Range Day

“You should go to the range this week.”

These are words that will always get my attention. When they come from Action Girl, they can almost bring tears to my eyes. This is how I know she loves me.

Things are finally getting warmer here in Maine and the snow banks are slowly creeping back into the woods. All this makes me itch to get my rifles back out after a long winter’s hibernation and spend some quality time making loud noises and punching holes in pieces of paper. Hey… the paper had it coming.

The problem that I’ve encountered lately is defining the time that I should get to go and play. Since I’ve left the Monday through Friday, nine to five world and put most of my energy into caring for the kids and working on the house, it’s been really hard to set aside time to go and do the things that I love. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with my three year old and one year old every day. It’s something that is invaluable and immeasurable and I am unbelievably lucky to have the opportunity. It’s just… sometimes Dad needs some downtime… or rather, Dadtime.

Going off to play does make me feel a little guilty on some level though.

It makes me think of a public service announcement that ran on TV when I was a kid. The ad showed a father going away on yet another golf trip as he left his wife and kids alone and sad looking in the dooryard, one child asking him why he wouldn’t stay. The message was something like, “Did you ever think of having fun with your family instead of being selfish? Dick!” (I’m assuming here that his name was Richard)

I know that I’m hardly in the “absentee dad” category and that I do indeed, get to go have some fun sometimes but it does run through my mind when I’m going off to enjoy myself by myself. Just a few more years of this and maybe I’ll have a little companion who will want to come with me.

Target shooting, one of my very, VERY favorite things to do, has become exceedingly difficult to get around to for several reasons. The first thing that makes it tricky is the fact that I live on an island, and though blasting away with .22’s at the dump might have been perfectly fine a generation ago, those days are most defiantly gone for good. I need to get to the mainland if I’m going to justify owning firearms, and that takes time.

There is no such thing as a “quick trip” to town.

luggage

Pack up your bag, walk to the dock, get on board, find a seat and wait. Dock, disembark, walk to the parking garage, find the car, toss everything in and NOW… you’re ready to start. It takes a long time just to get rolling and if you forgot something back home, say… your car keys, you get to use some very colorful language and toss all your plans out the metaphorical window.

When I worked on the mainland every day, I could decide to go shooting during lunch and simply bring a rifle along with me in the morning. Now if I want to go, it’s a special trip and I have to set aside a big block of time and these days, those are few and far between.

So, with taking care of the kids and desperately trying to get a few things done on the house, I just don’t get to go shooting much. That, and the small fact that winter in Maine will make just about anybody think twice about sitting at an out door bench for an hour while you try to feed frozen ammunition into your frozen rifle with your frozen fingers. Some how, frostbite always seems to suck the fun out of any occasion.

This morning, with the help of Action Girl handling the kid wrangling and the lovely spring weather if not full of the scent of tulips and daffodils, at least holding off the rain, I headed out with a bounce in my step. I’d done the right thing and called several friends to see if they wanted to come along, but being the middle of the week, all replied that they just couldn’t make it. I enjoy taking others out to shoot but this was just fine. Time alone at the shooting bench is a wonderful thing.

As I steamed into town working on the first of my two coffee thermoses, I chatted with a few friends and enjoyed the notion that I would have the whole morning off. A rare and blessed thing. The obligatory stop at the local doughnut shop to pick up provisions and I was ready to start the morning right.

The drive there is an easy one and if not exactly beautiful and pastoral, it is at least quick. By the time the first chocolate glazed was reduced to crumbs on my shirt and lap, I was pulling in and switching off the car. It was still early and all the ranges were silent, but not for long if I had anything to say about it.

I’ve been here many times before, alone and with friends, but it’s always more relaxed when I’m there on my own. No one to wait for when setting up targets. No botching a shot because you flinched when the person on the next bench fired just a half second before you. No worrying if you’re going to bean the guy to your right with a hot and freshly emptied shell casing when you pop the breach open with the enthusiasm that comes over you after a perfect shot. None of that for me today!

