The Last Range Visit
This is a discussion on The Last Range Visit within the Bob & Terry's Place forums, part of the The Back Porch category; Guys - a few folks may have seen this before ...... but many will not have done. I post it again because I spoke yesterday ...
February 23rd, 2008 03:14 PM
The Last Range Visit
Guys - a few folks may have seen this before ...... but many will not have done. I post it again because I spoke yesterday to Paul, George's son - just a general shoot-the-breeze chat, something we manage once or twice a year.
We spoke once again about his Dad, our fond memories and in particular the substance of this story below, which I wrote quite a long time ago. I post because for me, it is an indulgent tribute to a great old guy back in the UK, fondly remembered.
It is reconstructed from some very clear images I had, tho any dialog is pretty much ''how it would have been'' as against a verbatim record!). I only wish I had pictures to support it ... but these are all in my memory banks.
You'd find it difficult to imagine the old range ... it really needs a picture.
Long ago it was a military range which was at least 100 yds, but land was sold and playing fields took most of it. What was left, which we used, was a rear covered section in front of which was a trench, brick lined and also under cover. From there to the target turning system was 25 yds. Oddest thing to many though would have been the huge brick wall behind a generous berm.
It was a Saturday in the early 80's and one of many I remember with utmost clarity - ostensibly just a regular meeting at the club, general plinking in the morning with the prospect of some good competition shooting later in the day. Being early spring, there was still frost on the ground but a strengthening sun was quickly dispersing that and the weather looked fair.
Tim, Roger, Bob and I were as usual the first there, and got things organised. Target frames were put out, and the red flag hoisted near the driveway gate .... we always had a visual display that live fire was taking place. Guess that was mainly to try and avoid hassles with the local horse riding fraternity but once we got under way, there was rarely any mistake that shooting was going on!
Next to arrive was Paul, with George his Dad - pretty much the founder member of the club. George had not been to shoot yet that year, having been confined to a wheelchair since the amputation of his legs the previous fall ..... diabetes had been cruel to him, although he had made it thru as far as his 79th birthday, just before surgery.
We all helped manhandle George's wheelchair up the three awkward steps into the range .. barely getting thru the door, and settled him at the back with a coffee. He was alert but looking very pale, cracking his usual jokes (a wicked sense of humor this man had) but with less gusto than of old. I helped Paul get the guns and gear from his car and whilst we were out of earshot of George, he expressed his concerns, feeling that this would likely be the last time his Dad made it to actually shoot.
Once the gear was all inside we prepared to kick off the first session .... only Alan, the local cop had since arrived so we were good to go and wouldn't wait for any others.
The trench was too deep and too narrow to let us install George in the trench, which would have been best from choice, but instead we shunted the wheelchair round the top and set it up just in front of the trench ... probably close to the 20 yard line. None of us was in a hurry to shoot and unanimously and silently, felt that this was George's shoot for now.
I offered to be ''loader'' and sat on the ground on a tarp to his right, with his ammo, and three guns to hand. Bob had gone down to the targets to pin up a couple of fresh sillhouettes and a bullseye.
''Which one first George''? I asked, pointing to his guns.
''Blackhawk please Chris''.
I picked it up and passed it to him, having established Bob was back now, and behind the line. I opened his box of 50 homeloaded .44 mags ... yes, he still did his reloading! He proceeded to rather shakily stoke up with five rounds .. he always had done that - old habit I guess from way back. Roger was in the trench with a spotting scope, ready to call the shots.
Now this was strange in a way .. from a shaky load ritual, George brought up the gun in a well established two hand hold, and cocked for his first shot - and yet, hardly a movement at all now. The control was almost uncanny, considering his condition.
He proceeded to shoot off all five .. and these were ''stout'' loads too! Roger called out the score .. something like two nines, an eight and a coupla fliers in the white. ''Not bad at all'' said I.
''[expletive] that'' said George, seeming to liven up a lot. ''I'll not have shots in the white, let's load up again.''
I took the gun and emptied it for him .. he seemed more than willing to let me do that for him. Handed it back and he commenced a reload .... five again!
