By Stephen Masbad

There’s always that one person in the room who can’t seem to understand why I shoot. It’s often the same people who through snide, oft condescending remarks wonder how an intelligent, literate person could enjoying shooting. Surely I’m simply misguided, no? But what these people, and indeed many in the shooting community, fail to see is that beneath the veneer of camo, politics and showmanship that pervades the firearms industry lays an artistry in itself. Something that transcends simply a machine triggering a chemical reaction. It is these intangibles that have driven me to shoot . . .

Some balk at the suggestion such a mundane, earthy thing as shooting could ever be considered art, yet what is art, truly? It’s hardly something simple to define (though easy enough to defile), and yet paradoxically is simple at its core. Art, whether in a painting, a sculpture, or yes, even the act of shooting is a sensory experience that strikes a chord in us. It’s something that overcomes our lost innocence and forces us to bow in wide-eyed wonder. Certainly one could apply that to, perhaps, the Sistine Chapel or Milton’s verse, but are we so accustomed to the act of shooting that we are no longer thrilled by it?

It could be the naiveté of my youth to assume we all can remember our first pull of a trigger, but I certainly can. It was my grandfather’s Browning Semi-Auto .22, in my eyes ancient but flawlessly accurate and reliable. My short arms at the time led to me taking my first shot with my hand under the ejection port, but I still remember the pure joy that welled in me. It was an ambrosial experience, and one that I try to remember every time I do shoot.

This is the sehnsucht in shooting, that unnameable something that compels you forth, making you long for more. It is the same reason we stand in awe of beauty, be it at the Grand Canyon or the Louvre. Here, we can finally see the strands connecting these things. Here we can say, in position unassailable, that shooting is indeed art.

 

There lies the struggle, perhaps, for the shooter. Does one always focus on the admittedly practical nature of the shooting experience, or is there a time and place to be able to simply appreciate the act in itself? Too often what is lost in the adrenal haze is the sheer aesthetic beauty of a gun being fired. It’s a tempest of the senses; the resounding crack, the smell of burning powder, the surge back into your hands. Shooting is an innately sensual experience, yet one finds few who would approach a shooting range as they would an art gallery.

 

One may hear arguments even after contemplating the nature of art that proclaim with the whole fury of the bourgeois that such a destructive thing could never be considered art. Yet the dichotomy of art is that it is force directed. What is oft seen as the realm of purely creative force is just as often the realm of destructive force as well. Just as the fires of a forge or the sculptor’s chisel is the act of shooting. A force of destructive energy focused to create a sensual experience. What separates shooting from other forms of art is not its destructive nature; it is that the act itself is where the beauty lies, not in the product of the act.

 

It is this act that is why I will never put aside my guns. I’m not irrational, nor uneducated. I’m simply enraptured by the beauty of shooting. One might certainly hope others are as well; for what but art betters the world?

 

25 Responses to FNS-40 Contest Entry: The Intangibles of Shooting

    • I do. New Zealand, 9 years old shooting an air rifle off the back porch of my parents’ farmhouse, it was raining and the pellet seemed to touch every rain drop on its way to the fence post on the other side of the yard, hooked.

      • Stand to one side and watch someone shoot in the rain. A simple pleasure that lingers for years after.

        I don’t remember my first shot. Seems I’ve had a gun in hand or nearby my whole life.

        • Lucky you, having shot so much not remembering the first one.

          Me, I remember mine. I have kept the empty casing too, .22 LR Eley brand. I shot that one on a (hilariously enough) school activity day, some of us chose shooting (was never good at other sports). There I got to know some people and joined the shooting club.

          Still I have kept that shell casing, I wonder if I could turn it into some necklace or something? Would that be too feminine?

        • “Would that be too feminine?”

          What does that even mean? Call it a religious totem and if people ask about it, say that you’re a druid and you’ve been washed in the blood of the Tree.

          But why do you need anybody’s permission?

