I knew my mother didn’t want me to go. The night I told my parents that my friend Kelly had invited me to her rifle team’s open house, Mom kept asking me what my fascination with firearms was all about. Finally, after a lot of convincing, they agreed to take me.
I remembered Kelly telling me how her teammates worked together and helped each other. I just listened as she went on about the support network that the shooting team had given her. I was jealous of Kelly’s relationship with her teammates, but now I was getting my chance to see everything that Kelly was talking about—and maybe even try some shooting myself. I always wondered what it would feel like to hold a rifle in my hands. What would it feel like to pull the trigger and see the bullet hit a target? Was it just as Kelly described? How would hitting the target make me feel?
“Lillie, let’s get going or we’re going to be late,” Mom called to me from downstairs. I put my jacket on and we all climbed into our car. As we headed to the local range, both of my parents were quiet. I couldn’t figure out if it was because they were nervous about the open house, or if they were still tired from getting up so early on a Saturday morning.
My mother broke the silence. “Lillie, I still do not understand why we are going to this open house.”
“Mom, I want to see for myself the wonderful things Kelly has been telling me about her rifle team,” I tried to explain.
My mother sighed, and I wondered why she seemed so nervous about going to the range. We went inside where we met the team, coaches and others interested in the sport. I was so excited to finally be at the range! The guests took their seats, then a man in a gray polo shirt came to the front of the room.
“Good morning, and welcome to the East Meadow High School Rifle Team’s Open House,” the man started. “My name is Drew Leighson, but you all can call me Coach Drew. I am the head coach of the rifle team.” He went on to explain about the team’s accomplishments and about the tradition of the open house.
“We put this event on annually to introduce new high school students to the benefits of the shooting sports. The shooting sports are a great way for students to learn discipline, respect and good sportsmanship. In many cases, I have had team members win college scholarships for their ability to shoot. Now, let’s meet the team.” There must have been 30 kids on the team. Kelly’s team rifle jacket had numerous pins and patches, and she wore a medal around her neck. I was so proud of her. Each member got up and explained how they came into the shooting sports and how shooting had a positive impact on their lives. Finally, Kelly stood up.
“My name is Kelly and I am a freshman at East Meadow. I started shooting smallbore rifle with my dad when I was 10. I loved shooting so much that I started competing. I became part of the high school team last August. I have won a lot of awards and received the American All-Star medal for the state. My goal is to continue shooting so I can join the Olympic team.” As Kelly sat down, Coach Drew walked to the front of the room and we went over the program of the day and the range safety briefing. We were told that everyone out on the range, including the coaches, had to wear hearing and eye protection. Everyone had to follow the NRA’s Three Rules for Safe Gun Handling: 1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction (which was downrange); 2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot; and 3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. Coach Drew explained the range commands, such as “cease fire,” and that we must always follow them.
“Okay, are there any questions before we go out there and shoot?” Coach Drew asked. My mother’s hand went straight up in the air. “Yes, ma’am,” Coach Drew pointed to my mother to take her question.
“Yes, hi, are the shooting sports really that safe?” she asked. I could have died from embarrassment.
“Yes, they are,” replied Coach Drew. “The National Safety Council reported a less than 1 percent injury rate over the past 100 years. Compared to other sports, some of which have injury rates of 40 percent or higher,” he continued, “the shooting sports injury rate is incredibly low.” I could tell that he’d had to answer that question a few times before.
“Okay,” said Coach Drew, “if there are no more questions, then we will take the kids out on the range first, and then the adults.” We put the ear and eye protection on first and all the teens walked in and found a lane with a coach. I was with Coach Drew.
“Okay, Lillie,” he said, “since this is your first time shooting, I thought I would start you on a bolt-action .22 rifle.” I looked up at him, thinking how intimidated I was to be here. Coach Drew just smiled. “I think you will like this .22, because it has low recoil and it doesn’t make a lot of noise.” He was so reassuring. I looked back to a window where I saw my parents, Kelly and her parents looking at me. Our fathers were talking to each other and my mother looked a little nervous. Her look gave me knots in my stomach.
“Are you ready?” Coach Drew asked. “I loaded the gun for you, so the muzzle MUST stay downrange.” I took the rifle into my hands, and I could feel the weight of the gun as Coach Drew helped me into position. “Remember to align your front and rear sights, keep your focus on the front sight and when you are ready, gently squeeze the trigger.” I aimed and pulled the trigger, but I didn’t hit the target. I was a little upset about having missed, so I looked at Coach Drew for guidance.
“That’s okay,” he said. “I noticed that you jerked the trigger. Remember what we talked about in the classroom. Stop breathing, hold still, move only your trigger finger slowly and smoothly to the rear and follow through.” He put another cartridge in the chamber. “Try it again.”
I looked at the target and thought about what he was telling me. When I felt ready, I squeezed the trigger. I saw a hole near the center of the target. Coach Drew congratulated me and I looked to see Kelly, her parents and my parents clapping. I was so excited and I could tell everyone was proud of me.
“That was excellent, do you want to shoot some more?” Coach Drew asked me. I nodded and continued to shoot the rifle. I was having the time of my life.
After about an hour of shooting, we left the range and washed up. I joined my parents and Kelly hugged me. “I am so proud of you!” she yelled.
“Nice job, Kiddo,” said my father.
“She is a natural shooter,” Coach Drew told my parents.
“I would never have guessed that the shooting sports would be so enjoyable,” my mother said to Coach Drew. “Lillie hasn’t smiled like that in months. I watched how safe everyone was on the line and how encouraging all the coaches and the students are.”
“This is also a great sport for the whole family,” replied Kelly’s father.
“Yes, I shoot here with my ladies’ team and we have a blast,” added Kelly’s mother. The look on my mother’s face had changed from her former nervousness to a genuine smile.
“Does anyone else want to try?” asked Coach Drew.
“I would,” my mother said. “And who knows? I might like to join the ladies’ team.”
Heading to the range is a great way to make lifelong friends.