Thursday, 17 July 2014

I get to shoot guns for real

Guns appear in three of my novels so far, so when I was offered a place on the Goldsmiths' Company team on the 7 Rifles Livery Range Day I leapt at the opportunity to fire pistols and rifles with live ammunition. I knew I wouldn't be much of an asset to the team, never having fired a gun - but then most of the other liverymen had little or no experience either.

The event took place at Sandhurst. It's huge - roads run between various buildings and ranges, set in beautiful woodland with flitting butterflies and pine cones underfoot. All the soldiers were charming and helpful and seriously fit. On the range we wore ear defenders, protective glasses, helmets and body armour, presumably in case one of us turned out to be a really, really bad shot and randomly hit a fellow liveryman.

Glocks are heavier and larger than the die cast toy gun I sprayed black for the cover of Wolf by the Ears, and with a much heftier kick when fired than I'd imagined. The rounds are beautiful, like jewellery, and so are the empty cartridge cases, shiny brass glittering in the grass. No wonder it occurred to my grandfather to make a bell from cartridges during WW1, which I still have.

It is trickier to hit a target than you might think; the hardest part is holding the weapon steady while you line up the sights or cross hairs and squeeze the trigger. Did you know rifle sights are adjusted to suit the individual, so a sniper will be less accurate if not using his own weapon? I did my best shots with a rifle, lying prone, all five holes within a few centimetres of a target the size of a postage stamp (admittedly from close range). I regret not taking a photo before the nice soldier teaching me pasted paper over the holes ready for my next attempt while kneeling. 

My team came second, making us terribly proud of ourselves.


  1. The wonderful things we get to do in the name of research!!

  2. It must be fantastic to be a really famous author, like Lee Child. I imagine he only has to ask if he wants to try something, or get access to somewhere off-limits.

  3. That sounds like so much fun. I'm guessing more guns will be finding their way into your stories now. Unless your next novel is set in outer space, of course.

  4. It was huge fun, FH. And they always have guns in outer space, really sophisticated ones.

    When the daughter was small, we went to the theatre - possibly Return to the Forbidden Planet? and the actors mingled with the audience before the show. One guy pretended to threaten Minty with his ray gun, and she pointed out to him that actually it was only a hairdryer sprayed silver, so not very frightening at all.

  5. Minty has the right spirit! (I wonder where she gets it from?)

  6. I've been shooting a couple of times. I didn't find the handguns so difficult, but really struggled the one or two times I tried to shoot a rifle and shotgun - just couldn't aim for the life of me, I think because I was so worried about the recoil.

    Anyway, good on you for doing your research and having fun at the same time.

  7. The rifle's recoil didn't bother me, but holding its weight steady while getting my eye in the right position and the target in the cross hairs was hard. That's why my best shots were from a prone position, with the ground supporting the rifle.

    I was told soldiers aren't allowed to train with ammunition until they have spent quite a lot of time getting comfortable with the rifle.

  8. Pistols have short barrels so a centimeter or so can make a huge difference on accuracy the farther away the target is. I carried a Berretta and don't remember if I ever shot a Glock (copper-ware). Does it use "pumpkin on a post" sight?

    The go-to guy on guns is ex-cop Lee Lofland over at his blog "The Graveyard Shift."

    Did you wear a holster? All the gear a cop wears is quite heavy. I hated the weight of my pistol when I carried.

  9. Yes, a Glock has a 'pumpkin on a post' sight, though that's the first time I've heard that apt expression.

    No holsters. The jackets we wore, though heavy, were the lighter ones that just protect your extra-vital organs. A captain told me that in the field it's often safer not to wear all the protective kit, as you can move much faster.

  10. What type/caliber of weapon were they?

    I am assuming the Glock was the full size 9mm (extended magazine with 17 rounds). But the term "rifle" covers a ton of ground.

    The 9mm fires very similarly to the popular .38 special. The police in the U.S. often use a larger .40 Smith and Wesson round (The S&W refers to the type of cartridge not the type of gun it is fired from) and of course the old standby, the .45 ACP. Both of which have a bit more kick.

    The heavier the gun relative to the muzzle energy, the less the recoil. Thus I have seen many skittish folks really take to .22 revolvers. No more kick than a cap gun. If you are not bothered by recoil (you want to avoid the deadly to accuracy flinch), your natural shooting ability should be pretty good. As you noted, line it up and squeeze.

  11. Russell, I think the rifle I fired was an L85 (SA80).