I grew up playing hockey as the son of a man who grew up playing hockey. My dad has two signed letters from the then General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Jack Adams, inviting him to come to training camp. My young father declined both invitations and went on to have a 34-year career as a public educator in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are his team but he holds the Red Wings in high regard after the interest they showed in my father and his hockey abilities.
So, to me, it seemed entirely fitting in 2002 that the day after the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Detroit Red Wings that my first child, my daughter Avery, was born. I’ve told this story before but I’ll sum it up for everyone again.
It was June 13, 2002, and my wife was 37-weeks pregnant. With it being her first child and everything progressing normally we weren’t planning on her giving birth quite yet. We were lying in bed watching the hockey game, well, I was watching and my wife was doing a good job of not being too annoyed with my talking to the television as I watched. Detroit won and Steve Yzerman skated over to The Cup with his daughter at his side. As soon as he lifted the cup and handed it to coach Scotty Bowman I leaned over and patted her belly and said, “Okay, you can give birth now.” Well, wouldn’t you know it? The next morning she woke me up at some ungodly hour and told me that her water broke. At 17:17 on June 14, 2002, our daughter came into the world. I finally had my very own little Stanley Cup.
Last year was the first time since 2002 that the Stanley Cup was handed out on June 13. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins could win it if they beat the San Jose Sharks on home ice. If not, game six will go on Sunday night. If San Jose wins that one then game seven will be on June 15. So, there’s no chance for a repeat of my special moment. In that case, I’d rather Pittsburgh end it quickly. That way I still stand a chance to win a hundred bucks in a hockey pool.
Still, I’ll be watching the Cup deciding games to the very end regardless of how late they run. It’s something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. There’s something about seeing that trophy get hoisted in the air that gives me chills. I got to touch it at the Hockey Hall of Fame once and I was in complete awe. It’s the greatest trophy in all of sport and I will forever associate it with one of the greatest moments in my life.
I fired my first gun today. Discharged my first weapon? However you’re supposed to say it I can tell you that it was awesome, and not at all what I expected.
I briefly considered making the subheading the title of the post but then thought I’d catch heat for posting click-bait stuff so I went with something a little more onomatopoeic. Given this is a post on the topic of guns I think it’s a safe play, but on with the story.
First off, let’s get this out of the way. This is not a post on what I, or anyone else, thinks about handguns and the laws and/or rights involved. This is a post about my first experience firing one, and why I decided to go to the range and do it.
It all started with this scene I wrote for what will end up being either Book #2 or Part II of Book #1. It was my first murder. Ex military vet takes his sidearm and blows a hole through someone’s head at point blank range. After writing the scene I never really gave it much thought. That was, until I read a recent blog post by Chuck Wending of the topic of writing scenes involving firearms, and how it’s important to get the details right.
Step 1 according to Chuck: “If you want to write about guns, go fire one”
Whoops. I had already failed. In my defence I am Canadian and this isn’t exactly a haven for handgun owners. Lots of hunting rifles kicking around (though I’ve never even fired a .22), but pistols? Not so much.
Well, as luck would have it I was in a wedding yesterday in Plymouth, Michigan. It was just a 3.5 hour drive (plus border wait time) and as I was driving to the church I saw various signs for gun shows and gun ranges and what-have-you. It dawned on me that I could probably get someone from the wedding to take me to a range!
Sure enough, I met some fantastically wonderful people at the wedding (none of them Chuck Norris, though this ex-Viet Nam vet at my table looked a lot like Robert Duval) and a good number of them gave me a lot of information on guns and gun ownership in the state of Michigan. One of them was even kind enough to offer to take me to the range after breakfast the next day (Robert Duval’s lookalike’s son).
After signing a few sheets of paper and handing over my passport it was decided that due to the nature of the scene I was writing, the character doing the shooting would be using a military issue 1911 pistol. Loreya, a former marine who really knows her firearms gave me a brief history lesson on the weapon, a pair of goggles and ear protection, and sent me on my way with my range escort and his wife (who recorded parts of the session for me). I really wish I had asked who made the specific model I was given (because every gun manufacturer makes a 1911) but it was a .45 calibre and looked a heck of a lot like this (my range buddy thinks it was a Colt too):
The first thing I learned: it was heavy. Much heavier than I expected. I am told that there are many pistol out there that are lighter but my guy would be using this so this is what I fired. It was heavy. The wrist and fingers on my non-dominant hand are also very weak and having broken a slight sweat I found it difficult to pull the slide back when I needed to. This is not a weapon for not-so-strong or untrained or inexperienced person to be packin’.
The second thing I learned: guns are loud. Having never been to a gun range before the only reference I had was a few YouTube videos and television or movies. Even with the earmuffs on you got a real appreciation for how loud these things are. Apparently the specific bullet manufacturing, in addition to its calibre, and the type of weapon being fired all factor in to the sound you hear. I was expecting “pop” but my gun went “bang” or possibly even “pow”. Either way, it was loud. Before I started shooting I heard my first live gunshot from two lanes over. I’m not sure what he was firing but from the sound of it I can only assume it was a small hand held cannon. Forget “pop”, “bang”, or “pow”. This damn thing went “BOOM!”
Here’s my first ever shot. There’s lots of other weapons being fired but you can probably pick out the sound of my shot. You tell me what sound it makes:
Before you ask, yes, I hit the target. It wasn’t quite centered from left to right and was a bit high. I started at 25 feet, which the range master informed me was a bit far away for what I was trying to accomplish. At that distance I didn’t get into the center and everything was going left (just like my golf shots).
The third thing I learned was if one is right handed, one should close their left eye and not their right. This small change improved things greatly, but I was still shooting a bit to the left and a little low, at one point nailing my target pretty close to his nuts.
The fourth thing I learned is that the casings fly out of the gun really fast and then bounce off the walls or ceiling or whatever else they hit, like my face. I was lucky enough that on my first shot the casing bounced off the wall and hit the person shooting my video. She picked it up and gave it to me after.
Range master brought the target in to 12 feet, explaining that that was more of the distance I would be working with. We made sure the chamber was empty and the clip was out and then we did a little test. He brought the target to me from 12 feet. The instant I saw it move I was to reach down, pick up the gun,get two hands on it, and pretend to squeeze off a round.
The fifth thing I learned was if I’m ever being rushed by an assailant from 12 feet or less and I have access to a loaded, unholstered weapon I may as well have access to cooked spaghetti for all the good it will do me.
At 12 feet I was much better, emptying two clips into the center rectangle and even putting one right on the “X”, with only one missing a bit low. Then things got interesting. Range master (I really wish I had gotten his name! Bad researcher I am) suggested I aim for the little guy up in the top left corner. he put a little sticker in the middle of him so I’d know if I hit the sweet spot.
I squeezed off something like 9 shots at the little guy and 6 of them connected, with 1 even grazing the sticker. Two of the three I missed, missed way high but stayed on the paper. Neither range master nor myself had much explanation for it. I just forgot to aim, twice, in almost the exact same way. It was strange.
This is where I learned my last lesson of the day: the world is a much safer place if I am not in possession of a firearm.
Special thanks go out to:
Chuck Wendig – for his timely blog post
Alexander and Stephanie – for having me at their wedding and seating me at a great table
Robert and his wife Victoria – for keeping me company, taking me to the range, teaching me stuff, and recording/photographing
Loreya – for her service in the marines, the history lesson, and for being just so darned cheerful and helpful getting me set up for my first shoot
Range Master whose name I did not get (and for that I feel genuine shame) – for his THIRTY YEARS of service on the Detroit Police Force, and for all his tips and tutelage on the range