Freewheeling down 441 South to Micanopy Shooting Sports, Kate was growing antsy at the prospect of handling a pistol.
Kristin, however, was not: "I never get nervous, actually."
Neither of us had any prior experience with weaponry, so we were counting on our warrior heritages to compensate. Kristin is half-Norwegian (umlaut: check!) and therefore part Viking. Kate's 80-year-old grandmother, a former archery champion at the University of Connecticut, gave us that familiar yet elusive advice about keeping our eyes on the target.
Micanopy Shooting Sports (MSS) is touted on its Web site as a "family-oriented, public indoor pistol range" about seven miles south of UF. It offers different levels of membership and welcomes nonmembers at hourly rates. Anyone can bring their own firearm (including rifles and shotguns), but MSS provides only pistols to rent.
Inside the range, the clubhouse feel was almost intimidating, but employee Bruce Gallagher went out of his way to put us at ease. He was solicitous in answering our simplest of questions as we reviewed safety rules and selected our basic black plastic .22-caliber handguns.
Bruce then walked us through the operation of the pistol: how to eject the magazine (which holds the bullets), load it with 10 rounds of ammunition (a round is one bullet), chamber the first round, grip the butt with both hands, assume the proper stance, and then, once certain of the target, squeeze the trigger.
At Gallagher's suggestion, we wore earplugs under our earmuffs. Good thing, because the shots were still just as loud as one might expect with a gun at arm's length. MSS also requires shooters to wear shop-class-style safety glasses to guard against flying shells.
He supervised as we each loaded and discharged our first 10 rounds, regularly reminding us to relax. He then deemed us ready to go it alone.
We were both surprised by how easy it was to fire the pistol. There was little recoil. As it turns out, 10 bullets don't last long. In 90 minutes, we shot more than 125 rounds. When Kate tried a rifle, which friends and family had recommended we start with, she found it to be much heavier and harder to aim.
More intriguing than the mechanics was the weird mental seesaw between thinking "Oh, target shooting, fun" like any loyal Nintendo Duck Hunt veteran and feeling the disquiet provoked by handling a deadly weapon. That we instinctively aimed for the kill and hole-punched the paper man's heart until he was dead several times over was also disturbing.
The way we used a pistol as a toy begs the question of gun education. MSS employee Roy Spalding proposed that the basics of gun handling be taught in school for safety's sake. Another customer, whose own children shoot at MSS, agreed that knowing and respecting the distinction between a Nerf Gatlin gun and a live rifle is vital to effective gun control.
The atmosphere at MSS isn't heavy - except for the stink of sulfur. The regulars included us in their easygoing camaraderie. When our guns jammed (which is alarming, but not unusual) or ran out of ammo, the usual customers were keen to help us novices. A young couple even let Kate try out their Marlin rifle and .22-caliber handgun, and then gave us a handful of free bullets, waving away offers of repayment.
Ninety minutes of firing time, 100 bullets, eye and ear protection and renting the pistol cost a total of ,52. This included a ,5 fee for sharing a stall, which we recommend as it gave us time to relax our lazy biceps.
Add in money for gas and lunch (turns out target practice makes you hungry), and it was three out of four bangs for the buck. Bringing our own ammo would have been even cheaper.
For those who fall in love with shooting, MSS offers a student membership plan for ,100 per semester. Be scared: Kate is considering it, and she aims well and startles easily.