Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thoughts About Priorities

​​So, here I am at the beach, with my 80 year old mother and my 17 year old youngest daughter, having Spring Break together. I've had plenty of time to walk in the surf and sit on the rocks, letting my thoughts wander. The thing I've thought about the most is "priorities".

I'll be honest and say that it has been a hassle to bring my mother on this trip. But it was important to her - she was feeling snow-bound and depressed from the winter cold - so I did it. She can walk, but she is unsteadier than she admits, and she can't go long distances, so I made sure we had a wheelchair reserved to get through the airport. I made sure we had a first floor room reserved at the resort. I made sure our room wasn't more than a hundred yards from the restaurant. I did everything I could to make sure that the trip was comfortable for her. I thought I was mentally ready. Then ... she walked straight into a glass door at the airport main entrance before I could stop her, and she fell. Fortunately, I caught her before her head hit the ground, and was able to soften her fall, because we both went down.

I instinctively switched from daughter to doctor, and made sure she stayed still until she could catch her breath and I could determine if she had any pain or injury. "Hip" was all I could think about. But thanks be to God and the angels in charge of the elderly, the only thing damaged was that her glasses were a little bent. She is on a blood-thinner, so I also worried about big hematomas and bleeding. An attendant with a wheelchair arrived, an airport security officer arrived, a woman who identified herself as a nurse arrived. I assessed her again, but Mom refused EMS. She seemed fine, so I held my breath and we proceeded with the trip.

She was fine, thank God, but it rattled me. Apparently, my mother is even more fragile than I had thought. What made me think it was a good idea to take her out of the country? I took her out of familiar suroundings, and suddenly, she wasn't aware enough even to see that a glass door was closed. I suddenly felt like the mother of a toddler again - struggling between allowing independence with unsteady steps, and forcing her to let me take her arm over the uneven cobblestones on the way to dinner. If I hovered too close or cautioned her, she got mad at me and responded  "Yes, Mother!"

But, I'm adjusting. Because this trip was important to her. And because she was the mother of the toddler  "me" once upon a time. Sometimes we pay it forward, and sometimes we pay it back.

I'm not sure what any of this has to do with the outdoors and the shooting sports, except that I guess I have to set priorities there too. Like for instance, the A Girl and A Gun Conference was this week. But it was my daughter's Spring Break, and my mother needed a break too, so we're here instead, and I just followed AG&AG along on Facebook instead. Priorities.

I haven't ordered new shotgun shell caddies to learn the new loading technique yet either --because I was paying for and worrying about this trip instead. Priorities. Maybe once I get back, I'll settle into the Spring shooting season. I'm a little jealous of all of the folks who live in AZ and TX and the warmer states, who get to have a season that never ends. Mine, however, starts in April. I'll be rusty, but I'll be there.

See you soon!!!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Eyes Have It

I've always had trouble with my rifle scopes. I "can" use them - but it seems like I am always searching for the sight picture and struggling to keep it. I say this, bearing in mind that I am still a novice, and I always just assumed I was doing something wrong. It doesn't matter which rifle I'm using - my AR or my .30-.30 - I still struggle. I have just lived with it, and assumed it was some skill that I hadn't yet acquired. It's a wonder I even finished that 3-Gun match last year. I did actually hit most of my rifle targets - it was just a struggle which ate up my  time. I have also thus far installed my optics "myself" - which has also always been a struggle, involving much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And profanity -- Lots and lots of profanity. :-D

So, this week, when a good friend offered to both install AND boresight my new AR scope, I jumped at the offer. I was so grateful, that I gave him all my spent brass, and if I had time I would have baked him cookies too!

The install went fine - because obviously it is a five-minute job when you know what you are doing and have the right 300 dollars worth of specially torqued tools. But the sight-in started out something like this:

Him: "Do you see it?"
Me: "See what?"
Him: "That triangular shaped rock over there"
Me : "Uhhhhhhhhh"
Him: "That rock on the hill, just to the right of the 50-yard target stand"
Me: "Uhhhhhhh"
Him: "Ok, look down my arm and follow my finger"
Me: "Oh that blob?"
Him: " yeah.... right... that blob ... *Sigh*"
Me: "Okay, so my distance vision is not the best"
Him: "You're tellin' me..."
Me: "Well that's what the scope is for..."
Him: " *Sigh*"

It rather went downhill from there.
I suppose I should explain at this point that I have needed glasses since I was in 3rd grade. I wore the proverbial coke-bottle bottoms until High School, whereupon I struggled with "hard" contact lenses for 4 years. Does anyone else remember those instruments of torture? Those little disks of plastic that felt like chunks of ground glass in your eyes? I finally gave up the fight when I went to college. I remained bespectacled, and intermittently tried soft lenses over the years with minimal success, until I reached my midlife crisis at age 38.

