Today I got to feel American. What some folks would term 'real American.' One of my oldest friends made the acquaintance recently of a nice older gent in his area by performing a medical procedure for him (yes, my friend is a surgeon). This gentleman was quite pleased with the outcome, and has been asking my friend to come on over so they can play with some of his favorite toys. My friend, on realizing I'd be visiting yesterday, said gleefully "Oh yes indeed."

So we drove over. I was introduced to the gent and his wife, both very nice folks. Then we went to the basement. After walking past a mint-looking 1960s muscle car whose engine was out on a stand, and past a pair of motorcycles, we came to the workshop. The four separate reloading presses set up on the workbench was, indeed, a clue. This guy, you see, has guns. Many guns. Fun guns. Fascinating guns. He restores them. He tinkers with them. And he shoots them. A lot. He has over 39,000 rounds of ammo in his basement. He explained that reloading ammo is what he does to relax. He was eager to expose us city boys to a day of real fun. So we went to the arsenal, selected a dozen or so weapons, loaded 'em in his car and went to the range.

Yes, I'm a city boy. It's made as difficult as possible to own (and especially carry) guns here, and I approve of that. However, I'm not a no-gun liberal; I do believe that if you live somewhere where the population density is low enough and more importantly your fellow citizens have voted to have more permissive gun laws, then more power to you. This gent had a duly registered machine gun license, so the fact that we were driving to the range with enough firepower for a medium-sized war was cool with me.

We started small and moved up. Here's what I shot that day, as best I can remember.

  • Walther P-22 - a .22 Long Rifle target pistol, semiautomatic. I think I put fifty or sixty rounds through this one, as I hadn't shot pistol in a few years and wanted to get used to the feel again.
  • .25 pocket Beretta - James Bond's first gun! A tiny, tiny weapon that is really difficult to keep on target at 35 feet because it's so short. I think I hit 5 of 30 shots on the metal six-inch target.
  • Smith & Wesson Model 5906 - a 9mm semiautomatic. Your basic high-quality carry pistol; what Hiro Protagonist would say is colloquially known as a 'nine.' Shooting at six-inch circles at 35 feet, I hit with perhaps half of the 60 rounds I fired with this gun.
  • M1911A1 - a 1930s vintage U.S. Government issue .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol. I fired maybe 56 rounds of hollow-point from this, and stayed in the six-inch circle around 75 percent of the time. I was firing slower with this gun; it's heavier and harder to aim.
  • Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum Revolver - Fired 18 shots from this gun. With the short (4-5/8 inch) barrel, it's a well-balanced (for my hands at least) revolver, and I was more accurate with it than with the .45. It's slower to fire, of course, as it's a single-action revolver.
  • Ruger Super Redhawk .44 Magnum Revolver - The biggest handgun we had. This thing is immense, almost to the point of hilarity. I'm a big guy, so it wasn't nearly as bad as for my friend who probably masses 1/3 of what I do. FUN TIMES. Fired 18 shots from this thing, and although my wrist was OK, his wasn't. :-)

After pistols, we moved over to the rifle range and set up targets at 100 yards. Then we selected a range of toys and had at it.

  • 1906 (World War I service) M1903 Springfield bolt-action - This gun, I was told, saw service in Europe for several years during World War I. I believe it. Although in excellent condition, the weapon has that sort of comfortable, edges-rounded-off wear pattern that indicates it spent a great deal of time outside the gun cabinet and wandering around the world. This was probably the most accurate rifle I fired that day, but wasn't the most fun.
  • M1 Garand - my favorite gun of the day, hands down. It wasn't the loudest; it wasn't the most accurate, it was probably the heaviest - but damn, it was the most fun. That gun barks with (as Cartman would say) authoritah! Despite not having fired rifle in a couple years, and not having fired anything over a .22LR in over a decade, I managed to put 3 of my first 8 shots onto the paper at 100 yards from a seated position, my least favorite. I got to fire around 40 rounds from the Garand, and I think I giggled the entire time, especially when emptying the box magazine and hearing the clip go PWING-G-G-G! as it flew out, a sound familiar to any WWII FPS player. I want one of these. Badly.
  • Bushmaster XM-15 - A version of the AR-15, the civilian version of the U.S. military's M-16. This one had a 4-way Picatinny rail mount system, a handle/bipod, and a 5x scope. I shot 2 30-round magazines through this, discovering that the owner has gotten the action delicately balanced enough that you can double-tap with the gun if you're careful on the trigger. Probably the loudest weapon we fired; 3,000 feet per second with a CUP pressure of maybe 52,000 psi. I was okay, but not great; it was a left-handed gun, like its owner; and the shells ejecting past my face were a bit distracting as was shooting from a left-handed bench. Also, yeah, I'm just not a very good shot.

All in all, a great time. I was invited back, and accepted eagerly, promising to bring good whisky as barter trade for my ammo consumption. Afterwards, I got in my car and drove the 100+ miles back to New York. Ever since then, my sweater has gotten a few quizzical looks, because yes, it reeks of cordite.

I have to say, coming out of that day of shooting, though, the two guns out of that collection I would love to have for my own are the same two I wanted going in for more intellectual reasons - the M1911A1 and the M1 Garand. Although I think if I get those guns, I too will have to join the hobby club of home ammunition loading, because decent 30-06 ammo for the M1 is at least $1/round, and .45 ACP looks to be around 50 cents a pop.

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