Although I learned to shoot on a home range on someone’s back 40, most of the shooting I have seen and experienced since then has been on gun ranges. So I was intrigued to get invited to an “Invitational Shoot” on the farmland of a friend of a friend. All we were told was to show up at 10am sharp for the safety briefing and to bring our guns and ammo.
Not knowing what to expect, I imagined a disorganized bunch of people shooting into the woods. Having to open a gate and drive (literally) through a cow pasture to get to the shooting area reinforced this sense. But when we got to the parking area, we could see a cleanly mowed field with shooting lanes clearly marked with police tape and both paper and steel targets 100 yards down range. Picnic tables served as shooting benches. Up range and to the side was a separate range for handgun shooting. There were also several picnic tables alongside a canopy with a grill and coolers of (nonalcoholic) drinks. It was an impressive layout.
First stop was a sign-in area to sign a long release. As people started arriving, we gradually grouped up for the safety briefing. NRA certified instructors served as range officers, and others who came to shoot reinforced the safety standards. Stories were shared of people being asked to leave previously for not safely handling their firearms. During the briefing I definitely thought about the danger involved in being in a situation in which people I do not know are using deadly weapons.
One interesting part of the shoot was the involvement of the gun store, Best Firearms in Mocksville. They brought along a number of their guns for anyone to try, and sold ammo as well for a pretty low cost to those who did not have their own.
Not having ever shot any “military style” rifles, my eyes were drawn to an iconic and expensive (around $2,500) FN SCAR 16S, the civilian version of the Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle (hence “SCAR”). $6 got me twenty 5.56x45mm NATO cartridges and I was off to the bench. As you can see from the picture below, the rifle was fitted with a Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights) scope used by US soldiers, with a “RMR” (ruggedized miniature reflex) sight on top of it (MSRP over $2,000). The red dot sight is supposed to be used for close up shooting with both eyes open when fast target acquisition is necessary. At 100 yards I probably should have been using the scope. No one told me that. In fact, no one told me anything. I just said I wanted to shoot the SCAR and needed ammo and was handed both.
Anyway, once I determined where to hold the red dot on the target (a 12″ steel plate), I was able to hit it every time. It was easy to shoot and fun to hit the targets — in the sense that one gets satisfaction from completing a challenge. Although it was fun — and would probably be even funner to hit it at 500 yards — it didn’t inspire me to want to do it more. I wouldn’t turn down opportunities to shoot it again, but I’m not rushing out to get my own or looking for opportunities to shoot others.
Having just shot a $5,000 rifle, the old saying “the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys” came immediately to mind. Also, “size matters.” The highlight of the morning for most people involved was the rolling out of the “.50 cal” rifle. The .50 caliber or .50 BMG (for Browning Machine Gun) cartridge was developed in the early 1900s for military machine guns and sniper rifles. Because alot of civilian gun use follows what the military is using, the “50 cal” has become increasingly popular. By way of comparison, the SCAR rifle cartridge is 5.56 mm wide by 45 mm long. The .50 is 12.7 mm by 99 mm — literally over twice as big. If you place the empty .50 cal cartridge next to a standard 9mm or .45 handgun cartridge the size difference is ridiculous.
In any event, anyone who wanted to shoot the .50 cal could do so by paying $3 for a single round. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, not knowing when it would come again. The video below shows the result. Despite its size — actually, because of its size — the felt recoil on the gun is not much more than a 12 gauge shotgun. What you do get is a lot of blow-back (not sure what the technical term is for this) — watch my hat fly in the background of the video!
I was aiming at a water filled milk jug at 100 yards, which should be an easy shot on a weapon designed to hit targets hundreds of yards away. But I had to shoot it right handed, and could not get my face on the stock and eyes on the scope well enough to get a steady aim on the target. So, at some point I just pulled the trigger when I thought I was close. A big cloud of dust short of the target showed everyone how badly I missed. But it wasn’t until we walked down range that we saw how badly I really missed. See photographic evidence below.
After the long guns were put away, we moved to the pistol range and had a range officer move us through shooting on targets at different distances from 4 to 15 yards. As you can see from the several holes off the black part of the target, my marksmanship skills have a ways to go.
There is no telling how much of this kind of shooting takes place out of the public eye. Some 30 to 40 people gathered on a private range on someone’s farm for a fun day of shooting, eating, and socializing. It is definitely an important local place where the gun culture manifests itself.