I had my first introduction to the world of guns (and crossbows) this past Saturday afternoon. Until then I had never shot anything more powerful than a bb-gun. Guns just were never a thing in my life. Of course, as a kid I thought the shoot em ups in movies were cool and would play guns with my friends but mostly lost interest as I grew into adolescence and adulthood. My family never owned guns, none of my friends or relatives did either and I never had a particular desire to hunt or kill anything. To be honest the idea of owning or shooting a gun rarely crossed my mind. I don’t think I was ever anti-gun, anti-killing things yes, with limited exemptions for hunting and eating, but not anti-gun per se. I did think it odd that anybody would want to own or shoot one. I could not wrap my head around the idea of having a gun unless I was currently engaged in warfare, law enforcement, committing crimes or gangster rapping. The whole gun control debate was not something I was passionate about or even thought much about beyond the occasional annoyance that it seemed such a big deal to so many people.
So when a very good friend of mine mentioned that she enjoyed and often went shooting guns I asked if I could join her the some time. To be honest I wasn’t exactly super interested in the gun thing but I was curious and I liked hanging out with her so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Surprisingly she said yes which was how I found myself in her car this past Saturday heading to small town, Kentucky for a day of gun (and crossbow) shooting.
Given all that background I was prepared for a fun and interesting day in the country with a friend enjoying the company, beautiful weather, and scenery but not much beyond that. I did my best to muster some enthusiasm on the gun part but was basically ambivalent going in. I must admit though when I first laid eyes on the tactical shotgun and crossbow in the backseat of my companions car my interest was piqued. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. I asked if it was legal to just have a gun and crossbow hanging out totally in the open in the backseat like that. She laughed and said yes but pointed out some important safety tips that are key for not killing yourself or others when transporting and handling guns. Laughing at my ignorance, followed by a lecture on safety would be a continuing theme throughout the day.
Following a couple of brief stops at her mom and dad’s where we picked up the AR-15 and handgun, and a gunshop (of course) to try and trade the tactical shotgun for a different handgun for some reason, we began the drive out to the shooting area. Interesting side note my friend told me that the owner of the gunshop, a man who looked to me as if he were born for the role (picture your typical dwarf from fantasy literature, scale up to short man size, expand chest to barrel size, slap on a pair of dickie’s stonewashed bib overalls and you get the picture), refused to sell guns to anyone who did not have a Kentucky state ID. When I inquired as to why I got another laugh and the old I have no idea shrug, but the blatant display of prejudice and possible violation of multiple laws did not seem to be of any particular concern. Later I would theorize that it is his small way of continuing to fight the civil war when Kentucky citizens were notoriously shit on by both union and confederate soldiers. Not selling to anyone besides fellow Kentuckians is a nice middle finger thank you to the rest of the country*. Interestingly, Kentucky’s famous burgoo stew is said to have its origins in this little appreciated historical footnote, a factoid I would learn on the trip home from my day of firing high speed projectiles at paper targets.
Finally we made it to the shooting area. The spot was on the property of one of her uncles (her dad’s brothers), a soybean farmer who, ironically enough was accidentally shot by her father when they were children. She was quite proud of the fact that her dad had only managed to shoot one person in his entire lifetime of apparently less than strict obedience to typical gun safety standards. In any event the property was huge and the fields appeared to have only recently been planted as six inch high sprouts of green poked out of the ground at regular intervals across the huge stretches of land that seemed to me to cover many acres (note: I have no idea how big an acre is). When I asked how many employees her uncle needed to manage the farm she laughed yet again and said matter of factly, that’s what relatives are for. By relatives I think she might have meant Mexicans but I didn’t press the issue.
After a slow start, we had to go down into town to pick up ear protection which my friend had forgotten to pack (kudos to me for pointing this out), we got down to business. She picked up the AR-15 first and I wondered why she had selected what to me was the most menacing and intimidating of the various weapons we had brought along as the first for me to try. I quickly realized that it was absolutely the smartest choice for a beginner like myself as it was by far the easiest gun to shoot accurately right out of the gate. It had a recoil no doubt but given the power of the thing I found it surprisingly gentle and very easy to prepare and compensate for. This was a gun anyone of even minimal strength could fire for long stretches with little difficulty. As a semi automatic with a 30 bullet clip it was also a hell of a lot of fun. I had no idea squeezing off five or six shots in rapid succession while trying to keep focused on hitting a small paper man at 25 yards could be so entertaining. In many respects it was a frighteningly pleasant and scarily easy to use weapon and I can now better appreciate the concern many people have about a gun like this being widely and easily available. I would be shocked to find any responsible gun owner who has actually fired off one of these guns who would disagree with the sentiment behind that statement. Beyond its simplicity, inherent coolness and fun factor, the power of the thing was awe inspiring. Of course we were only tearing through paper and blowing stretches of dirt sky high but it was not hard at all to imagine what those rounds would do to a person and picture blood, human flesh, and bone exploding out from the impact point instead of topsoil. Finally, as an added bonus I learned how to load bullets into the clip, load the a clip into the gun itself, and set the first round in the chamber. Cool.
