(Feeling at) Home on the Range

(Aside; composing blog articles for my "to post" queue isn't a bad way to spend time on a train into London...)

As you've already seen, Las Vegas and I don't see eye to eye. However, the same permissive Nevada laws which cause Vegas to be what it is in the first place, also resulted in one of the very few pleasant non-conference experiences I had (other than catching up with many of my pals from Sun's worldwide security community, and sinking large quantities of overpriced beer with them).

There's a place a little way off the Strip called "The Gun Store". It does exactly what it says on the tin - ie, sells guns, ammunition, holsters etc - however it also has its own little arsenal which, for a reasonable fee plus ammunition, can be hired out to shoot on the range they have at the back of the store. Now, I used to be on my University Rifle Team's "B" string back in the days when firearms were still legal in the UK; we'd shoot .22 long, prone, at targets maybe 2.5 inches across (this being the diameter of the 5 ring) with iron sights at 30 yards. I used to shoot around the high 80s - low 90s pretty much all the time; I still have the card, somewhere, on which I shot my best score of 96, sometime in 1991.

So, this place had some appeal - even more so, when I found out that Nevada law permits fully automatic weapons :-).

Steve (Nelson), Joel and I headed over there on the Tuesday lunchtime; here's some notes on what I shot, and what I thought of it.

MP40 "Schmeisser": I was really pleasantly surprised to find that they had one of these (a Mk2); having heard stories of them when I was a small boy, from a few aged great-uncles who had fought in World War II and "liberated" MP40s to use in preference to their UK-issued Stens, "it had to be done". Cyclic rate was maybe 65 per minute; it was easy to squeeze off controlled 3-round bursts. Barrel rise wasn't a huge issue, probably as a result of overall good balance and the good forward grip. Nice single-blade-in-tunnel foresight; if the backsight hadn't gone (probably a casualty of history), I reckon I'd have got my groups rather tighter. I put 40 rounds through it, and enjoyed it.

Heckler &Koch MP5: The SMG of choice for British Special Forces and police armed response units, though to be honest, I can't see why; barrel rise was much more of an issue on this than the other two SMGs I shot, and I think it would benefit from a forward grip redesign. Cyclic rate is about 70 per minute, so it's easy to get 3-round bursts off even when set to full auto. Unusual trident-in-tunnel foresight; I suspect this may be a ranging aid of sorts. Nice integrated backsight. I put 60 rounds through it, and wasn't displeased to hand it back.
Extra note: I gather that the slings that such units carry their MP5s in, are rigged such that when shooting, they exert a force on the gun to keep the barrel down (in the manner that the "across the chest, under the forward hand and onto the end of the forward grip" sling I used to use when shooting .22 rifle, would stabilise it). It's a shame that such a sling wasn't available at the Gun Store, I'd have liked to have used it...

Colt M16 9mm compact: Clearly a derivative of the Colt Commando, with the same gas-cylinder recoil compensator in the short stock. The sweetest-shooting SMG of the lot, in terms of low barrel rise; however barrel control still needs care, given the 100 round per minute cyclic rate! I was usually getting 4-5 round bursts out of it, although I did manage to loose off a 10-round (out of sheer curiosity) and still get everything on the target, although naturally not in anything which could be called a decent grouping. Nice single blade-in-tunnel foresight and integrated backsight, really good forward grip. I put 100 rounds through it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Glock 17: It's been even longer since I've shot pistol, but Joel, bless him, persuaded me to hire this out and see what I remembered. I put two clips of 10 rounds through it; the first clip was "on target" inasmuch as all the rounds actually hit the target, but with a little advice from my instructor, my hands remembered how to shoot pistol and the second clip went in a reasonable group. A very nice, well-balanced little 9mm.

Magnum Research / IMI Desert Eagle: I've been wanting to put a few rounds through one of these, since I first heard of their existence :-). Having gained a bit of confidence with the Glock, I just had to give it a go. Hire and ammo cost was somewhat steeper than for the other pistols available, as you'd expect - nonetheless, it's now on my "been there, done that" list, even though I only got 5 rounds for my money. The Eagle is not the wrist-snapper I was expecting (although I found out afterwards, that the piece I was shooting was chambered for .44 Magnum rather than the .50 Action Express I was expecting... interchangeable barrels, etc); it still packs a considerable recoil, certainly, and you wouldn't want to try any sort of rapid-fire semi-auto shooting with it, but if you shoot two-handed and have the luxury of taking 5 seconds or so between shots, you can let your shoulders take the strain and it doesn't hurt. To really put the perfect finish on my shooting session, I managed to put the last 3 of my 5 rounds into a 2-inch diameter headshot grouping :-).

There's something about the Eagle, which "simply works" for me. It's a hardcore sniper's pistol, if there could be considered to be such a thing. Somehow, it feels "spot on" in my hands, heavy though it is. I so want to see what it can do, target-wise, with the optional 10" barrel on - in such a configuration, it would be the Walker Whitney Colt for the era of the self-contained, cased round...

The shop and range are very well-managed; the guns-for-hire are on two racks well behind the counter, one rack being for fully automatic and the other for semi; you indicate the gun you're interested in and name your number of rounds in multiples of clip capacity ("bulk discount" deals are available, see the labels next to the guns); the clips are given to you pre-loaded; you take them to the till, where you choose your target sheets and pay for everything. Then, you go to the back of the store, collecting eye protection and ear defenders on the way, and meet up with your instructor, who picks up your chosen weapons. You are then led through a door into a short corridor, at the end of which is another door - only one of the doors can be open at a time, although this is managed by a human rather than electronic process. Beyond the second door, you're on the range. You and your instructor find a free booth, you put your clips on the booth's shelf, your chosen target sheet is run out on the wire, your instructor (un)locks and loads for you, and you either put the gun down on the shelf or hand it across to your instructor once it's empty (your instructor decides how they want to run things).

If you are ever in Vegas and fancy having some responsible fun with firearms, I highly recommend this place; it's well-managed, has a good selection of guns available, and the instructors are polite and informative (at least, as polite and informative as you can be while both of you are wearing ear defenders). My little session above cost me the modest sum of a hundred pounds, and to my mind, it's much better-value fun than gambling or glitzy shows - even though it's expensive in absolute terms, compared with usual ammunition prices, IMHO it's worth it for the experience. The range is only really long enough for pistols and SMGs, though - if you want to see what you can do with a sniping rifle, you need to go elsewhere (and most likely, outdoors), to put some serious distance between you and your target.

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