OPINION – My old firearms mentor Dave Strickland would have been proud. Tuesday evening I stepped out of my comfort zone and visited the Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range in Hurricane for my first experience in shooting Tuesday Night Steel.
I’ve watched with interest over the past decade or so as Washington County’s shooting sports park took shape near Purgatory Flats. I remember the informal shooting ranges that could be found all around the outskirts of St. George prior to the explosive growth of the past 15 years.
As new developments continued to overtake the former shooting areas, it became clear that Southern Utah shooters needed a place where they could safely enjoy their sport. The shooting sports park provided a venue for pistol, rifle, and shotgun shooters, as well as archers.
The Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range is just one of the venues located west of the county fairgrounds. It is open to the public and offers shooters a variety of opportunities to learn practical shooting, to promote shooting education, and to support the Second Amendment. The fact that it does this free of charge is an added bonus.
The Tuesday Night Steel competition is an organized meet that allows competitors to test their shooting skills in a variety of stages that are equal parts challenging and fun.
Each stage is set up with a specific number of steel targets that require the shooter to move to the proper firing position, work around obstacles, and either knock down or make hits on the targets in a particular order. All of this is done under time pressure.
Failure to hit the specified targets results in a time penalty and there are enough targets that the shooter has to reload on the fly. Experienced shooters make it look easy but the running timer and the drive to compete create just enough stress to make it interesting.
Safety is a constant priority throughout the entire event. As a newcomer, I was first instructed on the rules I would be expected to follow as a participant. Minor violations receive a clear warning and a major safety infraction earns the shooter an invitation to unload his or her weapon, put it in its case, and go home for the night.
One of the things I appreciate most about the competitive shooting community is the welcoming and supportive mentoring shown to newcomers. Skill at arms is not innate and every shooter faces a considerable learning curve when learning the basics.
I’ve been shooting for many years, but it was a real challenge to adapt to a type of shooting I’d never done before. Of course, I had the benefit of watching the more experienced shooters go through the course of fire, including Jalise and Justine Williams, a pair of 10- and 11-year-old sisters who tackled every stage like a boss.
As I looked around at the competitors, I saw men and women of every age from pre-teen to elderly. Some were equipped with state of the art competitive shooting gear, others carried just the basics. To a person, they were all down to earth, productive citizens.
When one competitor’s gun went down due to a mechanical problem, another shooter offered the use of his gun and magazines so the man could finish the course. This is typical of the kind of people who participate in the shooting sports.
I thought back to Dave Strickland my first firearms mentor. Dave and I met when most of what I knew about guns came from what I’d seen in movies and on TV. He was the guy who first helped me see beyond the media’s portrayal of guns to the practical, historical, and artistic side of firearms ownership.
Dave introduced me to the genius of John Moses Browning, the innovation of Gaston Glock, and a host of other gun designers. He showed me how firearms are tools that can be used to protect innocent life, to put food on the dinner table, to provide enjoyment, or to simply be appreciated for their craftsmanship.
I felt Dave’s spirit in many of the shooters I met this week.
Those who obsess over the sensationalized, though relatively infrequent, misuse of firearms generally have little to no practical experience with them. The fear and loathing they express is a product of incomplete or distorted information that shapes their views on guns.
If they had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the people I met Tuesday night at the Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range, they’d see a positive side of firearms they’ve been missing.
Bryan Hyde is a morning commentator on Talk Radio 590 KSUB and an opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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