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« Range Report: Baby 9 MMs: Kel-Tec P11 vs. Glock 26 | Main | Part 1: Introduction »

January 27, 2004

Getting Started more ways than one.

This is my first post to the Carnival. My apologies for being so tardy. I thought I'd begin at the beginning, though, for those of you who have not yet "come over to the Dark Side" and purchased your first gun. I thought I'd tell you how I came to be a gun owner.

I've always liked guns, ever since I was a little kid. I think this is quite normal for boys, but many if not most outgrow it. I was thrilled when my older brother got a Red Ryder BB gun one Christmas, and we shot it a lot. Sometime around then I got my first introduction into real firearms when my father took us (me, my brother and my sister) out to shoot his father's .22 rifle for the first time. It was fun, and I found it thrilling, but it was more for my Boy-scout brother than me. Back then Marksmanship was a politically-correct merit badge. We didn't do it much - maybe three or four times total as I was growing up.

My father owned three guns; an old Smith & Wesson .38 (that I now know had timing problems), that old Remington .22 bolt-action, and a sporterized No. 5 Mk I Jungle Carbine that my mother had a family friend build as a Christmas gift. (The image is not one of his rifle, but a representative of the type.) I knew where they were kept, I knew where the ammo was kept, I knew how to load and unload them, and I knew proper gun handling. Dad taught us that, in those few trips out. And he also taught us what even the lowly .22 could do if you weren't careful.

Nobody in my house was ever accidentally shot.

As I got older, my interest in firearms didn't fade as it does for most people. I read lots of gun magazines. I read books about guns and shooting. I learned the arcane language of calibers. I learned the anatomy of the cartridge: case, bullet, primer & powder. Ogive, headspace, cannelures and gas checks. Straight-wall, bottleneck, rimmed, rimless, and rebated rim. I learned about sight-picture, and parallax. I studied the accuracy secrets of rifle builders. I read about long-range handgunning, cartridge reloading, bullet casting, telescopic sights, composite stocks, etc, etc, etc.

And I still didn't own a gun.

Well, that's not entirely true. I got an air rifle at about age 14, and learned to shoot it as well as it was capable. At 19 I bought a target air pistol, and spent literally hours at a time shooting it. But I didn't have a firearm.

While I was attending college, I decided it was time for me to fix that. I got a job as a security guard - a job that required me to have a handgun. I purchased a Dan Wesson Model 15 .357 Magnum revolver with a 6" barrel, and proceeded to practice with it.

My first gun purchasing experience was, unfortunately, not a good one. The salesman behind the counter was smug and superior and quite irritating, but I knew when I went in what I wanted, and I left with it. This is a good thing. I would not recommend to most people that they buy their first gun by themselves. Make friends with a knowledgeable gun owner first, if at all possible, because in my experience the sales staff at gun shops are more often a hindrance than a help. (This does vary by gun shop, however. You might get lucky.)

Because I had done much research beforehand, I knew that I could shoot low-powered .38 Special ammo safely out of my .357 Magnum (there's where the arcane knowledge of calibers comes in handy.) So I started shooting my first real firearm that way. I also started at a real target range not just plinking out in the desert, though that came later. I knew and understood the basic rules of safety, and more importantly, the rules of the range at which I shot, and I practiced them religiously as I worked to learn how to put an entire cylinder full rounds into smaller and smaller groups. I became an accepted regular at the range, rather than some suspicious "newbie" who obviously didn't know which end the speedy bit came out of. And I met a lot of people - people who would let me shoot their guns. (Word of caution - if someone offers to let you shoot their new Ruger No. 1 chambered in .458 Magnum tell them "NO THANKS!")

After a few weeks of practice, I learned several things:

1) Shooting a real handgun accurately isn't easy

2) The mighty .357 doesn't really kick all that hard

3) But it's LOUD (Never ever practice without hearing protection!)

4) Being accurate just takes practice

5) LOTS of practice

6) Flinching from the muzzle blast is detrimental to accurate shooting

7) And requires practice to overcome

8) Ammo is expensive - especially when you're making minimum wage

and finally,

9) Security guards are, in the majority, terrible shots.

I shot my qualification round behind two other shooters. The drill was to shoot a half-scale silhouette target from a distance of 7 yards. Six shots right-hand, six shots left-hand, and twelve shots (with a reload) in 60 seconds. (I also learned that, in Arizona, this constitutes the entirety of firearms qualification requirements for security guards, at least it did twenty years ago. That should frighten you. It did me.)

You were allowed to miss the target TWICE.

One qualifier failed. The other nearly did, but one round didn't quite miss the target. The thigh of the target.

I threw one round out of the center-chest group I shot. Adjusting my grip during the unfamiliar left-hand set, I whacked the silhouette in the kidneys.

I felt good.

And two months after qualifying to carry on the job, I spent my paycheck on a Ruger Mark II Target .22 - so I could afford to practice more.

I realize that my path is not the way most people get into shooting, and that's why I have volunteered to take people out to the range and introduce them to it. (See the sidebar of my blog. I need to get some more "introductory" guns, though. Like a Ruger Single-Six. Yeah! That'll convince my wife!) I would have appreciated something similar very much when I was younger, and the one thing I have noticed is that the average age of the sport shooter is going up, not down. I hope to do something to help stem that outgoing tide, and I hope the Carnival is part of that.

Posted by Smallest Minority