By The Rookie,
I took my first firearms class about a year ago. I’d long had an interest in guns and 2A issues and had thought about giving things a try but somehow, I had never gotten around to “taking the plunge” before now. I guess what was different this time is that my curiosity had peaked.
I’d watched dozens of videos from Hickock45 and other Youtubers and was itching to try shooting for myself. And, frankly, I felt that if I was going to support the Second Amendment, I ought to have at least a little practical experience with firearms. So, after a quick search online, I found a gun range near me that offered an introductory handgun course and signed up.
I showed up at class bright and early on a chilly Saturday morning, eager to get started. I figured this would be a heck of a lot of fun and wondered what awesome weapon I’d get to shoot. Never having fired a handgun before, I really had no idea what would be the “right” choice. But I was sure it would go well in any case.
Well…pretty sure, anyway. I did start to harbor a bit of doubt in the back of my mind about how well I would shoot because of my lack of good hand-eye coordination. To put it plainly, I’m a klutz. Not just clumsy, but a real bull-in-a-china-shop type. I can’t dribble a basketball, can’t skip rope without tangling myself into a cat’s cradle, and so on.
It was a constant source of frustration in my younger days in everything from trying out for high school sports to my Godzilla-like dance moves on the prom dance floor. Still, I was here, and was determined to give it a go. I pushed back my concerns and headed into the classroom for the first portion of the course.
The classroom portion of the course went well. I quickly absorbed the Four Rules, the basics of stance and proper grip, and so on. The instructor then asked us what handgun we wanted to use for the rest of the classroom portion, and on the range.
One woman had brought her brand-new Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. The other three folks in the class all opted for GLOCK 19’s. I still had no idea what to choose. After speaking with me, and what I hoped to learn, the instructor suggested I give the GLOCK 23 in .40 S&W a try. “Okay, sounds good”, I thought. After a few loading and dry-firing exercises, and each of us determining our dominant eye, we headed over to the indoor range.
I could probably write an extended play-by-play about the range portion of the course, and spend hours trying to put the best spin on it. In fact, I did write both those things before settling on this final form. The short version is, I didn’t do very well. At all.
With the first shot, I realized that shooting a handgun wasn’t quite as easy as it looked on Youtube. I wasn’t expecting the level of noise, nor especially the level of recoil. It felt like the muzzle jumped half a foot when I squeezed the GLOCK’s trigger. As you might imagine, my first shots were all over the paper.
The instructor gave me some feedback on where to adjust, and pointers on my grip and my stance. It helped, but I still struggled throughout the session. Where the other members of the class began to zero in with most every shot after a couple of rounds, I simply could not seem to find my stride. I would make a solid hit, and then have three in a row that were off the silhouette. It seemed completely random, and nothing I tried seemed to help.
By the final round, to say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I was flinching badly, and held the G23 with a death grip, determined to somehow make the pistol do what I wanted it to do.
As you might expect, I posted the worst round of shooting of the day. Not just for me, but the entire class. The lowest point was when I scored a head shot on my target. I mean, we’re talking a perfect, right-between-the-eyes, zombie-killing headshot. Which would have been great…except I was aiming for its breadbasket.
We finished up the course with a review back in the classroom. The instructor gave each of us an individual assessment and commented where we improved and where we needed to focus. I remember thinking he was going to be hard-pressed to find something good to say to me. He was actually quite supportive, though as I suspected, he was searching for the right words.
He suggested that maybe trying something in 9mm next time instead would work better for me. I played along, keeping a positive tone as the class finally came to an end. In truth, though, all I wanted to do was get the heck out of there. I’ve always felt that one should check their “macho” at the range door, but even so, I was embarrassed and my pride was hurt. I headed home from the range with my proverbial tail between my legs, ready to write off the experience as just another one of those things I’d tried, but maybe wasn’t cut out to do.
I left it at that for about a month. Work and the holidays coming up took up most of my time. Still, I stewed about my poor performance in the class. I’m as stubborn as I am clumsy and have never been one to back away from a challenge. More to the point, I realized that for all the difficulty I had had, I liked shooting. I wanted to try it again, and I wanted to get good at it. So, I consulted the internet and a few friends for advice, and around Christmas time I came to the decision that I would need to start over from the absolute beginning and go with something chambered in .22LR.
I immediately began searching online for my first pistol. After a good deal of searching, including reading several TTAG reviews, I settled on the Walther PPQ M2 in .22LR. I liked that it was the same size as its centerfire brothers and had the same controls. I thought those qualities would make it a better trainer than some of the other .22 versions of popular handguns I’d considered. I’d also hoped that by the time I had practiced enough for a handgun in a “real” caliber and ready to sell off the PPQ, those qualities might also get me a little more trade-in value for it, to boot.
