Firearms – Graduating from Novice to Intermediate

by Zach Billings on August 19, 2011

Zach Billings Manchester Firing LineAfter a decade of interest in firearms I finally acquired enough knowledge and experience to graduate from being a novice shooter, to one of intermediate experience and advanced knowledge. I had owned dozens of airsoft guns with the mindset that they were more replica firearms than toys. I had been shooting on a few occasions and had been behind about two dozen different weapons, including revolvers, semi-auto pistols, shotguns, automatic sub-machine guns, assault rifles, and the odd sniper system. I had studied theory, ballistics, tactics, and specific gun models at great length and finally had applied most of the knowledge at the range. I was at the next level.

In January 2011, after getting our tax returns, my friend Andrew and I headed up to Manchester Firing Line for my second time. This was to be Andrew’s first time with a firearm and we had set a budget of $600 between us for the day of shooting. That gets you a lot of shooting.

Glock 23 NHSince my first time at Manchester Firing Line, they had moved into a new building across the street. The new range was much nicer than the old one and seemed quite modern. We signed our waivers and forked over our licenses so we could rent guns. I had decided it was wise to start with a 9mm, .40, and .45 Glock so Andrew could feel the difference in caliber on what was effectively the same gun. Since you can have two guns at a time we started with the 9mm and .40cal. Andrew was not heavily surprised by the recoil as I had described it in detail before hand. We grabbed a .45cal Glock and then also got another 9mm Glock, but a compact one this time. Andrew, being a bit of a macho-minded kind of guy, was convinced that his large hands would be best suited to a full sized Glock. He found that I was right in my statement that compact Glocks are more comfortable and easy to control and he decided as I have that he would stick with compact models in future.

Done with Glocks, we moved on to the HK USP and the 1911. Andrew and I have both owned USP airsoft replicas and so of course like the real thing. I have grown out of it a bit, however, as the boxy grip is uncomfortable with the .45cal recoil. Andrew ended up illogically preferring the 1911. I’m convinced it is just because he is easily tricked into thinking something is better when it is of “classic” design. The 1911 is a gun I like, but its design leads to a high degree of perceived recoil, making it a handful.

Manchester Firing Line Five Seven

Five-Seven with 5.7mm rounds visible

After having fired about 25 rounds each through each gun, we stepped up to a gun I had only read about. Manchester Firing Line had an FN Five-Seven. This rare and extremely expensive pistol is a hyper-modern weapon, designed with special operations military and advanced law enforcement use in mind. Prior to seeing it at the range, I didn’t think it was even civilian legal. The Five-Seven is a large, but extremely light weight pistol, made largely of polymer. What makes it special is that it uses 5.7mm mini rifle rounds, found in the popular FN P90. Due to their small size, the little rifle bullets generate a miniscule amount of recoil, allowing for very rapid shooting. What makes the gun funky to shoot is that it produces a deafening blast and a huge ball of flame with every shot. The sound and look of it would suggest it would kick like a mule but it doesn’t. In concept, it became my favorite pistol in the first few shots.

As I was working through the pistols, I had become comfortable enough with them that I was trying a few things that I knew could be done but had never tried. I racked a loaded Glock to intentionally eject an unspent bullet, as if it had been a misfired round. I tried firing a few shots one-handed and found that it is woefully impractical as it takes forever to line up for a follow-up shot. I tried shooting quickly and ended up finding that with a compact Glock I can do it with some degree of effectiveness. At 30ft I was able to rapidly shoot and put every bullet in the chest area of the target silhouette. The Five-Seven was of course a totally different story here, as you could rapidly shoot and still achieve a 4 inch group at 30ft. Not exactly competition trick shooting stuff, but not bad for someone who hasn’t shot for speed before.

