Originally written 12/2/2014.
All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Photo credit: Jeff Kubina, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kubina/185491080
C2 Tactical Indoor Gun Range in Phoenix, Arizona: www.c2tactical.com
My husband Ray came with me on my recent trip to Arizona. One night I came back to our hotel room to find him excitedly looking at a website on his iPad.
“Look what I saw a sign for today!” he said, flipping the iPad around so I could see the website.
“C2 Tactical Gun Range,” I read. “Voted the best indoor range in Arizona!”
“They have all these different packages!” Ray said. “You can shoot zombie-shaped targets with a pistol, a rifle, or a shotgun, and you get a dedicated range safety officer to help you, plus a free t-shirt.”
I glanced over the professional, easy-to-read website. My knowledge of firearms, such as it is, has mostly come from TV shows and movies, so a lot of the information on the site was like a foreign language to me. “Remington 1100;” “Springfield 9mm XDM;” “pre-loaded ammunition;” “upgrade to 40 (or) 45 ACP for $5.”
“Um,” I said, handing the iPad back. “It looks…interesting.”
Actually, it didn’t. It looked like a place for testosterone-laden weekend warriors to go and pretend to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Photo credit: Pascal, https://www.flickr.com/photos/pasukaru76/5777214880
Like this, only not as cute.
“I’d like to go try it out,” said Ray. “I was thinking of going tomorrow while you’re at the dance competition.”
I mulled that over for a minute. Ray isn’t a dance teacher, and after a few hours at a competition the sound of dance music overlaid with little girls screaming starts to drive him insane. Anything that got him out of the hotel where the competition was being held had to be a good thing, especially if it involved getting to blow off steam by shooting stuff.
On the other hand, we hadn’t budgeted for a zombie-shooting adventure, and the shooting package wasn’t exactly cheap.
Was that why I was feeling reluctant to let Ray go and do this? No, I realized slowly; I was reluctant to let him go because I was jealous. He wanted to go and have an adventure—an adventure that I could blog about if I was going—and he was planning on going WITHOUT ME.
Aww. This shooting target is so adorable. I can’t wait to fill it with bullet holes.
All of a sudden, shooting zombies looked a lot more interesting. “You know,” I said, “if you wait until Monday, I could go, too.”
And that’s how I found myself walking into the C2 Tactical Gun Range on Monday morning.
Surprise #1—it was in a big building in a suburban strip mall, surrounded by the usual furniture stores and coffee shops. I’d somehow pictured it in the middle of an empty field, encircled by chain link fencing topped with barbed wire.
Photo credit: E. Belknap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/banjobelknap/2292263944
This is what I imagined, except with guns.
Inside, there was a big retail area just like any other shop, with glass-topped display counters along the sides and rows of wooden grid walls in the middle holding the different items they had for sale. The floor plan was roomy, with a lot of light, and all the displays were neat and professional. They just happened to be selling pistols and shotguns instead of shoes or Christmas decorations.
Although they did sell t-shirts, too.
Surprise #2—everybody at C2, from the man who greeted us at the door to the woman who took our payment at the end, was friendly, courteous, and professional. We felt welcome and taken care of from the minute we stepped in. I felt ashamed of myself for imagining that it would be run by the guys from Duck Dynasty.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/83447993@N00/3291034752
Or this guy.
The staff took our credit card and our driver’s licenses to hold onto while we were in the shooting range, and then they introduced us to our dedicated range safety officer, Jason. Jason was a fit, clean-cut man in his middle thirties, I would guess, with a pleasant manner and a ready smile. As the woman behind the counter was processing us (probably checking out our driver’s licenses to make sure that we weren’t psycho killers on the run from the law), Jason told us about a trip he’d taken recently to Durango, Colorado, where he and his father-in-law had gone prairie dog hunting.
Oh. I like prairie dogs. Poor little guys.
Photo: Larry Smith, https://www.flickr.com/photos/lsmith2010/14353920852
Seriously, how could you shoot something this cute?
“How much shooting experience do you have?” he asked us.
