Learning to shoot like an expert

Written by Michael Badnarik

In 1982 I was working for Commonwealth Edison, the electric utility for northern Illinois. They sent me to Pennsylvania for eighteen months to work on my first major project: helping to build a nuclear control room simulator. My apartment had something new. Cable television. And I had nearly twenty different channels! That’s five times as many as we had when I was a boy. One of the channels allowed me to watch the news in San Francisco every night. I don’t particularly like San Francisco, but I was fascinated with the idea of getting current information from across the country. It made me feel very cosmopolitan.

One evening I was informed that San Francisco had a proposition on the ballot that would allow for the confiscation of all the guns in the city. I was horrified. I viewed this as a manifestation of a Communist dictatorship which, like a virus, could spread to the rest of the country. I had never had an opinion about guns. I certainly wasn’t anti-gun, but I had never felt the need to have one… until now. The government could shut down all of the gun stores in the country, but once I owned a gun, they would never be able to take it away from me. Not without “significant resistance”.

I found a local gun shop and told the man I wanted to buy a gun. Not surprisingly, he asked me what kind I was looking for. Truthfully, I didn’t really know. The total extent of my firearms knowledge was recognizing revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. To me, revolvers were old-fashioned cowboy guns. I wanted something more modern and efficient. The salesman asked me how much money I wanted to spend. I told him I had $500. He grinned from ear to ear and said, “Step right over here, son!” No surprise, the gun he convinced me to buy cost $480.

Little did I realize, he advised me to buy one of the best pistols available at the time. A .45 caliber Colt Gold Cup, Series 70. Now, after nearly four decades of shooting, it is my opinion that there are only two types of guns: .45’s, and everything else. Why shoot anything less than the best?

I took the gun home and put the box under the bed. It made me nervous knowing there was a “dangerous weapon” under my bed. But I also realized that it didn’t do me any good sitting there in a box. If someone broke into my apartment, what was I going to say? “Stand back! I have a dangerous weapon in a box under my bed!” No. That was not acceptable.

I went back to the gun shop and spoke to my salesman – who was still smiling after my purchase. I asked him if there was someplace I could go to learn to shoot the damn thing. His face brightened. “You’re in luck”, he said. There was a two-day training course scheduled later that month. The cost was $250. You had to have a holster and 500 rounds of ammunition. A box of 50 rounds was probably $20, so that would add another $200 to my total. “Don’t worry!’, he said. He was planning to reload ammunition for himself, and for only $100 he would gladly reload ammunition for me, too. A week later I went to pick up my ammunition, and he helped me carry three 3-pound coffee cans filled with bullets to my car.

I was in shock. I had never imagined that much ammunition, much less owned it. I felt like a terrorist because I had “an arsenal” in my apartment. Clearly, I don’t feel that way any more. 500 rounds of ammunition is now considered a dangerously low supply. I want you to realize that fear is a symptom of ignorance. We tend to be afraid of anything we don’t fully understand.

On Saturday morning I met my instructor, Ken Hackathorn. At the time, he was simply some guy wearing a holster. Very soon I would learn that he was considered the second best shooter in the entire United States, and he would convince us beyond a shadow of a doubt Sunday evening, just before the class came to a close.

The first thing Ken told us was that we would be operating on a “hot range” instead of a “cold range”. The standard procedure on a cold range is that everyone keeps their gun empty until the Range Master gives you permission to go to the line and load your pistol. Unfortunately, novice shooters will frequently miss the command to unload their pistols, and sooner or later, someone who thought their gun was empty will pull the trigger, and scare the beejeezus out of everyone when the bullet hits something other than a paper target. Ken told us that we should load our pistols the moment we arrive, and we should KEEP them loaded all day long. As soon as we finish shooting we should reload instantly. On a hot range, everyone knows that every gun is always loaded, and therefore everyone will always TREAT their gun as if it is always loaded. Because it is. It’s this constant attention to safety that establishes a life-long respect for the lethal tool in your possession. Whenever I teach a gun course, it is always on a hot range.

The second thing Ken told us was that you have to aim at the target. We chuckled at what we thought was obvious. Ken then took us to the range and gave each of us a fresh, cardboard, silhouette target. We were instructed to stand three feet away from the target. In other words, if you leaned forward slightly, you could reach out and touch your target. Ken told us we were only going to do this once because it was moderately dangerous. When Ken blew his whistle, we were told to draw the pistol from our holster, and shoot “the bad guy” as quickly as we could. Empty the gun on our pretend assailant.

Ken blew his whistle, and twenty-four students standing shoulder to shoulder unleashed an earth shattering barrage of bullets at our targets. For about eight seconds it sounded as if World War III had just started. The noise alone was a little disconcerting. We were ordered to reload, reholster, and then approach our targets. I am not making this up. My target was completely untouched. Not even a partial nick around the edges. Only four of the students hit their targets at all, but none of those would qualify as a fatal shot. We all stood in disbelief. That’s when Ken shouted, “YOU HAVE TO AIM AT YOUR TARGET!” The lesson couldn’t have been driven home more effectively.

I learned most of what I know about guns that weekend from a man I still have the greatest respect for. Just before sending us home, Ken gave us a demonstration of his shooting prowess that I still occasionally dream about today. He placed the Ace of Spades at the target, and standing twenty feet away, he put seven bullets through the same hole. Then he turned the card edge-on, and he shot the card exactly in half, leaving a perfect semicircle in the lower half of the card. Then he put the Seven of Hearts at the target, and using a mirror borrowed from one of the female students, he shot one hole in each of the hearts on the card while shooting backwards over his shoulder. After several other demonstrations that seemed absolutely impossible, he told us that this was not magic. As a professional expert, he was required to shoot 500 rounds per day. He admitted that it becomes pretty monotonous, and it loses its appeal in less than a week. But he told us that we can become as good as we want, as long as we dedicate ourselves to following the principles that he taught us that weekend.

He was right.

I have consciously and assiduously followed his training, and today when I go to the range, I can shoot fifty out of fifty rounds in the head of the silhouette target at a distance of five yards. And if I have all of my magazines preloaded before I arrive, I can shoot, reload, and finish my fifty rounds in three to five minutes. When I take down my target, large football-player-sized men will step back respectfully and open the door so I can leave. I smile. What appears to be magic is simply practice, practice, practice.

Are you afraid of guns? Would you like to learn to shoot really, really well? Not sure if you want to buy a gun? I can help you overcome any apprehension you may have with an abundance of knowledge. I can teach you everything that Ken Hackathorn taught me that weekend in Pennsylvania. I can provide one-on-one instruction, or supervise a group in an outdoor setting similar to the one Ken used in 1982. Depending on who wins the next presidential election, you may wish that you had. To find out more, simply add your name to my schedule here. For a detailed description of what I offer, please visit my website.

In the meantime, be well, stay safe, and keep your powder dry!

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  1. Kay

    Enjoyed the story. Must admit, Mr. Michael, that you are great storyteller. It’s an art, I think.

    [mjb: Yes, it’s an art. Learned at my mother’s elbow as she read books to my brothers and me every evening before bed. She would create different voices for each of the characters, so the stories came alive. I’m glad you’re enjoying my personal anecdotes.]

  2. Dee Ann leger

    I was a fairly decent shot when my dominant right hand was functional. What I need now, is someone that can find a left handed gun, that is lightweight, and doesn’t require a lot of pulling back of parts for the limitations left in my right, and then re-teach me the skills needed to better than fairly decent.

    [mjb: That is easily done. The hard part will be getting together in the same place for a few days.]


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