''OK guys - no interruptions now - I'm gonna shoot off 10 and then you can score for me''. I watched as he fired off another five .. and we quickly repeated the unload and reload sequence - then he fired the next five, showing I fancied some signs of unsteadiness. I took the gun back and emptied it.
Roger then called out the score. ''six nines, two eights, a seven and one in the white .... looks like a six''. In fact even without a scope you could see the holes and all but the one shot was in a very reasonable group ...... anyone would have been pleased with it. George of course was back to his expletive! One in the white was serious for him. It was plain though that this string of fifteen had taken it out of him a bit ... but I couldn't help but notice that despite his apparent (mock I think) ire at not staying in the black .. he had this wonderful grin on his face ... a look of unmitigated joy.
''Chris - that's enough of the .44 ... I think I'll put some 38's down now''.
I put the Blackhawk back in it's case and passed him his favorite, the old Model 19. With that too, at his request ... a 50 round MTM box and two speedloaders, placing them on his lap. George instructed no scoring for now ... he was just gonna ''kill'' them two sillhouettes! I stood up and moved back ... the others looked at me and grinned ... here was this dear fella going for what he had done so many times as a fit man ... and in so many competitions too.
George loaded up his speedloaders, and stoked the 19. He raised from his rather awkward low ready and commenced fire. He was obviously thinking somewhat ''El Pres'' .. and was going pretty much a ''2 COM, one to head'' sequence or rhythm. He fired fast but deliberately ... his old smooth D/A .. and the gun was like silk. His sixth shot was barely gone when he fluently raised his right hand a little, opened the cylinder and dumped the cases .. and in one sweeping movement eased the speedloader six into place. He was coming up on aim whilst closing the cylinder and recommenced fire. He did that again after the second string.
I expected him to stop but he emptied the cylinder again and loaded up with loose rounds from the MTM ... he picked out rounds in pairs .. and fed them quickly into the cylinder, rotating that ready for transfer of the next pair and then the next. He was still fast even in the chair. He fired off those six with the same rapid but disciplined rhythm. Then stopping and emptying gun ... to look round to see where we were .. again, that delicious grin.
Roger didn't spot those targets ... he went to get them and brought them back to us. On inspection, there were twelve shots on each ... eight very much COM and tight together on one, with four well centered on the head. The second one was similar but one body shot and one head shot a bit wide.
''Not too bad'' George muttered, still grinning. In fact, these were damn good results for anyone and I wished I had had the clock on him .. he was so quick. Paul was noticeably impressed and also was grinning .. well, I guess we all were actually.
''Son'', George said, ''I think that'll about do me but, if you don't mind the cleaning, let me just have a few shots with the old front stuffer''. He referred to the rather ugly and short barrelled .44 cal kit pistol he had built many years before. Simple percussion piece.
I resumed my position by his wheelchair ... and laid out the materials. Shook the powder flask, poured in a charge of 20 or so grains, placed a greased .454 cal ball on the muzzle and rammed it home tight. Gave him the piece and offered the primer charging tool. He added a cap, cocked it and took careful offhand aim ... not so steady but I knew he was tiring.
With the characteristic sound and envelope of smoke, the piece discharged .. and a pop bottle on the berm danced. He didn't want a paper target now, this was just fun stuff. He passed me the piece .. an even wider grin showing but I noticed too how much more pale he appeared. We repeated this excercise a few times, with berm detritis getting disturbed each shot.
''Enough'' said George, unlocking the brake on the chair and signing that he was ready to move on. ''That was great guys. Thank you for being so patient.'' In fact, the last thing on our minds was shooting ourselves.. . that could wait. We had instead watched with pleasure as George enjoyed himself.
''Son ..... can you put my stuff away''? Paul gathered up all the gear and packed it back in his range bag. I asked him if he was going to shoot but he said he'd wait until next time, preferring to make this session just for his Dad, who was obviously now quite tired.
We all helped get the wheelchair off the range and back out through the awkward door and steps, also stopping to help Paul lift him into the car. After a few words and general BS with us, they made to depart but as the car moved off, George wound down his window and almost yelled at us ...... totally great boys ..... totally great'' ... and showed us perhaps the widest grin of the day. It felt good.
