No Knives At This Gunfight
October 23, 2011 § 2 Comments
The report was much louder than I’d anticipated, even with my earplugs secure. I watched a flame flash from the muzzle when the gun fired. Acrid smoke was already rolling through the air; I could taste it briefly on my tongue, a sharp, unfamiliar bite. Six rounds drilled into the small paper target and then Jason ejected the clip and turned to me. “You ready?”
Was I? I grinned. I was absolutely ready.
Barely past 10 AM on a chilly autumn Saturday and I was standing at the shooting range out by Ricketts Glen, taking a firm grip on a Colt 45 and raising it to eye level. I braced my feet and sighted the target. No turning back now. I flipped the safety, took a huge gulp of freezing October air, and fired a gun for the first time in my life. The recoil surprised me. This thing kicked! I supposed that, to normal people with muscle, it didn’t seem so bad. But I’m skinny, with no biceps to speak of. I looked back over my shoulder and flashed a grin at Kris and Jason. Then I turned back to the target and emptied the next five rounds. I think I hit it twice. It was harder than I thought. But the guys told me I was doing fine. I hoped I was. They’d taken me with them to the range out of the goodness of their hearts and probably no small desire to see how a 100-pounds-soaking-wet girl could fire a rifle. After all, I’m at the office in stilettos and a pencil skirt most days. But this was different. I tugged my puffy jacket on over my Penn State hoodie and tucked my hands into my pockets. It was cold out here in the wood.
A flock of geese honked far overhead as the guys set up their rifles. Jason had his AR 15 and Kris, an AK 47. The ammunition spilled onto the table, a gleaming pile of brass that briefly reminded me of a pirate’s treasure. I picked up one of the bullets and studied it. An intimidating treasure, for certain. I shuddered at the thought of that pointed nose arrowing its way into flesh. Jason picked up one of his clips and showed me how to load. His hands were quick and precise and I studied intently, trying to memorize everything. Kris stood a few feet away from us and brought the AK to his shoulder. He chambered the round and squeezed off three shots. The cases popped out and flew a few feet away. It startled me and I had to resist the urge to duck. “Yeah, those fly far,” Kris laughed at me and then took a step back as Jason lifted the AR 15. This rifle wasn’t quite as loud and I was almost hopping in my excitement to try it. I watched holes appear in the targets and wondered if I’d even be able to hold it steady.
When I got my turn, though, the solid weight of the AR 15 felt reassuring in my hands, round and hard. I sat down at the table, steadying my grip and flicking the button to chamber the round. I sighted, paused for a split second, and then smoothly pulled the trigger. The rifle boomed and I saw a puff of dirt rising behind the target. Too high. I tried to control my broad smile and sighted again, fired.
Over the next two hours, the feel of the clip rattling into place, the flick of the safety, the boom of the gun became the limits of my world. I loaded, fired three times, loaded again. My hands and feet were freezing but I didn’t want to stop. Every time I fired that rifle, I wanted to see marks on the paper. When I did, I was ecstatic. I liked the rifles more than the handguns. It was easier for me to shoot with the solid brace of the table under my elbow. I guess I should have thought about hitting the gym first. Kris showed me how to use the AK 47, notching the clip in just right, pulling the lever back to chamber the round. I liked the sounds. The wind went sighing in the pines around us, but it was a forgotten whisper compared to the rachet of the AK’s rounds, the clatter of the shells as they hit the gravel at our feet. Occasionally one of us would hit the top of the target stand and wood pieces would explode into the air. I preferred the AR 15, finding that it was a lot lighter than the other rifle.
We paused eventually and made our way through the muddy field to staple new paper targets over the bullet-riddled old ones. “You don’t have time to think about any of your troubles when you’ve got an AK in your hands,” Kris mused. I agreed. That was it, exactly. I liked this feeling, nothing but concentration and focus. Sight down the barrel, squeeze the trigger nice and smooth with the pad of my finger, feel the bounce-back off my shoulder. Hands and mind fully occupied in the simple task. Cold forest around me, white target the only thing in the world ahead of me. Earplugs muffled the sound of voices and guns. I began to crave a cup of coffee. And I had to pee but there was no way I was telling the guys that. They’d probably suggest the trees. I stood back to watch them shoot, bounced on my toes a little to keep warm. They didn’t need the table to balance. Swing the gun up to the shoulder, sight, and fire, all in one fluid motion that made me jealous. They hit the target more times than not, too. I wanted that. I laughed and told them they didn’t know what they’d gotten themselves into. Now I’d be bouncing around the office every day, clamoring to come back out to the range. I imagined shooting across a field of white snow, trying to sight through the sun glare and feeling the winter wind at my back. Then I wondered if you could even make it down to this backwoods range in the wintertime. Something told me the plows didn’t have this place high on their list of roads.
When I realized we’d been shooting for almost three hours, I couldn’t believe it. This was the most enjoyable Saturday morning I’d had in ages. Way better than sleeping in until noon and then cleaning the rat cage. The guys allowed me the honor of emptying the last few AR 15 clips into the targets. As we sauntered back down to the parking lot, carrying cases and pulling the buds out of our ears, I was grinning like a kid in the Wellsboro Penny Candy store. My fingers were icy stiff and I had tears in my eyes from the wind, but I didn’t want to leave. For a few hours, there’d been nothing but me, a target, and a gun. I liked that.