Phoenix, Arizona - Saturday morning's safety briefing was the no-nonsense, all-business dialogue we're used to hearing from match directors and rangemasters – except for the “sip & puff” part:
“Always always always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction! Keep your finger away from the trigger until you're ready to shoot. If you're using the sip & puff trigger mechanism, don't put it your mouth 'til you're ready to shoot. If you need help, if you have a question, don't be stubborn - ask a volunteer. Keep them busy.”
After that, it was pretty much all fun in the desert sun.
The air rifles appealed to a lot of shooters today, and not just because it was indoors, sheltered from the 95-degree desert spring. Every shooter enjoys hitting reactive targets, in this case, air rifle metallic silhouette targets. But there are other reasons, as well.
“I don't like loud bangs,” Ashleigh Justice said. “I liked the .22 pistol, but the .38 was too much.”
Ashleigh had never shot a firearm before today. What motivated her to come out to Open Range Day? “I was afraid of guns. I wanted to get over it,” she said. “My husband shoots and I was tired of the anxiety I felt around guns.” Note how she spoke in past tense...
Beyond that, however, was a desire to push the envelope of her disability to achieve something more.
“I want to be good at something that takes skill more than physical ability,” she said. Looks like she found it: she, too came away from the firing line talking about the possibility of a regular air rifle competition.
For Mike Tagliapetra, it's all about challenge. You can feel it in his handshake even before he talks about competing in marathons and even a triathlon – using his wheelchair. Mike's motivation, a quote from writer Ella Wheeler Wilcox, is boldly emblazoned on his business card: “There is no chance, no destiny, no fate that can hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”
Contributions from many shooting sports businesses gave Ashleigh and Mike and the other Open Range Day shooters this remarkable opportunity for discovery and empowerment. In addition to those already mentioned, Davidson's Gallery of Guns in Prescott, AZ donated the use of Weatherby shotguns, and White Flyer provided the clay targets for trap shooting; Kowa provided brand new spotting scopes; the air rifle pellets came from Pyramid Air. Colt, Ruger, Savage Arms and Winchester are all represented by their generosity, as are Birchwood Casey (Shoot n See targets) and Symbius Medical (lunch).
And, of course, Arizona Game & Fish Department made its world-class facility available for the event.
Open Range Day is winding down now, and the shooters are all going home. They had different motivations for being here and yet, because every participant said they want to return again next year, something about the shooting sports is satisfying all of their motives.
If there's a common denominator to these motives, it's the desire for challenge and the satisfaction of success – and empowerment – that comes from it. In any competition, there's only one person who outperforms all the others, the “winner.” Shooting sports are among the few sports in which yes, there's only one match winner; but every time we approach the firing line we are competing, not only against others, but also with ourselves to accomplish our personal best.
Like some of their friends and loved one, many of these shooters today assumed that their disability would permanently keep them from athletics.
You know what they say about assumptions...