Home On The Range

Doug Wallace Issue: Section:

We loaded my friend's ammunition and guns - the Glock, the .22 pistol, the AR-15, and the German deer hunting rifle - into my trunk. Then off we went to celebrate Presidents Day.

It was a crisp, cold February morning. We got to the range just before it opened up at 10am. I'm not really a gun aficionado, so I was glad to see I fit in with the small group assembled to pay entrance fees and get targets. Outdoorsy boots and flannel shirts is the basic dress code. A brown spider fell off someone's target and raced along the ground. After a few embarrassing shrieks, the heavily-armed men beside me composed themselves. One said gruffly, "Live and let live." Another retorted with a smirk, "Yeah, right."

Here is a place we can go to revel in long-established, low volume male ethos. There's no gourmet coffee. You buy it out of a machine for 50 cents. In the men's room, there's a trough to piss into. On the community bulletin board a hand-scrawled note reads: "250 lb lead weight for sale. Call Jack." We approach the numbered shooting lanes, heave the guns and ammo onto plywood tables, and start loading. Thousands of spent bullet casings of many sizes and shades of brass tinkle under foot like sea shells.

My elderly lane neighbor, dressed in old jeans and a black and red checkered shirt, is assembling his tripod for his Benelli R1. I brag to him that I bagged 10 gophers last summer at my folks' place in Inverness with my .22. "Yes", he replies and raises his eyebrows. "There are many pests around in these parts too, especially..." He struggles to think of a word and before he can get it, the range manager bellows, "Commence Firing!"

One by one, the guns go off and the orchestra begins. The basso profundo booms of the hunting rifles combine with the rat-a-tat-tat of the .22's and every caliber in between. A cloud of gun smoke blows in from my left and the grey fragrance of cordite and nitroglycerin fills the air.There are two dozen of us lined up, all with the same determined look, shooting pieces of lead at black paper circles 50 yards away. I think of Abraham Lincoln and wonder what kind of a shot he must have been in rural Illinois. In those days before suburbs and malls, a .22 rifle was as common a household tool as a shovel or a hammer. Used to protect the chicken coop or kill the odd rattler. And I wonder what Lincoln must have thought about the Second Amendment. Before, that is, he was killed by a gun.

"Cease Fire!"

We walk into the firing arena to retrieve our targets. I discover that I had mutilated my AR-15 target with pinpoint accuracy, and I a gun ignoramus. For what conceivable, practical reason should any civilian be allowed to own this dreadful weapon, the liberal in me pondered. As if reading my mind, my friend in the red and black shirt approached me wild-eyed, brandishing his rifle:

"Voles!" he said. "There's voles in them thar hills."

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