“Frank, listen to me…” Kneeling down beside Frank, John paused for effect. “Slow. The fuck. Down.”
“Yeah, yeah… I got it. Slow down.” Frank fidgeted in the prone position with his rifle. The two men had been at the range for a good hour now with John walking him through the basics of rifle marksmanship again. This was their third visit to the range.
“Now, relax and find your NPOA again.” John said calmly.
“Your Natural Point of Aim, remember? Did you even read any of the shit I gave to you about the basics of shooting? Damn!”
“Oh, yeah. No. No, no I read it. Sorry, just the acronym threw me off.” Frank said as he looked down-range.
John observed what Frank was doing. Adjusting his position, holding the sight picture, closing his eyes, relaxing and opening his eyes again to see if he had acquired the NPOA. John had explained both verbally at the range and in written form when he had given him step by step instructions on how to shoot months ago, that using the NPOA in learning the basics helps solidify a solid foundation to build on so Frank could do the “advanced” stuff later. Frank hadn’t studied or practiced and it was more than obvious.
“Got it.” Frank said, keeping his eyes on the target.
“Good. Now, breathe and watch the sight picture. When you are ready, take a breath in, let it out slowly and take up the slack on the trigger and when you have let out about half of that breath slowly pull the trigger straight back. Let the recoil surprise you.”
John looked at the paper target twenty-five meters down-range. John was teaching him the basics and had Frank shooting at black, one-inch square targets. To put it simply to Frank, John would quote a favorite movie of his: Aim small, miss small. A gentle, welcome breeze came in from their 12 o’clock. John loved it out here, it was peaceful and had a good view of the wilder areas of his State.
“Could you have picked a rougher spot to do this? I don’t think the rocks are killing my ribs and elbows enough…” Frank said and then pulled the trigger.
“Low shot…” Frank put the binoculars to his eyes. “about 4 o’clock… by about an inch. Why were you talking to me during that shot?”
“Sorry man, I haven’t done these shooting positions before and these rocks are really digging in to me.” Frank stood up, dusting off his legs and rubbing small granules of dirt and ground rock out of his elbows.
The range was dug out of the side of a large hill by the county years ago, paved – if you could call it that – with large gravel rock. Frank knew it wasn’t friendly on the knees and elbows or even on the ribs when laying prone. The rifle range had started out with four small lanes dug out with very few people knowing about it when the county first started working on it. In the last few years it had seen not only a large boom in popularity but also in the work the county put into it. Open and free access to the public from dawn to dusk, which brought all-comers. On any given Saturday or Sunday you would find everything from weekend warriors to a Dad and Mom teaching their little kids about rifle safety, to a concealed weapons class qualifying for range time to some old-school, serious shooters with their bolt-action rifles being shot every four minutes or so to keep the barrel as cool as possible while they dialed in the different hand-loads they had made.
“I can understand that, Frank, but you’ve got to get used to it. Call it part of paying your dues, if you want. When you don’t push past the discomfort and when you don’t focus you are wasting ammunition, of which you do not have very much of.” Frank had gone out and bought a piece of shit rifle with a bunch of “tacti-cool” crap attached to it. All the extras could have gone to buying more ammo instead of stroking his ego with a cool looking rifle. Unfortunately, the rifle Frank chose was inherently inaccurate. John had known good shooters who had put a lot of money into the type of rifle Frank had and it still didn’t hit consistently inside one hundred yards. John had tried a few times to explain this to Frank, but Frank’s mind was made up from “experience” and nostalgia… and not wanting to pay for a good platform, but that was John’s opinion on the matter. The choice had initially irritated John, mainly because all the advice Frank had asked of him was thrown out the window, however John had resigned himself to work with what he had and help Frank out.
“Yeah.” Frank cut him off as he picked up his rifle and put it on the bench, making sure the rifle pointed down-range. “I need to get more I-”
John cut back in. “You are also wasting your time another commodity you don’t have very much of.”
“Oh this isn’t a waste of my time, man, I’m glad I’m out here with you and not some over-paid instructor.”
“Well why don’t you act like you’ve just paid a good amount of money and train like you want to get your money’s worth. Or…I could start charging you.”
“You’re right, you’re right.” Frank look
“Look, man. You said you wanted to learn how to protect your wife and kids. You came to me. So think of it this way: Every round you waste, that round cost your kids life.”
“What? That’s sick, man!”
“Really?” John pressed. “Do you think this stuff just comes natural to me?”
“Well you are pretty good.”
“To you, maybe, but I know I’m not good enough. There are guys meaner, faster, stronger and better shots than me. Now I don’t want to cross their paths, or for them to cross paths with my wife or children, but so help me God, if that happens, I want to have the final word. That’s why I drag my ass out to the gym at zero-dark-thirty before work, even though normally the first twenty minutes into the workout is hell because I’m so tired.” John walked over to where his own rifle is. “That’s why when I come out here, I try not to waste any time I have out here, even though the rocks dig into me or I get bit by an insect or flies are swarming on me in the hot sun. I press through, so when the chips are down…”
John picked up his rifle, slid a magazine into the well, threw the bolt forward and took three shots, each as quick as he could get a good sight picture. Putting the rifle on safe, John released the magazine, cleared the bolt of the fresh round and placed the rifle back on the bench where it was and handed Frank the binoculars.
“I know can do what needs done.”
Frank looked down-range and saw that the three rounds where in a triangle shape fairly close together, all inside the black square target John had been aiming at.
“Damn, that’s awesome.”
“From the top, then?”
Then two men spent another thirty minutes working on Frank’s basic marksmanship skills before they packed up and called it a day. In John’s rig on the way home, Frank was thinking more about the conversation they had at the range. They were driving down a long stretch of county highway, going about fifty-five with the windows down, it was a beautiful day.
“So… you seriously think about your wife and kids when you train, John?”
“Yeah, I do. Now, it’s not something I get my rocks off with. I’m mentally preparing myself and using that mental imagery to help focus my training. When I’m on my last set of lifts at the gym and it’s going rough, I’ll play a game with my head. The next three reps count, you are pulling bad guys off your wife. So I close my eyes, mentally imagining walking home to find my wife being assaulted and now I have to bring the hurt and save her. Sure as shit it works. When I’m at the range, I do the same thing on different drills I run. Protecting the kids or my wife. I also do this so I don’t freeze if the time ever comes. I’ve run through scenarios in my mind and I’ve trained with focus so my mind and body are better prepared.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
“Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want those things to happen! I don’t like thinking about it. But that is the very reason I do it. After the set at the gym or after I’m done at the range, I shake it off and forget about it. Training’s over. Understand?” John looked over quickly at Frank and saw him nod, John focused back on the road.
“Good. Now, I expect you to read those shooting instructions and do some dry-fire exercises at least twice a week every week until we go back to the range. I want to see a drastic improvement in your consistency.”
“Roger that, Coach.”