Monday, March 30, 2009

Brandon is introduced to the .22

Sister-in law Theresa and nephew Brandon were just in town, and I took the chance to introduce Brandon (age 9) to the .22 rimfire.

Circumstances were pretty far from ideal. With me still looking for work and our tiresome little housing crisis in full swing, we were all about cheap fun, the cheaper the better. With all my .22s still back in Colorado, we had an equipment problem. And, still being relatively new to the area, I didn't even know about suitable places for me to shoot, much less where best to work with a newbie.

Ah, but problems can be solved. This was something unique I could do with Brandon, and of course any chance I can get to "go all educational" is pretty much a no-brainer. First, we cleared the idea with mom, who paid me the compliment that if Brandon was to get an introduction to shooting, she would want it to be from me. (Thanks, Theresa.)

Securing a .22 actually proved to be a reasonably simple matter. Many thanks to Mark Whatley, who graciously loaned me a Browning Buck Mark pistol for the event. This particular gun even had a pistol scope mounted on it:

This is not exactly what I had had in mind from the beginning--the ideal first gun would have been my little Henry youth-sized lever-action rifle with a ghost-ring tang sight--but the Buck Mark is a great pistol (I used to own one and frankly I miss it) and most importantly it was available when we needed it, while more ideal pieces sit waiting back in Colorado. We'd simply learn to use the scope. I rounded up a few 50-round boxes of .22 ammo to put through it, including a couple to return with the gun to Mark.

For the location, timing threatened to be an issue. I'd got a few suggestions of local places that might be suitable, but without really knowing the area I was still a little anxious. A first-introduction needs to be about shooting, not finding a place to shoot. In the end, we settled on a little indoor range maybe 10 miles away, and I'm glad we did--it was certainly the best available option at the time, and I will probably use the range again myself.

We got set up on the far left of the line, with the cheerful assistance of the staff, who helped us rig a couple of my self-sealing Newbold targets onto the range's target holder. (I still consider any range that has automatic "dial-your-distance" target tracks to be by definition a fancy range.) This bode well as reactive targets are always more fun than paper.

B handled the eye and ear protection well; he did end up swapping muffs for plugs in the middle of the session, as the muffs clamped the glasses a little too tightly onto his head to go the whole time that way.

I figured that the two biggest potential problems we would probably have to overcome were 1) the weight of the gun and 2) using the sight without getting frustrated. And so it proved. After trying a few different configurations, we settled on a rest which supported the muzzle fully and the butt partially, allowing B to hold the pistol properly and adjust it without having to take its full weight. (Rule: hit first--then make it harder.)

The scope, as I figured, proved the more challenging problem. On a pistol, a scope is actually a tool for an advanced user, not a beginning one. For someone who already knows exactly how to hold a pistol, with a firm and repeatable grip and stance, the scope allows a small degree of magnification and, more importantly, a single focal plane. The costs it exacts are bulk, weight, fragility and speed. It is very, very easy to get "blacked out" in a pistol scope, since its long eye relief permits a very small window in which the eye can operate.

Using the stability of the rest, and after a bit of back-and-forth with B in which I learned how to diagnose what he was seeing, I concluded that he was getting lost in the scope, and probably because he was too close to it. We adjusted him to allow a little more eye relief (meaning: we made sure his arms were at full extension) and he then said he could see through the glass better.

He hadn't hit before that adjustment. He may have missed twice after making it. Initial distance was at five yards, and we backed him out to twenty-five by the end. The Newbold targets were four and six inch disks. I said I'd start calling him Dead Eye Brandon.

I was impressed with his technique and his attention. He never let the muzzle stray, even when looking up at me, and it only took a couple of reminders to take his finger out of the trigger guard between shots. (We had gone over the Four Rules the day before.) Even as we were trying to get his blackout problem remedied, I would watch him settle the gun, place his finger on the trigger...then the finger would go straight, and I could see him readjusting the sights before returning to the trigger. Gratifying.

Of course, once the hitting began (bless those reactive targets!), the fun kicked in, and he had a lot of fun. He also has reason to be proud of himself. 25 yards is a long way for a pistol, even with a rest. And he comported himself very well, and safely, even in his excitement. This bodes well for the future.

And did I mention that I love this? There is little that I'd rather do than teach open-minded newbies; even without the ideal piece or location, there is just nothing like introducing something as fun as the .22 rimfire to someone who's never had the chance before.

Now, to get my stuff from Colorado up here to Alaska. By the next time Dead Eye Brandon shows up, I'll need to have some more difficult problems for him to solve, and he may make me work for that. :-)

Thanks, B. That totally made my day.

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