For the first time in my life, I went to a shooting range. Though I’m a long-time gun-owner — I’ve had my current handgun for 19 years or so, I’ve never once been to a shooting range. Every time I’ve fired a gun, it’s been on someone’s private property with their permission. So Tuesday (April 26) was a new experience for me.
The reason I finally went is because someone invited me — a friend from my wife’s church (let’s call him Matt) whose family we’ve had dinner with a few times. For me, going to a gun range falls into the category of “I only feel comfortable doing it for the first time if I’m with someone experienced”. The reasons I accepted the invitation are multiple: curiosity (both about the range and about my ability), haven’t fired my gun in at least five years (or any gun in at least two years), and a chance to cement the first real-life friendship I’ve started since moving to Texas.
Matt is a recently retired Army major with extensive handgun (and artillery) experience, and some tiny part of my mind kept reminding me of that on the way over there. Not having fired a gun in so long, I wondered how poorly my target patterns would match up with his. Not that it was a competition, but no one likes to be completely embarrassed in a situation like this.
I needn’t have worried. It turns out that shooting is one of those “like riding a bike” things; you never really forget.
He picked me up and we drove over to a range near Copperas Cove, Texas. He brought a .380-caliber Glock, and I brought my .45-caliber Glock, and the range’s name was Just Glocks.
Upon arrival, Matt rented two 9mm pistols for the day, and then we went into what looked like a large shed or small guest house, but was in fact the shooting range. The interior of the building was coated with sound-absorbing material, and there was a rack of protective ear coverings next to a row of safety glasses. In that first room was also a spot for rifle shooters; going through another door got us into the pistol shooter’s room, with five windows looking out at five target paths (cut into the side of a hill, so there was zero chance of stray bullets going anywhere they aren’t supposed to). We set out our gear and loaded our clips.
I learned by asking that the rules of the range are basically the same as the rules my Dad and I had always followed when shooting on private land — warn others when you’re about to shoot, make sure everyone else is done shooting before you walk downrange to check or change targets, etc. — basically what I would consider common sense, though I’ve learned over the years that “common” is a loaded term with many exceptions. The only additional rule was “no rapid fire”, which it turns out means no fully automatic shooting — they had no problem with emptying a semi-auto handgun as fast as you can pull a trigger.
The target stands were set up by default at 10 yards (30 feet, or 9 meters), easily enough moveable in five-yard increments back to 25 yards (75 feet). That was immediately comforting; I’ve almost always practiced with pistols at distances greater than 10 yards.
Matt shot first with his compact .380, setting the pace for the day by putting all six rounds into the eight-inch diameter target. I felt a slight increase in pressure at that point, but quickly vindicated myself. I emptied my 10-round clip of .45-caliber bullets, putting seven of them through the target and two more very close to it.
From there, both of us tried the rented guns, and both of us tried each other’s guns. I did poorly with both the .380 and 9mm at first, but felt a little better when Matt wasn’t so hot with my .45. Both of us improved as time went on. I think we spent two hours at the range, as a few other shooters came and went. For a little while, we moved our targets further, to 15 yards, and then later returned them to 10 yards.
By the end of that time, I was putting all 10 of my .45 shots through a six-inch circle, and had improved on the 9mm as well. See my recreated targets below for comparison. (I forgot to make any photos of our actual targets, so these are recreated in Photoshop from memory.)
I enjoyed the experience — which Matt paid for — and vowed to not go quite so long before firing my weapon next time.