Don't laugh - Yes - you can't call it anything else but a mid-life crisis. I did everything but the red sports car. I got a divorce, applied to medical school, got a tattoo, got a second set of ear piercings, and spent some of my retirement account on LASIK laser eye surgery. That was 13 years ago. The LASIK has been wonderful, with only a few minor hitches. One of those hitches was adjusting to "monovision".

Monovision for me at the time meant surgically correcting the right eye for "distance" and the left eye for "close". Adjusting to the eye-switching thing took some time, and after a few hours doing close work, making the switch back to distance is still sometimes a little slow for me.  I never had any problems with learning to shoot handguns though, because my right/dominant eye can focus on the front sight just fine. Though my "working distance" with patients and charts and such is still fine, with age, I'm finding that that reading correction on the left eye isn't always enough anymore for very close work. So, I broke down this year and bought a pair of drugstore "cheaters" in order to complete a piece of embroidery I was working on. (Ohh, did my vanity take a hit). I also should add that I haven't had an eye exam in about 4 years. Yes, there is a reason that doctors are known to be terrible patients. We don't always look after our own health as well as we look after the health of others. Guilty as charged. :-)

All of which brings me back to sighting in the new scope yesterday.
Once the boresighting business with the rock was finished it was time for me to try to shoot. But I hate shooting seated, and I couldn't get the prop adjusted, and excuses, excuses. Then when I looked through the scope I had a hard time "finding" the sight picture (again), there was a big black "ring" around my field of view, which got a little better or a little worse depending on the power... It was the same old problems I've always had. I was able to shoot in the general vicinity of "zero", but it wasn't consistent. I also found that the longer I stared down the scope with my right/distance eye, the longer it took my distance vision with that eye to come back once I raised my head. Guypal tried the gun, and was pretty much dead-on for him. I felt like that old Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Nuttin' wrong wit Dis gun - Ehhhh, must be YOU"   LOL!

He had done everything he could, but it apparenlty boils down to the fact that I'm going to have to play with it some more. And it may have something to do with my monovision through the scope. I wish he could have waved a magic wand for me, but apparently it doesn't work like that. So I'll have to play with eye relief back and forth, and where my head is when I mount the gun. And I suppose seeing my eye doctor might help (Duh). So might shooting glasses. But my eye doctor is an older guy who has no experience with firearms. I may have to email a couple Ophtho guys I know. Surely I'm not the only one who has had problems like this.

That's life though -- Like Roseanne Roseannadanna says, "It's always something" :-)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gun Shopping

The recent article by Sara Ahrens about her expectations when gun shopping, has gotten me to thinking about my own experiences in gun shopping, how things have changed over the past 5 years, and how some things still haven't.

I've already discussed briefly Here  my experience in shopping for my first firearm. It was an eye-opening experience. How I was treated varied widely by shop. I ended up buying where I was treated the best. But that was only the beginning of my gun-shopping experience.

After that, there was my experience shopping for my first AR-15 style rifle (or MSR - Modern Sporting Rifle, as we're now calling them). Remember where I talked about my Paratrooper friends offering gun advice? Well, this is when having friends like this really came in handy. Who better to offer semi-auto rifle advice than guys who have used and continue to use them regularly? I had advice from spec-ops guys, and military guys who were now SWAT guys, and military guys who were then cops, who are now instructors or gunsmiths. I had more advice to sift through than I knew what to do with - it was great! (But it is important to do that - sift through advice people give you and decide, out of that, what works best for "you".) They also recommended a good book as well (Green Eyes & Black Rifles). So when I went shopping, it was as if I had a whole cadre of brothers and uncles following me around as back-up. I chose as my first "shopping" expedition, the National NRA Convention which happened to be coming within a couple hours of me that year. I figured, even if I couldn't actually "buy" that day, that there would be all of the companies and their rifles that I wanted to see all in one place.

Because I had studied-up pre-shopping, I was "well-armed", as it were, with a notebook and pen, lists of what features I wanted, companies I wanted to see, and I even wore my Babes With Bullets T-shirt. Because I had done my homework, I knew the difference between a 1 in 9 barrel twist and a 1 in 7 twist, I knew what a floating hand guard was, etc. I thought I was ready. What I wasn't ready for ... was being ignored.