The last and best thing about shooting alone is music. I don’t know who invented the “ear bud,” but to them, I shall always be thankful. In addition to looking slick, cool and coiling up in your pocket, the little buggers also nestle beautifully under a set of ear protection, thus saving your hearing from the sudden concussion of rifle fire so you can crush it under the din of your favorite music.

music-protection

It was a Motown morning for me as Dianna Ross and Supremes joined me for a while during target practice.

After an hour and a half, I stood seventy-five yards away from a well holed paper target and just to the left of a sizable pile of empty brass. It was a great morning. Just as I was picking up, our range safety officer happened by to check on things. He’s a nice old gentleman and I’ve been privileged to chat with him on a few occasions. After our initial greeting his eye fell to the bench as his eyebrows arched. “So, what do we have here this morning?” I pulled the bolt open and handing it to him.

“It’s my Grandfather’s Mauser K98k. His brother brought it back from Europe for him and he had it sported into a deer rifle. I don’t usually care for sported combat rifles but this is a top notch job and obviously, it’s got the family history going for it. It’s actually my favorite rifle to shoot. I can’t wait until my kids can come with me to do this.”

He looked on approvingly as I cleaned it in preparation for its ride back home and we talked about shooting. He told me about how he used to go with his son when he was younger and how much fun it was. “He doesn’t like shooting any more though. It’s too bad. I have quite a collection to pass on but no one to pass it on to.”

“Oh…” I groped for a way to ask without being prying. What would cause that? He solved the problem for me and volunteered the answer.

“He joined the Navy and that was fine. He still liked to shoot and we had a lot of fun when he was home, but then he joined the Navy Seals and well… lost his taste for shooting after that.”

I can only imagine what might have happened to cause that change and to be honest, I’d rather not imagine too hard. I’ve never been in the situation where I had to shoot at another human being and I hope to God, I never will. I have the same hope and prayer for my children. I looked down at my rifle and thought about the young German soldier to whom it must have been issued. I wonder what happened to him? I wonder whom he shot at or if he ever even had the chance. Whatever his story, it was lost to time. The rifle was mine now and I was in charge of its use.

As I drove back to my island home and awaiting family, I thought about how enjoyable it was to have some time to practice a hobby that I enjoyed so much and then about my range-friend with his futureless collection. I truly do enjoy the sport but what he told me was sobering.

One of my Grandfathers taught me how to shoot and the other has supplied me with my two favorite guns to take out. I hope that someday I’ll get to take both my children out to enjoy days like this with me but if they don’t, I’ll hang on to my collection for as long as I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get the chance, years from now to sit down with a cup of coffee, my Grandfather’s .22 and my own grandchildren. I’ll explain how their Great-Great Grandfather got it for Christmas when he was just eight, and then I’ll show them how to use it. When they’re strong enough, I’ll get out the Mauser too.

Firearms are nothing to be taken lightly and I treat them with the respect they deserve, just like I was taught to. I feel that it’s an important lesson to pass along. Short Stack and Lulu Belle may not want to have anything to do with them, I know, but they will understand how to handle them. I hope they will at least humor their Dad at times and go with him to the range for a sunny morning of shooting.

It’s warm and bright this morning. The wind is barely perceptible and I still haven’t had breakfast. It’s just right for heading back to shoot some more. Not today though. It’s time to work; shooting can come later. Anyway, waiting for it makes it all the more special when I do go.

Maybe next week…

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The Dump

When I was kid, we didn’t have curbside garbage pick up. At least, I don’t think it was an option. What that meant was that every weekend, my father would load the trunk of his otherwise pristinely clean car with bag after bag of household refuse and drive them to the land fill himself. This, on the surface, doesn’t sound so bad, but you have to know my Father to understand the ramifications. Though my dear and understand Dad is normally a very level headed and flexible individual, when it comes to caring for his cars, he’s obsessive, verging on the pathologic. His vehicles are always cleaner than clean and could double as an operating theater for brain surgery if it weren’t for the facts that first, it would be too cramped, and second, he would chase everyone out with a window scraper before they could leak brain juice on the upholstery.