“I go shooting with a friend of mine a couple times a year,” Ray said, and rattled off the names of a bunch of different guns he’d fired. It all sounded like gibberish to me, but Jason nodded.
“Sounds like you’ll be fairly comfortable with what you’ll be firing today,” he said. He turned to me. “How about you? How much experience do you have?”
“Um,” I said. “Basically none.”
That wasn’t exactly true. When I was about seven years old, some family friends in Texas let me shoot a rifle in their back yard. The recoil of my first shot knocked me over, and that was the end of that experience.
Excuse me, but do you have anything child sized?
Then, when I was in college, my friend Matt took me shooting several times. The “shooting range” was a big expanse of dirt in the middle of the Tennessee backwoods (which might account for my surprise at C2’s suburban setting), and Matt showed me how to shoot a number of firearms from his own personal arsenal. As when I was seven, the recoil of most of them felt like too much for me, but I quite enjoyed shooting his thirty-two rifle.
Sadly, I never got to shoot the funky-looking FN PS90 on the top there.
At the time, I’d fired the rifle enough that I felt comfortable with it, but that had been twenty years ago and I hadn’t even looked at a gun since then. It just seemed easier to tell Jason that I needed to start from scratch.
“Looks like I’ll be spending most of my time with you,” Jason said, grinning at me in a friendly way. I grinned back. I love new adventures, even when they make me nervous.
The clerk behind the counter packed our personal mini-arsenal into special bags while Jason fitted us out with what he called our “ears,” giant hearing-protection headphones like what people used to listen to music in the 70’s. Ray’s were black. Mine were pink. I would have paid to see Ray in a pair of pink headphones, but the pink ones were apparently just for ladies. Of course.
They also had pink rifle bags: “Lady Voodoo Tactical Gear for Her”! Because girls love pink, especially when they’re going out to kill some zombies with their semi-automatic weapons.
We followed Jason through a sliding glass door on one side of the counter. There was a security keypad on one side of the door, and a sign saying “Only One Door Opens At A Time.” The first sliding door opened into a small, empty rectangular room, a kind of a security airlock, probably so that bullets couldn’t accidentally go flying into the store. Once the first door closed and locked behind us, a second sliding glass door in front of us could be unlocked using another security keypad. I assumed that the glass was bulletproof. Running a shooting range must involve all kinds of stuff you don’t encounter when you run a dance studio.
The second door led into the shooting range itself. If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show with a police officer practicing at a shooting range, you know the idea: five or six little cubicles with a kind of counter in front of them, facing down a long room with targets hanging from the ceiling. The floor of the range was concrete, the walls black rubber or plastic. There was a bench against the wall behind the shooting cubicles where people had put backpacks and jackets.
Ray’s pistol sitting on the counter at the shooting range, all ready to kill some zombies.
Even at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning, this first room of the shooting range was full, and the air smelled sharply of cordite, the powder that modern firearms use instead of gunpowder. Spent shell casings pattered to the concrete floor with tinkles like little bells, and one of the shooters was sweeping his area clean of them with a squeegee on a long pole.
I was very glad of the pink headphones as we walked through the first room to an identical room next door. The rifles and pistols being fired were loud, even through the protection. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear anything Jason said, but it turned out that voices carried well enough through the headphones to be understood.
The second room of the firing range was empty. Jason took us to the two cubicles on the end and set our gun bags down on the floor. Ray had signed up to fire both a pistol and a shotgun, and Jason took them both out of their bags and showed Ray their different features before letting Ray load the pistol himself.
Would you mind if I just stabbed the zombie with this bayonet instead? That might be more my speed…
I had signed up to shoot a rifle, thinking of the thirty-two that I’d used back in college. The weapon that Jason took out of the bag did not look anything like that. Matt’s thirty-two had been a slim, relatively lightweight weapon with a wooden stock. This rifle was matte black all over and bristled with handles and scopes. What I’d fired before had been like Ralphie’s bb gun in A Christmas Story; now I’d be firing something from Rambo.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/monkeymashbutton/8475129522
Photo credit: James McCauley, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nukeit1/16282761
Dubiously, I listened to Jason telling me that this was the AR-15, a great all-around semi-automatic rifle. Yeah. Great. I wondered if he’d think less of me if I asked if he had anything kid-sized instead. He showed me the long brass bullets and explained that the tip was the bullet itself, while the rest of the casing contained the powder that propelled the bullet out of the gun. So much powder made for a powerful shot.