Yup, you read that right. Ignored. In all but two rifle booths, my lack of a Y-chromosome rendered me invisible. Maybe it wasn't really that, and I was just being over-sensitive, but I tend to attribute it to the "chick factor". Despite at least two trips to each booth, leafing through catalogs in full-view, circling information in those catalogs,  obviously taking notes in a pocket notebook, handling the display rifles, checking chambers and shouldering the rifles, and pretty much doing everything but standing right in front of a rep and jumping up and down, I was not offered help, advice or attention in any way. We're not talking isolated incident - we're talking at least five major manufacturers, at two visits each. I won't name them, because this was three years ago, and I know for a fact that times are changing. But I will name the two manufacturers of the seven who went out of their way to  offer information, advice, non-condescending assistance, and generally demonstrated that they wanted my business. Those companies were Stag Arms and Smith & Wesson. I try to reward companies who treat me well by giving them my business, and sending my friends there as well. I learned a lot from that experience.

Even though I'm still far from an expert, I didn't realize how much I'd learned about gun-shopping, and how far I'd come in general, until I was at SHOT this year. I was at the displays of one particular manufacturer, who is well known, but with whose products I have little experience. I was looking at .380 caliber pistols, and at the same display was a young woman who looked to be in her early 20's, who was asking questions of the company rep who was helping her. As I reached for yet another model to handle, the young woman turned to me and asked, "What do you shoot?". She was clearly shopping for her first gun. I explained what firearms I had already, and what I was looking for, and why. Then she asked, "What would be a good gun for me?" - the dreaded beginner question that doesn't have an answer.

I took a deep breath and replied that there really isn't necessarily any single gun, or caliber that is always good for every woman or every beginner. I asked if she'd ever fired a handgun before, if she'd had any training, and what her experience was. The answer was, her boyfriend's gun, once, and she didn't know what caliber. So then I launched into how caliber, and frame size, and recoil, and personal hand size all play into the decision. Things were coming out of my mouth that I never even realized I knew. It was as if all of my wonderful instructors and mentors had a party in my head and were feeding things out of my mouth to this young woman. It was kind of a revelation. All of this while the poor company rep was still standing there. To his everlasting credit, when I turned to him apologetically and begged pardon for stepping on his customer interaction, he was grinning and even looked a little relieved. I wished the young woman good luck, and took my leave, but I had a huge case of the warm fuzzies when I walked away. I felt like I had just paid it forward for all the help and advice I myself have received.

Upon my return from SHOT, I stopped in to my local shop to pick up my shotgun that had been shipped for modifications. It's a very small shop, so it's standard procedure to strike up conversations with other customers while waiting one's turn, and also to listen in (and sometimes contribute to) the shopping conversations of others. While I was doing this, I was privy to a gray-bearded father shopping for a handgun for his daughter. Meanwhile, the mother and daughter (who looked college-age) stood back and to the side very passively and let the father run everything. The father was telling the shop-owner that he was looking for a .22 cal revolver "nothing too big", and while the shop owner and the father talked and handled guns, the daughter who was actually supposed to be using the firearm to protect herself, was not involved at all. Well, I couldn't stand it, so finally I stepped over to the daughter, and asked if this gun was supposed to be for her. She allowed that it was, so I used my best motherly tone to tell her that if that was the case, then she needed to be over there, listening, learning, and being part of the conversation. Which she then did. I worried a little bit that I might have overstepped and been too much of a busybody, but when the family left the shop, the daughter put her hand on my shoulder as she was passing and offered a hearty thank-you. Whew!

It's now a constant struggle for me to keep my mouth shut when there is such a woman gun shopping near me. I don't have any actual expertise, I've just been through it. So it bothers me when the boyfriend has the conversation with the sales staff while the girlfriend stands there as if she doesn't exist. It grates on me when the staff and the father talk about caliber and size when no one even looks at the girl or her hand size or grip. 

It makes me recall a story from a female instructor I respect greatly, who also works at a gun shop. She related how a fellow once came up to her at the counter and announced that he was shopping for a handgun for his wife. Her reply to the man was, "Well, where IS she?!"  :-D

The three big things I've learned about gun shopping in the last 5 years are: 1) It pays to cultivate a relationship with a local shop, 2) It pays to expect (and even demand) respect in dealing with sales people, and most importantly, 3) It pays to educate yourself ahead of time, so that you can be knowledgeable and confident when you go.

Yesterday at the local gun show, I realized how far I've really come. The owner of my local shop recognized me out of the crowd passing by, waved me over, greeted me and asked how things were going. I told him that I was just window shopping before the storm hits, but I was really waiting for particular gun X to become more available. He raised his eyebrows, looked over his shoulder and told me that he did have just one such a gun in stock back at the shop, but he had been waiting until he got more in before advertising their presence. "Come over next week", he said, "and I'll get it to you."

Wow. I've come a long way in five years.