His rabid defense of his cars from all things messy has always been a bit of a mystery to me. For the most part, he couldn’t care less about vehicles in general. He doesn’t lust after a Mustang or drool over Mercedes. The various makes and models just don’t turn his head much. He would (and has) however, defended the unblemished interior of both a brand new Chevrolet behemoth-mobile or a company owned AMC Eagle with equal gusto. The bottom line is, if it’s his car, it matters and it will, oh-yes-it-will, be perfect. If you ever are in the market for a used car, you want his.

This makes the dump trips all the more amazing. It must have been a teeth clenching experience for him to drive his car, with a trunk full of trash, down the muddy road and into a giant valley of garbage. These trips took place on Saturday mornings and more often than not, they happened with a little boy in the back seat. I was always game for going to the dump! I thought it was awesome!

The long, dirt road snaked down into the craterous pit and moving along the periphery, yellow monsters with massive steel wheels groaned, shifted and feasted on the stinking piles. All around us were the leftovers of thousands of homes, cast off and destined to be pawed through by some alien archeologist of the future. What ever will they think we were like?

trash

Naturally, getting out of the car was the very first thing that I wanted to do. What kid wouldn’t? Everything was fascinating to look at and most of all, I wanted to “help”. Children of a certain age are almost always up for “helping” and it is a trial for just about every parent out there. The efforts of the son or daughter are earnest and heart felt and will inevitably make the job at hand go six to eight times slower than if you could just handle it yourself. The Saturday morning dump trip had the added bonus for my Father of having his son track dump juice back into the car when it was time to go. I can only imagine what this did to his blood pressure. Being a kid and thus possessing the attention span of a squirrel on amphetamines, I would naturally forget myself and put my feet up on the seat back or pull my legs up next to me, smearing someone’s old lettuce and fish sticks on the upholstery. My dad, doing the best to be his best would remind me a gently as possible about keeping the car clean. This would happen roughly every sixteen seconds for the rest of the way back to town.

As we headed back, dutifully cleaning hands with moist towelettes that appeared magically from the glove box, we’d chat about this and that and more often than not, make a detour to a local doughnut shop and pick up provisions for a successful Saturday morning back at home.

These days, we don’t call them “dumps” any more. They are “transfer stations” and the massive land crawlers that buried our troubles in leaky pits have been reassigned to move bins of segregated household items so that they may be recycled at the proper facility. Or, perhaps buried in segregated pits far far away. Our own transfer station is a lot cleaner than the one I remember from my youth. Though we do have city pick up, this requires us to remember to get the cans out the night before; a seemingly simple task that we somehow forget astonishingly often. I pack up my less than pristine car with the cast-offs from our home and drive the short distance to the facility, my own son chattering away to the back of my head. We pull in and naturally, he wants to help. Mercifully, the various bins are far too high for his little arms to swing bags into, so I get that envious job all to my self.

Though missing the massive pit of refuse, what our dump does have are all the sleeping metallic dinosaurs that had entranced me so long ago. Short Stack likes to review them as they sit, lined up for inspection. All he needs is an officer’s hat and riding crop and it would be the perfect image of a general reviewing the troops.

“That’s a front loader. That one’s a backhoe. This one is a grader.”

It’s an instructional way to spend a morning.

Once the trash has been deposited and the battalion reviewed, we head back to the car and buckle in. His boots will inevitably wind up on the seat back and I’ll wince as I feel my seat get kicked and think of the mud. This is nothing to what my Father had to endure, however. Our dump isn’t a dump at all. Just a collection of skids and dumpsters full of neatly separated debris. There are no elderly fish sticks to trod on and bring inadvertently back home on our shoes. The seagulls don’t even seem to visit there, looking for an easy, if not rancid, meal.