Finished with pistols, we moved to the HK MP5A5. I was thrilled to see that Manchester Firing Line had gotten rid of the MP5K and swapped in the MP5A5. This model has the longer barrel and full stock and is the model you would typically see a SWAT member using. Andrew and I each shot through two magazines, loaded to 25 of their 30-round capacity. We fired with a mix of semi-auto and burst fire. This time around I had learned to control the recoil during burst fire. Where as with my experience on the MP5K my bullets would just climb, this time my three rounds made a neat 2-inch triangle at 30ft. I had learned to control the recoil enough that by the time the second round fires, I’m already muscling the weapon back down. Andrew had somewhat less luck with this…

After shooting 50 rounds each, the barrel was heating up a fair bit and, having never put enough bullets through a single gun to get it that hot, I asked the range attendant if I should give it a few to cool down. He said it was good to go so I asked him if I could empty a whole 30-round mag on full auto. He attempted to politely say it was fine so long as I could keep it all on the target. I understood this was him trying not to directly accuse me of possibly being too much of an amateur to handle this. I knowingly assured him I could handle it and by now about a half dozen people from inside the 10-stall range had gathered behind me to watch. The attendant stood back with Andrew while I put in a mag and slapped the bolt closed. I arranged my body in an optimal form for recoil control, one foot set forward and leaning into the gun with it pulled tight into my shoulder. My heart was pounding and my adrenaline was flowing before I even squeezed the trigger.

I opened up and had the weapon under control within the first couple shots. The experience is a blur in my memory. The noise and vibration of the recoil were intense. With the muzzle flashes blasting away and vision blurred by the vibration of the gun, it becomes more about instinct than conscious action. It’s all over before you can begin to really think about what you’re doing, as it only takes about 2 seconds to empty the 30-round magazine. The experience went down as the second most adrenaline-charged of my life, second only to when I found out the limits of my Subaru STi’s performance. I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can control it.

Last, we each put 25 rounds through an M4A1. This was certainly a treat as, although it’s not the most effective assault rifle around today, it’s a long-standing favorite of mine.

The plan going forward was that Andrew and I would go shooting at Manchester Firing Line once a year when we get our tax return, and that going forward we would ask a few friends if they want to come. Now about a month ago my friends Aaron and Ethan (neither of whom have shot before) asked if I’d want to go shooting and we settled on this coming Saturday with a large budget of $400 per person.

The way the range rents guns is that a group all gets on one lane together and takes turns using the gun. This means when you pay to rent a gun you don’t have to pay that price per person. Rather, it is split between everyone you’re with. The more people you go shooting with, the cheaper the rentals are per gun. You still of course have to pay for your own bullets but if you’re getting $400 total worth of guns, it makes it much cheaper to have three people, rather than two. In that example, the $75 you save on gun rentals can then be applied to about 150 more bullets spread between the guns!

Using our combined $1200, I have come up with a rough idea of the guns I intend to rent on Saturday so that Ethan and Aaron can get a nice sampling. We’ll start with a 9mm, .40cal, and .45cal Glock (hopefully compact models). If they have 10mm ammo in stock we’ll also shoot a 10mm Glock. 10mm bullets are the same as a .40cal bullet but with a lot more gun powder (cordite) behind them. I’ve never had a chance to shoot a pistol chambered in 10mm so I’d like to try one. We’ll then move to a revolver of some kind. If they have any absurd pistols like the .44 Magnum or a .50cal we’ll probably go that route. Part of my hopes they’re out of that ammo so I have have the guys try a common .38 Special. I’m then going to get them on a USP (or an HK45 if they have one, since it’s more up to date) and a 1911. We’ll finish pistols with the Five-Seven.

SCAR HFor rifles and SMGs we’ll start with the MP5 and get some automatic trigger time. I’m then planning on doing the M4 so they can try a semi-auto assault rifle. If they have the .40cal HK UMP up and running we’ll then try that before the latest and greatest addition to the range’s collection. Either way, we’re going to finish with the SCAR H (H standing for HEAVY). The SCAR H was added in the last few days to the rental list at Manchester Firing Line. The SCAR L (light) is an assault rifle in the same vein as the AR-15/M4A1 which takes the same 5.56mm ammunition. The SCAR H is chambered in the 7.62mm/.308cal rifle round. This is the same bullet fired from the M700, M24 and L96 sniper weapon systems, and is extremely powerful. It should make for a good high note to end the experience on.

My hope is that, between the diversity of guns, the number of rounds fired, and instruction of shooting techniques from me, Ethan and Aaron should walk away with a solid degree of firearm competency.

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