Monday, July 19, 2010


by Gina Sestak

Fiction writing is fun.  You sit down at the computer and let your imagination run wild.  Anything is possible.  But sometimes, sometimes, you have to get up off your you-know-what and venture forth to do some research, and I don't mean the kind of research you can do on Wikipedia.  Some days, you have to go out into the real world and do real things.  You have to do field research.  Sunday I got to do such research in a real field.

We - a group of local Sisters in Crime members - met at the McDonald Sportsmen's Club where two very knowledgeable gentlemen, Max and Ray, instructed us in weaponry.

Max focused on his collection of modern rifles and handguns.  Do you know the difference between a rifle and a shotgun?  A pistol and a revolver?  I didn't.  I still don't really, but my understanding, based upon Max's presentation, is that a rifle shoots a single slug down a long barrel that has been incised with spiral markings to make the bullet spin.  It is designed for accuracy. A shotgun, on the other hand, shoots shot, a collection of smaller projectiles, that spread out when they leave the barrel and so hit a wider area.   A pistol has a slide mechanism and bullets enter the firing area from a magazine.  A revolver's bullets are in a cylinder that rotates to move each bullet into firing position.  We handled various types and sizes of bullets, including hollow point bullets, designed to expand (and do greater damage), which are now called "controlled expansion" bullets.

Although Ray also provided a lot of insight into modern guns, he focussed his part of the presentation on older weapons, including muzzle loaders.  These are the Davy Crockett-style guns, the ones you see in movies where an actor gets powder from a powder horn and pours it into the barrel, followed by a bullet wrapped in cloth, then tamps it down with a long rod before firing.  We got to see Ray do that in person, a process that took him less than 30 seconds from one shot to the next.

Then Ray took us outside to shoot, wearing earplugs and safety glasses.  We shot at metal targets set up on a fence on the firing range.  If you hit a target, it would fall over, although a few times hits only resulted in turning the target sideways, making it much more difficult to hit.  The targets were silhouettes of farm animals -- chickens, turkeys, sheep, etc.  I'm not sure why.  Seems like the local farmers might protest that kind of practice lest some hotshot get ideas.  I didn't have a camera with me, so these are the best approximations I could find in free clip art of the guns we shot:

I chickened out of trying to fire the muzzle loader, mainly because the charge that propelled the bullet was ignited by a small fiery explosion on the side of the gun, too near the face (and hair!) for comfort.

As if this weren't fun enough, Ray then brought out some of his other weapons.  We were able to fire a modern cross-bow, which looked like a rifle with a bow and arrow laying on top of it.

It was surprisingly powerful and accurate.

My favorite, though, was the atlatl, a stone age spear throwing device.

You hook the spear onto the back of it, then fling the spear, with the atlatl acting as an extension of your arm.  Way cool!  Stone age people may have used these to hunt large game.
I managed to fling the spear several yards and stick it in the ground.  What can I say?  I'm vegetarian.  During the ice age I would probably have starved to death!

The program was incredibly informative, and both Max and Ray deserve a lot of thanks, as does Annette, who set it up.


Annette said...

You're very welcome, Gina. And you are exactly right about the rifle/shotgun, pistol/revolver differences, so I know you were paying attention!

M Pax said...

Sounds like a fun and informative research outing. Since I write sci-fi, I'm usually inventing my own weaponry. Although, my husband is a techie, so I have him do it, or ask him questions to make it plausible.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Sounds cool. Interesting about your last two items. I live very close to Mastodon State Park. This is it's claim to fame:

"The Mastodon State Historic Site, near Imperial, MO, contains one of the most important archaeological sites in Missouri - the site where archaeologists first discovered a stone weapon with the bones of American mastodons. This was the first solid evidence of the coexistence of humans and mastodons in eastern North America."