There’s no doughnut shop nearby for us to stop at, but that’s okay. Action Girl might be making waffles or pancakes back in the kitchen. Into the garbage will go the eggshells and the empty bag of flour, priming the trash can for next week’s trip so we can see what’s going on at the dump.

Yoga and 8mm ammo.

shootingyoga.png

With only a very few days before the birth of our daughter, I’ve been trying to get things done that will be difficult, if not out right impossible, once she arrives. This will be the case for a month or so, anyway. I’ve been setting things up. I’ve been fixing this and that. I’ve been visiting clients who are some distance away; that sort of thing. The one thing I haven’t had much luck with is doing something for me. The closest I’ve gotten to “Daddy time” is sitting in my car at a scenic overlook and eating lunch off my dashboard. I don’t mind that at all and it beats the heck out of sitting at my desk, but it hardly elicits a “WOO-HOO!”. Every time I’ve said that I was going to leave work early and go do something fun, I inevitably wind up running behind on my “to do” list and more important things take over what was supposed to be my fun time.

Yesterday morning I finally did it. I just had to make a sneak attack on the day. I filled up my coffee mug, visited our local hand made doughnut shop and drove to the range. I had coffee, doughnut, my matching 1915 Oberndorf, Gewehr 98 and about 120 rounds of ammunition. In an effort to keep the local inhabitants from attacking with pitchforks, or at least going to the city to complain, there’s no shooting allowed before 8 AM , and since I was there at about a quarter ’till, it gave me a lovely chance to get all set up and enjoy my beverage and breakfast.

Our range is very well run and extensive. There are large areas for pistol, trap, skeet and, my favorite… rifle. Personally, I find pistols to be not worth it. They are very expensive to buy, easily stolen and not very accurate over any appreciable distance. For the most part, I’m a target shooter so any firearm that requires you to be close to the target, just doesn’t light my fire. And to be perfectly honest… firing a pistol just lacks something for me. The “Crack, crack, crack” of the report and this little piece of metal jumping around in your hands just doesn’t do it for me. Skeet and trap shooting is fun and I like to do it from time to time but you need other folks participate with you. We all know how easily plans with friends can fall apart at the last minute, so I don’t put a lot of energy into trap. High powered rifles though… Oh, they are fun.

The rifle I brought this morning is one of my favorites. It’s in great condition, which is a minor miracle in its self. It was likely picked up on the battle field of France sometime in 1915-18 but probably, 1918. Chances are that an American doughboy came across it during or after a battle in the Great War and later, brought home. It might have sat in a closet for decades or perhaps under the bed, wrapped in old sheets. I’ll never know for sure, but it’s mine now and I love it. It’s long and heavy and much of the gun blue has worn off.

The bore is still very nice and it functions just as well as when it rolled out of the factory in Oberndorf nearly 100 years ago. I have to sight low on the targets that I put up. The rear sight has a minimum distance setting of 200 meters. The maximum is 2000. That’s almost 1.25 miles. After about an hour, I’m out of ammo and my shoulder is a touch tender. It was such a wonderfully warm morning that I decided to clean up the rifle right there. By the time I left, I was still the only one there. I had the place all to my self and thoroughly enjoyed it.

If someone asks me why I like to shoot, I tell them, “It’s like yoga”. I usually get a smirk or an out right laugh for that, but it’s true. I love yoga but I simply don’t have the time. Shooting fills that need for me. Think about it. Controlled breathing, concentration to the point of pushing all else out of your mind, stance, staying loose and pushing your self. It’s all there. Plus, it goes “BOOM!”. I have to admit, I like the “boom”.

Oh well, back to the work-a-day grind. I’ll try to get away a few weeks after Lulu Belle is born and get a little more “Dad Time” in. Wish me luck.

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