I'm distressingly unphotogenic, but I am pleased to say that I hit with eight out of nine shots on the revolver. That's Art next to me. He taught all twelve of us Brazos Writers how to load, aim and shoot an 1800s Revolver, rifle and shotgun.
When the whole group finally arrived bright-eyed and eager for mayhem, Art showed off some of his 24 antique weapons and explained how they work. I learned about matchlock rifles, flintlock rifles and handguns, and how people would put rocks, broken crockery or glass down their shotgun barrels if they didn't have bullets, and how you needed to measure the powder before you spilled it down the barrel, unlike in the movies where they rip open the paper gunpowder packets with their teeth and dump the whole thing. That apparently will get your head blown off when the rifle explodes in your hands. It's also okay to close one eye to aim.
Matt, meanwhile, filled in the gaps in what Art told me, like how you should stand with the foot on the same side you're aiming with back to brace against the recoil, and how the rifle should be snug on your chest between the bump at either end of my clavicle, and how if I didn't lean my cheek on the butt the kickback would 'bite' me in the jaw. Hence the even less photogenic pictures below, but at least I didn't bruise my face. He also promised that he'd teach me how to load and fire his personal .45 and his wife's 9mm. Since those handguns
This is me firing the shotgun. I swear I'm not quite that, um, fat. I had stuff in my hoodie pockets, honestly!
And this is me with the rifle:
This is what the shooting range looked like. The white things are all metal plates.
This is the left side of the range. The round thing hanging in the middle of the wooden support is a gong. You really knew when you hit that.
And here's the right. Those metal plates were the furthest targets, and the safest place to aim the modern handguns. When I hit a closer target a piece of bullet actually bounced back and smacked my arm.
Initially I didn't do so well with either of the larger weapons, which was because Art was concentrating on safety and general handling rather than how to properly hold the rifle (And I want to say here that our teachers were meticulous about being safe. Considering what we were doing, I was never worried that there would be an accident.) After Matt's lesson, I became a lot more dangerous. Rifles and shotguns are easier to aim than handguns, because not only are the guns steadier against your chest, but because the barrels are longer the bullet takes a little longer to drop as it flies towards the farther targets. This definitely helped me, because the rifle or shotgun always jerked upwards with the recoil. Most of the time I had to ask someone else if I'd actually hit anything.
I was great with the revolver (I hit eight out of nine shots), but I didn't do so well with the .45 or 9mm, partially because you have to hold them very precisely and make sure you're only placing the pad before the first joint at the top of your finger on the trigger (never both fingers!), and that you pull, never jerk, when you fire. It was hard to remember all that and still aim. It also didn't help that my hands 'were shaking like a leaf in the wind!' as Matthew told me. He thought it was adrenaline, but it was actually because my forearms and hands were getting tired from holding the weapons and especially keeping them steady. My forearms are still a little sore, two days later.
Here's the 9mm, which will be instantly familiar to my sister geeks:
And the .45 (the boy firing it is Josh, a grandson of one of the Brazos Writers members).
The second time I tried the handguns, however, I blew a hole right through the centre of the pumpkin. Apparently the exit hole was pretty spectacular.
I think what amazed me the most about the firearms was that I didn't expect they'd be so easy to aim. Well, the matchlock was impossible, and the enormous buffalo gun (created, yes, to kill buffalo) was so heavy that Hangman had to hold the barrel for me when I tried it, so I could keep it upright and not break any bones when it recoiled. I did hit the target, though. :)
I'll admit I was nervous when I first tried these weapons. It's almost impossible to imagine the noise or the power of the bullets until you're actually standing there with the gun in your hand, but the knowledge that this machine could kill if I wasn't careful was awing, but not in a way I enjoyed. I'll admit, though, that it didn't really hit me (excuse the pun) until I was firing the modern rifle.
This was made in Italy, and I think it's called a Birelli. This was the lightest and easiest to aim rifle of all, and could fire, if I remember correctly, either twelve or fourteen shots at a time. This was Death on a stick, and I was a little freaked out after I'd used it the first time.
My favorite weapon, however, was the matchlock rifle. I can't remember how old Art's was, but this kind of rifle dates back to the 1400s, and is a brilliant invention. The 'match' is a wick soaked in saltpeter, which then burns slowly but consistently. After it's smoldering, you fix it into a metal holder on the gun, which dips down into a small pan filled with gunpowder when you lift the trigger on the bottom of the rifle. The gunpowder in the pan then ignites the larger amount of gunpowder inside the weapon, and the round bullet fires. Here's what it looks like. Hangman was loading it when I took the picture.
The matchlock is where the term 'flash in the pan' comes from--when the gunpowder in the pan would flash, but nothing else would happen. Here's what that looks like (this is Josh again):
When I tried to fire the thing, the flash and bang! were so loud that I jerked the rifle and didn't hit anything. Here's Mark firing the matchlock so you can see what it looks like. The child's voice is Matthew II, who is six. And as you can tell, I was really happy to finally capture the matchlock working.
Unfortunately, my camera batteries died right before the Pumpkin shoot, so I can only give you my word that the carnage was as spectacular as it was guilt-free. I was honestly surprised at how well I could aim, since my throwing aim is terrible. The tiny beads on the guns definitely help with that, though, since you line those up with the target before you fire. The modern handguns even have two at the back and one on the end of the muzzle, to help you triangulate before you fire. Matt's aim was so good with his .45 that he shot through a sideways playing card. It took him a few tries, however.
One of the Brazos Writers members brought a friend with her who was visiting from Germany, and later when Hangman asked everyone who hadn't used a firearm before to raise their hands, we were the only ones who did. I thought that was hilarious.
I learned how to do something I never thought I would on Saturday, and I'm actually pretty good at it. That's really cool, but ultimately firing a gun is a skill that makes me more uncomfortable than proud. Guns after all are machines with only one real purpose, and everything else you might use them for is really only practice or dissembling. I also felt very keenly that I was in the realm of men--not so much because only the men were teaching, although that was part of it--but because the firearms were so heavy, even the modern ones. It was very hard to imagine some prairie wife hefting that buffalo gun to defend her babies, even if I'm sure some did. Matt's hands are so large that he had to order a special grip for his .45, which made it that much harder for me to aim. And of course the sniper rifle wasn't something I could readily move at all. Women weren't--and I suspect aren't--even an afterthought when it comes to these things. Matt got his wife the 9mm because it's smaller and lighter than his .45, but it's also less powerful. That probably wouldn't make a difference to any unlucky prowler, but I think the point is still the same.
Over the course of the day I occasionally asked the German Timo what he thought of his authentic American experience. I was joking, but that didn't make it any less true. Guns are an American thing (Hangman reminded me gently but with vehemence about the importance of the Right to Bear Arms in the constitution), and as a Canadian I don't think I will ever truly understand it, and I don't truly want to.
But damn, it was awesome blasting those pumpkins.