Guns as Tools and Toys

I like the smells, sounds and tactile feel of recreational shooting. It melds the fun of darts, the arc of an arrow in flight, and the anticipation of detonation that harkens back to a kid with a firecrackers. Then, like fine-tuning a race car, there is the fooling with the equipment to extract high performance. There may be something larger and more evolutionary at play though too.

Self-defense experts, police, military special ops, and street fighters dwell on the importance of “force enhancers” that improve ones’ odds in a physical conflict. They help one dole out more directed forece than is received. Simple things like a cell phone or key bundle firmly grasped in a fist can greatly enhance striking force; ball point pen or a cooking spoon can make a powerful baton or puncturing weapon; and a wine bottle makes a decent single-use club that self-converts into a cutting device. Grim I know, but self- defense is all about being ready and resourceful. Guns, when accessible, are one of the most powerful of those tools. An odd caveate however were the experts showing that pepper spray is a more effective deterrent than a firearm when facing down a grizzly bear attack.

We are drawn to many things that extend our power to influence outcomes. I know petite cowgirls who thrill in using a strip of leather and a bit of metal to steer a thousand pound horse. On Wall Street huge power and advantage is gained from proprietary (or insider) information; in politics and on red carpet runways, a dashing figure and a seductive swoop of hair can be manipulated into public influence via what journalist Margaret Wente called “Cleavage Scientists”. Fancy cars help people get dates. We are tool users.

The leverage of a small input that yields a magnified response is very attractive. Pressing an auto accelerator, pulling the one-armed bandit, lighting the fuse on a fire cracker, or squeezing the trigger on a firearm produce profound cause-and-effects that thrill and satisfy. These feed our sense of control and power. Endorphins are immensely and irrationally compelling even as they are addictive.

Therefore, firearms hold an appeal that goes far beyond aggression and self-defense, though the notion that they could be used for that remains. Like the grizzly bear example though, is this largely an illusion? Many police working a career’s worth of 40-hour weeks in harm’s path find they complete their career without ever having to fire their weapon at an attacker. I know a couple of dozen people licensed for concealed carry of side arms and I don’t know of a single one who has had to fire their weapon in self-defense. Personally, in my 50-years of field, forest, city and global travel, I have never been in a security situation that would have been improved by my access to a firearm. I realize, this is not true of some of my close friends.

In Canada’s largest city, Toronto, last year there were 17 incidents where police had to fire their weapons. Only three of those involved humans with the rest being the euthanizing of animals such as injured roadside deer. The role of firearms as realistic self-defense tools can almost be recast as a myth in much of Canada. Yet, their use as meat-acquisition tools in hunting is unquestioned and the thrill/fun/satisfaction of safely discharging firearms at targets is completely real and remains.

This is a long-winded start to a story of doing some shooting, a summertime activity dating from my childhood to present.

I had arranged to meet Brian out at a fenced woodland cattle pen we affectionately call the “Castration Corral” because, well, that is what happens there (to livestock!). It is on a friend’s property where we hunt each winter and sometimes, the corral even serves as a hunting blind. It is an excellent sit in the bitterest cold because (a) the structure breaks the wind a bit, (b) the boards mask your outline, (c)there are abundant rifle rests at all levels, (d) it allows visibility out to 400 yards down a wide gap between two big blocks of forestland, and (e) it is only a tree-shielded 100 yard walk from the road where you can park your truck! In the last few minutes of the season two years ago I killed a tender young moose there and three years previous, watched a magnificent buck saunter across the 50 yards of open ground down range. That was precisely where I was to meet Brian.

I had brought along a Browning .22 lever gun and a half brick of ammo as the perfect practice rifle. Notice the nice wood and lack of damage to this gun. It is for sale. I want to return to my squirrel and rabbit days of a lightweight and scoped .22 semi-automatic.

Brian arrived with a special .22 target rifle with the biggest .22 scope I have ever seen. His rifle was one of those known for high accuracy, I think CZ or Brno or Anschutz. He has fallen for the .22 high-accuracy competition and is working up loads. “Working up loads” with a .22 is just a trial and error game of matching ammo to rifle by temperature and distance. He had a sled full of shooting stuff with range finder, targets, and special adjustable bean bag rests. It looked very official.

