I craved novelty a couple weeks ago and decided to go to the gun range. I get like this, I feel a little in a rut and need to try something new. The range had been on my periphery for a while. I shot a gun for the first time last December: clay pigeons in a West Virginia state park.
Free State Gun Range is in that odd triangle of White Marsh, Rosedale, and Essex. The boundaries of those areas get a little squishy in my mind and I’m not exactly sure where I am. It was a few turns off the highway onto a divided road, then onto an unlined road that ran into an industrial park. Aside from the gun stickers, posters about liberty, and an occasional popping sound, it is pretty unassuming.
I opened the door. I could not remember ever seeing so many guns in a single place. I lack the vocabulary to fully describe it, but there were pistols, revolvers, and then really big-ass guns. It was a lot to take in. My eyes were probably the size of saucers as I walked up to the desk. I asked about taking the introductory safety class. The website said this was mandatory. The staff person said I would need to fill out a waiver and then he could get me into the orientation. I filled out the registration and then went back up to the desk. I needed to wait while the previous orientation finished up.
There was a small lounge with a pool table and soda machine in an adjacent area. I went in there and started to play a game of pool. After a couple of minutes, I saw the classroom door open. I headed over and sat inside.
The staff person started a ten-minute DVD about general gun safety. I would be shooting a .22 Ruger. This is an entry-level option. There’s little recoil compared to other guns. I was the only one in the room. There were long plastic tables and folding chairs. Posters lined the wall about safety and sighting targets. I watched it, then the staff person returned set a gun on the plastic table I was sitting at. We walked through parts, hand positioning, and loading.
He emphasized safety. Always have the barrel pointing downrange, never touch the trigger until you are ready to fire, and always keep it unloaded until ready to use.
Thumbs interlace on the side of the gun, not at the back. He said that this is not the movies. You may see actors shooting like – and here he tipped his hand so that his knuckles were facing up – but that’s not realistic. There is a spring that slides back and forward to lock the magazine, and that would pinch your hand when it released if you were holding the gun at that angle.
The magazine holds ten bullets. It has a small spring that gets pushed down with one hand as the bullets are loaded with the other. Each bullet had a blue base and was roughly the size of the segment of a finger, from the top joint to the nail. I demonstrated everything, talking through my steps as I worked.
We exited the classroom and went to the counter. He took my driver’s license and placed a black plastic carry basket on the counter. It had a pair of ear guards, a Ruger, and a plastic bag of bullets. There were about 9 types of paper targets I could select. I chose the bullseyes, a series of six. I put my ear guards on and entered the range. Ear and eye (I wear glasses) protection must be worn at all times before entering the range.
There is a small antechamber with grey eggshell soundproofing material all along the walls. This door must close before you open the next one, which is the door to the actual range. I stepped into the range. I was not prepared for the noise. Guns are loud. Big guns are even louder. Even with the ear protectors, the noise was thunderous. There was a change in the temperature too, from air-conditioning to a dry heat.
I went to my lane and sat my basket down on the bench. The bench is a waist-high surface, with carpet. I took out the gun, the magazine, and the bullets, and placed them on the bench. A ledge runs the length of the wall behind the lanes. I put the basket behind me. I moved slowly, deliberately, focusing on one thing at a time. There was a lot to remember and a lot to take in.
Shell casings are everywhere. They litter the first several feet of the range floor. A few pepper the walkway in the back. Most were about the size of a finger segment. There were also some shotgun shells, which are closer to the size of sausage.
Each lane has a motorized target system that pushes the target back in half yard increments. I clipped my target onto the clips and sent the target forward. I started out at 3 yards and then moved it back to 5.
After a few rounds, I took a break. I left everything on the bench, stepped back, and glanced around. I imagined that the place would be filled with a bunch of old white guys. I was really wrong. There were several Asian men in the lane to my right. They could have passed for college students. Next to them was a group of guys speaking Spanish. I saw a pair of African-American men, probably in their late twenties, when I signed in. They were shooting in the farthest lane to my right. I think they had shotguns based on the noise and the distance of their target. On my left was a white woman in her early thirties taking a private lesson with a range instructor. In the first row, an older white man shot a revolver. While I was there, several couples also shared lanes. All of this shattered my stereotypes of who would be at a gun range.
I returned to shooting. I was doing relatively well but the bullseyes were a little boring. I put everything down, went out, and got another paper target. This one was battleships. Similar to the board game with bullseyes in different sections of each ship. These were more entertaining. I kept the distance close.
I had 50 bullets in my initial bag. When the magazine is empty, a little puff of smoke exhales as the spring load slides back. I put the safety back on and set it down. I went out for another bag of fifty and shot those. By that time, I was pretty tapped. There is not much recoil but aiming and holding the gun steady becomes difficult after a while. There are other guns being shot, in varying rhythms and at varying volumes while you are doing this. I could have spent longer shooting but concentrating for a long time with that kind of noise was difficult.
There were lights at each lane, but the range was comparatively lower-lit. I collected everything into the basket and then exited, first into the antechamber, then into the store. It felt like surfacing from being underwater or emerging from a cave.