Saturday, February 23, 2013

A day at the range

Today was disconcerting. I’m used to being one of the senior recreational shooters in my group. I spend hours reading and preparing. I go to the range a lot. Guns are a big part of my life. Most of my friends like guns in an abstract way. I like guns specifically. They’re one of my fortes. I’m one of two designated gun-guys in our circle of friends. I knew all that intellectually. The reality didn’t sink in until today though.

A friend and her boyfriend accompanied my wife and me to the range. I was toting my newly cleaned 1911 and my brand-spanking-new marlin 1895 45-70. I fell into my usual pattern, chatting with the staff and precisely setting up our station. Every range has a different feel. Some of the trendy spots make bank on newbies by overcharging for the privilege of shooting a gun under the watchful eye of a range nanny. Continental lets newbies shoot, but it’s really there for recreational shooters like me. They don’t suffer fools. They’ll help a new shooter along, but they don’t like thrill-blasters. If you’ve spent a lot of time at a public range you know who I’m talking about. The people who know roughly how the guns work but not the 4 rules. The people who want to rapid fire everything and check the target after. The people who laugh manfully as they put everyone around them at risk for the sake of their egos. (Yes, it’s a thing with me.) The range people know I do everything but hold the gun for the people I don’t trust implicitly. I run through the rules. I make sure everyone knows exactly how the gun works. I load the magazines myself until I’m 100% sure they know how to do it right every time. I was one of those clueless newbies, afraid of doing something stupid, not so long ago. So when I’m on the range I guess I take charge. I think it makes less confident people feel better to know that someone who knows what to do is around. It makes me feel better to know that they’ve been shown how to do things right. That’s one of the reasons I love Continental. The people aren’t always perfectly polite or friendly. But they’re shooters all. You go there and you’re going to find people who like shooting. They take it seriously. It’s fun, serious fun. You have to earn their respect. It’s my kind of place.

We got to the station and set up with my 1911 and our friend’s Ruger MKII .22. I’m very familiar with the Ruger. I owned a MKI for a while and rang the classic automatic out. But when it comes to the 1911 I’m still in the first stages of infatuation. I’ve spent a lot of time and money upgrading this goldcup. It runs like a Swiss watch. Classic, elegant, beautiful, those words apply to most 1911s. Mine’s got custom grips, custom controls, and an upgraded recoil system. It doesn’t just go bang; it does it with understated perfection. I don’t care if it’s puppy love, emptying a 50 round box with wife and friends through this classic John Browning design is one of life’s great pleasures.

While we were switching out guns, a woman to my left asked if I worked there. I don’t know what the employees wear, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a black polo, slacks, and combat boots. Even so, I’m not sure I’d turn to the guy with a white cane for help. Then again who knows? I had just spent thirty minutes walking three other people through range practices, pistol basics, and 1911 operation. I’m told my voice carries, so maybe I acted the part. Anyway, I told her that I wasn’t, but if she needed help I’d be happy to assist. It turned out she wasn’t sure how to load her magazine. I showed her that she had loaded the 9mm rounds backwards and explained how to orient the ammunition with the mechanism. After I determined that she’d never fired the gun before, I suggested that she get the range master. It’s one thing to clear up a fellow shooter’s misconceptions. It’s another to handle a complete newbie when I’m on someone else’s premises. I’m not even sure how she made it on the line. Our friends told me later that her boyfriend stood back while we were talking. They must have over-stated their level of experience. The range master took care of them thank god. I love helping new shooters, but it’s different when it’s someone else’s insurance footing the bill. I would have loved to help them out, but my friends weren’t exactly experienced shooters either. I needed to keep my focus on my station, and I couldn’t do that and give the pair the attention they deserved.

After that I brought out the 45-70. The Marlin is a classic lever-gun. It isn’t as smooth as my old model 39, but it’s a sweet handling brute. The 1895 isn’t just a tool, it’s also a wonderful machine steeped in history. Half way through the box, one of the range employees walked by and chatted about my choice of ammunition. Both of us are 45-70 fans. He congratulated me on finally joining the big-bore club as I finished off the box.

We packed up our guns and cleared the station. Range shooting is a lot like zero impact camping. The polite thing is to leave the station in exactly if not better condition than you found it. You re-hang the cardboard backing on the clips. You make sure to rake your spent brass onto the line. You pack up your gear. You respect the personal space of those around you. It’s part of the unspoken code of the shootist.

While paying for our time, I exchanged friendly barbs with another one of the staff. We joked about my target and the absence of my usual range partner. It’s exactly this kind of camaraderie that keeps me coming back year after year.

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