There's a first time for everything: target shooting

19 August 2010

It's been a while since I've had a surreally nervewracking experience to make things interesting, so when the opportunity came to go target shooting at the NRA range in northern Virginia I decided to give it a go.

I found out only recently that The Wrong Hands has been handgun training for a while now (six months, I think), and she extended an invitation to Lyssa a couple of weeks back to go to the range. By all accounts, at the end of the evening Lyssa had had an excellent time, and I was extended an invitation to join them also the next time she would be in the area. Last night I managed to get home early from work, just in time to meet up with everyone at home. We headed to Minerva in Fairfax for dinner and then drove to the NRA firing range a bit farther west of there. Those aren't my usual stomping grounds so I really don't know where we were. What I do know for sure was that the range is on the bottom floor of a large-ish building and the entrance is through a belowground parking garage. I can't be any more specific than that because I really don't know (though I could probably figure it out if I put my mind to it).

I wasn't sure what to exepct going in last night. I don't particularly trust the enculturation I had growing up so I was pretty much going in blind. What I saw was a lot of institutional floor, white walls, comfortable looking chairs at either end of a hallway, and a row of locker room benches along the hallway. A flatpanel television or two were mounted on the walls showing some firearms related recordings that I really didn't pay much attention to. Walking up the counter, I showed photo ID, paid a couple of dollars, and recieved a liability waiver, four pages of safety rules and general information, and a two page test that had to be passed before I'd be allowed to take my non-member card and walk to the firing line. The test is open book; I recommend that you read through everything once and then go over the rules booklet a few times while taking the test just to be sure that all of the information sticks. It's easy to screw up with a gun and even if nothing happens there really isn't a reason to take a chance. When everything was said and done and a booth had opened up for us, I picked up loaner goggles and hearing protection from bins at the front and walked through the sound-deadening pair of doors.

All things considered, I don't have a whole lot of experience with guns of any kind, and had certainly never fired one until last night. Lyssa grew up a lot farther south than I did so she was used to people owning firearms where she lived, it was just something that you did. On the other hand, my only experience with guns was going to a sort-of urban high school in northern Pittsburgh about fifteen years ago. The handgun I got to try out last night was a Glock 19 9mm, I think a fourth generation model judging by the lack of an external safety catch. I have to say that it weighs a lot less than I was expecting, probably as much as my netbook when fully loaded. I was expecting something a lot heavier to help lessen the recoil, and a lot more in the way of recoil for that matter. It was actually more difficult to load a fifteen round magazine than it was to fire a couple of rounds in succession; it's difficult to compress the spring by the time you get to the twelfth or thirteenth bullet and neigh impossible by the last. Whomever invented the speedloader sleeve for those magazines is a genius.

What did it feel like? Imagine a firecracker going off about four feet in front of you, while at the same time you punch the wall with about a quarter of everything you've got. That's what it was like. The gun jerks up and to the right a bit but not so much that you lose control of it, or even feel it much until your elbow joints start complaining around the forty round mark. I expect that sensation goes away with consistent practice. Another thing that I found surprising was that the Glock 19 is designed to take and even require a bit of abuse. Just inserting the magazine isn't enough, you have to give it a love tap to lock it into place, release the slide, and chamber a round. A couple of times I found myself losing a bullet or two by pulling the slide back when I didn't actually need to. The act and general mindset of target shooting with a pistol seems very much the same as that involved in archery, which I did for a couple of years as a kid. Once the sight's in your eye everything else fades away - breathe, aim, slack, squeeze (or release, as appropriate). The sighting technique seems largely the same, though how you compensate when lining up a shot is sufficiently different to require practice to get down.

Something else that I found interesting was the variety of weapons in use at the NRA range. You had your semiautomatic pistols, a couple of revolvers, some shotguns (with which you have to fire slugs instead of shot), and a number of rifles the likes of which I've never seen before (mostly because I don't play video games, I'm told). The only one which really sticks in my mind was a .223 rifle of some kind that a few people were practicing with one booth over. It wasn't so much the sound it made when fired as it was the overpressure I felt. Even with a sheet of transparent lexan separating the two booths, the shockwave it emitted when fired was enough to jolt the plastic and thus generate another blast of air that felt like I'd been slapped in the face. I hadn't expected anything like that. One or two booths in the other direction someone was firing another rifle which appeared to have considerable recoil but barely made more than a clicking sound through my earmuffs. I'm rather curious about what it was because it didn't resemble the .223.

By the end of the night I was actually pretty pleased with myself. For being keyed up when I walked in there I was actually able to relax and enjoy myself. I might consider taking up recreational shooting one of these days.

I don't think I did too bad for my first time shooting, either. I think I need to aim a bit higher, though.