Thursday, June 12, 2008

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out*

This Adventure is brought to you from the suggestion of The Jennifer Hart. The Jennifer Hart is one of my coworkers here in DC, and like myself is a fellow Gene lover (meaning we do so adore him, not that we want to be his lover) (Sorry, Gene), which is how we first bonded. To meet The Jennifer Hart you would think she is simply a nice woman who is on the quiet side. But to REALLY meet The Jennifer Hart you will understand she is indeed a nice woman on the quiet side (at least at work), but she is also one of the funniest people you will ever know. You think I’m funny? (Maybe? Hopefully?) I’ve got nothing on The Jennifer Hart. She is also a very evil woman who puts ideas of irresistible Girl Scout cookies in my head and makes me march over to the marketing department to snarfle down half a tray of Tagalongs. Coming to work every day would not be half as much fun were The Jennifer Hart not here. So in thanks and gratitude for her suggestion—and just for just being— The Jennifer Hart will receive a Major Reward.

*Warning: The following contains some naughty language. I’m telling you this now so you can’t try and wash my mouth out with soap later.

**Warning: The following is about guns, and about my adventure involving them. It was just an adventure, people, we’re not talking politics or gun laws or anything of that nature. This is not a debate over whether guns are good or bad. So drop it.

Awhile back, I was leaving work, heading home for the day. My co-worker The Jennifer Hart was also leaving, and she said to me, Hey, I have an idea for something you should do for your list. What’s that? I asked. Learn to shoot a gun, she replied. I paused, thinking about it for a moment.

“It would probably be a good thing to know, living in the District,” I finally said.

Which is how I found myself on the Saturday before Memorial Day at the Prince Georges County Trap and Skeet Center. My friend Brady had put me in contact with a couple people she knew. People who knew about guns. People who knew how to shoot guns, and shoot them well. People who could teach me how to shoot a gun.

As we pulled into the Trap and Skeet Center, having driven around some random back roads in PG County farmland for awhile before calling for help, Brady and I were discussing the notion of Chicagoans and their sporting habits. She contends that Chicagoans are observers rather than participators, though I disagree on the notion that we have participated in and popularized 16-inch softball like nobody’s business. In fact, it kind of is nobody’s business, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it being played outside of Sweet Home. And any time I try to explain it to people elsewhere, I am usually met with odd, funny looks, filled with disbelief that we play softball sans mitts and are rabid fans of such a game.

While Brady and discussed the observer/participator theory, we did come to the conclusion that Chicagoans and suburban Chicagoans, in general, are not gun people. Sure, you have the occasional hunter who relishes a good trip up to Wisconsin or Minnesota to shoot deer or other game. You even have the occasional hunter who relishes a good trip into the woods behind his house to shoot a deer or…another deer. But beyond hunting, shooting as a sport is not really something one encounters a lot in the Chicagoland area.

And it sure as hell isn’t something you encountered at all in my family. We are not so much the outdoorsy type of family, unless by outdoorsy you mean we are going to go outdoors to drink wine on the patio when it’s nice out, or we are going outdoors to get to the car, which will take us to the library where we will stock up on books to read indoors, but maybe we will read them outdoors if it’s not too hot and humid and the bugs aren’t too awful. One time, while at dinner with my parents at a local restaurant decorated to look like a hunting lodge in the Northwoods (of either Wisconsin or Minnesota, take your pick, and which is aptly named “Northwoods”) I looked around admiringly at the rustic lodge d├ęcor and asked, “Why haven’t we ever gone camping?”

My dad, for his part, ignored the question completely and continued on eating his dinner as if nobody had spoken. My mom, on the other hand, stopped mid-bite and looked at me as if I’d just shot French fries out my nose, a look of disgust and yet mild curiosity that such an odd creature could have come from her womb.

“We don’t camp,” she said slowly.

I started to object, and then stopped myself, snapping out of a dreamy camping reverie. “Oh right,” I said. If I’m going to be honest with you, and with myself, Interneters, my idea of camping is a Holiday Inn Express.

I Said Shotgun
There is a scene in the movie Hoosiers where Gene Hackman pays a visit to the home of one of the boys (Everett, I believe) he wants to play on the basketball team. As Hackman’s character approaches the house through the thick of woods, Everett’s father stumbles out from behind some trees and foliage with a shotgun, chk-chks a shell into place, and yells, “IDENNIFAH!” waving the gun around menacingly at Hackman. I love the movie Hoosiers, and frankly, was hoping to recreate that scene if possible on this shot gun adventure. But that would clearly go against the rules I was about to learn in Shotgun 101, and while I’m all for a little rule breaking every once in awhile, I thought maybe not so much when guns are involved.

