Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Family That Slays Together Stays Together

Don't worry, we weren't going to slay anything except paper. That's what the Range Officer quipped when the four of us showed up at the shooting range last weekend. My son, a licensed gun owner, wanted his family to experience what it was like to shoot a rifle. He owns three guns: A Norinco JW25A 22, an SKS semi automatic, and a Mosin Nagant Model 1891.

As a writer, I figured it was important to learn how to shoot a gun, so that if I ever wrote about it, I'd know how it feels.

Off we went, on a two-hour drive to a facility in the Niagara region, on the coldest, wettest day of late summer. As we moved south, the skies lowered and the rain increased. By the time we got there, it was a regular Winnie The Pooh Blustery Day.

I was dressed for the weather, but the rest of the family wasn't. Still, they wanted to power through and get on with it after such a long trip.

Eye and ear protection was mandatory. After we provided ID and paid up, we were given identification tags, ear plugs and protective eye wear. Good thing, because when we approached our area, other patrons were already at work, shooting at their targets. I nearly jumped out of my skin every time I heard an explosion.

Don't I look badass?

I wore rubber paddock boots, so I slogged through the mud and helped my son affix our paper targets with a staple gun to the corrugated plastic backings 50 yards away. Large earth hills loomed behind the targets to absorb any bullets that went through the cardboard or missed the targets.

The shooting area was covered, so the rain was kept off us, if not the wind. The Range Officer offered my daughter one of his camo jackets, and she huddled into it between turns.

We took turns, learning how to load the guns as the Range Officer looked on and gave advice as needed. My son was a good teacher, showing us how to handle the equipment safely. We started with the easiest model, the Norinco JW25A .22, a copy of a WWII training rifle. Since the cartridge tended to bend the bullets, we fed them into the chamber one at a time and ejected the casing after each shot.

The trigger of the .22 was feather light. I remembered to squeeze, not pull. The sound it gave was a loud pop. I could see the target, but unfortunately my 56 year old eyes couldn't clearly line up the sights on the gun. I did the best I could, under the circumstances. My daughter watched the targets through a spotting scope to tell me if I at least hit my paper, and I adjusted accordingly. I managed to get the outer part of the center circle a couple of times.

The picture below is my daughter trying the .22.

The SKS semi automatic could technically hold ten bullets about 2.5 inches long, but according to Canadian law, it was equipped to take only five. I held the butt of the stock firmly into the meat of my shoulder while pushing my cheek into the side of the gun. It was a good thing, otherwise it could have jumped out of my hands. 

The explosion was much louder than the .22, making me glad I was wearing good ear plugs. The casings popped out the side with every shot. We were told to keep a second or three between shots and not to go "Pop pop pop pop pop," like they do in the movies. With each shot, a curl of smoke rose from the chamber, along with the smell of sulfur.

While my daughter tried the SKS, I looked through the scope to tell her if she'd hit the target. The holes the rounds made were three times the size of the .22 holes. Whenever a round passed through the target, a spray of mud exploded against the dirt hill behind.

Once, while my daughter was shooting and I was spotting through the scope, a casing popped upward and landed on the top of my head. Good thing I was wearing a hat, because they come out hot. (The shooting range safety rules suggest that women cover their cleavage for that very reason.)

Later, my daughter and I decided to pass on the Mosin (which was manufactured in 1939). We sat in the warm, dry car and took out our earplugs while my son and husband finished up with the bigger gun. It was just as well that I didn't try the Mosin, because my husband said it bruised his shoulder.

After a couple of hours, we were ready to return home. The paper targets were shredded by bullets, rain and wind, but I swear I hit mine at least a dozen times! I wish we'd taken pictures of the targets to prove it, but we didn't think of it until we were on our way. You'll have to trust me.

I won't promise I'll do it again, but I'm glad I had the experience.