[An AR is neither an Automatic Rifle nor an Assault Rifle. The initials AR stand for ArmaLite Rifle as ArmaLite was the company to first develop it.]
I thought Wm was crazy.
He had decided to build an AR, sourcing the pieces from various gun shops and websites. He is retired Army, worked at a Gun Store, and I soon realized he knew what he was doing.
I had very mixed feelings about the AR. I was utterly ignorant of them, never having even held one, and the media didn’t exactly sing their praises. Wm listened to my concerns but asked me to save my judgment until he finished building it and let me shoot it. Reluctantly, I acquiesced.
I am not anti-firearm. I grew up in Eastern Kentucky, and my Dad started teaching me about guns when I was around five. He owned several, and was a proud member of the NRA.
The very first lesson I learned was ALWAYS to treat the gun with respect. I remember him emphatically telling me that “Guns are NOT toys! You will never touch them unless I am around supervising you!” He continued with, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Never point a gun at anyone, even if it is unloaded”. I carry those rules with me to this day.
My Dad had grown up on Bee’s Fork Road (which we called the “Holler”), with acres and acres of gardens that included vegetables and tobacco. There was also a livestock barn and root cellar. And the mountains. I grew up hiking and exploring them all with my cousins. I was very comfortable there.
The best times for me were when some of Dad’s four brothers came into Mamaw’s. We would gather on the dirt road in front of the house, and Dad and his brothers always brought their firearms. I remember the men taking them out of the car trunks or truck beds and then passing them around. Ultimately, they would build a beer can triangle at the Holler end and let us younger ones shoot.
After being briefed—always—on safety, we took turns shooting. Even at five, Dad showed me the proper way to hold each pistol, rifle, and shot-gun as I was given my turn at the target. I loved the camaraderie of the family sport.
As I got older, I became better and could hit the targets regularly. The smell of “gun smoke,” as we called, permeated my olfactory senses and imprinted in my mind. When I was shooting, surrounded by my Dad and Uncles, I was happy! I was safe! I was competent!
After I went to college and out into the world, my attendance at these family gatherings became limited and ultimately non-existent. However, I did keep my memories close to my heart, hoping that one day I’d have that feeling and those smells surrounding me.
Time evolved. I had my guys and taught full time, and shooting or owning any gun didn’t even enter my mind.
Wm finally got all of the parts for his AR, and the husband of a gal he worked with finished assembling it and zeroed the sights for him. It was ready.
I could tell his trigger finger was itching to try it out.
We decided to go to the Range that Sunday. Wm readied all of our gear—loading the range bag with the handguns, ammo, and other necessities. He made sure the guns all had the requisite flags in their chambers, indicating that they were not loaded. He then zipped the AR into its case. He’d made target holders from PVC pipes and installed the targets within them using rope and large clamps—making sure to tell me that I was not allowed to shoot the PVC–and we loaded them in the trunk last.
We first drove to Otter Creek to find that their Gun Range was closed because of an unfinished Pistol Range. We then headed to Knob Creek.
At first glance, the Gun Range there looked crowed. As we walked closer, we saw there were open lanes. We continued inside, registered, and paid the fee. We headed out to the Range. Knob Creek required eye and ear protection, so we donned ours en route.
Wm had explained the etiquette of the Range to me beforehand. But, no amount of prior knowledge prepared me for the real thing.
Upon entering, the Knob Creek guys showed us to our table. Wm used hand signals to direct me on where to put things. We’d gotten there in the middle of a round and stepped back to the yellow line behind us to wait for the next “clear” so we could set up our targets.
When the time came, Wm placed our targets at the suggested distances. My heart was jumping out of my chest—after all, it’d been 30+ years since I’d last shot a gun. Wm was as cool as a cucumber, and I was a bundle of nerves.
He started with his handgun. After he’d emptied the clip, he put the safety on, laid it on the table, and set my gun to the side, indicating it was my turn.
As I gripped the gun, the memories of shooting beer cans flashed through my mind. I was shaking but aimed and pulled the trigger. I can’t say that I hit my target more than a couple of times as I soon ran out of ammo. I engaged the safety and set the gun down on the table with the barrel facing the targets.
The moment he’d been waiting for had finally come. Wm picked up his AR, sat down, aimed at the target, and fired. I could see our mark in the distance had been hit. He continued firing for about five more minutes.
He stood up and motioned me over.
He mouthed, “Do you want to try?”
“Of course!” I answered as I sat in the chair and looked through the scope.
At that very second, the feeling of familiarity washed over me. I relaxed. I had shot many a rifle and shot-gun with my Dad and his brothers. I smelled the recognizable scent of the bullets as they exploded from the gun when Wm shot.
I looked through the scope and aimed the crosshairs at the target. My heart was no longer racing. I knew what I was doing—just as I’d done so many years ago. I felt the presence of my Dad and Uncles with me as I pulled the trigger for the first time. I hit the target’s peripheral—much better than I’d done the first time with the smaller gun.
I aimed once again and fired. And fired. And fired.
My mind was so focused on the dance of lining up, and pulling the trigger that everything else going on around me ceased to exist. It was just me, the AR, and the target. My body remembered this ritual from long ago. I kept going until I felt Wm tap me on my shoulder, indicating I should get up.
When I stepped back, I felt euphoric! I had a massive smile on my face, and my nerves had quelled. I couldn’t wait until it was my turn again.
When the round was over, we walked out to look at the targets. I was practically skipping! Of course, Wm had been much more accurate than I, but I didn’t let that bother me. This experience left me wanting more.
I knew that with more practice, I would become much more consistent.
Our second and last round started. Wm laid his handgun on the table for me to try. I stepped up and took my stance. I aimed and fired. This time, I could cluster my shots together, but they were all in the upper right quadrant—not in the red circle in the middle. Wm took his turn with the handgun as I watched. He finished, locked it, and positioned the AR.
Then he motioned to me to take a seat.
I excitedly gripped the now-familiar rifle with my hands, found the target in the sight, and pulled the trigger. This time I was much closer to the center. I again smelled the familiar aromas of gun oil and spent shells. The world around disappeared, and I aimed and shot. Over and over. I did not want the experience to end.
Too soon, I felt the familiar tap on my shoulder. Filled with adrenaline, I stood and relinquished my spot. I watched Wm as he finished the magazine, released it, and replaced the red flag to indicate it was empty.
We spent the rest of our time with the handguns. Wm had clipped the PVC on the right side of the target during the first round. Now I had shot entirely through the PVC on the left side. The top of the stand fell as I realized my mistake. I put the safety on, lay the gun on the table, looked at Wm, and laughed.
He grinned at me while assuring me it’d be a quick fix as we had more PVC at home.
I was giddy during the ride home. I closed my eyes and was back at the table shooting the AR. I relived the sensations—what I saw, how it felt, what it smelled like, and the muffled sounds coming through the ear protection. I talked a mile a minute to Wm. I just couldn’t stop!
I’m seriously considering getting my own AR. Not so much for protection, but for sport. The Range reawakened part of me that I thought was forever gone. My past is now part of my present. And, that makes me content!