So I’m not what you would call an outdoorswoman, and I have never even held a gun, let alone shot one. The shotgun we used was surprisingly heavy. In movies, you see people twirling the things around like batons, but in reality, twirling was not an option. Besides the fact of why would you want to twirl a loaded gun, I just don’t have the upper body strength. I was a little worried that I would make a complete arse of myself during this adventure, if for no other reason than it’s a semi-daily occurrence that I make an arse out of myself about something somewhere at some point in time, but Brady assured me that her friend Brent was a super-nice guy, and Caroline, our other teacher for the day was an awesome gal, and all would be well in our shooting exercises.

And you know what? Brady was right. Brent is a super-nice guy and Caroline is an awesome gal. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get all nervous when Brent was going through Shooting 101. There he was, sitting coolly and calmly and collectedly on the edge of his truck, showing us the different parts of the shotgun, telling us what kind of shotgun it was, showing us ammo and educating Brady and me on proper shooting etiquette. (For example, when walking around from station to station, always make sure it’s visible to other shooters that your gun is empty. And always carry your gun as if it’s loaded, even when it’s not.) Super-nice guy Brent is chatting away about this, that, and the other thing, and Brady asks a question here and there, and then there’s me: standing there with her hands shoved in her pockets, innards flipping upside down and tangling amongst each other. I’m pretty sure my small intestine was hula hooping itself around my stomach while everything else inside just jittered. Because there’s Super-nice guy Brent and Oh My God there is a very large shotgun right next to him and Holy Mary Mother of God guns can seriously hurt people and we’re all going to die and it might be my fault because I am not a gun person MY PEOPLE ARE NOT GUN PEOPLE WHO DO I THINK I AM?

Caroline, who by the way is also the head of the Women’s Shooting Club in DC, showed up a short time later to join us, and Shooting 101 and my Completely Rational Inner Monologue ended as we headed inside. We got our passes to shoot sporting clays, rented a gun for Brady and me to share, and stocked up on ammo. I tucked all of the gun goodies into the vest Brent had supplied (which totally made me feel like I was about to give someone a perm at Mabel’s Cut’n’Curl), along with a pair of heels I had grabbed for the adventure. I may not be an outdoorsy kind of gal, and I am okay with that. But by God, if I was going to have a new adventure, I was going to do it my way, and you bet your sweet ass I was going to wear my hot pink heels with a big old sparkle flower on them while doing it.

We would be going through stations, Caroline and Brent informed us, 10 stations in all. Each station shoots the sport clays out at different angles and heights, so you can become a sharpshooter no matter where those bright orange discs fly. Alright, maybe not a sharpshooter, but at least we’d get a chance to try new things. Approaching the first station, we put in our ear plugs and commenced shouting at each other about how to do what. Or at least, that’s what it sounded like to me, my own voice reverberating back through my noggin, what with my ears plugged and all. Brent stepped up, loaded his gun, and Caroline let fly some targets, which Brent picked off easily. He explained about form and posture, and keeping your face in on the gun.

I’m sorry what? You want me to what? Excuse me?

Brent called Brady up to the station, showed her how to load her shells into the chamber and magazine, and I unconsciously took a step back. He gave her a basic briefing on following the clay with the gun, telling her she had time, and reminded her to keep her face on the gun, and Caroline let two more targets fly, and Brady took aim, pulling the trigger and tingeing the air with a sulfur-like smell and a resounding clamor that sounded like a cousin-once-removed of thunder. Unfortunately, she didn’t hit anything.

Brent and Brady, gearing up.

I stood behind them, still stuck on the “keep face on gun,” part of it all. No, thank you, I would like to keep my face as far away from the gun as possible. Surely you’re joking, right? Surely we’re joking about all of this, and I’m not really here, and there are no guns, and there go my innards again, flipping like flapjacks and dear God, please don’t let me yarf all over my shoes, and oh, hello, someone’s talking to me, okay, ha, ha, oh hello, now it’s my turn.

