Handgun shooting – Arizona style!
- 9 Comments
- Last updated: 14/12/2016
When HM Government decided that UK citizens were no longer to be trusted with the private ownership of cartridge handguns a great many people’s lives were changed forever. What had been a safe, harmless hobby to thousands was decimated overnight. In retrospect we now all know – politicians, the media and the anti-gun lobby included – that the desired intention of “taking the guns off the streets” just has not worked. Many millions of pounds of public money (will we ever know exactly how much?) was spent in an effort to win votes. I wonder if the politicians will ever have the bottle to stand up and say “Sorry guys and gals, we made a mistake”. I’m not holding my breath.
The number of shooters that were lost to the sport forever will probably never be known. Of course handguns are still available, but only as muzzle loaders using black powder or one of the substitutes. But without even trying what they saw as a slow, dirty form of shooting, large numbers of pistol shooters simply handed in their tickets. Others chose to forget about pistols and concentrate on some form of rifle shooting. Many shooters of the practical type of events were unwilling to be bullied into submission and, to their credit, adapted their disciplines to lever action carbines. A number of people decided that shooting on the continent was a viable proposition and subsequently shipped their guns to France or Belgium. Yet more hardy souls make regular trips to the USA where, for the most part, the anti-gun brigade has had little or no effect on handgun shooting. While shooting has never been my prevailing reason for visiting America, last year I once again had the pleasure of shooting a couple of cartridge handguns while on holiday in Arizona.
Those who were members of the BWSS in the early days may remember a character known as the Apache Kid, aka Colin Taylor. Colin now lives, works and enjoys life, including handgun shooting, in Tombstone, Arizona. While he was going to be out of town when we arrived in early August he nevertheless made arrangements to leave a pistol and some ammunition with a friend who was to take me for an informal shoot in the desert. When we arrived at the motel there was a note telling me to contact ‘Curly Bill’ who was to be my guide. Bill turned out to be Jerry Alves who, along with his wife Sally, ran Curly Bill’s Bed and Breakfast up on Ninth Street. Jerry also ran a jeep tour operation, taking tourists on trips around the Tombstone area. Arrangements were made and on the Tuesday morning Jerry took my wife and I, in one of his Jeeps, about four miles out of town where it was pronounced OK to shoot. There was no range, no red flag and no Range Officer, just a dip in the ground with banks that could be used as a backstop. Targets were whatever you decided to shoot at (Jerry had provided a makeshift target) just so long as you were safe. If you are on Federal land – belonging to the Government – as opposed to private land, and a reasonable distance from the highway then it is permitted to shoot. On a previous visit to Arizona I shot an Enfield .303 under similar circumstances.
Imagine my delight when I found that Colin had left a short barrelled, Second Generation Colt Peacemaker and fifty rounds of .44-40 ammunition. Heaven! Although it had been many years since I had fired a cartridge pistol it was like riding a bike; you never forget. It did not take me long before I had a Coke can dancing at twenty or so metres. I soon began to regret not calling at Spangenberg’s gun shop in town and buying more ammunition. Although I tried to make it last it seemed no time before I had used up the box of cartridges, but not before my wife had fulfilled her ambition to shoot a handgun. She was also allowed six rounds through Jerry’s Ruger Vaquero in .45 Colt calibre. I did not have to ask if she had enjoyed it as the smile on her face said it all. It was an all too brief encounter which left a memory that will last a long time. At least until the next time. As a bonus Jerry took us back via the monument to Ed Schieffelin, the founder of Tombstone.
During our last few days in Scottsdale we spotted an advert in the local free press for a gun club advertising cheap rates for a trial period. It did not take too much detective work to locate the club and on the last full day of the holiday we made our way up to the magnificent premises of the Scottsdale Gun Club. Even if you do not wish to shoot (and why wouldn’t you?) anyone interested in guns should visit this facility just to see the retail shop. They sell and hire any type of firearm you can imagine, along with a great range of ammunition and accessories at prices that will make you weep.
An enquiry at the desk brought forth the information that all I needed to hire a pistol and buy ammunition was a driving licence. While the paperwork was filled out I was required to watch a short safety film and then I collected a Smith & Wesson 686 revolver and fifty rounds of .38 Special. I was issued with ear defenders and shown into the range area. I was not prepared for the clinical cleanliness of the place. There are thirty two lanes split into four banks of eight. Each lane is equipped with computer controlled targets which allow you to vary the distance up to twenty five metres, turn the target through 360 degrees and programmable target movement. Each lane is rifle approved and will take weapons with a muzzle energy up to 8100 ft/lbs.
While the experience made me realise just how rusty I was with a double action revolver, I was not too disappointed when I saw the guy in the next lane. He was shooting a .45 semi-auto, with what seemed to be full factory loads, at a distance of around six to eight metres and was grouping at about twelve inches!
Once again the time passed so quickly (why didn’t I buy more ammunition?) and this place was pencilled in for future visits to Arizona. The cost of this exercise? About £11.
Scottsdale Gun Club (www.scottsdalegunclub.com) also offers a Tactical Shoot house where practical scenarios can be acted out, using live fire with frangible ammunition. Another alternative is the hire of a Hummer, complete with a .50 calibre machine gun, for a trip into the desert.
On our visit to Scottsdale in April last year we met a local police officer and kept in touch with him. We had a drink with him one night in August and he promised to take me to the police indoor training range on our last afternoon. There was a lot of building work going on as they were upgrading the facility so that the police could use live ammunition during training, similar to the gun club. This meant that I could not see this new area but was allowed into the video training room. This has a large screen where different scenarios are shown and the officer has to respond using a Glock pistol which is operated by compressed air and electronically connected to the screen. Hits (and misses) are recorded on the screen during the playback. “Would you like a try?” the training officer asked. Did he really think I was going to say “No”? That thirty minutes just put the icing on the cake as far as the shooting side of the holiday was concerned. In the words of the Governor of California, “I’ll be back!”