I grew up in New Jersey, and was taught to hate handguns. Really. Shotguns and rifles were okay if you hunted (not that I ever had the desire to hunt), but handguns? Evil. Death machines. The only reason to have one is to use it to kill someone. People get killed all the time by handguns, mostly people who found one, played with it, and shot themselves or someone else by accident. At least, that’s the lore I grew up on. But I’ve known since I moved to Virginia that it’s a very gun-friendly state, and y’know, I’m a woman alone, and my neighborhood has gone downhill considerably in the last two years. I’ve been thinking a lot about learning to shoot and buying a gun.
Which is why I spent Sunday afternoon at the Blue Ridge Arsenal in northern Virginia learning to load, shoot, and unload four different kinds of handguns. Plus a rifle.
These are the pistols I used. There’s a Ruger Single-Six and a Colt Woodsman, both .22’s, a Colt Official Police revolver (circa 1940), and an Enfield Mark 2 (.38). There was also a Stevens 15-B .22 rifle.
My teacher, Stretch, is an ex-police officer. He spent some time beforehand teaching me how each of the guns are opened, loaded, and closed. We did this, of course, without loading the weapons at Chris and Janet’s. However, I got really good at shooting empty guns at the fireplace logs to get the feel of the trigger and the gun. I was also tickled to hear Stretch compliment me on holding my finger properly off the trigger of each weapon until actually firing it. Because believe it or not, I learned that from reading military bloggers. Their posts making fun of faux soldiers, terrorists, and fauxtography taught me how to hold a weapon properly.
After Stretch was satisfied that I had a good idea of how to use the guns, we drove to the shooting range. We had to wait a while, and I looked over the various weapons and gear. I got a kick out of the pocketbooks that come complete with a holster inside for your weapon.
While we were waiting, I could hear some very loud reports from inside the shooting range. I didn’t realize it was going to be that loud, and I have to say, I was starting to get scared. I was wondering if maybe this was one of the stupidest things I’d ever decided to do. By the time it was our turn, I was pretty positive I was going to hate it. Inside the range it was even worse—we had earplugs and ear protection, but it was loud and startling and I was getting really nervous. But I figured I was there, I’d paid, I may as well at least try to shoot. Stretch started me on the rifle at three yards.
You know, it took exactly one shot to make my nerves disappear. I loaded the rifle, locked the bolt, cocked the hammer, aimed, and fired. And I hit the target. Where it counts. This was the result of my first shot:
Granted, it was only three yards, but Stretch told me he started me out close to build up my confidence before moving on to tougher targets. It totally worked. I spent the next few minutes loading, shooting, clearing out the shell casing, loading, shooting, clearing out the shell casing… it was kinda cool to see the little pieces of metal go flying out of the rifle. (I saved the shell casing from my first shot. Think I’ll drill a hole in it and add it to my keychain.) And we moved the target back to seven yards.
The rifle was the most fun to shoot. I’m thinking my first purchase is going to be a relatively inexpensive .22 rifle, especially since everyone tells me that you can buy a brick of 500 .22 rounds for about $10 at Wal-Mart. That’s a lot of hours of target shooting. Have I mentioned how much I really, really liked shooting that rifle?
I did spend much more time firing the pistols, however, and I now find myself rather fond of revolvers. Those were fun to load, fun to shoot, and fun to empty the casings out of. They were a lot harder to shoot than the other two, though.
You may notice that I shed my coat fairly quickly. That’s because I only noticed the cold about as long as I noticed the noise from the other lanes, which is to say, both went away after I started firing the rifle.
You can compare my hold and stance if you like. Damned if I can tell which gun was which in this picture. Not after two hours, anyway.
Oh, wait. That’s not a revolver. I think that’s the Colt Woodsman. I’m sure Stretch will correct me if I’m wrong.
My shooting got better as I went along, until, after about an hour, I started to tire and my groundhog started getting away. Okay, not really, but I didn’t get nearly as many shots in the bullseye area with the two revolvers as I had with the previous three guns. Here’s my favorite grouping, using the Colt Woodsman.
Stretch pointed out to me that if you take the targets we were using, and place them over a person’s chest, I pretty much destroyed my home invader at 21 feet. Now I begin to see the practical purpose behind target shooting. (All the shots in the corner were Stretch’s. He got his guy, too.) My first shot at the groundhog hit him square in the head. Wish I could say I was going for his brains, but I was aiming at the orange dot in the middle. I got that orange dot more than a few times.
I had fun. And I learned a new skill. Now that I’m back in Richmond, my plan is to find a shooting range nearby and take a course. While I was at the range in northern VA, I was absolutely struck by the thought that every single person in the lanes next to me had the capacity to kill every other person there. And so did I (albeit a little more slowly, what with all the .22 weapons we were using). I don’t think I ever paid closer attention to anything else I’ve learned in my life than I did to whatever Stretch told me. Well, except for the names and makes of the guns. While he was telling me the history, I was looking at the trigger, the hammer, the magazine, the chamber, and the other parts of the gun and making sure I understood exactly what to do with the moving parts. I made only one mistake at the range. I put an unloaded weapon on the counter in the lane pointing into the room, not at the target. I won’t make that mistake twice. It might even have been this one.
I think it is highly likely I will at least buy a rifle for target shooting. As for home protection, I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’ll make that decision after I’ve learned a heck of a lot more about handling guns. But I’ve come a long way from the Triple-L liberal that was scared to death to so much as touch a gun.
UPDATE: Linked at memeorandum.