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What's the Point?

Okay, so we know how I’ll benefit from this endeavor. I’ll gain experience in the great outdoors that will help me write a better book set in the Adirondacks. But you, my dear reader, may well be asking, “What’s in all this for me?” Hopefully you’ll gain a little knowledge, have a few laughs, and vicariously enjoy a sense of adventure. Think of it as a modern-day Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where you get to sit comfortably at your computer screen – much like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance behind some bushes. I, on the other hand, will go out into the wild, ala Jim Fowler, and do all the heavy lifting in an effort to entertain you.

            Well, on second thought…

« The Inside Scoop on Howard Johnson's | Hippos In Lake George »

Oh, Shoot!

A well-known adage for writers is to “write what you know.” Which explains why you’ll never find a sex scene in one of my stories.  I suppose I could give it a try, but then I’d break another writing adage: Don’t bore your readers.

Thankfully, I don’t write romance. I write mysteries, so it’s a given that at least one of the characters will end up dead. And because shooting someone with a gun is much more expedient than waiting for a character to die of natural causes, it makes sense that I should know something about guns and how they work.

So when I saw the opportunity to visit a pistol range while at Sleuthfest – a conference for mystery writers in Orlando, Florida – I signed up. Now, I hoped, I’d be able to infuse my killing scenes with more drama, passion and excitement than any sex scene I wrote would ever be able to achieve. Plus, as I discovered when I took a trap shooting class (See Pistol Packin’ Mama), I just like pumping things full of lead.

At the conference hotel I boarded a bus bound for the pistol range along with a group of middle-aged writer types who all looked about as dangerous as Jessica Fletcher and that Cabot Cove sheriff played by Tom Bosley. All, that is, except that pair of Texans, who probably not only knew how to shoot, but were no doubt packing their own heat. That’s why everyone let them have a whole section of the bus to themselves. Then we gave them our lunch money.

The bus took us deeper and deeper into the heart of Orlando until there was nothing but pawn shops, check cashing joints and strip clubs. “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Disney anymore.” If there were any hidden Mickeys around, I didn’t want to see them.

Upon entering the pistol range, we were confronted with a large sign that stated: “No live ammunition allowed beyond this point.” I immediately felt right at home because I have an embroidered sampler with that exact quote hanging in my front entryway.

We were ushered into a small classroom where Tim, the instructor handed us each a questionnaire to fill out. It had the typical questions that you’d expect, like “How many felonies have you committed?” and “Have you ever been caught?” I think more useful questions – at least in my situation – would be “How freaked out are you right now?” and “ Do stressful situations make you want to shoot everyone around you?”

I answered all the questions then signed that all-important waiver. You know, the one that says if I shoot myself or if someone else shoots me, either accidentally or intentionally, it’s my own damned fault because I signed the waiver.  Tim then gave us a brief safety talk, including good advice like don’t look down the barrel of a gun when you’re trying to figure out why it didn’t go off, which sounded exactly like something I would do. None of this was doing anything to calm my jittery nerves. So I was an excellent candidate for handling a loaded firearm.

We each had the chance to fire a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, chambered for a .38 to lessen the recoil, and a 9mm Glock semi-automatic. If that makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you right after I get done shooting its lights out.

When it was my turn to go in the room where they do the shooting, I took my target, a blue silhouette of a man with a bull’s-eye on his chest, with me. There was nary a mark on the man, and I was afraid he’d look the same way when I was done with him. I pinned the target to a garage door opener contraption and the instructor sent it out about 30 feet, but it might as well have been 100.

Then the instructor gave me 10 bullets and told me to load them in the magazine. We’d been told that the only people who refer to a magazine as a “clip” are novices and people whose parents are first cousins. Apparently, this imprecision of language is a sore spot with gun enthusiasts, and people who say “clip” when they mean “magazine” deserve to be shot. And gun folk really don’t like it when you call a magazine “the bullet-holding thingy.”

Inserting bullets into the magazine turned out to be harder than I thought. If I ever have to reload during a shoot out, I’ll end up dead. But at least, as my lifeblood flows out of me, I can take solace in knowing that it was my inability to reload a magazine – and not a clip – that led to my untimely death.

I started with the Glock and managed, just barely, to hit the target. If the blue target man had a mouth, he’d probably have been smirking. Once I’d fired five rounds, the instructor had me shoot the next five rounds with the hammer cocked (there’s your sex scene – happy now?), which was much easier. Each time I pulled the trigger, my aim became better and better. Who’s laughing now, blue target man?

When I finished firing both the Glock and the .357 Magnum, I left the shooting range with my shot-up target and waited for the others to finish. I was feeling pretty good at this point because A) I was still alive, and B) my target looked respectable for a first-timer. The only people who’d done better were people who’d done some shooting before and people who spend a lot of time playing video games.


As they say on late night infomercials, “But wait, there’s more.” If we wanted to, we could fire a .44 Magnum, aka the Dirty Harry gun. Ten of us volunteered, including me. We each were allowed to shoot five rounds and this time we were allowed to aim for the head. I know what you’re thinking, “Did she fire six shots, or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all the excitement I kinda lost track myself. But I can tell you that the blue target man ended up not feeling too lucky. Punk.


If you squint, I do sort of look like Clint Eastwood. 

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Reader Comments (3)

Shoot! You beat me to this. I'm going to get to a range with some friends. I know it will be a blast. At least I won't EVER say "clip" thanks to you.

Seriously, you've done it again. Nice piece. And I don't mean your Magnum 44.

"I have an embroidered sampler with that exact quote hanging in my front entryway." KILLER.

I feel lucky to be able to follow your blog.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sherman

Great write up. I'd love to give it a try sometime too! Thanks for sharing.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKay

You are a brave one, Betsy! Guns scare me, so I guess I am a punk compared to you!
Soldier stuff you are posting here.

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRamona

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