It was my first time, so, understandably, I was a little bit nervous. I didn’t know what to expect or how to act. Would I say the wrong thing or touch something I wasn’t supposed to? Would I remember to bring everything I needed? (Protection is an easy thing to forget, after all.) And what if I was done early . . . I mean, is there such a thing as finishing too soon? My hope, at least, was that it was going to fun.
Perhaps most concerning is that all I could think about was that it was likely people were going to be watching me. I did a good bit of Internet research, watched videos, and even took a class, but I wasn’t really confident about my technique. It’s one thing to be alone and practice in front of a mirror away from prying eyes, or to ask a more experienced friend for tips, but it’s another thing to actually step up and follow through.
I am 39 years old, and until last week, I was a gun-range virgin.
I don’t have a good reason for never visiting a gun range except for not having much interest in firearms until recently. (There was no aversion, mind you, just not a particular appreciation for them during most of my life.) We had one firearm in my house growing up, a 6mm Remington rifle that my dad bought in the ’80s. I never saw him shoot it, and it spent most of its time locked away high on a shelf, tucked behind seasonal decorations that were so fragile that the mere threat of breaking one had me terrified to look at the case.
Also, the influence of experienced hunters eluded me. Perhaps that was for the best, because even today, I don’t believe that I have the patience to make a good hunter – I struggle with the wait. That’s always been my Achilles heel when fishing, too; even with a few good buddies with me, I never wanted to be confined by my space, whether that was in a boat or in a treestand. I applaud those who have the ability to be so patient because the payoff at the dinner table can be immense. It’s simply not a skill I possess (though I sincerely push myself to be patient when raising my young children).
When I was 14, I went to military school, and though we never did any live shooting, we often carried rifles during drills. More than a few times, when I used the word “gun,” I was corrected with the familiar adage, “This is your rifle, that is your gun, one is for shooting, one is for fun.” (Even as I type this, I’ll admit that my tac officer would be disappointed at my use of the word “gun” for this article.)
I was 21 when I fired a gun for the first time – the .22 caliber rifle a friend let me shoot was as good a starter gun as any. However, the shotgun we also had on hand was lot more of a draw. Still, after that day, I went more than 15 years without shooting another firearm. I grew to love the outdoors as a hiker, backpacker and mountain biker, but shooting sports never followed along. Then my wife signed the two of us up for an NRA safety class as a birthday present.
At the Range
The past couple of years were spent shooting into hay bales at a relative’s isolated property, but if I ever hoped to improve, I felt that a gun range would better offer me the flexibility to practice shooting at varying distances. So, carrying my dad’s old Remington rifle and my .38 Special Smith & Wesson revolver, I stepped into the recently updated digs of Safe Side Tactical in Roanoke, Virginia. I just hoped that didn’t embarrass myself, whether with word or with deed.
Being a newbie, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the place. Not only was it sleek and inviting in the lobby, but the staff’s willingness to help quickly put me at ease. Are all the folks at ranges this nice? If they’re not, then maybe they should rethink their approach. Nothing will bring more people in the firearms fold than openness and good attitude (the ol’ honey vs. vinegar analogy comes to mind).
It wasn’t long before I was finding my target at 25, 50 and 75 yards downrange, with even a few compliments and sound advice from the range safety officer. Behind it all seemed to be the sentiment of “Be safe and have fun.”
Looking back on it, I built it up way too much in my head and was nervous for no reason. The outing was more fun than I expected, and I walked away more confident than when I went in. Next time I’ll have to rent one of the semi-automatic pistols they have and continue to try my hand at something new.
Best of all, for my allotted time, I didn’t even finish early.
Editor’s note: Check out the video below showing a tour of Safe Side Tactical, which features the longest indoor gun range on the East Coast!