Then he went all prone n’shit and started his series of calibrated 5-shot groups with some sub-sonic rounds while I hung tin can targets at 35, 50 and 100 yards and filled them full of holes with the 13-shot tube magazine and a variety of hollow points. Tin cans in the wind are relatively safe from my iron sights at 100 yards but occasionally one would lurch in a satisfying way. It was sort of city mouse shooting one direction and country mouse wanging away in the other.

Man, that target looks a long way off but he said some of the matches go out to 300 yards . . . with a .22! They must waste a lot of time waiting for the bullets to arrive on target. I suppose you could have 2 or 3 in the air at one time though.

So while I proceeded to tear up the tin cans — which I like a lot for their plink and swing and no evidence of missing or off-center shots — Brian methodically shot tight groups in each quadrant of his target box. One of the fancy schmancy ammos put all five shots in a single ragged hole. Of course, it wasn’t on the bullseye but that is just a matter of twisting some scope knobs.

He achieved some results (I guess I did too though). That upper hole is a 5 shot group for figs sake and the lower one is the weaker bullets.

His precise subsonic cartridges weighed to the nanogram were very special, very exclusive. The powder charges were low and the case was partially filled with exotic cotton fluff frayed from the margins of the Mona Lisa. I am sure others contained belly button lint from mermaids. They certainly grouped well enough to hit a rabbits head at 50 yards. . “Now Mr. Snowshoes, please sit still while I set up my bench rest bean bag”. Oh, here comes Lee . . . Bang bang, bang bangbang, bang a banky bang baaaaang!! Got ‘em!

Then we broke out the slaughtergun. Talk about yin and yang! A 12-gauge 870 pump gun with slugs is the bludgeon to compliment the .22 laser.

Why in the HELL does a slug have to kick so much? We agreed there is no need for a 3 inch magnum slug to even exist. If a 2 ¾ won’t do the job, just don’t shoot whatever it is you are trying to subdue. I suppose recoil would become less important if a Cape grizzly lion were gnawing on your laig but you better kill him outright because your knife fighting arm is going to be ruined from the slug recoil!

If a soft lead hunk is going to put a hole all the way through any animal you would logically shoot, wouldn’t a 3” shell just do the same thing a little bit faster? Aren’t slugs accuracy limited before down range energy ever becomes limiting? Let’s boycott 3” slugs! Is there a 3 ½ “ version for the real idiots?

Speaking of self-defense though, one friend attended a military shooting school and said that a slug shot through a car door creates a fragmentation forest of lead shards inside the car that would mess up anyone inside. Whew.

After a few pokes with the mighty 12 bore, I needed to go back to the .22 lest I jerk my body every time my index finger touched metal, including my camera buttons.

Ultimately, like a cat to a string, the lure of those swinging cans draws shooters in.

At the Castration Corral, Brian too was lured into plink mode and he punched some holes.

It made for a really nice end of the day shooting to burn some powder out in a safe woodland setting and I learned some things.

I learned that my eyes are well past focusing on the front iron sight which set in motion a whole elaborate set of gun dominos that goes something like this:

I need a .22 I can shoot well. I can’t see the front bead on iron sights; thus, I need a scope. A scope on a lever action is like mud grips on a Ferrari. I need to sell or trade the lever gun for a well-scoped, hunting quality semi-auto .22. I want a Browning semi-auto. There, it was settled. I will contact our mutual friend and gun guru Ross and have him scour the earth and find me one. He likes that sort of thing and I hate it. Of course, he sometimes goes astray and comes back with “No, what you really need is an XYZ” and that is what I end up with. Just like a few years back when I was going for a light 7mm/08, he quizzed me . . . 6 lbs, wood and blued, Sheep rifle? Occasional deer and moose? I ended up with a beautiful .270 lightweight. It is the only rifle I now use for everything.

As the fervor of buying a new gun settled, I even started thinking about getting another 870 in 20 gauge which was Brian’s fault for whipping up the 870 frenzy with a few well-placed adjectives. This purchase would be largely on spec for old age, doves, and maybe even as a reasonable recoiling slug gun. A 20 gauge slug should do anything needed out to 80 yards right? Besides, I have given away some guns lately so I have a largely empty gun safe for now.

There is joy to be had in recreational shooting. Bang!

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Lee Foote

Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.