did find it hard to get that out of my mind. Also, as I so often find these days, learning new procedures and disciplines brings on fatigue pretty quickly.

So... I was glad to have the experience. It was an education, another insight into what it is to be an American; or should I say a westerner? I must add that, despite my worries about the lethal capacity of the guns, I was able to appreciate their beauty and the craftsmanship that went into them - and therefore the pride that collectors and target shooters, hunters too, take in their own personal armouries.

A Springfield 1911 pistol, similar to the one I fired

Last year it was riding horses, this year firing guns. I'm slowly checking off a good many of the experiences that are intrinsic to the westerner's world.

For anyone who's wondering what's happening on my tour of Nebraska, I'm mostly writing that up on my Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/seriousaboutnebraska/