Jason showed me how to load the magazine. Next door, Ray fired his first shot from the pistol, and the bang from the shot made me jump a foot. Arg. I was NOT going to be the wimpy woman along with her manly husband, jumping at every loud noise and scared to pull the trigger. So when Jason handed me the rifle, I gritted my teeth and tried to look like I wasn’t nervous.
While I was learning how to hold the rifle, Ray was killing this zombie clown.
Jason was an excellent teacher. He patiently but not condescendingly showed me how to brace the butt of the rifle against the soft part of my shoulder, near the pec muscle, and how to grip the handguard around the barrel with my left hand. My right hand went around the pistol grip, with my right index finger lying straight along the material above the trigger until I was ready to shoot.
He told me to turn my head until my cheek was almost touching the butt, and then I would be able to see through the holographic sight. Sure enough, a glowing red dot appeared in the air over my target. Cool! Now, he said, I could turn off the safety and pull the trigger.
The idea of pulling the trigger scared me, but I was NOT going to let Jason know that. I lifted the rifle, turned off the safety, and then carefully adjusted the rifle until the glowing red dot was hovering over the zombie face of my paper target. Taking a deep breath, I pulled the trigger.
Bang! The rifle kicked back into my shoulder like someone had punched me, and, even though I’d been expecting it, the noise was frighteningly loud. Definitely not the rifle experience I’d remembered. I lifted my head to look at the target, but I couldn’t tell if I’d even hit it.
Well, I would just try again. Lowering my cheek back down to the butt, I put the glowing red dot over the zombie’s face again and pulled the trigger. Maybe after I’d fired a few times, the noise and the recoil wouldn’t bother me as much. Bang! The rifle punched me in the shoulder again.
Eighteen shots later, when my magazine was empty, Jason showed me how to do a safety check: turn the rifle over and look through the hole on the right-hand side to see if there are any bullets left in the chamber, then turn the rifle over the other way to make sure that you’d remembered to put the safety on.
“Wow, were you fast on the safety,” Jason said. It had taken me roughly two seconds after my last shot to put the safety back on, since even after twenty shots the AR-15 scared me silly. I didn’t want to finish my adventure by shooting Ray.
I stood stretching my arms—the AR-15 was HEAVY—while Jason used the electronic controls to call the paper target back over. The track in the ceiling whirred, and the zombie businessman I’d chosen for my target came sailing towards us, twirling theatrically in the air before stopping where we could see it.
“Look at that!” said Jason, examining the target. “Every shot right in the throat! Nice work.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I was aiming for his forehead.”
Apparently I needed to aim a little higher.
Ray had paused in his own shooting to take pictures and video of me. “Do you want to try the pistol?” he asked.
I eyed the pistol with disfavor. It was (Ray told me) a Springfield 9mm XDM. I’d fired a 9mm once before, in college, and my memory of it was mostly an unpleasant feeling of my arms being yanked out of their sockets by the recoil. No, thanks. I liked my arms where they were.
But wimpiness doesn’t make for good adventure blogs, so I said OK.
Ladies Day at the shooting range!
As with the AR-15, Jason showed me all the parts of the pistol before I used it. The bullet was much shorter; not as much powder, he said, so it didn’t travel as far.
Then he showed me how to hold the pistol: right hand around the grip, with the index finger lying above the trigger. Left hand around the fingers of the right hand, until the two thumbs were basically in a line on the left side of the gun.
“Law enforcement officers use their thumbs to sight if the top sights malfunction,” he said, checking my grip. “Point your thumbs at your target, and that’s where the bullet will go. Biggest thing to remember is don’t cross your thumbs.”
I thought of Ghostbusters. “Don’t cross the streams!”
