A Beginner's Day at the Gun Range

Sarah, master markswoman, shooting small
bore from an AR-15 assault rifle.
Guns are loud, intimidating, dangerous weapons used to kill. They're to be feared and avoided. At least, that's how I felt about guns prior to this weekend. When I'd think about guns, my mind wandered to news reports of drive-by shootings, scenes of war torn countries, and fallen animals plucked from the forest for sport.

Dramatic, right? Of course, my opinion of firearms likely illicits eye-rolls from folks who've spent time hunting, use guns as part of their jobs, or didn't grow up in a liberal town in upstate New York. This past weekend, I got to see firearms in a way I'd never seen them before - as powerful tools requiring complete concentration, an incredible amount of knowledge, and serious skill to operate effectively.

I had the chance to shoot long guns at the Delaware County Field and Stream Association with TerraMar Adventures and some incredible instructors It was my first trip to a range and the second time I'd ever picked up a gun in my life. Along the way, I learned a thing or two about how to shoot effectively and have fun doing it.

As with most new activities, it's helpful to go with people who know what they're doing, preferably people who are excellent teachers passionate about their craft. Our instructors, Alan and Katarzyna were patient, helpful, and knowledgeable about everything there is to do with guns. They also happened to own every weapon we used, including a Remington 700 sniper rifle. They taught how to load and fire each weapon along with some cardinal rules of gun safety:
  • Assume every gun is loaded
  • Always point the gun in a safe direction
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire
Shooting things that fly is...hard!
We started at the small bore area of the range shooting a .22 rifle, one of the most common guns in the world, and converted AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. The objective was to hit small circular metal targets, called silhouettes, 50 yards away from a seated position. Picking up the rifle for the first time was a bit unsettling, but after the first few shots, I managed to consistently hit all five silhouettes with five rounds of ammunition. 

Shooting things that don't move from a relatively short distance? Not so bad. Shooting things that move, particularly things that fly, is really hard. Trap shooting is one form of clay pigeon shooting and was our second stop at the range. We got to test out two double barreled 12 gauge shotguns, which had more kick than the .22 rifle and the AR-15. (Translation: I've got a little bruise on the inside of my shoulder!) Our experienced instructors could consistently place two clay pigeons into the spring loaded machine and shoot them both of of the sky. I, on the other hand, didn't hit my first single pigeon until the 10th try.

Though guns are dangerous,  it takes an incredible amount of skill and patience to fire them accurately. When we arrived at the high power section of the range, we watched Al carefully unpacked his Remington 700 sniper rifle, remove the lens caps from the telescope, and load three rounds of ammunition, each as long as my pointer finger. He settled on to the bench, made a few corrections in his posture, held his breath and pulled the trigger. Evidently, breathing while pulling the trigger significantly decreases your accuracy.

Good times with big guns! (S. Feidt)
The rifle kicked hard, sending the piece of tattered rug it sat on back a few inches. Each movement was purposeful and methodical, almost calming. When it was my turn, I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed looking through the scope, lining up the crosshairs with the target 100 yards away, calming my breathing, and firing.

Aside from the important safety and how-to lessons of the day, I developed a complete sense of respect for those around me who were able to manage, care for, and accurately fire the guns we tried. I didn't expect trap shooting to be as challenging as it was, and after getting to try it, watching our instructors shoot target after target out of the air was mind blowing. Even more mind blowing was the complimentary lunch, door prize selection and free massages available as a part of the range's Ladies' Day event!

Have you been to a gun range before? Hesitated to go for any reason? Love or hate shooting guns? Leave a comment! And if you do decide to go shooting, make sure you practice safe behaviors!


    Love this post, Katie. Thanks for bringing such honesty and humility to an oft-charged topic. I'm a lot like you. Guns—just thinking about them—make me incredibly uncomfortable. One day I plan to shoot one, learn about them, and (what sounds like) you've done this past weekend.

    I think it's so important to take our fears and judgements and test them. Explore the whys of our thought process. Are they *really* true? Could *I* be wrong about my pre-conceived notions? Have my feelings changed? This goes for guns, climbing, societies and, in my mind, pretty much everything. :) 

    Glad to hear the experience went well... I'm now looking (a little) more forward to one of my own. :)
    Dan said…
    Surely this gun couldn't hurt anyone...
    Dan said…
    Oh, and it's legal to own a sniper rifle? Woah.