We honestly don’t pay much attention to the status of private gun ownership and use, especially here in Wyoming, thinking it’s nothing we need to be overly concerned about. We mostly seem to adopt the attitude that our guns are safe from government interference.
The efforts to ban, or at least severely restrict the possession of firearms in the hands of the public are alive and well, though. As a prime example of the ongoing anti-gun rhetoric, no one less than John Paul Stevens, retired justice of the United States Supreme Court, has written a book that proposes six new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including one to take away Americans’ individual right to keep and bear arms. The only true counter to this is a dedicated constituency of gun owners and users.
The future of hunting, shooting, gun ownership, on down the line lies in the recruitment of new people into the shooting sports. Firearms, unlike skiing, tennis, golf, or running, is a true lifetime activity. Most sports come with sell-by dates when the legs call a halt, the joints give out, the back stages a protest. Centenarians, on the other hand, can shoot rifles, shotguns and handguns in one way or another as long as they can stand, or at the least sit upright. Even old shooters, though, who are less likely to lose interest in their sport than others do in theirs as they age, are one day brought to their drooping chairs, and novice shooters are needed to replace them and ensure the health of the sport.
The way to attract new shooting participants is to create an interest in firearms in them. And how do you create an interest in shooting in someone with no background in it?
It’s like the theory that one should show and not tell. The best way to introduce someone to shooting is not to tell them all about it, but to show it to them.
A couple weeks back, I had a chance to attend a long-range rifle shooting clinic put on in Riverton by Jason Wilson of Lucid, a maker of firearms optics, both reflex sights and rifle scopes for tactical, military and hunting. Wilson has a shooting range with shooting benches and set up with steel silhouettes, about two-feet tall, at ranges from 400 to 1000 yards, in 100-yard increments. Ultimately, though, that is all just a warm-up for a four-foot-square white steel plate set one mile, exactly 1,760 yards, out in the sage.
My Reed College roommate, from back in the Pleistocene, Gary Morrison was going to be coming out from Seattle, and after visiting his two daughters in Bozeman, he was going to come by; so it seemed a perfect opportunity to take him along to do some shooting.
Gary is still, even in his 60s, a good athlete. For a time he thought about becoming a professional ski racer. He’s a hiker and climber, coming from a family of old-school Sierra Club members. He played softball and soccer until only recently and is an avid fly fisher. What he’s not is a shooter. Or was not.
Gary’s only previous experience with firearms was 40 years ago when we were plinking around with a .22 pistol in Portland, Oregon. That was it, in toto. The good thing was that Gary got to find his way into shooting over in Riverton among a group of extremely serious, experienced shooters, including law enforcement. And as I expected, they welcomed Gary with opened arms, or at least arms with the actions opened.
I knew enough to get out of the way and let Gary depend on the kindness of strangers when it came to (most important) firearms safety, and then the details of loading, shooting and unloading the rifle. They started him out on an AR chambered in 5.56, to get him used to shooting without having to be conscious of recoil. From the AR he moved up to Savage rifles chambered in either 6.5-284 Norma or 7mm Remington Magnum.
Wilson had handloaded all the ammunition with the super-accurate Berger VLD (“very low drag”) hunting bullets. He also had the loads programmed into the Strelok ballistics-calculator app on his smart phone, which coincided with the Lucid L5 reticle on the 6-24×50 and 4-14×44 scopes. That may all sound like Chinese algebra (to use an undoubtedly politically incorrect phrase); but with the app up to speed a shooter need only tap in the range to get the proper hold on the reticle for the 6.5mm bullet. All that’s left, though it is in fact more than it sounds, is to “dope” the wind, check your breathing, try to wait for the steady instant between heartbeats, break the shot, and send the bullet.
After only a very few shots, Gary had rung the steel plate at 1,000 yards. From there to a mile required a few shots more with the 7mm, in which the rotation of the earth (seriously) became an added factor; but he did it.
Like that, Gary had gone from almost literally zero firearms experience to hitting a target at a measured range that probably not one in a thousand shooters gets even a chance to fire at. It takes much, much longer to hit a proper golf drive, and most batters can never hit a major-league curveball; which is why no one should think that shooting is too difficult to introduce to someone with no experience. Every new shooter we create is one more supporter of firearms ownership and the shooting sports.
Gary went on to win a 4-14×44 scope the next day in a target-shooting contest. Now he’s looking for a rifle to hang underneath it, one that his daughters will want to shoot, too. Next, I need to get him into shotguns. He doesn’t know it, yet, but he’s going to love wingshooting.
TOM MCINTYRE is a contributing editor to Sports Afield and Field & Stream magazine.