Shoot _with_ your family, not at them.

I’ve been itching to teach my sons about my favorite sport – shooting – since before they were born.  (And if I had any daughters, you can be darn sure they’d be trained in the ways of firearms as well.)  They’re 8 and 10 years old now, and I’m not quite comfortable with the idea of taking them to a real shooting range to fire real guns just yet.

My dad bought me a .22 bolt-action rifle when I was 7 (a Sears-branded Savage if I remember correctly), and he took me to a small range outside of Medicine Lodge, KS to teach me which end the bullet came out of.  From what I remember, we didn’t cover sight picture, breath control, maintenance, or any other aspects of shooting besides basic bolt-action operation, how to load the 6-shot magazine, and most important of all: SAFETY.

I was naturally inclined to be cautious around, and interested in, guns.  So my dad was able to take me to the range at an early age.  My boys, however, are going to need a bit more muzzle discipline and training in range safety, etiquette and protocol before they’re ready for real shooting.

I am a huge gun safety freak.  My dad is a hunter safety instructor, and has always reinforced the proper ways of handling firearms.  I hope my boys will have that same sense of reverence about guns – so that even if they don’t take a shine to the sport they still know how to handle a gun safely and effectively if they have to.  To that end, we bought four airsoft guns a few weeks ago, one for each member of the family.

My wife and the boys got Crosman p9 pistols, which are worthy copies of the Walther P99.   They’re very accurate, which is important for instilling confidence in new shooters and teaching proper sight picture.  I told the boys that the front fight is like a mouse pointer that you put right under the target, and just make sure it’s between the rear sights.  It seems that my advice worked.  They’re becoming very good shots.  My wife is a natural dead shot, and while she doesn’t spend as much time in our makeshift range she definitely tears it up when she’s there.

The P9 comes with a really nice holster, too.  Bonus!

I got a Crosman R34, which is an eerily accurate copy of the short, collapsible-stock version of the venerable M-16 assault rifle.  I cannot say enough good things about the R34.  It’s just like the guns I carried in the Air Force when I was a Security Specialist.  I carried the standard, regular size old-school M-16A just about every day for the duration of my 4 years in the service, and when I hold that short version I find myself absently fiddling with the foregrip retaining ring or tugging on the magazine to make sure it’s seated, just like the old days.  In the Air Force this shorty M-16 is known as a GAU (also referred to as a “Commando” or XM-177).

The R34 is a single-shot, spring operated airsoft rifle that cocks uses the charging handle, just like the real thing.  The safety has 3 positions and is a tad flimsy, but for $39 USD I cannot complain, especially considering how great the rest of the gun is.  That retaining ring I mentioned actually pulls back to release the foregrips.  The spring tension and feel of the magazine ejector button is spot-on.  When you cock it, the spring makes a tonnnnngggg sound that reminds me of a real M-16 when it fires.  The foregrips have Picatinny rails, which makes for easy mounting of a variety of accessories, and it even comes with an adjustable combat-style sight that you can mount on the top rail.

OK, enough gushing about the R34.  It shoots high and to the right, and I’m still trying to fiddle with the sights.

I set up a makeshift range in our garage that puts the targets at about 5 or 6 meters.  We bought a Crosman electronic target and it provides good feedback for adjusting fire.  I don’t want to seem like a Crosman shill here…that’s pretty much all they sold at the sporting goods store we went to, and frankly I’ve always been impressed with the quality of their stuff.

I also set up some fun targets to shoot.  A small metal canister (I think it was used for developing film) provides a pleasant TING! when you shoot it.  I hung up some old, scratched up data CDs on the target stand with some duct tape.  They’re great to blast apart.  If you spraypaint them black, they also provide good feedback kinda like metal silhouette targets.

While it’s a fun hobby, the boys know that it’s not playtime.  The first day we were shooting, my 10 year old shot me in the thumb as I was adjusting the electronic target.  There’s a reason Crosman calls their guns “Stingers” – that sumbitch hurt!  After the requisite cursing (not directed *at* him, mind you), I asked him “What if we were at a real range, and that was a real gun?”  He was already mortified, and that question really got to him.  I’m glad it happened.  It was well worth getting a (large) welt on my thumb for a couple of days.

You see, I had already breifed the boys on range safety, what you’re supposed to do when somebody goes downrange, etc.  But that incident drove the point home.  It’ll stick.  I think within a couple of years, my older boy will be ready to fire on a real range and the younger boy soon after.

This new hobby has been a real treat.  The guns are cheap (well…you can actually sink a LOT of money into the mid-to-high-end models), the ammo’s cheap, I get to hang out with my kids, and I get to go shooting whenever I want!  And they’re learning safe habits and vital knowledge that will help them when they’re older.

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