The challenge of target shooting

August 8, 2012 

Punching holes in paper or breaking clay targets, like beating golf balls with clubs, seems a silly waste of time. Most modern forms of recreational “sports” are based on the practice of trying to throw or hit something far and accurately, both probably originating from man’s desire for survival and defense.

Early man used slings and rocks, Spartans threw spears and javelins, Native Americans preferred bow and arrow, as did Robin Hood. Target shooting begins in the back woods with “turkey shoots,” peaking at international Olympic Games matches.

Having spent some time over the past few years with George and Charlie Docherty, teaching them the fundamentals of shooting, I wasn’t surprised to have them call asking if I would accompany them to the shooting range. Supervised recreational target shooting provides safe mingling of recreation with education and entertainment, while demonstrating that attaining higher goals is a contest within oneself.

Public shooting ranges are a very rare these days, requiring backstops, fields of fire and close supervision. It is necessary that ranges cover their expenses by charging reasonable “range fees.”

The routine is to register with the range master, an experienced and certified instructor, who supervises activities and provides targets and supplies. The actions of all guns are required to remain open and unloaded until permission to fire is given.

After the signal “cease fire” is given, a quick inspection follows to ensure guns are open and on the tables followed by “All Clear. Set your targets.”

Targets can be placed anywhere from 15 feet, usually for rapid-fire pistol, to 200 or 300 yards distant, for precision rifle shooting. The range is surrounded by impact areas, backed by high earthen banks serving to stop errant projectiles.

Ear plugs are mandatory for all participants. A generalization about immature first-time shooters says, the bigger the “bang” the happier they are. The crack of a .22 from a target rifle, muffled by ear protectors is pretty feeble, as compared with a full load of ear-drum booming, blast of military .45 caliber rounds from short barreled (3 to 4 inches) hand guns. Another generalization suggests the faster the firearm expends ammunition the happier the novice is, sometimes resulting in virtual showers of expended shell casings. Here another generalization comes into effect, the faster the expenditure of ammunition invariably results in lower scorings.

But one projectile properly delivered is worth much more than several dozen randomly prickling nearby bushes.

I’ve always been proud to brag on one of my young students who, after a bit of coaching, was able, shooting offhand, at 50 feet, to hit a penny square on, a souvenir she still cherishes.

Most firearms are more accurate than their operators. Using a .42 caliber flintlock of the early 1800’s era, I found it was still capable of splitting a ball against an ax blade (four times in succession), thus earning the State Championship. Like automobiles, arrows and slingshots, firearms are deadly if misused. Early training, emphasizing responsibility, remains the key. To be a high scorer requires more than learning the fundamentals; it takes a great amount of time practicing.

OK, target shooting, like golf, is a waste of time, but the challenge remains legitimate.

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