Archive for the ‘Marksmanship’ Category

Conversations with a Marine and a pessimist; eights shots to the zero

November 11, 2010

Today I went down to the range

Thinking my sights I would change

     In eight shots I was zero’d,

     I’m a vet, not a hero.

With benefits, well, rather strange.

I showed up at the gym an hour later this morning than I usually do and struck up a conversation with the fellow on the stationary bicycle next to mine.

We graduated high school the same year.  He loves watching his career-long project, thirty-two years of work, coming together. He’s looking forward to retiring.  He has a National Guard pension, his wife has a pension as well.  When they get to retirement age they’re planning to work because they love it.

I mentioned that I get VA benefits.  He’d served with the Marines in Viet Nam, and he wanted to know what branch of the service I’d been with.

Most people can name the five uniformed services in the Department of Defense: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.  Our nation has two other uniformed services: National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Public Health Service (PHS).  A uniformed service runs on a military model and has a uniform; I finished my time with a rank of O-6 and I never wore the uniform though it still hangs in my closet.

Contrast as the essence of meaning: though the government calls us both veterans, clearly the word means two different things when applied to us; I never carried a weapon in my five years of service.

I started owning firearms as soon as I could afford them.

Late in the afternoon I took my muzzleloader down to the range to sight it in.   Shot by shot, I poured powder down the barrel, rammed the projectile home, placed a primer under the hammer, and took careful aim.  I adjusted the sights and after eight shots I hit an inch above the bull’s eye at a hundred yards.  When I retrieved the target, all eight shots were in a four inch group, though I’d moved the point of impact two inches left and two inches high.

Projectile weapons enthusiasts in our country tend to be conservative and anti-government.  I showed off my target to another range member.  He asked me if I hunted, and I said I did.  “Yeah, you know, I don’t hunt, but the way this election went, boy, I don’t know, it’s a bunch of crooks in Washington.  You know, you get rid of one bunch of thieves and put another in.  I don’t care what you call ‘em, Democrats or Republicans or Independents, they’re all the same.”

I couldn’t disagree with him.  But I pointed out that survivalists need a botany book more than they need a gun; in the absence of government, hunters will take the animals quickly, but plants will offer a longer-lasting food supply. 

Then I said that even if the government consists of crooks and thieves, we’re better off now than we ever have been; quality and availability of goods, services and information continues to improve yearly.  A depression in 2010 beats the best of times in the ‘50’s.

He couldn’t disagree with me.  As I walked away he thanked me for putting a positive spin on his day.

You meet the nicest people around a shotgun

October 31, 2010

Found ammo is better than loot

But friends are a much bigger hoot.

     The lesson I got

     For the shotgun I brought

Improved the way that I shoot.

Men like projectile weapons.  If we didn’t have constraints like time and money, most of us would do little else besides practice.  As kids we never got our fill of shooting because our dads had limits like time and money.

Thus men of retirement age gravitate towards sporting clays courses, trap ranges, golf courses, and archery lanes. 

Today I took my shotgun to Grand Island’s Heartland Public Shooting Park. (Explanation: a shotgun cartridge contains multiple pellets.  Today, I used loads of #8 shot, about the size of poppy seeds.  Good for killing clay targets but not for much else; you can buy them in Castro’s Cuba.) 

The facility ranks as the nicest shooting park I’ve been to.  It has up-to-date equipment, well maintained paths, and great habitat.

The sporting clays shotgun course covers seventy-five acres.  A mile-long gravel path encircles it. 

I enjoy a lot of things about shooting sports, among them the camaraderie and socializing.  A stranger here, I had to set out on the course by myself. 

Still, the weather cooperated and at the first of ten stations I hit 7 of the ten electrically thrown targets.  

At the third station I found a whole box of shells.  A brand I’d never heard of, Rio, with bright blue plastic husks, the only words on the box not in Spanish were MADE IN TENNESSEE.

Ammunition constitutes the biggest cost in shooting.  Occasionally one might find a shell that another shooter has dropped; to find an entire box outranks finding five dollars. 

I resisted the temptation to shoot them all right there.  I put them in my backpack, telling myself I’d turn them in at the clubhouse when I was done, then thinking, Yeah, right.  I grinned to myself as I walked away from the station and a button buck deer crossed my path.  

I considered the irony; the deer can’t find a safer place to live than a shooting range.  People who own firearms tend to be law-abiding.  No one would risk getting kicked out of a shooting park for discharging a firearm in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

As I walked up to station #4 I saw two golf carts pulling away with five people.  Even at a walk I caught up with them at station #6.  I pulled my muffs from my ears and asked, “Who’s shooting Blue Rio’s?”

They all were.  I told them I’d picked up a box of their shells, they invited me to shoot with them.

Tim and John were teaching three adolescents.  As I got into position, we saw a rooster pheasant gliding into the thick switchgrass ahead of us.  I had just loaded my 12 gauge when one of the young adults pointed out a deer almost hidden in the tall grass, less than 50 yards in front of us, probably the same button buck I’d seen earlier.  He stared at us for a while, got bored, and browsed off into invisibility. 

I didn’t shoot very well; Tim gave me some pointers, and I smoked two flyers in a row. (When one hits a clay target with enough pellets, it breaks into a cloud of debris, like smoke.)

I had a yoyo in my backpack and I did a minute’s worth of tricks.

“You know,” Tim said, “You meet the nicest people around a shotgun.”

