Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Target Practice

The clay pigeons of the world are mostly safe.

Last night I made my first trip to the shooting range. The range, located north of Seattle, looked as though it had been hanging on in this once-rural neighborhood for years only to have ticky-tacky suburban sprawl grow up around it like unchecked blackberry brambles. We parked in a gravel lot and piled into the clubhouse through an unmarked door carrying all our stuff. I would be borrowing John's 12-gauge while he put his newer 20-gauge to the test.

The place had a smell I recognized right away: coffee, stale cigarette smoke, oil, linoleum. The smell of men doing manly stuff. Twenty or so of these men, mostly older, milled around, many of them wearing their eye protection, ear muffs around their necks. A single woman with fashionably yellow-tinted glasses and long black hair held her own in this company. I would learn soon enough she was a pretty good shot, too.

It felt weird walking around indoors with this big shotgun but everyone had guns, of course. Guns stood in the rack, guns accompanied their owners, guns were in varying states of being put together or taken apart around the clubhouse. In one corner a guy cleaned his gun while several old-timers looked on. Must have been a nice gun. In fact, there were lots of nice guns. Competition trap-shooting guns and the like. Guns that fetched a few thousand dollars apiece.

On the wall were a few reminders of where we were: The text from Article 2 of the Bill of Rights, for instance, and something about the NRA making this all possible. A full kitchen occupied one corner and it looked as though a birthday party had just finished up, with leftover plates of cake for whoever wanted some.

We went into the next room where a man in his sixties with a white mustache worked the counter. For $13 he set me up with a box of shells and a slot in the next group of five. The call to arms came sooner than expected. "Next five, 16 yards, range one." Yikes, we were still putting together the guns—or at least John was. I haven't learned that part yet. We paraded out, guns in hand, and at that moment I couldn't be sure I even knew how to load the thing. We didn't do this sort of stuff during Hunters Ed class!

We took our positions and I fumbled with my first shell, nearly putting it in the chamber backward in my haste. A kid in an orange vest tapped my shoulder: "No loading before your turn." Miraculously I was able to pop the shell back out. Then it was my turn. "Pull," I said, trying not to sound too tentative. Click. The trigger didn't budge. I watched an orange Frisbee fly out to freedom. Ugh, my safety. One more time: "Pull." This pigeon escaped too. On my third try I winged one. It didn't explode into smithereens, but clearly a few pieces of the pigeon splintered off and it dropped to the ground. I ejected my smoking shell triumphantly in my best impression of Dirty Harry. I could definitely get used to this.

That first round would be my best. Eight for 25. My next round I shot seven for 25, and I won't even tell you how round three went. "You might have been over-thinking it," John said later. My question: How does one improve at something that requires a concentrated effort to not think about it? Anyway, the fake pigeons and the real grouse are surely safe. For now.


Anonymous said...

At what point do you attempt to tally up the projected cost of your first grouse? In my case I decided it was a much better deal to find a hunter who liked mushrooms and work a swap.

Josh said...

Don't. Ever. Tally.


You'll just cry.

This is a wonderful post.

As for the not-thinking part, you seem worldly enough to consider koans.

Of course, just as you shouldn't tally (never!), you also shouldn't take shooting advice from me.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Hey, you gotta start somewhere. Practice makes perfect.

Sherry said...

When you get to a point where you are truly comfortable with the gun, you will start to develop a flow to the aiming and shooting. That is when you will stop over thinking. You just need some time and practice. Great post!

Sinful Southern Sweets said...

My clay pigeons would be safe too! LOL!But it does sound like fun.

Martha Silano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Langdon Cook said...

Anonymous - Like Josh says, this is a Tally-Free Zone! Mushroom swaps are cool too...

Josh - I plan to develop my zen muscles and trigger-pulling muscles simultaneously.

Nate - Practice also costs $13 a round, but you're right.

Sherry - Definitely looking for the flow. It's like finding morels.

Sinful - I'll have my revenge on those haughty clay pigeons one of these days.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Welcome to the world of shotgunning! My first advice: Get your own gun, and get it fitted to you. You will immediately go from 8 of 25 to something like 12-15 -- with no extra practice.

It makes a huge difference because your eye is the rear sight in a shotgun. In a rifle, you line up both sights, but with a shotgun, everything must fit correctly for your back sight (your eye) to line up properly in that split-second before you pull the trigger.

But even before that, make sure you are using a right-handed shotgun (if you are right-handed) that alone will make a huge difference.

Oh yeah, and your first grouse will cost something like $2,500. But they get cheaper after that...



Renai said...

I haven't shot a real gun since I was about 13 (how's that for a statement!?) and I remember being SO nervous about shooting in front of other people. When it was just me and my dad shooting at grouse in the woods I calmed down a lot. Although I never did get one!