I handled the gun gingerly, trying to gently load in my shells, praying to God and sweating a little that the shotgun wouldn’t suddenly and unexpectedly explode. The thing is, you can’t gently load shells. Particularly on a rented shotgun, which Brent explained is not always cleaned as well as it should be, and which would cause the magazine to get stuck on numerous occasions the rest of the day. You have to slide the mechanisms into place not with force, per se, but definitely with some oomph behind it, as if you were confident to be holding a .12 gauge shotgun in your hands, as if that was completely normal. Which I was not and which is not. For me, anyway.

Brent explained the same instructions to me as he did Brady. Take your time. Go for the general area of the clay. Keep your face on the gun. Against my better judgment, I put my cheek to the gun, pressing it in as I braced the butt of the shotgun on my shoulder. Caroline let the sport clays fly, and I watched as they flew out from their perches off to the side. I tried to follow them and pulled the trigger. Another shell loaded and I shot again.

I hit nothing.

Not even close.


I felt like a Bad Ass Motherfucker.

I couldn’t hear anything, mind you, except a slight ringing in my ears, but I didn’t need to. The relief and pride in my swagger poured forth and drowned out all the noise in the woods. Woodland creatures flocked to that first station and gazed up at me in awe and fear, a green-eyed huntress in heels. KEEP YOUR FACE ON THE GUN.

I do a damn fine imitation of someone who looks like she knows what she's doing.

Yes, that's right. Pink. Sparkly. Heels.
Am Outdoors Woman! Hooray!
You might think it disconcerting to go shooting for the first time with two people who excel handily at this skill. Of the seemingly thousands of shots taken that day at the various stations, I think Brent missed maybe all of five targets, and Caroline missed three, max. I could have let this get me down, could have overlooked the fact that they’ve been shooting for years, enjoy the sport so much that they have their own personal equipment and experience stockpiled behind them, and gone for the wallowing-in-self-I-can’t-shoot-worth-a-damn feeling.

But I didn’t.

Because I hit the target.

Not once.

Not twice.


But five times.
The first time I barely caught the clay, but that’s all you need in this kind of shooting, I was told, as the shells are filled with mini-bb’s of sorts. You just need to be in a general vicinity of the clay to hit it, and watch admiringly as it explodes into chunks and shards of hot orange. Which is awesome for people like me who are completely silly with this sort of thing, and have little concept of depth perception and spatial reasoning, and yes, of course that’s why I often walk into doorways when I think I have tons of room to clear it.

Of the five, the two most memorable to me were at the rabbit station. Caroline pushed the button, letting the clays scoot out – at this station, they shot out of the machine and rolled across the ground, taking bounces and hops as if they were rabbits scurrying across the forest floor.


Again: Me = feeling like a Bad Ass Motherfucker.

It’s an exhilarating feeling to realize you’ve hit the target. For me, at least, there is a disconnect between when the gun goes off and contact. Half-second later I realize, “Oh, I hit something.” And then a half second after that it’s, “OH! I HIT SOMETHING!” And then I’d smile like an idiot for awhile before going moving on to fire off 10 shots that came nowhere near the sport clays whizzing overhead.

Sport clays. They're quite fragile, as demonstrated when Brett easily tapped out the center of this one with little more than a hard flick.

We finished up at the last station, a tower where you can stand and watch the clays lazily float toward you, giving you ample time to shoot, though as we’ve learned, that doesn’t mean anything for the likes of me and my shooting capabilities. I was glad when we were done, it was getting more and more humid and sticky in the woods, and I was starting to tire out. My arms were tired from holding the gun, so I handed the gun over to Brady to let her carry it for a moment, and let my shoulders sag a little and relax. Not bad, Brent and Caroline told us, for our first time out. It takes practice, like anything else, and it takes time. Caroline invited Brady and me to come out and practice with the Women’s Shooting Club any time we liked, a very tempting offer, as they kick of the days with sausage biscuits, and end the day with mimosas.

We turned in the rental gun, got our IDs back, and trudged to our cars. I thanked Caroline and Brent for taking the time to help me have this adventure, and thanked them more for the patience that goes along with said task. And though it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, I don’t know if I’ll make it a point to go out shooting again. If I discovered one thing, it’s that I’m not very good at shooting a gun. But I’m quite talented at shooting off my mouth.

I’m really not sure which is worse.

We. Are. Adventureous Gals.

1 comment:

Stephanie said..., guns and hot pink shoes go very well in the wilderness. Go Girl!