Why I love to shoot: A short Essay in defense of the modern shooting sports
In modern America, the shooter (that is, those of us who shoot guns as a hobby and personal challenge) is an anomaly to most. For most people, when I mention I like to shoot, they ask if I hunt, or if I'm in competitions, or they get a freaked out look on their face and secretly decide I'm a wacko. I don't hunt, I am not near good enough for competitions, and I am certainly not a wacko; I have no desire to do harm to any person, just paper and clay: so if you are made of paper or clay, you may fear me, I shoot paper and clay all the time... But I am not crazy, and I'm writing this to tell you why someone would bother to practice an art form which was designed to do harm, even when we (shooters that is) have no desire nor intention to do harm.
For the most part, people in modern America don't "get" shooting just for fun. The assumption seems to be that we are adrenaline junkies or insecure, or paranoid. Just like people assume that I am sensitive about looks because I exercise (I don't exercise to look "good," but to be healthy) they assume that there must be some reason I pack up targets, three firearms, a box of clays, ammo, a bench rest, mags, goggles, earmuffs, tape, two wire target holders, and a pair of binoculars every five or six weeks and spend four or five hours popping away at paper, clays, and various recyclables. They also assume that reason must be either one of the following: I'm a cop, I'm a security guard, I'm in the army, I hunt, or, if none of these hold true; I'm a paranoid wacko. None of those are the reason and that is the primary purpose of this short essay, to tell you what shooting a gun just for fun is really like, and to explain why I (and millions of others, there are roughly 100 million gun owners in America, though not all actually shoot regularly) love it so much.
There are several positives to shooting, some obvious: like the "cool" factor of making stuff fall over or blow apart from a long way away, tying into this is the "power" factor, being able to strike out from a distance is a human instinct that goes back to the first time someone threw a rock; thirdly, there is the "focus" factor, and tying into it the "challenge" factor. I will detail each of these factors and how they come together to make shooting a positive experience for those with an open mind.
The "cool" factor seems almost too obvious. Making stuff go "BOOM" is... A blast! Shooting is dramatic, its exciting, and it’s empowering to strike out to great affect. Think of it in the same context as golf; in golf you strike a small ball with a stick to produce a desired effect, it is also dramatic and satisfying in a primal way for the same reason; you get to hit something! From personal experience I can tell you that seeing a clay target shatter into pieces over my shotgun sights and knowing it was my skill, concentration and willpower that did it is very empowering. It's a reinforcement that I do have what it takes to get things done, and it’s not that I (or you) need it per-se, but its good just to know you can sometimes, it’s satisfying and assures that primal part of your brain that everything is fine.
This thought takes us to the power factor. Modern Americans live in quite a safe world overall, bad things happen, but you aren't likely to be the victim of a violent crime anytime soon. That said, being prepared for a certain eventuality is psychologically comforting on a subconscious level. I do not go around thinking about what to do if someone try's to hurt or kill me, but it is empowering to know that I have the means to fight back, that I am not and won't be a helpless victim. For that reason, shooting recreationally gives the shooter a feeling of being in control of their own world, the knowledge to competently shoot firearms gives us a reassurance that even if faced with danger, we can fight back instead of just hoping for the best. For some people, this same subconscious security (through control) comes in other forms: martial arts, temporal power over peers (your supervisor), knowledge of cars, computers, electronics, whatever makes people feel in control of their world as an independent person. The point is, shooting does not make you in particular more "insecure" than any other pursuit which people use to feel good about themselves. Some find security behind of a veneer of "intellectualism" or "sophistication" or "self-righteousness." Shooting is no better or worse than these other tendencies, and I am not decrying any of them.
The "focus" factor deals more directly with the mechanics of shooting itself. Shooting a gun is not "easy" In the way that people think. Watching TV and movies leaves many people with the impression that anyone can pick up a gun, look down the sights, pull the trigger and shoot whatever they want; they watch Mark Wahlberg in "Shooter" take a mile shot through a scope and think: "aww that wasn't too hard!" The reality is much different. Accurate shooting relies on keeping every muscle of your body from moving except your trigger finger in the split second that you fire. That mile shot? An unnoticeable small flinch in your shoulder and its ten yards off at a mile. Shooting takes a type of concentration only achievable as an act of willpower; it takes a lot of mental energy to make those sights stay perfectly lined up while you squeeze the trigger (trigger pull can be anywhere from 2-10 pounds on your average rifles, pistols, and shotguns) so you have to be able to generate force in your hand, while not moving most of the muscles in it, and keeping it, your arms, shoulder and body from moving and botching your shot. This is called "trigger control." All that said, accurate shooting also relies on timing, no person can be absolutely, perfectly still, some movement always occurs and letting the trigger go at just the right millisecond is the second ingredient in making a perfect shot, and in “trigger control” as well. Now that you've read a bit about what it actually takes to make an accurate shot (that's not to mention multiple shots that all land within inches of each other) it gives you an idea of the "focus" and "challenge" involved.
The "challenge" is all part of the fun. Shooting is not an easy sport, and it is one you can almost always improve on. Even if you're an Olympic League shooter and can shoot .05 inch groups at 50 yards with a pocket pistol it takes practice to stay "perfect." As you can see, shooting well is not as easy as the experts make it look, it's an art form perfected through practice, much like playing music, or painting a picture, muscle memory in regards to technique (trigger control) as well as being able to feel the right moment based on experience, combine to form the perfect whole. That is the challenge of shooting; it takes supreme focus, willpower, muscle memory and good instincts.
Shooting is a sport. No, not everyone competes professionally, but for those of us who take improvement seriously, it is as much a sport as golf, running, or any other individual sport. You are trying to improve your ability to perform an activity that is for your own entertainment, hence the title sport. There is more in common between the driving range and the shooting range than you might think: how many golfers are going to go pro? How many runners will run in the Olympics? How many martial artists compete internationally? I will never be Rambo, or even a soldier at all, or a cop, or a security guard; it is very unlikely I’ll ever be physically attacked somewhere were I can access my guns; and yet, for me, it isn’t about the practicality of it, it’s about the personal challenge and the fun factor. Shooting is about you not what you can do (necessarily).
In all, shooting is a way to stay active, be outdoors, and have fun; while all the while giving the shooter a significant challenge to his or her willpower and focus. It also is empowering and can provide important peace of mind when you hear that bump in the night (hopefully the CLICK-CLACK of the shotgun slides scares them off). Recreational shooters like myself don't shoot because we have to, we do not anticipate a coming apocalypse (ok, some do, but even we call them crazy), or even an attack, we just like to have a good time with friends while also teaching ourselves some discipline; it’s just like any other recreational sport. Shooting is my sport and that is why I love to shoot.