I’ve fired tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousand, maybe even millions of rounds of ammunition. Many times I have wielded a shotgun, at every range, in all conditions. But none of these events were real, they all took place in made-up videogame land.
Last Sunday I actually unloaded a twelve gauge for real, and it was fantastic.
Like many boys I was born with a fascination with guns. Once on a visit to the seaside I was allowed to get a toy from one of the many shops selling a wide variety of plastic toys, the inventiveness of which only exists in seaside towns. I chose a gun, a gun with a magazine that took a vast number of little grey plastic bullets.
Within hours it had been confiscated by my father. While my older brother lay prone on the floor I aimed the weapon at his groin and pulled the trigger. It was in the years when Fame was on TV, and even though it’s probably not true I like to imagine that the scream of his dismay was in time with the title line of the Fame theme song, and at the same pitch. I was six, my brother was 16; it must have been a lucky shot to have had such an impact through his trousers.
My untrustworthiness with anything firing projectiles was backed up by another incident, this time the gun in question fired spinning propellers. Fired vertically into the air they would gaily whirr skywards, before their rate of spin slowed to the point where gravity would pull them down again. Not much of a weapon, some would call it a launcher rather than a gun.
But what if…
Sat in the living room, playing next to my friend, I attached a propeller to the gun and wound it as tight as it would go. I turned, pointed and fired it into my friend’s face. He exploded into a wail. My mom scooped him up and consoled him. I got the usual “what did you do that for?” I guess I did it to see if it would hurt, and how much – I didn’t tell my mom that. I’m not proud of this action, I feel guilty about it on a frighteningly regular basis, but I am glad that I wasn’t daft enough to test it on my own face.
None of my fellow clay pigeon shooters were aware of these incidents on Sunday. They may not have come if they had been; people are very judgemental.
It took some time to reach Hotshots Clay Target Shooting, in theory about an hour out of Wellington, and we were late. The large lateness was a compound of various smaller latenesses, only some of which were my fault. Upon arrival I apologised profusely to Julia, our host and teacher. She was very nice about it all.
Once there we took a thrilling off road ride further into the hills, along a track of wild ruts that threw us around inside the Toyota as it teetered on the edge of a precipitous drop. I was nervous, but not about the drop. What if I cocked up, what if I spun round and pointed the gun at my companions, what if I was Dick Cheney. Although, if I was dick Cheney, I think my gun skills would be the least of my problems.
The ride ended in a beautiful spot overlooking a conifer carpeted valley, with the view expertly framed by nature itself. We were talked through the two weapons on offer, a sturdy looking Winchester over/under and a high tech Benelli something or other. I paid careful attention to the bits about safety mechanisms and not pointing the gun at people or my own foot, especially the bit about my own foot – the pain would only last for awhile, but the shame would be eternal.
Fearful that my rampant nerves would consume me if I didn’t have a go quickly, I threw myself forward to go second, it was a birthday outing and it wasn’t my birthday, so I couldn’t justifiably go first. I chose the Winchester for no good reason. Julia made sure I had my ear defenders on properly, was holding the gun well and got my stance sorted out. Then it was up to me.
“Pull” I said as confidently as I could manage and stared intently down the sight. The clay pigeon was flung out over the trees ahead of me. I lined it up as I saw fit and squeezed the trigger. They always say to squeeze the trigger on TV shows. I might have snatched at the bugger like a kid being offered cake, but I don’t really recall, so I’m going to say I did it correctly. I expected the thing to kick hard into my shoulder, but it was more of a really forceful shove, like a drunk mate making a point. It was the mad rearing of the business end (I learned that from TV too) that disconcerted me.
After two shots I got to break the gun and take out the still smoking shells, I enjoyed that immensely, once I realised they weren’t hot. After five clays it was time to pass on the boom stick. I hit some of the targets, which was good enough for me.
On my second set I switched to the Benelli, which was incredibly light compared to the Winchester but seemed ridiculously long. I got lucky with this high tech weapon and hit all five targets. Amazement consumed me, but I knew it was a fluke and my skills went downhill from thereon in.
For the next five I switched back to the Winchester and my sighting was still okay but the high of the adrenaline was affecting my stability. I couldn’t stop the gun from quivering, I must have been shaking all over, and the firmer I tried to hold it the more it jittered about. I still took down three of the clays but the strain was immense.
Fifteen shots is what you get for your $50 dollars but me and Adrian, whose birthday we were there to celebrate, went for another five. This may have been five shots too far. That would be a great name for a western, although it wouldn’t be a very compelling story if is based on what was to come.
I couldn’t get the gun comfortable and those shakes were now crazy. I was looking down the barrel and it was shuddering wildly. I could have made a sweet martini for Mr Bond.
How many clays did I hit with those final five rounds? Let’s put it this way, I might as well have just picked up the cartridges and chucked them into the void.
It was time to get a pint. What a buzz. You should try it.