Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 24, 2012

Day at the gun range brings excitement and renewed respect for safety


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— The shotgun was loaded. I had fired an Uzi submachine gun and an M-1 Garand rifle, but this was something I had always wanted to do. I took aim at the bright clay disk dangling from a strip of duct tape and fired.

Bang! I felt that kick against my shoulder, but I had held it snug like I had been told, so I didn’t get too much of a hit. The target exploded and I had a quick shot of elation. That feeling got even better when I shot down another target pitched into the air. Symbolically, it was turkey on the table tonight.

A journey to the Beckley Gun Club’s shooting range started when Editor Samantha Perry asked me if I wanted to fire a gun.

“Always,” I replied. I got some directions and when Saturday morning arrived, I was on my way.

The directions I had been given were good, but they left out the classic West Virginia reassurance “just about the time you think you’re lost.” I drove to Ghent and went up and up into the mountains until I found reclaimed mine land and the Beckley Gun Club’s shooting range.

I was the first member of the media to arrive. The club was hosting a media day to show the public the various services it offers and to promote gun safety. It’s the only gun club to be named Outstanding Gun Club twice by the National Rifle Association, Jim Cozort, a member of the club’s board of directors, told us.

Soon other members of the media arrived, and the lessons began. We had not been invited just to see other people fire guns, but to do the firing ourselves. Naturally, we started off with a safety lesson. We learned to point the guns downrange and not in a person’s direction, not to load the guns until we were ready to shoot, to keep our fingers off the triggers until we were ready to fire, and not to shoot the instructor; the latter being the most important.

The way firearms are designed, putting your finger on the trigger seems perfectly natural; instead, we were taught to keep our trigger fingers off that trigger until we were ready to shoot. I had to correct myself more than once about that, but it became habit sooner than I had expected.

We started out with .22 caliber rifles. I sat down with other guests at a bench, went through the lessons of learning to load and aim properly, and fired after receiving permission to shoot. I don’t think I did too badly, but neither was I prepared to become an Army sniper. I know the turkeys known to wander the range had little to fear. First, no hunting is permitted on that land. Second, I wasn’t a great shot.

Next, we moved on to Ruger Mark II target pistols using .22 caliber long rifle ammunition. We sat down at the benches, getting small sandbags in place as arm rests and learning to load cartridges (not bullets, cartridges), and received permission to fire.

It took more than a few shots before I could see whether I was hitting anything at all. Finally, I managed to pepper a few shots at a paper target and actually got a few into the bright yellow number 5 circle I was aiming at. I was told that wasn’t bad for a first timer. It wasn’t too bad for a guy with new eyeglasses, either.

Oh, but then came time for the shotguns. To me, the big moment came from the double-barreled model. I had to take care not to pull both triggers at once. Then I felt that kick and heard that bang despite the ear plugs I wore along with everybody else. At that moment, I remembered yet again that Hollywood physics and real physics are two different animals. You would have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator to fire a shotgun with one hand.

After a really good lunch — a hot dog and two cheeseburgers right off the grill — Cpl. J.C. Long with the West Virginia State Police detachment near Princeton arrived with an AR-15 rifle. Oh, those rifles may look like assault rifles, but that’s not correct, he told us. The AR-15 is semi-automatic, which means you have to pull the trigger for every shot. The only weapons you can call assault rifles are fully automatic, and you only find those with our military overseas.

Of course, the geek in me didn’t want to split hairs. The rifle still looked cool and I got to fire it.

I’ve been thinking about buying a gun for home defense, but I want to use it properly. The Beckley Gun Club teaches courses such as Basic Pistol, Basic Rifle, Basic Shotgun, Personal Protection in the Home, and Home Firearms Safety. Firearms safety is emphasized in each class, and that’s what I need the most. Pupils also learn about proper ammunition, cleaning and storage as well as shooting skills. I’m not looking to get into a Hollywood-style gun battle. I only want something for self-defense and some target shooting.

We were also given a tour of the various ranges, and it’s a great example of old mine land being put to a new use. No alcohol is permitted there, so you know that you won’t encounter armed drunks. The National Guard and reserve units have used the range for qualifying, and the West Virginia Troopers Association uses the range and the range’s officers for annual three-gun matches and training sessions.

Our hosts, Club President Kevin Burgess, Tom Lilly and Jim Cozort — each a NRA certified gun instructor — and member Jacob Adkins showed us a good day and taught us a lot about using firearms. Hopefully, I’ll be able to build on what I’ve learned.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.