Up next was the handgun, the Sig-Sauer 40mm. This was my friend’s dads gun. After shooting the AR-15 and actually hitting the target a few times I figured the handgun would be a piece of cake. I was quickly disabused of that notion as shot after shot went everywhere but into the target. Part of my issue was a general overall shakiness from too much caffeine and not enough sleep but mostly it was just very difficult to get and keep the gun sighted on target. Even a tiny bit of drift seemed to result in major over correction and embarrassingly terrible shots. I should probably mention my friend again at this point. It turns out she is a really good marksmen. Like expert competition level good. Accurate with each gun we shot and knowledgeable in all aspects of guns and weapons of all types. The kind of gal you’d like to have around in just about any post apocalyptic future hellscape scenario. Luckily she did not seem to mind my general terribleness and even did her best to keep up my spirits. “You didn’t miss too far left that time”, “another few inches down and you will hit the target for sure next time,” and “would have been dead center from 15 yards.” were just a few of the not at all sarcastic words of encouragement I heard throughout the day. She even gave a very convincing fake hope for the future talk at the end as we trudged back to the car. The classic “with just a little more practice…” speech. Bottom line is her expertise made my lack of skill and terrible shooting look even more awful then it really was, which was horrible.
Next up, the crossbow. A nice change of pace from the loudness and general brashness of the guns. I had know idea she would include this in the total shooting package but I was quite happy to see that it was. Once again I’m thinking to myself, how hard can this really be, its an arrow that you shoot like a gun. What made bow shooting hard in my never having shot a bow in my life opinion, was the difficulty of keeping it steady while simultaneously drawing back the string. With the crossbow the draw is taken totally out of the equation, all that’s left is point and shoot. Turns out that I was doubly mistaken. With a 300lb tension the crossbow is not exactly easy to load. In fact I was unable to actually fit an arrow to the string despite three all in efforts. You are probably wondering how, if I was unable to load the bow, I was able to actually take any shots at target. This is where the story goes from mildly embarrassing to desperately sad and depressing. You see my friend (the girl) loaded it for me, four times no less. That’s right a woman was obviously and unambiguously stronger than me. It turns out the kids that taunted me on the playground and in gym class in my younger years were right, I am weaker than a girl. Also, I totally sucked at shooting the thing. Missed the target high and wide and lost two arrows in the process. Not my favorite weapon of the bunch to say the least.
Finally, to end the day we pulled out the big dog, the tactical shotgun. How exactly does a tactical shotgun differ from a regular shotgun? Basically it boils down to the number of shells it can hold without the need to reload, two for the standard shotgun four or more for the tactical. The model we were shooting held five. The shells themselves are where the real beauty of this gun comes into stark relief. Each is loaded with a boatload of tiny little steel balls that explode outward in all directions spraying the target in a hail of death. Accuracy is not the point of the shotgun, stopping power is, and did it deliver in that regard. The shotgun was my second favorite after the AR. They embody totally opposite philosophies of killing (sorry, self defense) and yet each is strangely satisfying though in different ways. The AR-15 is like a deadly ninja, powerful yes, but precise and accurate as well. Its energies are totally focused with laser like precision on killing you quickly and efficiently. In contrast the tactical is like heavy weight boxer. Power is the point, it kills with a flurry of blows, quickly like the AR but only because it is so powerful. I can totally see the tactical enjoying your suffering while the AR-15 would find it needlessly wasteful. Thankfully I did hit the target with it. It seemed virtually impossible to miss. What it looked like post blasting is pictured below. Ouch that has got to sting.
The day had come to an end and much to my surprise I was dismayed that it was over so soon. After lugging all our shit back to the car we headed for home. I was exhausted and soon was fast asleep in the passenger seat. I remember thinking that I should write a post about the day just as I was drifting off. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
*Note: Crazy follow up to this. Shortly after this piece was published, Wayne Knight (Newman of Seinfeld fame) himself wrote to me to suggest that the actual reason the gunshop owner would only sell to in state buyers was because of the illegality of selling guns in Kentucky that then cross state lines. More than likely he was just doing his duty as a law abiding citizen. Also, he berated me for lack of knowledge regarding the correct use of the terms ‘magazine’ and ‘clip’. In gun parlance they are used quite differently than in everyday language. Newman or no I couldn’t let an attack on my honor of that magnitude stand without rebuttal. See the comments if you are interested in seeing who came out the better in that clash of the titans.