May 17, 2016

Lead Therapy Cures the Spring Blues

One of the things I miss the most when I am in Japan is access to firearms and gun ranges. There is nothing quite so satisfying as grabbing a trusted firearm along with a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and heading out to the range to punch holes in targets, smell the bitter tang of burnt powder on my hands, and feel the kick against my palm or shoulder as a round discharges. It is very satisfying to be able to stand fifteen or thirty feet away from an 8.5"x11" target and successfully punch holes in it with 250 grains of lead flying through the air at about 900 feet per second. But even down at the range, my eccentricities stand out like a crazy uncle fond of aloha shirts. I can't just use a blank white piece of paper for a target, nor a paper plate, nor a sheet of cardboard with a circle drawn on it, nor even a NRA-recognized regulation 12" black circle 25-yard small arms target. No, I get bored with such simple targets. I need something with a little color and pizzazz!

I haven't been to the range since I arrived back in Ohio last March. The weather has been too cold or too wet. The gun club I belong to (Brokenlock Longrifles) only has a single facility in a low-lying hollow near a creek. Heavy spring rains cause the creek to flood every year, filling the basin that holds the gun club. So in order to be able to get onto the range without damaging the grounds, I have to wait until the creek recedes and the grounds have at least two sunny days to dry out. This spring has been one of the coldest and wettest on record, making the range inaccessible until just recently. Last week my tractor died, I struggled to get caught up on my writing, and the tenor of politics in America put me in a very sour mood. By the time my schedule cleared and the range was accessible, the weekly sporting clays group had laid claim to the entire facility on the weekends, and the weekdays were still a wee bit too cold for my old bones to handle. Today was beautiful weather! Even though it's been dry all weekend, I had to wait for the tractor repair shop to call me and let me known when I was getting the tractor back. It was a long morning sitting by the phone trying to write character profiles and failing.

Finally, just after 2pm, the tractor shop called to arrange delivery for tomorrow morning. I looked outside at the clear blue sky and decided it was high time to get down to the range. I desperately need to sight in my .308 Ruger American Rifle, because I just replaced the stock and added a new scope, but I really was not in the mood to run ballistics calculations and fine tune scope adjustments. Too much precision work. I just needed to get out in the fresh air and burn through some ammo. Big ammo, with a big bang. I went down to the safe and pulled out my Uberti 1875 Remington Replicas from Taylor's & Co. These two .45 caliber pistols are both made in Italy by Uberti Firearms, then cleaned up and fine-tuned by Taylor's for sale in the United States. My pair have sequential serial numbers, U29003 and U29004. One time while I was in Japan, U29003 developed pitting rust on the outside of the barrel, so I had to send it back to have it reblued. It is a shade darker than U29004, and shoots about two inches higher and to the right of point of aim. U29004 shoots dead on at point of aim. It is far more accurate than I could ever master. Any mistakes are either failures on my part to use proper sight alignment or the result of poor trigger control, and sometimes both. I'm not exactly a world-class marksman, after all, nor do I have any ambition to become one.

After fetching about a hundred rounds of ammo and loading up my range bag, I discovered I did not have any targets! Since I normally print out my own zany targets, any that don't get used are often coveted by friends or family and I am only to happy to share them. I fired up the computer and the printer and went through the files on my hard drive, but almost everything felt just a bit bland. I went searching through Google images and found a very interesting line of targets produced by a company called, "iCandyCombat". Even if I had them express delivered, there was no way these targets could arrive inside a couple hours, so ordering them was not an option at this point. Additionally, the targets they sell are full-size silhouettes, which is something very nice to have and I will be ordering from them in the near future, but today was not meant to be a serious shooting practice. I stole one of the images from Google image search, reversed it, cropped it, and printed it out on 8.5"x11" paper. This meant the generous chest area target region in the bad guy was about 3" across in my version! Quite a challenge with a .45 caliber cowboy gun! So I decided I needed a bit less challenging target to warm up on. But I still wanted something with a little color, so I opened Windows Paint and went to work.

Cowboy guns hold six shots in the cylinder. However, safe shooters in the old west quickly learned that keeping one chamber empty made it impossible for the firearm to accidentally discharge while riding, roping, working the fields, climbing out of wagons, and so on. I was trained by my father who was trained by his father who was a real cowboy that worked on a horse ranch owned by his father, who was a genuine pioneer that carved a ranch out of the raw Canadian wilderness. Men in my family always load five shots in their six-shooters. I suppose you could call it a family tradition.

First I fired about 25 rounds through U29003. As expected, it fired consistently high and right. Then I fired about ten rounds (two load cycles) through U29004. It was as accurate as ever, so I put up a clean target and this is what I wound up with:

This group is 2.75" across and 1.5" from top to bottom. I don't know about anyone else, but for me this is a very fine five-shot group and I am quite proud of it. Naturally, the next step was to put up a couple of the iCandyCombat-style targets and see if I could save the hostage from the evil bad guy with the big knife. I have to confess, my first group did not go so well. I just clipped the hostage's neck, which would have killed the hostage. Not good. Not good at all. The second target I missed the hostage, but one round also missed the bad guy. Keep in mind, these targets are printed on normal copy paper with a half-inch margin on all four sides. The head shot area on the bad guy is less than one inch across and the chest area just barely three inches across. However, my third, fourth, and fifth targets all came out with beautiful groups. Three dead bad guys (well, five altogether) and three living hostages (well, technically four, but who's counting?). This is target number four. I chose it because the 2.5" group has a nice concentric shape:

Not bad shooting for a 55 year-old man who spent half his life in a country where no one is allowed to own handguns, let alone practice with them. Getting out to the range and getting some lead therapy accomplished also rid me of the yucky-weather-spring-blues. I'll never be a professional marksman, but if I find myself in a "shoot now or someone dies" confrontation, I am certain I could hit the bad guy without endangering the hostage. I mean, if I can take out a three-inch kill zone three times in a row with a cowboy gun, I shouldn't have any problem taking out a much larger eight or ten-inch kill zone on a full size human target. I hope I never have to, but in this day and age with terrorists shooting up Parisian cafes and California luncheons, it's nice to know that if I do find myself in that situation, I stand a better than average chance of taking out the terrorist before he can empty his first thirty-round magazine, let alone his second, third, fourth, or fifth.


(Update: October 8, 2016)
I found out today that the iCandy Thermal Zone targets are only 13"x19", which makes them functionally no different from the versions I printed out myself. As a matter of fact, my own versions probably have larger target areas. This is very disappointing.