We resumed our usual routine after that and a few other guys turned up .. they had though missed something, rather special.
What made it so very special in fact was that George died, a mere 36 hours later. Paul called me, and the others .. to say that on the Sunday evening George had had a massive stroke, followed (mercifully we think) by total loss of consciousness. He hovered in that state for just a few hours, before expiring peacefully in his own bed.
What's the message here? Well, I am wiping away a tear as I recall that day ........ but am reminded of the fact that we are all mortal. Tomorrow carries no guarantees. Here though was perhaps the ultimate ''parting shot'' .. pun both intentional and unintentional! This old fella had radiated utmost pleasure as he shot that last time, and though I know he was feeling pretty rough, could not but help get caught up in his enthusiasm and sheer pleasure. It was really an honor to have shared those moments. The other guys felt the same.
Two weeks later, Paul came along to the range ... and brought his Dad's guns. We all .. every one of us ... fired a cylinderfull through the Blackhawk and the M19 .. our way of saluting a dear old friend. Paul wept as did we, but we smiled too.
Chris - P95
NRA Certified Instructor & NRA Life Member.
"To own a gun and assume that you are armed
is like owning a piano and assuming that you are a musician!."
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February 23rd, 2008 03:31 PM
Friendship is something that words can't normally convey. Well written Chris and I'm glad he had his friends, son and guns with him that last day at the range. Thanks for sharing the memories.
We will be much better off when we learn to deal with things as they really are, instead of how we wish them to be!
February 23rd, 2008 04:02 PM
No one gets out alive...appreciate the associates, cherish the 'friendships' (they are usually few and far between)...
Thanks for sharing...
The last Blood Moon Tetrad for this millennium starts in April 2014 and ends in September 2015...according to NASA.
Certified Glock Armorer
NRA Life Member
February 23rd, 2008 04:21 PM
I enjoy teaching people to shoot,as much as i enjoy shooting,only somebody that truly understands what it's like to spend time at a gun range plinking at targets with friends would know how special that day was.
February 23rd, 2008 09:46 PM
Thanks for posting this again, Chris.
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe. Albert Einstein
February 23rd, 2008 10:25 PM
Great story with even more meaning. My father will be 86 this March. He is taking care of my mother with Alzheimer's in a local assisted living facility that I talked them into moving here to 3 1/2 years ago. Dad never has time to himself and I long for the day we can spend in a stand together or a day we can spend on the range shooting together. When they moved here I thought we would have more time to do stuff together. My hat is off to the George in the story. What a great way to go, may we all be so lucky. I do so much hope that my father, son and I can sometime spend some free time together doing what fathers and grandfathers are supposed to do. That Alzheimer's disease steals the very essence of life from families. My mother's mind is not much different then a childs any more.
Life member NRA since 1983
I carry a Colt Delta Elite 10mm in Milt Sparks VM2 with 2 extra magazines on my belt. This is normally worn on a belt under my bib overalls and works great for me. My wife carries a Walther PPS .40 w/Crossbreed holster.
February 24th, 2008 04:09 AM
Lex et Libertas — Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis!
"Not only do the people who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us deserve better, we all deserve better than to have our own security undermined by those who undermine law enforcement." -Thomas Sowell
February 24th, 2008 04:21 AM
"[T]he people are not to be disarmed of their weapons.
They are left in full possession of them."
Zacharia Johnson (speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention,25 June 1778)"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed."
February 24th, 2008 01:59 PM
Assault is a behavior, not a device.
"Don't never take no shortcuts." Patty Reed, Donner Party
Lifetime NRA member
February 24th, 2008 02:24 PM
Great story. Thanks for posting it.
"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." Thomas Jefferson
Nemo Me Impune Lacesset
February 24th, 2008 02:42 PM
A story in part about life and the living of it. The importance of living in the here and now each moment. This old gentleman spent what turned out to be some of the last moments of his life thoroughly living them. He spent some time with friends doing what he loved to do and then he died. We should all be so lucky. Great story.
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