I love the smell of napalm in the morning: muzzleloading in Ponca State Park

September 19, 2010

You know, I said with a grunt,

Some just think it’s a stunt,

    With no scope for a sight

    And a load that is light

And a rifle that loads from the front

I went out to Ponca State Park this morning for their annual Outdoor Expo.  Because I’d been so busy in the past I hadn’t attended before, but this year when the Hawkeye Rifle and Pistol Club asked for volunteers, I couldn’t say no.  And I didn’t want to.

Back in February of 1988, my new partner at the time, John, picked up a flyer off his desk and said, “Did you see how long the muzzleloader deer season is in Iowa?  It’s almost three weeks long.”  He put down the flyer and he picked up an identically sized catalogue.  “And did you see how much muzzleloaders are at Comb’s?  They’re $99!” (Comb’s Authorized Liquidators has since changed ownership four times and to the best of my knowledge is out of business.  But they were fun while they lasted.)

For twenty dollars less I bought the kit, mail order.  One of my best stories to tell a live audience is my “take-it-apart-put-it-together” saga of Me and the Ten Failed Muzzleloader Kits.  If you ever meet me and ask for it, I’ll tell the story but it has a lot of visuals that don’t translate to the written page.  In July of that year I bought an actual front-stuffing rifle from Thompson; it served me well for fifteen years until the stock cracked under horrendous weather conditions.  The manufacturer stood behind their product when they didn’t have to, and that’s another very long story.

That summer John and I learned how to shoot and maintain our new rifles.  Over the next five years at least one of us took a crippled deer each year. 

As time passed I acquired a flint-lock, two Civil War era reproductions, modern in-line front loading weapons, and a bunch of spare parts.  I have taken deer and elk for meat. 

I naturally fit in as a volunteer at the Club’s muzzleloader booth.

We kept the loads light, about 40 grains of a black powder substitute propelling round balls with a greased linen patch.  Nobody complained about the recoil.  Several people shot very well.  Lots of folk didn’t know how to aim without a telescopic sight. 

One volunteer gatekeeper, four loaders, and four coaches kept the crowd moving.  It was a good mix of ages, ethnicities, genders and experiences.   A lot of women fired a gun for the first time. 

 At some point I found myself both loading and coaching.  After a few shots my loading went very fast. 

We took a break while three mountain man re-enactors gave a great flintlock demonstration.  One fellow got a shot off every twenty seconds.  Another man dressed correctly for 1760 used a historically accurate “trade musket” loaded with a handful of powder, leaves from the ground for a first wad, a handful of gravel as a charge, and more leaves for a top wad.  He pointed out that with flint and powder he could still have a weapon with whatever he found lying around.

Getting good with a shotgun, it’s practice just like anything else

September 15, 2010

I went to the range to shoot clays,

With the sun burning off morning’s haze

     In order to get good,

    Practice, practice I should

While I’m enjoying my leisurely days.

After I went to my Hospice meeting this morning I went shooting at the range near the airport.

I met my friend there.  We’ve been shooting clay targets several times a week since I got back.

I’ve been teaching young men and women how to hunt and shoot for more than twenty-five years.  One of my apprentices turned into my long-term hunting buddy and friend, and he’s a very good shot.

I taught him the basics when he was twelve.  He trained a Border collie to hunt when he was fourteen.  When he was sixteen he kept his grampa’s 12 gauge pump-action shotgun in the trunk of his car when he went to school (that was back in the day when such things were common and not against the law), along with a box of clay pigeons and my thrower.  He would talk one of his classmates into going out with him after school to a parcel of land his father owned, and he’d shoot half a box of shells at a time.  By the end of spring term he was a good shot.

That fall he and a friend of his made a bet about who could shoot the most birds in the season.  The friend had a much nicer-semi automatic shotgun and an actual hunting dog, a Brittany Spaniel. 

Both young men had become incredibly adept at making the shotgun do what they wanted by the time pheasant and quail season opened.  That year a blizzard on Halloween closed the schools, the roads, and my practice.  Of course I went hunting with three high schoolers.  We hunted a field four abreast, maintaining a distance of twenty yards between us.  I walked second from the left and I couldn’t see the gunner on the far right for the snow.  At one point as I walked with my shotgun at the ready I heard the cackling of cock pheasants on my left.  Two roosters broke in front of the hunter beside me, and a moment afterwards a third did the same.  He shot the first two and before they hit the ground he killed the third. 

(We ate so much pheasant that year that I have some really fine-tuned recipes.  Around here we never had enough quail to become expert cooks with them.)

Rarely does a hunter hit a double on wild birds; declaring you’ve shot a triple in some circles will bring polite skepticism and in others will get you called liar.  To have three dead birds in the air at the simultaneously ranks as a once-in-a-lifetime feat.

Both sixteen year olds have come to middle age with grace and aplomb, both still shoot much better than I.  But at last I have the time to practice frequently. 

Achieving competence demands practice, having innate talent shortens the learning curve.  For many activities, whether shooting a shotgun or speaking Spanish, training at an early age brings a level of expertise not possible in later life.

Most regulars at the shooting range are retirees, and most of the best shots practice because as young hunters they never had the chance to shoot a half-box of shells a day, five days a week, and get really good.

I’m a family practitioner in Sioux City, Iowa.  While my one-year non-compete clause ticks off, I’m having adventures and working when I want.  To make a comment on a post, click on the title.