This weekend was a prime display of difference, for me. I found out almost by accident that there is a shooting range in one of the tiny outlying villages in our area, and so the wife and I and two of our close friends who also like weapons packed up in their van and went out. We had a marvelous morning at the range, plinking at targets and smiling at the variety of people displayed for our viewing pleasure.
There were, in no particular order:
- The Range Master This was the old USDA employee who was riding down his last year or so before retirement. He had a face like a mountainside, a neck so leathery you could have ridden it like a saddle, and the "20 year paunch" out front. His USDA green shirt was unbottoned half way down this ponderous slope, revealing his sweat-stained wife-beater T-shirt and more grey hair than I care to see on anything. He'd sit and glare up and down the line, bark out his two sentences "Line'scoldopenmagazines, checkyourtargets" and "Readyontheleft? Readyontheright? Line's hot" and think about the day when he could finally leave all this glory behind, creep back to his little cabin in the woods and start some serious teenage camper butchering. His one joy that day seemed to be seeing the young man who had appparently brought, the week before, a rifle that hadn't been cleaned in several years, and dogging him unmercifully until the boy's father arrived, at which time the abuse switched to the father.
- The Rednecks There were a couple of these guys down at the far end from us, resplendent in head-to-toe camo, hats to boots, who were sighting in some huge caliber deer rifles. There might have been three teeth between them, and ten working brain cells, and quite frankly I'm astounded that there wasn't a suitcase of Natural Light beer nearby. These are the guys who spent more on their rifles than on their houses, and likely don't have running water, but they sure have big game rifles to feed their families and keep the towel-head menace at bay. In case the Afghanis ever decide to invade Jena, LA that is.
- The Rich Guy. Yup, there were two of this species, too. We're at a very rural US Dept. of Agriculture firing range in the middle of nowhere, every other vehicle out there is a truck or mud-covered or both, there's no A/C and the only restroom facility is a VERY old and rarely emptied Port-A-Let, but smack in the middle of all this is a BMW 7 series, and two polo-shirt wearing pressed-khaki's middle-aged men with very expensive and very new rifles and handguns, and a look about them that says "Watch out very carefully for me, because I haven't used any of these weapons ever before, and after today I likely won't ever use them again." One of the pair had brought about four pistols, all of them still sheened in Cosmoline, and the other had a selection of rifles that would have made any small Bannana Republic very safe indeed. I've never seen anyone own both an AK-47 AND an SKS, which for the uninitiated are the same rifle, with different stocks. And not know how to use any of them.
- The Paramilitary Married Couple These two were the most fun out there. The husband was a little Casper Milquetoast-looking fellow, and his wife was about a buck and a half tall and might have weighed 90 pounds if you counted her shoes, clothes, and a backpack of bricks. Both of them were packing a serious amount of ordinance in a collection of aluminum custom cases, at least three .45 ACPs that I saw and an unknown number of other handguns carefully concealed in big nylon duffles. They spent the "line cold" time collecting .45 brass like nobody's business, I'm sure so they could scurry back to their mousehole and reload some more of "Big Daddy's Custom Gut-Splatter Rounds." She was standing there in her little power-walker tennis shoes and Pentecostal skirt, with her hair in a severe bun, her yellow shooting glasses on and her shooting gloves tightly Velcro'd on, and about ten pounds of stainless steel .45 automatic in her hand, playing Dirry Harriet on a paper target set up at 5 yards. She'd blow a hole in the center diamond, then proceed to make that hole large enough to push your arm through, then reload and go at it again. He was even worse, because he was doing the same thing, only at 25 yards.
- The Wannabe Cop This poor sod was the most pathetic of the group. Shaved head so white that if the sun had come out we'd have all been struck blind, highlighted by his black BDU SWAT pants he bought at a garage sale and his black Sig Handguns T-shirt, this guy was the ultimate in basement monkey. He had a single .40 caliber automatic pistol (naturally a Sig, apparently they gave away T-shirts when he bought the pistol) and ten loaded clips piled up on the concrete rest. He'd set up his target, snap in a clip and fire through it like it was a race, hurridly eject the empty, snap in a full and go again. Repeat. At the rate he was firing he had to have been landing a good two rounds per clip in the target, the rest had to be taking out treetops, birds, other people's targets, unlucky earthworms, what have you. And talk trash? When the Range Master would call "Cold line" he'd start running at the mouth about police academy, shooting, his handgun, his ammunition, how cool he was, you name it, he'd spout off. The only saving grace was that he was some sort of compulsive ammunition handler, and the Range Master called him down about seven times for entering the firing zone to touch his clips when the range was cold, and he finally got tired of being kicked like a puppy and left. The Paramilitary Couple was next to him, and I think they breathed a collective sigh of relief when he packed up.
- The Black Powder Man I guess there's one in every group. This old fellow was patient, quiet, small, and was carrying a black powder rifle that was about ten pounds shy of having US ARMY FIELD ARTILLERY painted on it. The Range Master would call "Line hot!" and he'd step up carefully, start pouring powder and wadding and a giant ball-bearing into that four foot long water main of a barrel, tamp it all down carefully, and settle himself and his field piece onto a sandbag. I was entertaining myself by looking down the line for that huge black steely snake to come easing out of the line, looking like a tank slipping up in the midst of a lineup of infantrymen. It'd steady down very fast, and about ten seconds would pass, and then he'd pull the trigger, and about two seconds AFTER that the concussion would roll out, sending a shockwave like someone had dropped a hand-grenade in our midst, and clouds of blue-white smoke would pour across the entire left side of the line. The target, wayyy down at the 100 yard line would explode into flinders, and as the little white paper bits snowed back to earth Casper would carefully stand up, ease back a little bit, and start the arduous process of reloading. Five minutes later and the whole thing would repeat: tank's main gun ("feeling a little inadequate, boys?",) trigger, EXPLODE, smoke everywhere, and the Range Master would stop choking and coughing long enough to call "Line cold" and we'd all get a respite from the Civil War reenactment.
And then of course was us, the Hard Core Shooter, the Not So Hard Core But Maybe One Day Soon Shooter (that'd be me,) and the two wives, the Patient Wife and the I Wanna Be Born Again Hard Wife (mine.) I was, I'll say, quite proud of my spouse. After sitting out one round to watch the line hot/line cold procedure she stepped up and started snapping off rounds like a pro, with both rifle and pistols. Made me proud, she did, with her accuracy and her cool handling of the Range Master. And she never once turned any weapon on anyone who deserved it, which is more than I can say for my own behaviour.