At this time of year, most rifle ranges are deserted for much of the time, and the uncrowded conditions make it ideal for the study of the quaint tribal customs of those who come there. They are a pure strain, unlike the hordes of clueless once-a-year types who descend like locusts a couple of weeks prior to deer season.
Many rifle shooters abandon speech at the range. They rely instead on nods, hand signals, and close observation of the other guy at the line, just in case he’s crazy or dangerous. A nod acknowledges someone’s presence. It would be poor form to say hello. If you tap your headphones, it means “The line is about to go hot. Get your ears on.” If you point downrange, it means you want to go check your target. If you kick your range bag, it means things are not going well. If you point at your rifle, take out your wallet, and shrug your shoulders, it means “You want to buy this goddamn gun? I can’t get anything out of it.”
The quality of a shooter’s equipment is often inversely proportional to that of the car he drives. It’s not uncommon to see someone pull up in a battered, rusted wreck (that he bought on a used-car lot where you can sell your blood to raise money) and out of the trunk, which probably harbors the ebola virus, haul a Savage competition rifle (upwards of $1,000), a Swarovski spotting scope (way over $1,000) on a $900 tripod, and a Sinclair competition benchrest pedestal ($700). He will almost certainly be shooting Berger bullets, of which he has $2,500 worth at home.
And there is the generation gap. This morning I was practicing my offhand shooting with my ancient .30/06 Model 700 and at the other end of the line was a 20-something watching me with great interest. His rifle of choice was an AR that cost about the same as a gold Rolex. I could sense a word forming in his mind. That word was “Fudd.”
“Why are you shooting standing up,” he asked, “why aren’t you using the benchrest?”
“Because in two weeks I’m competing in a match where all the shooting is offhand,” I said.
“Why is that?”
“Because it’s an ‘African’ shoot, and it’s all offhand at moving targets and against the stopwatch, and the smallest caliber allowed is .375 H&H.”
“Why is that?”
“Because in Africa there are very few benchrests, and the grass is too high for you to shoot sitting, and you usually get only a couple of seconds to get your shot off, and most of what you shoot at is very big and more pissed off than Michael Bloomberg at the sight of a 32-ounce Coke.”
He nodded and went about his business, but years of deafness have taught me to read lips a little, and I could see that the words he was silently mouthing were “Crazy old f***.”
As I said, this is prime time at the range. Go out and enjoy it.