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Safe Range Wear: A Cautionary Tale

Safe Range Wear: A Cautionary Tale

I knew better. Of course I knew better.

The same way I know better than to use my cell phone when driving, but sometimes take a moment to dial the office to tell them I'm running late. The same way I know better than to run in the airport, but will make like Jackie Joyner-Kersee when my connecting flight is boarding. The way that sometimes, even though we're aware we're not exactly following the safety rules to the letter, we go ahead and do it anyway because we've done it before and no harm has come to us.

That was how I wound up one afternoon down on the NRA Publications test range, still dressed in the business suit I'd donned for a morning meeting. The problem wasn't the suit, really, but the 3-inch stiletto heels with which I'd accessorized it. I was so excited to test out a very cool new rifle that, although I did indeed have a passing notion to stop off at my car to change into my gym sneakers, I dismissed it airily. I've shot in heels before, and it was fine, I thought.

Famous last words, anyone?

At least I'd remembered the Three Rules. Thanks to them, I'd already unloaded the gun, dropped the magazine and put the selector switch on "safe" before I handed the rifle—muzzle pointed downrange, naturally, and finger nowhere near the trigger—to my shooting buddy. So when I took a step backwards, snagging first one high heel and then the other on the protruding legs of the shooting bench, the only person who got hurt when I fell backwards...with all the lyrical grace of a bag of doorknobs...was me.

In the emergency room, they called it a "nasty comminuted fracture of the distal radius, with chipped styloid bone." I called it "one month in a long-arm cast and several weeks of physical therapy before I could shoot again, with permanent misalignment of my left hand." (I also lost the suit jacket, a casualty of the paramedic's scissors.) There was pain, to be sure, but I think what hurt the most was knowing that it didn't have to happen. So please, dear reader, learn from my epic fail.

All public ranges have obstacles of some kind, from shooting benches to shooting bags to other shooters. Many ranges, like ours, have a slick floor surface to make it easy to clean up all dust, dirt and lead residue. This means that the best footwear needs flat soles with a real gripping surface. Obviously (ahem) high heels are a bad idea, but many cowboy-style boots have slick, frictionless soles. So do many women's flats.

Another issue is the way expended brass tends to fly from semi-automatic and bolt-action firearms. Have you ever been hit by brass? It's hot. Very hot. Hopping-from-foot-to-foot-and-saying-dreadful-things hot. It may not cause an injury of the type I earned, but the last thing you want while you're in the middle of shooting is to get a surprise of this type. This is why those hiking sandals, so excellent for rough terrain in hot weather, don't work for the range. You'll want a sneaker at the very least, and may find that hiking boots are even better. At a minimum, your entire foot should be covered.

(By the way, yes, that is five-time Olympic championship shooter Kim Rhode in the image above this article, and yes, it was her idea to let me try on the four medals she had at the time (2011). They were very heavy.)

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