The Column, No. 70:
By David Tong
I came to shooting somewhat later than most of my contemporaries at Guns and Shooting Online. It wasn’t for lack of interest, but growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1960's and 1970's meant that there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for nearby hunting.
My father owned a few old handguns that were relics. These included a Savage .380 automatic, Llama .380 automatic and a Smith and Wesson M&P chambered in “.38/200,” also known as .38 S&W, a Lend-Lease item for the British war effort during the second fracas of the 1940s. I never had a chance to handle them, much less shoot them, while growing up.
However, I did know that by joining a local Boy Scout Troop that I would likely encounter firearms in a controlled and safe manner, so that’s the course I took in 1973. In those days, the national Scout program didn’t have limitations on the type or caliber of arms the kids could shoot. My Scoutmaster and his Assistant Scoutmasters figured that, between the four of them, they could control 15 or so Scouts in the Mojave Desert's Red Rock Canyon. (Now off-limits to shooting due to former President Clinton naming the area a National Monument in the 1990's.)
That first day touching a trigger for real was an eye-opener! After just a few rounds familiarization with a .22 rifle, our Scout leaders decided to bring out the good stuff: a 1903 Springfield in .30-06, 8x57mm Mauser 98, 9mm Luger and a WWII M1911A1 .45 ACP. One of the Assistant leaders, proudly Mormon, spoke to us about the genius of John Browning, the greatest firearms designer ever, who hailed from Utah. I can’t say we did much hitting that day, flinching ourselves with big grins for a couple of hours, but it sure was fun and I was hooked.
My best friend and I purchased our own surplus Mausers after this trip, Argentine Model 1909 rifles from the long-departed Western Surplus store in North Hollywood and a succession of these old war horses passed into and out of our hands for the next ten years. My first handgun was a postwar Walther P-38 with an alloy frame that my assistant Scoutmaster bought for me at a gun show. I learned to reload with a cumbersome and time consuming Lee Loader. Let’s just say pounding those fired cases into the die with a plastic hammer without case lube was slow and hard on cases. Attempting load consistency with the plastic powder scoop was laughable, but hey, I got to shoot and didn’t get hurt for my trouble.
My dad, seeing my brother and I take interest in the hobby, bought a Colt Gold Cup and a Python in the mid-1970's. With the latter I tried my hand at handgun metallic silhouette shooting at the Angeles Shooting Ranges off Little Tujunga Canyon Road, though the .357 was surely no match for the .30-30 T/C Contender or .44 Rem. Mag. revolvers on those rams at 200 yards.
My first employer was Jim Hoag of Canoga Park, a retired Navy aircraft ordnance men who later became a tool and die maker and started modifying 1911's and Browning Hi-Powers for police and competition use. His most noted early customer was a fellow named Jeff Cooper, with whom he was good friends, so this experience was instrumental in showing me just how accurate and reliable these pistols can become with a few inexpensive modifications.
I participated in some IPSC shooting matches during this time and realized that the revolver was outclassed in this form of competition by the auto, unless one spends an inordinate amount of time learning to work the (double-action) trigger stroke, as well as reloading under time pressure. Thus, I used my trusty 1911.
I worked for a number of firearms retailers after this, most notably the now defunct B&B Sales in North Hollywood, the largest firearms retailer in California during the mid-to-late 1980's. This shop’s most famous moment came during the 1994 bank robbery that was nationally televised. LAPD came to the store during their shootout with the two heavily armed robbers asking for Colt AR-15s they could “borrow,” as the department had long ago removed even shotgun slugs from the patrolman’s issue Ithaca 37pump guns, leaving them with just 12 gauge buckshot and 9mm Berettas. Not really the answer against illegally-modified fully-automatic rifles.
LAPD repaid the owner’s kindness after the incident via the City Council’s desire to eliminate all FFL dealers within the city by using their “Gun Detail” to harass every licensee into closing their doors. They accomplished this feat by the late 1990's and, as far as I know, there is exactly one gun dealer still in business within the city limits, although suburban towns still have gun shops.
During the late Eighties, I shot ATA trap a fair bit, but never cleaned 25 in a row, even though I had bought a really nice Beretta 682 Trap gun. While I haven’t shot trap since then, I must admit that shotgunning is a much more comradely sport than is pistol or rifle shooting, as there is time for friendly conversation while having at it.
LA County also did its fair share to cook our gooses. The county fairgrounds were the scene of the largest gun shows in the state and the number one money maker for that facility every year. In an orgy of political correctness, gun shows were banned and they cooperated with the Forest Service to close all the public outdoor, unimproved shooting areas within the county.
I did finally go jackrabbit hunting a few times in the desert and made two trips to Pennsylvania during the 1990's for the deer opener. I also managed to harvest a small sow pig on San Juan Island, off the coast of Oxnard, in the mid-1980's, before (you guessed it) Clinton and the Nature Conservancy turned the islands into a National Monument.
The wild pigs were released in the islands by Spanish explorers in the late 1500's as a food source, but they were “non-indigenous vermin” and were exterminated by professional hunters. Thus, animals that had been there for nearly 400 years became extinct, the state lost some hunting license revenue, several (required) guide companies lost their businesses, a local chartered light aircraft company lost their business. This atrocity didn’t matter a whit to the powers that be.
I also participated in a few matches with IDPA, the International Defensive Pistol Association, founded by noted pistolsmith and manufacturer Bill Wilson of Arkansas, to learn shooting from concealed carry positions. These matches were interesting in that there were no protracted times for shooters to practice the course of fire before the match, which leveled the playing field a bit. My attitude was to use the match as practice.
I’ve come to two conclusions about Los Angeles, two little tongue-in-cheek reasons the pistol was so interesting to me, besides the evident challenge of shooting them at any distance. First is my observation that within the city, there are too many sardines in the can, meaning that overpopulation made quality of life pretty tough. The second was one I discovered when I moved up to Oregon, which is, “In L.A., we have no deer to hunt, we hunt each other.” I’m not going to say that all of L.A. is fraught with roving gangs and drug dealers, but gang culture is certainly there and L.A. is the original home to many of them. It is now the drug importation capital of the country, displacing Atlanta, Georgia about a decade back. Suffice to say that I had enough of the one-party political machine that is California and made plans to leave, which finally happened in 2003.
It is interesting that the states with the most violent crime also have the strictest gun control and concealed carry restrictions. In L.A., I wanted to carry a pistol, but couldn’t. In Oregon, a "carry on demand" state, I carry one legally, but mostly don’t think I need to, at least in my local Albany environs. However, if I lived in the Portland metropolitan area, I might feel the same as I did in Los Angeles.
I made a halting attempt to shoot service rifle matches with my Springfield M1A, but couldn’t afford the constant participation. I still enjoy shooting, mostly handguns, as a safe and relaxing sport. A lifetime activity that concentrates your mind, improves your eye-hand coordination and gets you outdoors.
There are many ways to get young people involved in the shooting sports, including hunting, competitive target shooting, trap, skeet, sporting clays, historical collecting and plain ol’ plinking with a .22. Please help to engage the next generation in our sport.
In my life thus far, I have found the handgun the most challenging and satisfying of firearms. This is also because of the environs of my upbringing. Handguns are also the primary instrument of self-defense for most people in free America. We should all be grateful that firearms allow good folks the ability to stop the evil ones in our society.
Copyright 2011 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.