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.