Saturday, April 25, 2015


I'm a red blooded American man.  I like meat and guns, and I don't see a need to ever apologize for either of those.

I don't enjoy hunting.  I've tried it a few times.  To me, it's like golf - an excuse to take a walk while holding heavy, expensive tools.  Except you don't generally try to golf in 35 degree rain, while keeping perfectly still, waiting to see if a ball will roll by sometime today.  I much prefer poking holes in paper on a nice day.  And at least hunting other armed men is actually sporting, not to mention exciting and terrifying.  Why yes, I have survived three separate wars.  Never actually shot anybody though.

I spent over 13 years in the Army.  I like shooting rifles and pistols.  I've carried both to war.  I'm very good with a rifle, and decent with a pistol.  I've taught other soldiers, and my wife and children, how to shoot.  For most people, learning to shoot safely is not difficult.  Safely is different from well.  Shooting is a skill that some people are naturally good at, some people are naturally bad at, and most people sort of muddle by in the middle.  Like all things, the bell curve applies.

Favorite shooting anecdotes - So there I was, in West Berlin (yes, I'm that old), qualifying with my M16A1 rifle on the 300 meter pop-up range.  In a heavy fog.  Neither rain, nor sleet, nor glom of nit... (apologies to Sir Pterry) shall keep us from our appointed range time, which is scheduled months in advanced.  So, anyway, we're all out there in the fog, trying to find the targets, so we can shoot at them.  Unusually for the Army, they gave us a practice round before we had to shoot for score.  I noticed that the fog, although thicker than usual for Berlin, wasn't all that deep.  When the targets popped up and fell back down, there was a grief flash of light as they caught the morning sun.  So, all I had to do was see the flashes, remember where they were, and shoot at the targets I couldn't actually see.  Easy enough.  I shot a perfect score that day, hitting all 40 targets, at ranges of 50 to 300 meters.  (They show up for between 3 seconds at 50 meters, and 7 seconds at 300 meters.)  Most of the other people passed with very low scores (you only needed to hit 23 to pass), but I was the only perfect score.  I'm justifiably proud of that day.

So there I was, on the range at the 7th army NCO academy in West Germany.  One of the Range Safeties (observers) is standing behind me, watching the activity.  I did my usual job of knocking down every target I saw - but I only counted 39 targets, instead of 40.  When cease fire is declared, I empty my rifle and sure enough, there's a round left over.  I talk to the Safety about the lack of a target, and he agreed with me.  He only saw 39 targets come up.  So I get to shoot at an extra target.  (This is called alibi fire in the Army.  Normally, it's a crutch used by people who shoot too slowly to have engaged the targets in the normal fashion.)  I load my single round, and wait.  The target comes up, and I knock it down.  Then we wait for the scores to be called.  When they get to me, I hear "Lane 13 - how in the hell did you shoot a 41?"  Yes, I shot a more than perfect 41 out of 40 targets that day.  It turns out that a distant target popped up behind a closer target, and neither I nor the Safety had seen it.  Apparently, the bullet traveled through the close target, and continued on to knock down the more distant one.  Thus 41 out of 40.  Good times.

Moving on to pistols.  After I came back from my second trip to Iraq, some officer who thought he was God's gift to the Army tried to teach some of us how to "properly" shoot our pistols.  The specific holding techniques he advocated were obviously, ludicrously wrong, so I ignored them.  Anyway, the exercise he came up with was pretty good.  We would be moving with pistols holstered, at various distances from the targets.  The targets each had 4 pieces of paper stapled to them, each with a different shape in a different color.  He would call out a color or shape, and we would address the target nearest to us and engage the proper piece of paper with two shots, then safe and reholster the pistol.  I should note that we were working at ranges of up to 25 meters, shooting at 4" targets on human silhouette backings.  I laugh at police who qualify on 5 to 10 yard shooting ranges.  Anyway, I was having a grand time shooting targets.  It wasn't raining or snowing, and it wasn't dull.  Those two factors alone put the occasion head and shoulders above most military range days.  But I did notice that the instructor was looking at me funny.  I know I pissed him off by ignoring his asinine advice on how to properly hold a pistol, which involved constantly relocating your hands.  But it took me a while to figure out why he had that weird combination of anger and awe on his face.  That's when I finally noticed that I was holstering my pistol before the next guy (there were about 20 of us shooting that day) was firing his first shot.  Consistently.  I had been so focused on my work, that I wasn't paying that much attention to the other shooters, other than for safety purposes.  And yes, I was hitting the correct 4" targets with both shots.  I'm neither the fastest, nor the most accurate around.  But I'm fast enough, and accurate enough.  I still smile when I think of that day.  And I attribute my skills to the boss I had for a while, who taught me the most valuable lesson in shooting - slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

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