I was a bit like a kid on Christmas day when I bought my pistol from a local FFL. I spent that evening taking it apart and putting it back together, going over every detail of the gun and feeling good about this little Walther. I loved the mirror polish on the feed ramp. I loved the crisp trigger and comfortable grip. What a great little gun! I couldn’t wait to see what it could do on the range.
The next day, I headed out to the gun range where I’d taken my class, my PPQ and a box of CCI Mini-Mags in tow. I went early, and had the range to myself, which was good. I was still a bit nervous and wanted to be alone in case I stunk up the range again with my lousy shooting.
I put my target out to about five yards, loaded the pistol and took aim. Pop! I hit just a little to the right, but not too bad. Adjusted my aim a bit and squeezed again. Pop! Dead center in the bullseye. Woo-hoo! Several more shots, all pretty good. Maybe I wasn’t completely hopeless after all. Let’s load another magazine and find out. And another mag. And another. And…hey, did I fire all 100 rounds already? Aw man, that was fun!
And so it went for a time. A couple of times a week, I’d bring my .22 to the range and practice, practice, practice. The PPQ proved to be an excellent tool for learning. The light recoil and report made it easier to focus on the fundamentals, as well as slowly unlearning some bad habits like my tendency to flinch reflexively.
About the only thing I couldn’t count on the PPQ to help me with were malfunction drills, as the excellent little pistol simply refused to hang up or fail to feed in any way even after hundreds of rounds. It was going to make a nice pistol for someone after I traded it. After each trip, I looked forward to cleaning the pistol almost as much as I enjoyed shooting it (I love the smell of Ballistol in morning. It smells of victory! And a little like licorice).
Now, if this were a Hollywood movie, this would be the part where I tell everyone how I soon became an expert marksman in all manner of firearms, hitting gongs at 80 yards with Terminator-like efficiency and a grandfatherly chuckle. All while telling you “life is good.”
The truth is, though, the learning curve was still there, and maybe it remained a bit steeper for me than for most. I began renting firearms at the range, mostly in 9mm, with a few in .380. Some days I improved, some days I thought I would never become a decent shooter. I would go back and forth between trying something in centerfire and going back to my .22 after a crappy day with a 9mm or .380.
Still, I found myself enjoying each range trip no matter how I did. Every trip was an opportunity. Rentals gave me the chance to learn about a new firearm and how it worked. A good round of shooting was cause for celebration (there’s nothing quite like the feeling the first time you shoot a ragged hole group at seven yards), a mistake was a lesson in what to do right next time (there’s a lot of learnin’ in a little slide bite). And slowly, my skills did improve.
I was changing as a shooter, and not just in terms of accuracy. I didn’t really notice it at first, but things that used to take conscious thought became instinctive. I remember how awkward that GLOCK 23 felt in my hands that first day at the range, how I fumbled to get the right grip. Now I tended to adjust to the “sweet spot” on a pistol without event thinking about it, with the gun resting in my palm almost as if it were an extension of my own hand.
I found myself changing in other ways, too. I began looking at all things firearm-related in a new light. Not just the big issues, like gun control, but even small, everyday things. I remember watching a Youtube video a few years back – I think it was a Nutnfancy clip – where the host talked about a particularly inexpensive firearm being a good “truck gun.” At the time, I wondered what the hell a truck gun was, and considered the idea kind of dumb.
About two months ago, I ran across a similar video and immediately thought, “Well yeah, you don’t want to keep a really expensive firearm in your car or your tackle box where it’s gonna get all beat up or maybe stolen. Jeez!” I paused a moment later, thinking just how much my thinking had changed. There were no two ways about it: I had become a Person of the Gun.
I still have the PPQ .22 (Sell this sweet little shooter? What’re you, nuts? Besides, I ah, have three holsters for it already…). I’ve since added a 9mm and a .38 Special to my collection and applied for my C&R license last week. I shoot regularly at my range, and continue to enjoy renting firearms of all types and calibers – even that mean ol’ .40 S&W.
I’m never going to be the next Jerry Miculek, but that’s okay. I’ve become part of something pretty special, something that is both a hobby and a way of life. I hope to bring others into the fold as I continue on my journey, if not as an instructor, then perhaps as an example to others who might be reluctant or doubtful of their own abilities. It’s a cliché, but if I can do it, anyone can. You just have to give it a try, and if need be, try again.