FORT POLK, La. — For me, there is something so calming about going to Fort Polk’s Recreational Shooting Range. Sliding the earplugs in each ear, loading the magazine into the gun, lining up the sights on the target and the gentle squeeze of the trigger until the gun fires. With concentrating on the target, I don’t even hear the weapon fire. I feel and absorb the kick, preparing to start the shooting process over again.
I fired my first weapon, a 20-gauge shotgun, when I was a junior in high school. It was my first experience being around a gun or even firing one. I didn’t know much about them or even how to aim appropriately. Needless to say, I was terrible. I wouldn’t be around weapons again until I met my husband, Frank, in college.
Frank was the first person who not only taught me how to load a magazine, but how to charge the weapon, work the sights and fire accurately on a variety of weapons.
Frank’s best friend from grade school lived up on a hill away from much of civilization. We often referred to it as “the boonies.” Every few months, we would make the two and a half hour drive there for a day of shooting.
I learned to shoot an AR15 rifle, M1911 .45-caliber pistol, 12-gauge shotgun, .22-caliber bolt-action rifle, AK47 assault rifle, M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle and an M1917 .45-caliber service revolver. I was hooked from there. Whenever we had a long weekend off classes, we would make the drive up for a day of shooting.
Of course, none of it was easy and my time shooting offered some interesting experiences.
On one trip, a friend brought his M1 Garand, the general issue weapon for the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force from 1936-1963. It was used by the infantry during World War II, the Korean War and phased out early in the Vietnam War and replaced with the M16 rifle beginning in 1965. You can still see it carried by military drill teams and ceremonial guards, such as the Honor Guard that watches over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C.
Now, up to this point, I had little experience with the older models of weapons — before the recoil springs were added to reduce the amount of “kick” put out by the weapon. I was used to some sort of “kick” assistance, so the recoil wouldn’t scare me.
I’ll admit I didn’t want to fire the weapon. I was happy sticking to the AR15, getting better at aiming and shooting my targets every time. But, when you’re the lone female in a group of males, they want to test you and see how good you really are. So, I watched the guys shoot, took mental notes, then stepped up to the firing line.
As soon as they handed me the weapon, I was amazed at its weight. Settling the butt stock into my shoulder, I knew the rifle would be tough to control and I was even more nervous about the kick. Frank stood behind me with his arms pressed up against my shoulders. “Just in case,” he told me.
I squeezed the trigger and immediately wished I hadn’t. The force of the rifle backing into my shoulder was more than I thought it would be. It felt like Frank grabbed my shoulder and pulled it back. Of course, I knew he hadn’t. The guys laughed at me, one of them even recorded me and posted it on Facebook so others could laugh at the tiny girl shooting a big gun. I became the “butt” of the jokes — no pun intended. This wouldn’t be my last memorable experience.
There was the time when the guys got together for their last round of shooting before they all left for grad school, military training or relocating for a job. We decided to shoot clay pigeons — a moving target in the air. I knew I wasn’t as good as the others, so I wasn’t really looking forward to missing every shot. When it was my turn, they passed off the 12-gauge shotgun to me and said it was “my call,” meaning I would yell “pull” to signal I was ready for my shot along with two others.
I yelled “pull,” watched the bright orange disc fly through the air, lined up my sights and pulled the trigger. The disc instantly blew to pieces. Frank told me I was the one who hit it. My luck continued (I won’t call it skill, because I doubt I had any actual shooting skills at that point), and I was out-shooting everyone.
Since then, I’ve continued learning, taking a day out of the weekend to visit the shooting range on Fort Polk. For $4, I can be out for the day.
In my time shooting, I’ve learned a few things:
• Always treat a weapon as if it’s loaded.
• Only point the weapon at what you plan to shoot and never put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to fire.
• Wear the correct clothing when shooting. Long pants and a high-necked shirt are the best. It’s not a great feeling when a hot casing goes down the front of your shirt and gets stuck there. I have the burn scars to prove it.
• Learn a bit about the weapon you’re firing. Knowing the amount of recoil can save you from shock when you pull the trigger.
• Leave the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire, but don’t depend on the safety to keep the gun from firing.
The Fort Polk Shooting Complex is located at 4111 California Ave. on North Fort Polk. It’s open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
For more information visit fortpolkmwr.com-/fort_polk_shooting_complex or call 531-7552.