A few years back during the gun and ammo frenzy of the Obama Presidency, I was approached on more than one occasion with statements that essentially summed up to be; “I got a new gun but aint sure which end the bullets come out of.” Many students signed-on in my little shooting school at that time, and one in particular sticks with me the most. It was one of my pistol students that came to me wanting to learn how to shoot his shiny “new” rifle. After my agreement to learn him something about long guns, I had no idea that I would be embarking on an experience that would stick with me to this day–a man and his rifle, unplugged.
Phase Plasma Rifle in Forty Watt Range
Let’s just say that on the day of his private lesson, I looked to the heavens and muttered; “Christ, almighty” (and this coming from a Jew), at the sight of the monstrosity he uncased at the firing line. “I was told this is pretty much the last AR-15 in New Jersey,” he said, clearly not believing the words coming from his own mouth, “so I had to take it as-is from a private dealer.” I really wish I had the forethought to take a picture of this nightmare. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you of what “as-is” referred to:
If memory serves, it was a Bushmaster AR-15 carbine, chambered in .308. Full picatinny rail. Flash hider (illegal in NJ) with mini rail, telescopic folding stock (illegal in NJ), bi-pod, ambidextrous bolt release, mounted Nikon scope below an Eotech holo-sight behind a holo-sight magnifier, a set of angled open sights, laser mounted on forward rail of the flash hider, three–count ’em–THREE lights mounted: one dress left, two dress right, and a few other doo-dads that to this day I do not recall what purpose they served. There was even a dangling, curlicue wire that reminded me of the kitchen wall phone in my house growing up. My breath caught in my throat when he told me what he paid for it and I wondered if this young man might be a good candidate for that bridge in Brooklyn that I’d been looking to sell.
Steadying myself and offering no signs of judgement, I asked my student to take his time, set up on the bench and show me as far as he could get, getting ready to actually fire. “The guy I bought it from tried to show me…” is as far as he got when he pulled out three, thirty-round magazines (illegal in NJ). All of them loaded (illegal in NJ). Despite the temperature being in the low fifties, I wiped the sweat from my face.
After an extremely brief counseling session on what is legal in the Garden state and what is not, I gave some superficial instruction in loading and chambering a round. I asked our intrepid rifleman to place five shots on the paper target that I had set out for him at twenty-five yards. I also left the aiming open-ended, allowing him to use whichever of the multitude of optics that were available to him.
Ironically, despite having missed the target entirely in four of his five shots and missing the scoring rings on the fifth shot, he could not have been happier. The sheer act of pulling the trigger and a big bang ripping out from his massive space gun, was enough for him to actually come at me with a fist-bump. There was so much work to do on so many levels.
One Man’s Trash…
Luckily for him, I came ready to teach. I then uncased the rifle that I brought with me that day. My good ol’ bolt action Mosin Nagant. Ahhh… can you just smell it? Still reeking of cosmoline and soviet armpits, I presented him the ultimate peasant rifle, a simple integration of wood and steel chambered in 7.62 for his shooting pleasure. Judging by the look on his face, you’d swear I’d just handed him a bowl of steaming dog feces and a spoon.
The sound made by the Mosin can only be described as “KRAKABOOM”. An entirely pleasant auditory experience provided you are the one pulling the trigger. Otherwise, it can send fellow shooters scrambling for better ear protection. And it was on this, this state of the art circa 1944 rifle, that I made a rifle shooter out of our wannabe rifleman. An hour of fundamentals and shooting and he was placing shots into the scoring rings at one-hundred yards using the Mosin (despite the high-right nature of the beast). By the end of hour three, we managed to uncover his Armalite Rifle from under all that crap and had it stripped down to nothing but the angled open sights and the Nikon scope.
So, where’s he now?
Today, as I type this post, this former student of mine is now a champion level rifle shooter who competes nationally. I hear from him every so often and he asks me how “his” Mosin Nagant is doing before he asks how my family is doing. Odd priorities or not, I promised that I would never divulge his name if I wrote about our experience together because; “Guys and girls on the Gap Grind firing line would never let me live it down“. So be it.
What’s the moral of this story then? It’s one that I’ve made before. Fundamentals will always make you the best shooter. Don’t get caught up in the old snare trap of buying accessories thinking they will move your scores from the 6-ring to the X-ring. There are some fancy and pricy firearms out there that look so cool and whisper desire into our ears when no-one else is looking. There will always be a “better” gun out there. But it’s in the foundation of a “crappy” rifle that shoots better than you do, which can start us down the path to becoming a champion.
Go have a match.