  1. Leonardo Da Vinci – artist, sculptor, engineer, mathematician…weapons designer… Yes, firearms are a form of art!

  2. I’ve had some success gaining a hearing from folks of an “artistic” bent by describing the utter elegance, in both the artistic and engineering sense of the word, of a creation that can combine such profound strength, precision, and ergonomic and visual grace as a fine gun. When I point out that some of the same royal or noble patrons who commissioned the worlds great music, painting, and sculpture were equally appreciative and willing to support talented gunmakers as the were other artists, they start to listen.

    Then I explain that the reason gun making attracted the worlds finest artists and artisans, as well as the patrons to support them, was the universal acknowledgement of the absolute primal status of the gun (and other, earlier weapons) in providing safety, sustenance, and freedom to their owners.

    It’s no wonder that weapons are often so beautiful that even the most peace loving aesthete will often be uncomfortably fascinated at the sight of an inlaid and engraved SAA or early Scheutzen rifle.

    The human race has always lavished their best efforts on creations they value most.

  3. I remember the first time I shot a real gun. I was 8 years old, and by brother in law took me out to his sisters house. There it was, a Remington Nylon 66 .22. He taught me the safety rules and showed me how to shoot that day, been in love with hunting and shooting since. Thanks Bob!

  4. Dude, you need to get laid.
    That said, thanks for your essay. It strikes a chord and is well rung.
    I’m lusting after your guns.

  5. Never looked at shooting this way, but…The smile on my face every time i go or anticipate going shooting, is for this very reason. I’ve never thought of the act of shooting as beautiful. But awesome and fulfilling in and of itself – whither not the target is hit, or the game is bagged. Oh, yeah. This is why people celebrate by firing guns in the air. As irresponsible as that may be, one can understand the impulse.

    • Yes but what is beauty? Is it really something so static that it cannot exist in an act, even a momentary one? Superficially you may have a valid argument, dialectically however, one cannot presuppose the finite nature of art.

      I suppose I’ve always been of the conviction that art is something innate, id est, it isn’t a means, it is an end unto itself.

      • It is as much an art as fencing, or as Aikido. And if you see no artistry in a finely made firearm being used to its full potential by a skilled shooter, then you have my pity.

    • I agree with shooting being a skill and not art. However, art is a creation whose sole purpose is to inspire an emotional reaction. It has no other purpose. There are beautiful objects created, like firearms, but they cannot, by definition, be considered art. Plus, there are a ton of broke “artists” who make art that is widely perceived as ugly.

  6. I too enjoyed a browning like that in .22 short. And with a Winchester 1890 in .22 long (no long… Not long rifle) they were my first guns.

    They ( the browing semi in .22 short and the various pump .22s also shooting .22 short or .22 CB if the Brownings had been modified to work with the low impulse that the CB provides) were the go to guns for shooting gallery operation at county fairs and traveling carnivals and amusement parks and pleasure piers.
    Go to http://www.sass.org and search on shooting gallery to see a beautifully restored example

    If a way could be found to bring these operations back to wide public access it could do nothing but good for our cause. I do not include their modern replacements that use air to shoot BBs or ball bearings or even worse light beams. But guns that shoot rim fire ammo.

    One problem is that back when these gallerys were common .22 short ammo was cheap and .22 CB was even cheaper in bulk it was less than 1/2 the cost of .22 LR in bulk.

    But I can think of nothing that would get masses of people to shoot a real gun as effectively as these oh so entertaining places

  7. I don’t remember my first shot ever, probably because fifty years ago BB guns and .22’s were routine. But I do remember my first shot with a 9mm Beretta. I hit dead center.

    But I didn’t understand that “epiphany” that first-time shooters talked about, until somebody explained to me that it’s about the self-empowerment. Then I got it – I had that epiphany skydiving. “Whuffo you wanna jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” We skydivers laugh up our sleeve and say things like, “Stastically, it’s safer to jump out of an airplane (with a ‘chute) than to land in one.” Or “When was the last time you heard of a perfectly good airplane?” Or “It’s the most fun you can have with your pants on.” Or “the most dangerous part of skydiving is driving to the drop zone on a public highway.” (This last one applies to the range as well.)

