Back in the spring of 2000, May I think it was, I found myself staying with a wealthy friend of mine and his girlfriend at their ranch on the plains just to the east of the Colorado Rockies.
The reasons for me being there will be told at a later date, suffice it to say a woman was involved!
Anyway, Greg and I were sat out on his porch, drinking beer and watching the sun slowly sink towards the majestic, snow-capped peaks of the Front Range that sat away on the horizon. I’d spent most of the day doing some work on the ranch, using a tractor and a disc harrow to turn over the soil in one of his fields.
The day had been hot and I had been pretty drunk for most of the afternoon. There’s something mesmerising about driving a tractor up and down a huge piece of land under the influence of wine; combined with a huge pair of headphones, a Sony Walkman, all the while listening to the local classic rock radio station as it played what seemed like the entire Pink Floyd back catalogue.
I’d worked hard that day, the only highlight being a flock of eagles that had been following me on the wing, occasionally diving down to catch the snakes and small animals that I had disturbed. It was a surreal moment and one that I’ll never forget. I remember turning back and looking up at the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, a blue sky, a half a dozen eagles, the plains and Breathe by Pink Floyd wrapping itself around my cerebral cortex.
I was on about my fifth beer of the evening when the conversation turned to guns.
Like most boys I’d always played war or cowboys and Indians as a kid, but I’d never had any sort of an urge to go and shoot a real gun. It just didn’t seem an important way to spend my time, and anyway, living in the U.K. meant that you never really had them easily accessible. I think my dad owned a few shotguns, but I was way too small to ever shoot any of those. Anyway Greg started telling me about his cool new Colt AR-15 rifle. Essentially this thing was a civilian version of the famous M16 assault rifle, the very same one we’ve seen everyone from Arnie to Pamela Anderson shooting in the movies.
Having opened another beer, I remember suggesting that it would be cool to try it out, maybe drive to a gun range and shoot a few bullets at some paper target shaped like rampaging soldiers. Greg just stared at me and said “fuck that, I’ve got a thousand acres, let’s go and shoot some shit out back!!” Now you must remember I had been drinking all day* and was pretty tired, but the adrenaline blast that hit me at the thought of letting rip with a real-life machine gun was far too enticing.
With that Greg jumped up and said that he was going to go and set up some targets down in the pasture. That was going to take a while, so I decided to jump in the shower and try to wake myself up a bit.
After my shower I threw on a robe and some boxers and headed to my room to finish my beer and to find something to put on. Just as I got to my room I heard several loud “crack, crack, crack” sounds coming from the rear of the property. It was time.
Foregoing clothes, I threw on a pair of Vans hi-tops and headed outside. Greg was standing with the gun slung over his shoulder, cigarette in his mouth and a magazine in one hand. On the hood of the truck he had a box of ammo, he was fumbling around and trying to get the bullets into the mag. He spotted me and said “go and put some fucking clothes on you heathen, this is a respectable neighbourhood.” I pointed out that the nearest neighbour was in fact five miles away and the nearest paved road was three.
He mumbled and fumbled and then told me to switch the truck lights onto full beam. He’d already parked the Ram facing away down the field towards where he’d planted our quarry. Across the prairie were dotted several white propane cylinders, spaced out at 100 yard intervals. They were about a quarter of a mile from our elevated position up on the driveway.
“So you’ve never shot a gun before?” he said. I shook my head as he smiled and handed me the now loaded rifle. He explained to be how to aim, hold the rifle and what to do if it didn’t fire. I raised the weapon to my shoulder and tried to focus on one of the targets away down range. I flicked the safety off and, in a white bathrobe, black boxer shorts and a crappy old pair of Vans shoes, I let rip.
Everything seemed to slow down at the instant that I pulled that trigger. The first thing I noticed was the loud crack right next to my ear. That was instantaneously followed by the kick of the rifle but recoiling back into my shoulder and the distinctive smell of cordite filled my nostrils. The high velocity round had not found its mark, and in the distance dust kicked up into the air.
A single shot. I had fired my first gun. What a buzz. I turned to Greg who was telling me to lower the gun and flick on the safety switch. I was shaking and laughing almost uncontrollably.
“Come on dude, you’ve got a whole magazine. Just point that fucker down there and try to hit something”. Greg didn’t need to ask me twice. With my ears ringing I raised the gun again, flicked off the safety and fired. The semi-automatic mechanism reacted instantly to my inputs on the trigger. The faster I pulled the more it fired. Tracer rounds lit up the early evening sky, some ricocheted off the ground and threw up wisps of dust. Just as I emptied the magazine a round hit one of the propane tanks, rupturing it and sending it cartwheeling across the dirt.
We spent the next hour shooting hundreds of rounds of ammo at those tanks. Greg hit a couple and I hit one more, but it really didn’t matter. I was both excited and scared at the same time. I could see how people might want to have these things in their lives, but over some more beers at a bar later that evening, I decided that I wouldn’t shoot another gun.
I spent the rest of the night trying to dance with the girls in the bar who seemed to be attracted to my British accent and slightly deaf persona. I was still buzzing from an amazing day with good friends and high velocity weapons. God only knows what the eye in the sky must have thought?
*I was mildly drunk, it seems it is hard to get really drunk when it’s hot outside!