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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Strong hand, weak hand

Sunday, I went to the indoor range at 8:30 a.m., and there were about 18 others there, mostly guys, about eight women. Only one other woman was there alone. We were offered cookies and coffee, and shown into the classroom, where we each had a packet waiting for us with the NRA book on home defense, some paperwork, and a few flyers. We each brought, or bought, hearing protection, eye protection, one hundred jacketed plinking rounds in our caliber of choice, and one unloaded handgun, or rented one.

Our teacher was an ex-Marine who has worked a couple of decades in security, and, sensing an opportunity as CCW permitting became popular, moved into instructing. He teaches at the community college as well as at the range. His style is firm but accessible, and I found I was very comfortable with him. Actually, he's cute, in a kind of Rottweiler way.

We had three hours of instruction and demonstration, with pink plastic bullets and assorted exhibits, including wheel guns, autoloaders, shotguns, exploded shell casings and barrels, all highlighted with the usual cautionary and exhortatory NRA anecdotes. We were a somber lot, which he remarked upon several times -- perhaps the business at Virginia Tech had tempered our attitudes toward what we were doing.

After a lunch break, everyone moved to the range. It has eleven benches, each protected from the others by a bulletproof wall covered with carpeting, in which there is a light switch for one directional lamp and a dpst switch for running out targets and bringing them back.

We formed teams of two, and I paired with the other single woman, who undertook to translate the shouted commands to my wretched hearing and keep me out of trouble. She went first. We had the smallest bores in the room. Her weapon was a borrowed bull-barrelled .22 LR Ruger autoloader, with which she could not possibly avoid being accurate, even though this was a new hobby for her (she did get the warnings about stopping power, working up to a heavier caliber, etc.). Mine was a blued 4" barrel Taurus Model 941 .22 Magnum (or WMR), with an eight round cylinder. One of the other women, who was there with her husband, had a Model 36 Smith and Wesson .38 special snubbie; everyone else was carrying an autoloader in 9 millimeter, .40, .41, or .45.

We fired 25 rounds, in batches of five, at each of four combat silhouette targets. The first was at 25 feet, both hands, isosceles-triangle stance, sing and double action. The second was also at 25 feet, strong hand/weak hand, double action. The third we shot at 15 feet, torso-head-torso, and the fourth was 25 feet, fire-at-will-after-the-command.

I was impressed with the difficulties all the cannons, including the snubbie, were having with recoil and target re-acquisition. Large, heavy men were throwing metal all over the range, not badly enough not to qualify, but badly enough that excuses were being muttered left and right. The snubbie lady had trouble hanging on to her gun; from the sound of it her ammunition was +P, or what we used to call "hot loads" -- not the best combination for a qualifying class.

Perhaps because we had the smallest calibers, my range partner and I had the best scores. About two-thirds of my shots were in the ten-ring, and a third in the nine-ring. I had very few 8s or 7s. One of the head shots was a clear miss, however, and it was a revelation to me, because the instruction had prepared me to notice how this might happen.

A revolver of the type I was using has about a twelve to fourteen pound double-action squeeze, for added safety, I'm told. Whereas the single-action squeeze is a smooth-as-silk two to three pounds. In an effort to get my last shot well placed, I had switched from double action to single action in mid-thought, as it were, with the result that I was applying too much strength to my trigger finger due to recent muscle memory. The revolver fired before I was anywhere near on target, surprising me.

Our teacher had talked about this, and it happened just as he described. It takes practice to get to know the muscles in one's hands; a good eye, which I've had all my life, is not enough.

After we received our certificates of instruction, I went to the front counter to join the range club and sign up for the second-level skills class, to be held in July. I know enough about baking not to pull the loaf out of the oven in half an hour and call it done, y'see.

I'd just spent eight hours with a group of strangers who became practically my friends (through shared stress, perhaps), and was able to participate without a hitch, though most of them drove SUVs and such, with "cold dead fingers" or "only outlaws will have," or Bushie-friendly, bumper stickers. No one seemed to "see through" me to my origins, or if they did, they remained polite and friendly to the end. I went home elated. No, ecstatic. I can do this. I fit in everywhere.

An interesting footnote: our instructor mentioned to us early on that they had free gun-locking cables for us (a county program), and to ask about those during one of the breaks. Late in the day I remembered this, and did ask, and was shown a box full next to the cookies and coffee. I selected mine and took it back to the classroom, held it up in the air and described where they could be found.

Every woman in the room got up and went to fetch a couple of them.

Not a guy stirred.

Now, what is that?

risa b


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