Monday, November 27, 2006

Holly Oakley

I went shooting this weekend. First time ever. Got to handle a cowboy gun--a big Colt .45 six-shooter replica, the long-barrel model with a side-gate breach, just like I gave Trace. It's got some kick, but less than I expected, and different than I expected. The gun is balanced around the trigger, and it's long and flat--your hand is diagonally below and behind the chamber. When it discharges it kind of rocks back, and if you don't try to fight it, your whole forearm floats up with it.

My sparring partner said he was impressed at how I wasn't afraid of the kick. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive about looking like a girl, but I've been in kung fu class long enough to know that getting hit isn't the end of the world. You just absorb the blow and keep on with the task at hand. Plus, in tai chi we learn to "separate the substantial from the insubstantial," which basically means you pay attention to what parts of the body must be tightened to do work, and which parts have to be soft to act as shock absorption. I figured out real fast that you have to tense the wrist and hand, to hold the gun, while the index finger is soft to pull the trigger and the elbow is loose to allow for the kick. If you try to take the kick at the hand, you'll get hurt.

Besides, you only have to aim long enough to pull the trigger. Once the explosion is gone, so is the bullet, and the kick doesn't matter to your aim.

I spent an hour or so working up to the Colt. First I shot a little .22 rifle with a scope, which was so smooth and effortless it was like throwing darts--only more accurate, since I can't throw darts to save my life. Then I progressed to a .22 revolver, which was harder to aim but got me familiar with the grip and action. Then they gave me something with a larger caliber: a James Bond gun, the Walther PPK 9-millimeter. It was very cool and sleek-looking, and I was pretty keen on it until I fired it. It's a small gun, and it felt good in my hand, but the slide-action made it jerk a lot. There's no mass to hold it down, and that explosion packs quite a punch. It shoves itself back into your hand. All the recoil seemed to bear right on the web of my thumb and forefinger. I shot through several magazines but never really settled to it. Sure looks sexy, though.

Then the Colt. My arm was softened up by this time, but after the Walther my nerves were a bit rattled. The range-master arranged me in a slightly forward stance, and I remembered my tai chi and rounded my shoulders across the back. Two hand grip: right around the grip and left palm cupping underneath. The gun was designed for larger hands than mine and I had to stretch to pull the hammer back, but it was no difficulty to cock it with my thumb.

I had figured out how to sight with one eye by this time. The left wasn't quite closed, it was just unneccessary; I wasn't focusing with it. The barrel was long and shiny, and I could look right down it to the red dot in the center of the target. The angle of the grip makes it as if you really are just pointing your finger, much more so than with the modern Walther. I set my teeth, felt for the ground with my toes, and pulled the trigger.

Boom! Crack! Ping! Nothing else sounds like a gunshot, especially out-of-doors. I had taken my earplugs out to really get the experience. The noise is so loud and percussive that it rings--you can feel the prick of your eardrums. My forearm seemed to rock back and I let it float down again. You can't really see where the bullet goes, in that moment when you pull the trigger; the assault to your senses is too disruptive. But there was a hole in the paper: had it been there before?

Sight down the barrel again, nice and slow. There's a tension on the trigger, an easy pull and then a point where you feel the spring. It takes only the tiniest curl of muscle to pull it past that point. Boom! Another hole in the paper. My back teeth are vibrating. I put my earplugs back in. The SP tells me that the range-master's mouth fell open at that point. Cock the hammer back, try to think forward at the paper. Boom! The kickback isn't a recoil, like the Walther, it's a torque around the chamber. I can't stop it, so I let my wrist go with it. Boom! Boom! A spray of wood pulp goes up behind the target. I am definitely hitting something. Boom!

Click. I'm out of ammo. I'd forgotten to count. I thumb the chamber and the barrel, gingerly at first, but they are only warm, not hot. The clean silver of the gun has darkened, smokily, around the chamber.

Everybody in the world, I think, has certain delusions about their own prowess. Some commedian said we all believe we're above-average drivers. Everyone I know seems to think they are above-average marksmen, as well. Maybe it's just the men I know.

"Did I hit anything?" I asked, semi-jokingly.

"Hell, yeah, you hit it!" the range master said. "That was outstanding!"

I won't claim I dead-eyed it. But all six shots hit the paper--one of those tabloid-sized targets--at fifty feet. Four were in the black. One was an inch from the bullseye.

"Did the SP tell you I'd never fired a handgun before?" I said to the range master as he signed and dated my paper target.

"Yeah... I'd say you have a gift." He grinned at me.

I sighed theatrically. "I suppose now I'll have to do something responsible with it."

"You may be obligated," he agreed.


Anonymous said...

I am pleased by three things: first, that you enjoyed yourself; second, that you did well; and third, that you've done a bangup job reporting the event. This entry is both detailed and insightful.

It has been years since I have discharged a firearm. I recall that the El Cheapo brands of .22 pistol would fling lead all over creation. I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from the inside with one. Put a well-machined weapon in my hand, and I could do well enough to please myself.

I never went into competition shooting; too afraid to be shown up as a crosseyed screw up. Also, competition cost big bucks, the likes of which I did not have.

I had a whole lot of fun, though.

Holly said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

The trip was fun, and highly educational.

Now I'm wondering if cowboys cleaned their guns at all. I know they didn't curry their horses.

Anonymous said...

In the days before smokeless powder, shooters cleaned their weapons regularly. Nothing like black powder for plugging up and corroding the bore.
The fur traders didn't instruct the Indians in gun maintenance. They desired that they need new weaponry when the next trading session came about.