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infobunny/6862486637
Ray’s target was a zombie clown (Ray hates clowns). Jason helped me load the pistol, and then he sent the target down the firing range. Well, here went nothing. I lifted the pistol, braced my feet, and lined up the sights on the clown’s forehead. Off went the safety. Then I pulled the trigger.
BOOM! The shot was so loud and the recoil so violent that I yelled, “Oh, my God!”, to Ray and Jason’s amusement. It felt exactly like I remembered: like my arms were being yanked upward out of their sockets. No way had that bullet gone where I’d aimed it.
I HATE being bad at anything. Setting my jaw, I braced myself even more firmly, lined up the sights, and tried again. BOOM! “Oh, my God!” I yelled. I couldn’t help it.
Clearly, I was not going to quit my day job and become a soldier.
Is that a gun in your shorts or are you just happy to see me?
After five shots, my magazine empty, I put on the safety and double checked everything with Jason. Then I put the pistol down and watched apathetically as the zombie clown slid toward us. I knew in advance that there was no point looking at the target; all the bullet holes were going to be in the top of the paper, way over the clown’s head. My arms had jerked up about a foot every time I fired. Not only was I not going to be a soldier, but I had no future in competitive shooting, either.
The target stopped in front of us. My mouth dropped open. There were five bullet holes right in the middle of the clown’s forehead.
“Look at that! Will you look at that?” shouted Jason, clapping his hands together. “Look at that grouping! And this is your first time at a shooting range? I don’t believe it. Hold on—I’m going to get a picture of you with that target for us to put on our Facebook page.”
So, uh, I guess I actually did all right.
Walking Dead, here I come!
Ray had signed up to shoot a shotgun, too, a Remington 1100. He fired a few times while I finished out my rifle ammunition, and then he said that I should go ahead and try the shotgun, too. For my blog.
“OK,” I said, groaning inwardly. Even Jason admitted that the shotgun had “a kick.”
He showed me the shotgun and its cartridges (just like in the movies!), and he showed me how to load it. Then he showed me how to brace myself by imagining that I was squeezing the gun between my left hand near the barrel and my shoulder where the butt was resting. There were no sights on a shotgun, he said, since it wasn’t a precision weapon; when I was ready, I just pressed the safety (a button on the side) and pulled the trigger.
Oh, boy. Here went nothing. I braced my 5’3” frame for all it was worth and pulled the trigger.
The explosion felt like a rhino tackling me, and I rocked back on my heels, but I did not fall over. Woo-hoo! And I shot a giant hole in the middle of a zombie cowboy. Mission accomplished, I lay the shotgun back down on the counter and left it to Ray. Add zombie hunter to the list of jobs I wasn’t going to have.
Looks impressive, but most of the damage is from Ray.
As Ray proceeded to cut his zombie target in half with the shotgun, I stretched my tired arms and looked around at the other people in the now full shooting range. Next to Ray, a slim woman in her early twenties was unpacking her own AR-15 from its traveling case; in the first room, I could see a grandmotherly woman in her sixties putting on her pink headphones and getting ready to step up to the counter. All the other people were men, ranging in age from twenties to sixties, all intent on their guns, all supervised by the C2 range safety officers. I found out from C2’s Facebook page later that C2 offers special packages for first dates, families, and even wedding proposals, and if you like it once you’ve tried it, you can become a member and get your lane and weapon rentals at a discount—although they’ll be happy to sell you your own weapon instead. It was a friendly, knowledgeable, supportive community that was very different than what I had imagined before I went.
The shotgun is definitely the weapon of choice versus zombies. In case you ever get attacked by one.
After our trip was over and we were home again, Ray and I were watching Zombieland (a movie I love) on the TV. At one point, Emma Stone is running away from a crowd of zombies, and she fires her weapon over her shoulder one-handed as she’s running.
“No way,” I said, the memory of the AR-15 recoil fresh in my mind. “She wouldn’t hit a thing, and she’d tear the muscles in her arm besides.”
I’d never even paid attention to her shooting before. It’s amazing the new perspective that adventures can give you.
So when the zombie apocalypse comes, be sure to invite Ray and me to join your team of survivors. We can give you some pointers on how to shoot zombies.