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« Part 1: Introduction | Main | Part 3: Arma virumque cano »

February 03, 2004

Part 2: First Trip to the Range

Well, I'm a pistol virgin no longer. SayUncle and I headed out to the range where he gave me my first lessons in shooting handguns.

I learned quite a bit about shooting, both practical information (Don't touch the trigger until you're ready to shoot.) and legal (requirements to purchase a gun, requirements for concealed carry, training courses etc.)

When we first got to the store, there were about 10-15 people wandering the store, waiting their turn on the range. While we were waiting for my orientation tour, Uncle took me over to the counter and showed me several guns that he would recommend, and some he wouldn't. He stressed that in firearms, as in everything else, you get what you pay for.

Looking at the guns, I was struck by their singleness of purpose. A knife can be used as a tool as well as a weapon. A steak knife doesn't look intimidating, even though it can cut and stab as well as a K-BAR. But looking at a gun, you know it has only one purpose.

That's a sobering realization.

The orientation tour was brief, but thorough, and the attendant made sure I didn't have any questions. For those of you who've never been at an indoor range, it's loud! I had on earmuffs, and it was still loud. The range we were at had 9 lanes and all were in use when we went in. Eye and ear protection were required, and double hearing protection was recommended if you wanted it.

The rules of the range were simple, and related to safety. One gun and one ammo type at a time on the line. Additional guns, ammo, etc kept behind the line. Do not cross over the line for any reason. When the alarm sounds, stop shooting and set your gun on the table. Always keep the gun pointing down range. Don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot. Never hand anyone a loaded gun.

After the orientation, Uncle showed me the basic operation of a Glock 30 .45. Yeah, I started with a big gun. He showed me how to insert the clip and work the slide to load the chamber, then how to remove the clip and clear the chamber to insure the gun was empty. Then, he went over some basic rules of gun safety. Always assume the gun is loaded. Don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot. (Yes, this one is that important, that's why I've repeated it several times, but not as many times as he did.)

Then we loaded the clips. I'm typing with one less finger today because the tip of my index finger is sore from loading those clips. It takes a lot of force to load a clip, especially the last bullet because the spring is fully compressed. Uncle showed me the technique, but I'll have to work on it before I get comfortable with it.

Uncle showed me his preferred stance while telling me that other people would give me other advice, and to find what works best for me. He showed me a basic, two handed grip, squeezed off a couple of rounds, then set the gun on the table.

It was my turn.

Keep in mind that while we're going through all of this, there are 8 other people shooting almost continuously. I'm flinching with nearly every shot, particularly when a guy 2 or 3 lanes over shoots. I didn't know what it was he was firing (Uncle later said it was a .44 Mag if I remember right, but not only could you hear it, you could feel the concussion of each shot. I stepped up to the line and assumed a comfortable stance with my left foot in front, my right about 18 inches back and turned to the side (what we called "sugarfoot" in wrestling). I picked up the gun with a two handed grip, and carefully sighted along the barrel to the target 7 yards away.

7 yards doesn't sound like much, and it isn't, but it was plenty for a first time out. My hands were shaking with adrenaline, and I took a deep breath to settle down, and began to squeeze the trigger. Uncle told me that the pull was around 5 pounds, which sounds light but is a lot stiffer than I'd expected. I slowly increased pressure and the trigger moved back until it hit a slight resistance.

Then the gun went off.

That's how it felt, anyway. I wasn't concious of the trigger moving any further, or increasing pressure to break past the resistance. I hit the resistance, there was a heartbeat, then the gun roared. The recoil wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated, but it was still a little overwhelming to feel the gun move with that much power. It didn't tear my hand off, but I knew right away that controlling the recoil would be a challenge, particularly since Uncle warned me against it. He said a common problem among first timers is a tendancy to anticipate the recoil, pulling their shots down.

Oh, yeah, I did hit the target.

I finished the clip, and afterward, Uncle told me that I'd drawn quite the crowd as people stopped to watch the newbie shoot. The last 5 or 6 rounds, I began to get a little control, and achieved a decent grouping. Oddly, shortly after I fired the first couple of shots, I was concentrating so hard, I didn't really hear the other folks shooting anymore. Except for the guy with the cannon.

After the Glock, we went to a SIG 9mm, which had a few different features, like a decocking lever. Still the basic setup was the same, and the 9mm clips were much easier to load. The biggest difference on the SIG was that the first shot was a double action shot, which really jacked up the trigger pull. (If I understand it right, single action means the trigger releases the hammer; it has to be pulled back (cocked) another way. Double action means the trigger cocks and releases the hammer. The Glock we fired earlier had what they call safe action. The hammer is cocked when you work the slide to chamber a round.) After the first shot, the hammer is cocked by the action of the slide and the trigger pull is single action at around 4 pounds. I really didn't like the difference between pulls, but once I adjusted to it, I did OK with the SIG.

We went through 2 boxes of ammo, with Uncle letting me do the lion's share of shooting. Before we left the range, we had to clean up all the casings by sweeping them past the line, where the store would collect them for reloading later. After leaving the range, we went to the washroom to wash our hands to get rid of the lead residue, important if you don't want to wind up like the Roman Emperors.

Range time, ammo, targets and orientation came up to just over $50, which may or may not be expensive; I have no basis for comparison, but seemed reasonable to me.

Holding and shooting the gun felt differently than I expected. I searched myself for feelings of power, or invulnerability, and was happy to find instead feelings of responsibility. The gun in my hand didn't make me feel strong or invincible, but cautious and careful. Every second that it was in my hands I was aware that I held a powerful tool. A gun is a tool like fire is a tool, and just like fire, it can turn on you. Properly controlled, both serve vital purposes, but if you fail to control either, they can destroy everything.

Anyway, I plan on doing some more research, and trying several more guns before making my first purchase. Of the two I've shot so far, I think I liked the Glock a little bit better.

Posted by Rich