One of the reasons I like to write for an alternative paper is having the ability to highlight alternatives to cultural norms. The Birmingham Metro area is in the bull’s-eye of an area that suffers the highest obesity rates in the country. Overall, we clearly need to be active and get out more. I understand the tempting reasons we have to be mere spectators. There are great sporting spectacles that are played out in enormous stadiums.
Events are televised. Thousands imagine that they are full participants through their being an observer. I have had to answer many a complement, “You beat us”, with, “I did not play a single down or inning”. I escape the sirens’ song by finding opportunities in our area to be active. Hiking, Biking, Hunting, Shooting, Repelling, Climbing, Exploring, Spelunking, Gardening, Landscaping, Fishing, Skiing, Sailing, Canoeing, Kayaking, Rafting are activities that we can do in our area. Young and old alike can get involved. There are local suppliers and outfitters that can provide whatever you need to participate.
For myself, I am a bit older. There are activities that I have loved from the days of grammar school when I first started exploring on my own. In those days, there were new activities to participate in and new skills to learn. There were woods and creeks and mountains and lakes to explore. Along about this time I acquired one of my first prized possessions, a Daisy BB gun. I lived in a place where, at that time, I could carry the gun with me as I explored expanses of woods. My friends and I set up all kinds of targets. Through encouragement and competition, we became excellent marksmen. My marksmanship ended up earning me a summer job where I served as an NRA rifle instructor. Safety, and not politics, is what was promoted and I taught many boys and girls good marksmanship.
Those who share my experiences, and those who are young and want to participate in the excitement and skill of handling firearms, can still do so. It has been a long time since we could gather at the slag pile in Leeds and shoot. Half the fun of that gathering was having the chance to pull the trigger on all manner of firearms as the participants were glad to share their collections. Today I enjoy the same experience in much safer settings.
To revive my enjoyment of firearm marksmanship, I go out to one of the local shooting ranges. The FOP Range in Pleasant Grove is a safe, well-managed environment where I have shot more kinds of firearms than I ever dreamed of owning. I have my own small collection of vintage firearms. By strolling among the hundreds of tables at local gun shows, I have discovered the fun of acquiring some vintage military firearms. Even in very good condition, they are very affordable. More importantly, they are excellent shooters. Surplus ammo is often available at reasonable prices. It is also rewarding to get out and visit local firearm dealers. There are many new and vintage firearm dealers in the area. From Trussville and Tarrant, to Bessemer and Pleasant Grove, to Vestavia and Hoover you can explore and find reputable dealers. But I am not a collector, I am a shooter.
There are several ranges in our area.
At the established ranges, you can shoot pistols and rifles. There are also ranges for shotgun, skeet and sporting clays. Sometimes you can rent a firearm and buy ammo at the range. There are indoor ranges also. I like to bring a rifle or pistol from my collection. It is great to be in a safe, controlled setting to shoot.
Shooting a military surplus rifle is exciting. A rifle’s age, and the designation of surplus, in no way diminishes the devastating power of the wood and steel instrument held in your hands. Eye protection and ear protection are requirements of the ranges. You would want them even if not required. The squeeze of the trigger unleashes a boom of the gunpowder and the crack of a bullet that has accelerated through the sound barrier. With a speed that is surprising to one who is used to shooting BBs, pellets or 22’s, the bullet hits the mark.
The protective dirt barrier behind the targets does not react to the projectile with a mere spritely wisp of dust. Rather, there is an eruption of material that explodes in response to the one ton of force with which the thirty caliber missile strikes. With practice, one can control such power with amazing accuracy.
Imagine standing at the back of one end zone of a football field and placing a dinner plate in the back of the opposite end zone. Then shoot a rifle and hit the plate each and every time. While you can barely see the dinner plate over your sights, the bullet rushes to find it with a powerful strike. The metal plates one can shoot at the ranges provide this experience. I like to use the iron sights. Others will be shooting with scopes. Some are honing in their hunting rifles in preparation for hunting season. Others have modern black rifles that blaze away with the efficiency of semi-automatic firearms. Others are learning to shoot a 22, perhaps one handed down from a grandfather. Still others are new or experienced hand gun shooters. Everyone is friendly. If you like, you can visit and ask questions. I like to take my daughter who owns her own thirty caliber Swiss carbine and who can out shoot me.
Many have admired one of my rifles and then reacted with gratitude when I offer, “Do you want to shoot it”. Well yes, after all that gives someone the chance to fire the same kind of rifle that was used to beat back the Nazi blitzkrieg at Stalingrad, a Russian victory was the beginning of the defeat of Nazi Germany. There are other shooters who are knowledgeable and willing to share their skills. You can also learn the history of firearms from countries around the world. All of this is reason to get out regularly and go to the range.
Be watching for future installments from Ed on how childhood experiences of biking can be relived by biking in Birmingham with a bit of a different twist since Ed’s bike now has Harley- Davidson on the name plate. Also look for installments that compare the days of exploring and hiking in the woods to some of the many hiking trails and wooded public areas in Birmingham. Respond at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drawing a bead with a WWII vintage German Walther P38, the successor to the Luger. The publisher learned to be a crack shot from his older brother, and was also an NRA riflery instructor at 14. Here he fires his Russian Mosin-Nagant, the rifle that won the Battle of Stalingrad. Beware German-speakers!