Workin’ In The Fun

Those who work in offices try to work in some enjoyment in the evenings and weekends.

Same for us road warriors.

I’m “out” for the great majority of two weeks at a time, sometimes three. A typical trip has me outbound on Monday morning and arriving on the east coast late in the day, teaching four days and then flying back home on Saturday. As often as not, the following week will be the same and a “full weekend” at home, both Saturday and Sunday, is a rare pleasure.

You might object that I could go home Friday evening and that’s certainly true. And I’d have that full weekend. But long practice has taught me that if I work for 8 hours in the classroom, pack equipment for shipment for another hour and then take on a 5 hour flight fighting the jet stream back to Phoenix, plus another hour in moving through the airport and across town at each end, then that 8 hour day becomes 16. If I do that, by the time I get home I’m exhausted, stressed out from the noise and commotion, and in no condition to get a good night’s sleep before the lawn mower starts calling my name the next morning. And we’ve learned that if I fly home Friday night, I’m no fun to be around on Saturday.

For the sake of our marriage and for the sake of my health, I stay out another night and fly home Saturday. And the lawn gets cut on Sunday.

With that much “out” time, I’ve also learned to try and carry on normal life as much as possible while traveling. I pay bills through on-line banking, chat with the wife by Skype when the hotel’s wireless bandwidth is good, do the laundry, watch a favorite TV program or two, have the occasional “nice meal” and, when its possible, make holey paper.

That’s paper with holes, in case you hadn’t guessed.

Specifically, I shoot target pistols.

The sport is formally named Conventional Pistol and the rules are defined by the NRA but everyone just calls it “Bullseye.”

According to the rules, all shooting must be done one-handed and no magnifying optics are allowed. We stand 25 or 50 yards away from the targets and shoot a couple of different pistols and in three different forms called Slow Fire, Timed Fire and Rapid Fire.

Slow Fire is ten rounds in ten minutes at 50 yards. The 10-ring is a little over three inches in diameter and good, really good shooters will hit it with eight or nine of those shots. And occasionally someone will “clean” it with ten shots in the ten ring for 100 points. If two people tie with the same numerical score, then you count Xs. The “X” ring is in the center of the ten ring, and is only a little over one inch in diameter. I’ve never seen anyone shoot a “tenex” in Slow Fire. (An “X” for me in Slow Fire is as much luck as skill, maybe more so.)





My Timed Fire Target Being Scored

Then, targets are moved closer, to 25 yards, and the Timed and Rapid Fire portions are shot. Again, it’s ten shots per target. “Clean” targets are much more common than in Slow Fire, and “tenex” targets, although still pretty rare, do happen.

But the better scores at 25 yards are not just because the targets are closer. Indeed, most people shoot better when they think less.

“Don’t f___ing think,” Coach Pat used to say. (He would also shout “Jerk!” in my ear everytime I’d yank the gun instead of moving the trigger smoothly to the rear.)

Timed Fire at 25 yards consists of two strings of shooting. You load five rounds and, when the time starts, you have 20 seconds to shoot those five shots. You then reload with another five rounds and, again when the time starts, shoot the next string in 20 seconds. There’s enough time to aim and shoot, but not enough time to think about what you’re doing.

Not thinking is good. Most people shoot better when they don’t have time to think.

I’m told the same is true with golf, badminton, archery and just about every other sport. “Quit that stinkin’ thinkin'” applies to just about every physical skill.

Remember how hard it was to learn to ride a bike but, once you “got it”, how everything just seemed to happen automatically?

Driving a car is much the same way. It is primarily a physical skill.

Of course, it’s also true that the brain is involved, very much so. But a lot of what happens is done in that automatic part of the brain we don’t think of as “thinking”. You don’t experience words. Instead, you just see and do.

Same with the sports, and the same with Bullseye.

To do well at Bullseye, you have to train the body to do the right thing, and then get the brain out of the way to let the body perform.

But I diverge.

Back to the shooting.

Rapid Fire is pretty much the same as Timed Fire but now there’s only 10 seconds to get off that same 5 round string. You still aim and shoot but “aim” is no longer the right word. A better phrase is “get close to where you want and hope the gun goes bang at the right time.” This form is often called “Ragged Fire” for obvious reasons.

Regardless, “clean” and “tenex” targets are still fairly common in Rapid Fire, just not as much as with Timed.

So, when my business travel permits, I take my guns.

And yes, you can travel by air with guns but only in the checked luggage and only by following all the airline rules, and by following all of the federal regulations, and only after checking the local gun laws at every airport, state and city you might pass through. Lots of cities have banned handguns (but a recent Supreme Court decision has ruled a lot of those are un-constitutional). And a lot of states make it exceedingly difficult to pass through, much less stay overnight, with handguns in your possession.

The federal and airline rules are pretty straight-forward. The guns and ammunition must be in checked bags. No carry on allowed. And everything must be in locked containers. And it behooves smart travellers to put the valuable-looking and locked gun cases inside another piece of luggage, something shabby and uninteresting. When checking in, you state that you need an “Unloaded Firearm Tag”. This is a piece of paper that goes into the locked case. Typically the airline agent looks to see if you’re following all the rules. Then, you stay with the suitcase while it is X-rayed by TSA and, if they want, give them the keys to unlock and inspect everything. This happens a good proportion of the time. At your destination, the bag comes out with all the other luggage and is just as vulnerable as anyone else’s bag to being picked up by the wrong person and walked out the door. So there’s that financial risk to consider as well.

And, of course, I only take my guns when there’s a competition where I’m going, or within a drivable distance thereof. All in all, this means that my “out” an average of two out of three weeks over the year, I get to shoot in competitions maybe six times a year.

For a sport that requires a lot of practice at both shooting and not thinking, I don’t get a lot of practice. So my rating, Sharpshooter, is not very advanced. If I’m lucky, diligent and unthinking enough, I might make it to Expert this year. Or maybe next. Master and High Master seem impossibly distant and, as long as my travels continue at this pace, that’s probably true.

Did you know that the oldest individual to win a medal in the Olympics did so in a shooting sport?

That’s true, you can look it up.

So you see I have hope of a second career when I stop travelling. (Where are the 2020 Olympics going to be held, I wonder?)

My next class is in Pennsylvania. It’s a rare five-day class, a full Monday through Friday booking so I’m guaranteed of seven “out” days.

But I’m leaving even earlier, on the Friday before, because there’s a Bullseye competition in Palmyra Pennsylvania the Saturday before.

And, a friend whom I’ve never met — we share the Bullseye passion, blog about it separately, comment on each other’s blogs, and subscribe to the same e-mail list that passionately adheres to this one sole topic — lives near the range. We’ve been watching for a chance to meet and this is it. And he invited, and I accepted, to spend Friday and Saturday nights at his place and, in between, shoot the competition on Saturday. On Sunday I’ll wave good-bye and drive to the location for Monday’s class elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

Expense-wise, I’ll pay my own bills on the extra days, pay for the drop-off charge on the one-way car rental that was necessitated by flying in to one city but back from another, and for the extra day on the car. And I’ll pay the match fees, extra ammunition costs — the 11 pound federal limit to what’s in my checked and locked luggage means I’ll have to buy 22 ammunition there. All totalled, and including a bottle of wine for Saturday dinner at my host’s home, I’ll spend an extra $200, maybe $250 for the weekend.

And if you’ll pardon the pun, my weekend will be a blast!

10s and Xs! (A traditional Bullseye farewell.)