Monday, July 16, 2012

Home, home on the Range

I love the smell of a firearms range in the morning. It smells like...action. Standing at the firing line and peering downrange at the waiting targets jumpstarts my motor. I was 12 when I first laid down on an old discarded mattress that reeked of dried little boy pee and dessicated mouse corpses in a crawl space under an old, old house and looked across the sights of a .22 rifle at a target suspended 50 feet away in a bullet trap, and pushed my first real cartridge into the rifle's breech. My very first shot drilled the center of the bullseye, as did my second and third shots. I was on my way to earning my Boy Scouts Marksmanship Merit Badge and discovering that I was not doomed to be an "also," or part of "the field" who always chases the winner across the finish line. My inability to clobber a baseball, throw a perfect football spiral, slapshot a puck into a net, sink a freethrow, or skate on wheels or blades was not going to keep me down. I could be a contender.

And that's how it all worked out. My shooting skills, resulting from hours and hours of practice and thousands of rounds blazed downrange punched my ticket. That golden time spent at the range allowed me to turn shooting skills into photographic skills ("hold...breathe...squeeze...") -- except with a camera, after I squeezed the shutter, my subject could walk out of the frame. From there, my shooting sports co-existed with my career as an international photojournalist, film and video documentary maker, television and video producer, director and writer -- and finally book author of U. S. Histories, military histories, biographies, fine arts volumes, auto racing and young adult books. In other words, a life of great adventure.

Shooting sports helped me bond with my father, crunching through the fall leaves in search of squirrels, rabbits or pheasants for the dinner table. The range provided a gathering place for some lasting friendships like Diane, the southpaw who could shoot rings around any guy on the line with .22 or a .30 caliber M1 rifle, who earned a Distinguished Rifleman's badge and had a great sense of humor. There was Gavin and Jim and Doc Meissner, the opthamologist and American Legion rangemaster who taught us all how to shoot and grow up while we were still in our teens.

I shoot casually with friends now, but I can still hear his voice, "Keep those muzzles pointed downrange! The longer you hold on a target, the unsteadier you get! Don't ever believe a gun is unloaded until you've personally checked it! More people get hurt on a tennis court or a golf course than on any well-run rifle range!"

Marksmanship is a gender-blind and age-proof sport that should be developed for spectator appeal and spun into the American Shooting Sport League with teams across the country. To realize that vision, we need more ranges and participation in a tradition that goes back to when our country was brand new and sharpshooters were held in high esteem.