Anonymous said...

as far as shotguns go, a nice cheap remington 870 is a great starter and good workhorse, going out and buying yourself a citori wont make you a shooter--but I think you'll want to get yourself a good .22 like a ruger 10/22...its a lot nicer to pop grouse heads than pick shot out of a breast.

klahmers said...

Enjoyable again. Don't tally. In my opinion, the merits of being a hunter-gatherer aren't entirely monetary. Your practice is to be commended and will likely lead to more efficient specimen collection in the field. Besides shooting trap and skeet is fun much like other outdoor sports like golf are fun. But in this activity you get to develop a skill that you can put to use. However, as a mushroom loving hunter, I wish I could find a swapper.
Thanks for the post.

homelizard said...

I always shoot much worse on ranges than in real life and I spent a lot of time on ranges cuz I was in the military for almost a decade. The rules, pressures of people in orange suites telling you what to do or to refrain from doing, and on occasion the timed intervals in which you are allowed to shoot all push me off balance. Out in the middle of nowhere on my own I usually do rather well on a range I frequently miss the target or clay pigeon entirely.

Best of luck

Bobby Nations said...


There are ways to improve your aim that don't cost $13 per session. Use BB guns. I'm not kidding. The military used them for many, many years to teach instinct shooting very successfully. IIRC, they used BB guns during WWII to train soldiers on aerial gunnery as well. They work because you can see the BB flying in the air, so you get instant feedback every time you pull the trigger.

Tom Gaylord of Shotgun News wrote some interesting posts on this program for the Pyramyd Air blog site.

There's also a nice little online course to show you the fundamentals, most of which can be done indoors. This course will show you fundamentals of mounting the gun, gripping the gun, pulling the trigger, proper sight picture, and follow-through that are all prerequisites for hitting what you aim at with any weapon you eventually use for hunting.

The best part is that you can use any adult sized BB gun that are normally found at regular sporting goods stores to teach yourself these fundamentals. For that matter, airsoft guns will work as well. Or, better yet, find a beater one in a yard sale for $5 and go to town :-) For targets, start with softball sized foam balls that you find in the kids aisle and work your way down to golf balls and then paint balls. Or, grab a case of clay pigeons and work your way down to the Daisy clay disks then to Necco wafers and even aspirins as your aim improves.

Do all of this, and your next round of shotgunning will be a lot more rewarding than 8/25. You'll know how to shoot at that point, and can focus on learning to handle the noise and recoil of a shotgun.

Best of luck.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Hah, I remember the nervousness of my first time on the Shotgun range. There's a whole unknown world of etiquette, and it's very intimidating your first few times! I think I was 12 or 13 and the 12-gauge was a bit much for me to handle comfortably. Eventually I switched to a 20 and things improved.

It just takes practice to get better, that's all. If you have to think 'aim, aim, aim, pull trigger!' you are going to miss. I've shot a bow for many years and it's the same deal. It really is a Zen thing, your mind is just in the way. Once the motions become second nature you'll do it right without thinking.

Also: great advice there @Bobby Nations. Think of it this way: one box of shotgun shells: $20. 5000 or more BB's: under $10.

sailchandler said...

I didn't read through your comments but as far as I'm's probably better that the clay pigeons are safe...I mean, really...I heard they don't taste that good...kinda dough-y if you don't cook them right...

Langdon Cook said...

Hank - The gun was a Remmington 870, which I'm told is a classic all-around 12-gauge. But you're right: I should go test a bunch and see what feels best. Really, what I need is someone standing behind me telling me whether I undershot, overshot, or shot to the right or left. Right now I'm flying blind.

Renai - Shooting in front of lots of experienced gunners was definitely nerve-racking. I'll be more comfortable next time.

Anonymous - Agreed on the .22. The rifle range is next!

Klahmers - Couldn't agree more. My foraging isn't about cutting costs either. If anything, I end up spending more when I have tasty wild ingredients for the table.

Homelizard - Good to hear. I can see the draw of the range and the sport of shooting, but ultimately I want to be out in the high lonesome.

Intelliquest - Thanks. This is just the beginning...

Bobby Nations - Good point. I wonder if my folks still have my ol' Crossman 760 in the attic... and thanks for the links!

Russell - I see it as sort of a luxury--not a regular gig but something worthwhile every so often. I'm definitely going to be looking at more economical ways to improve my shooting.

Hart said...

Bird hunting seems to be one of the last "classy" ways to enjoy the sport of hunting without jacked up rigs and beer.
I enjoy upland bird hunting along the Deschutes river (OR). The hiking, peace, and beautiful views make it rewarding even if I come home empty handed.
I hope that you too, will enjoy the spirit of the hunt as much as many of us do.

PS- enjoying the book.