Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Range Police (or "When Curmudgeons Attack")

Say Uncle made a very important post yesterday and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed to second it (also read comments on his post).

Uncle tells us about a recent experience at a gun range. He and three friends were shooting black rifles among other guns when a curmudgeon came over. Our "friendly" curmudgeon was the day’s range officer and he complained about their noise (at a shooting range!), the fact that an SKS had a bayonet on it (which according to him was illegal, never mind that it’s not), and he made other assorted gratuitous comments.

I second the story because a similar incident happened to Bill and I. We were shooting shotguns at a club in Massachusetts. We were on an unused trap field brushing up before a pheasant hunt. We were shooting our pump-action hunting shotguns and using a foot operated thrower. We’d set the thrower so that it threw away from us and slightly quartering—a very common pheasant hunting shot. If we missed a shot, we did what we would do in the field, which is to shoot a follow up shot. We obviously weren’t shooting trap.

Well, we were minding our business when a club officer comes waddling over, let’s call him Curly. Moe and Larry were a few yards behind him, guarding his six from us desperados, I guess. Curly proceeds to check our club membership cards since he didn’t remember us from the last time we’d met.

Curly snorts at our shotguns as if they were garbage (a Remington 870 may be common, but its not garbage). He says, “You can’t shoot those things here like that.” I’m a little taken aback and I say politely, “Like what, Curly?” His rejoinder was, “You just can’t blast away until you hit a target, there’s rules in trap shooting.”

We tell him, we’re not shooting trap, we’re brushing up for a hunting trip. He then says, “It doesn’t matter, we got rules about how you shoot here, you can’t just shoot like you want to.” Now mind you there are no posted rules and there are no rules in the club’s rulebook that addressed what we were doing one way or the other.

I told him, “Where should we practice?” He hems and haws, and then says, “Well, you can’t put any more than two shells in those things at a time and no more than one shot at one clay. We got standards here.” Bill is about ready to tell him to waddle himself out of here and shove it. I agreed to his stipulations, but only to keep the peace and finish the box of clays.

We had done nothing wrong. There’s nothing, even now, in the rulebook about using the filed as we were. And, our set up was safe. In fact, Bill and I are NRA certified Range Safety Officers and our club cards show that. But it’s not the first time we’ve heard recitals of rules that don’t exist or laws that aren’t laws; only a figment of someone’s imagination.

Curmudgeons are not just older people, we’ve had younger people tell us our black rifles were illegal, that our ammunition was wrong for our gun (like our SKS takes .223 Rem), even how to hold a gun, and many other gratuitous comments. Half the time, they come from people who’ve been given a little authority and they have to express it. They deliberately look for something a little different from what they do. Then they pounce.

These petty people could kill off shooting if they don’t change their ways. Shooting should be relaxing, enjoyable, and fun. It’s awfully hard to get into a relaxed shooting state-of-mind after you’ve been bawled out for infringing a rule or law that never existed in the first place. If you haven’t been shooting long enough to know when to stand your ground, you may make it your last trip.

The sad thing is, a handful of these curmudgeons seem to want to keep others out of shooting. They want it to be their club and their hobby. Well, they’ll probably be around to see the death of their “sportsman’s club” and perhaps of shooting itself.

So, if you have a curmudgeon at your range, take away his range officer cap, don’t re-elect him to the board, and don’t give him authority. You’ll be saving others some grief.

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