    Why do I want to shoot/skydive? Because I can.

    • Yes!
      My mom wanted to go up on her 80th birthday. She’s also hooked. Went again on her 88th. She wants to next summer on her 90th. Can’t get her to go shooting, but she loves skydiving. Going to ask her to go to the range again as today, she expressed an interest in a home defense pistol.
      Thanks for that!

  8. Mr. Massad,
    This is a really neat observation that I, for one, hadn’t thought of before. But you’re right. It is an art form.
    Reading this just gave me another reason in the rational argument tool box of a way to describe “why”.

    Thank you for a good read.

  9. if they ask, “Why do you shoot,” ask them.” Why do you shoot golf?” Shooting is really no different, from the selection of the equipment, to firming the grip, controlling you breathing, and the intense concentration on form, always seeking to make that perfect shot. And when you do hit that great shot, you feel it in every fiber of your being. It is the Zen of the athlete. It is the moment. It is art in motion.

    (Actually, I’ve never golfed, but the Zen is the same for fencers, for the tennis player setting up the serve, the swimmer on the blocks. that heightened state of attention to being in the moment. When achieved it is wonderful.

    Nice piece, Stephen.

  10. My first shot? Dad’s Winchester 290 22 semi-auto, up at the grandparent’s cabin in Rose City, Michigan. Originally shooting left-handed, until the hot casings kept landing in the crook of my elbow. I have shot right-handed ever since. I don’t remember the age, I was too young to remember, it had to be around 5 years old. Still have the rifle, though dad left this sphere over 20 years ago.

    So many nuances to why shooting is wonderful. The building of character, self-discipline, confidence, and especially for me, the stress relief from a day at the range. Even my wife understands this. I can remember an overcast Saturday summer morning, trying to decide whether or not to venture out to the range, whereupon the wife said “You’re going shooting”. I replied about my uncertainty because of the weather outlook and she came back with “It wasn’t a question. You have gotten grumpy and irritable from having a bad week, I don’t want to hear you grumble all weekend, YOU ARE going shooting.” Needless to say, she was right, I went shooting, and came home with my attitude tremendously adjusted for the better. Shooting does that for me.

    This summer, the wife got bit by the bug. After convincing her to get her own pistol and learn to use it properly, she started coming to the range with me. Now she has learned how therapeutic a day at the range can be. It is no longer “You are going shooting”, now it is “We need to go shooting”. She is hooked on the AR-15 these days.

    What more could I ask for?

  11. Once you master the physical basics of body position, breath, relax, aim, squeeze, shoot…Shooting measures how well one accepts instruction. What I find interesting is the mental aspects of compressing the process while changing a variable and still be able to hit the target.

    For example, I never shot a bow and was invited to an archery range. Within 10 minutes using what I learned in the military, was able to place arrows in a 4 inch circle at 35 yards. All I did was watch others shoot and noted the forward foot was constantly repositioned (body alinement changing each shot). Forward hand gripe squeezing the bow before release. Folks refused to believe I never shot a bow and when I comment that their 3-9 o’clock arrow pattern could be tighter by a rear foot adjustment, and within a handful of shoots, their circle is now 3 inches. The look on the face is priceless.

    Currently, I’m in the physical relm of shooting, just reinforcing repeatable basics, standing behind the gun. I admire ones who elevate basics with strong mental skills….muscle control, visualizing where the round will go, in short mentally getting out in front of the weapon.

  12. I don’t remember the first time, but I definitely have some stand out memories. The rain comments bring one to mind.. My first time shooting on a 600m range. Really humid, overcast day with a misty rain. I could barely see my target, but man, how cool is it to watch the vapor trail of that bullet arcing up ..holding level ..dropping down ..then BANG. Impacting the steel plate. I still remember the stupid grin I had when I got my hold-over figured out.

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