Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Shootist

One Day the Ice is Gone
The Next Day the Ice is Back
Setting Up a Shooting Bench
My Shootist
Defining a Target
Explaining the Target
Explaining the Mechanism
My office is expansive, covering most of the second story of the ranch house we lease. On my desk sits a pair of binoculars to catch early arrivals to Elmira Pond. The past few weeks have been a cycle of ice-on-ice-off. Today, a slight sheen of ice mirrors the setting sun. Yesterday, two geese bobbed in open water for a submerged meal.

The pond is uncertain about its ice, just as I'm uncertain as to whether or not I need that extra blanket on my bed. Like the ice, the blanket stays because it's still chilly enough.

From the bedroom beyond my office I hear the metallic clacking of a gun action. It's a common sound. My husband, former US Army Ranger Sgt. Mills, is either cleaning, building or changing out a part. A gun part. He reloads and tinkers with optics for scopes. If you want to know about Mausers, he can tell you when and where the models were made, for whom and why. He can spew formulas for ballistics like a rocket scientist.

My husband is my shootist.

In 1976, John Wayne made his last film, The Shootist. The storyline describes a dying gunfighter who spends his last days looking for a way to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity. It was a poignant movie for John Wayne fans because the actor was already battling the cancer that would take his life in another three years.

In the movie, the term shootist refers to a gunfighter. Today, it can be a term to describe those who practice the sport known as benchrest competition. My shootist is not a hunter; he's not a gunfighter. He challenges himself to shoot the tightest groups possible at the farthest range.

A shootist has mechanical and mathematical precision. Former Sgt. Mills builds or modifies his long-range rifles for accuracy. He buys his own brass, bullets and gun powder to reload  ammunition. Much of his accuracy is gained by his loads. Next he installs a quality scope with the proper range that can be dialed in to his targets.

The shootist targets paper. He marks and measures his groups to recalculate any changes he needs to make to his firearm, scope or reloads. He keeps journals like a writer with numbers filling the pages. He can tell you with expertise which loads are best for which distances and rifles.

Benchrest requires rests or sandbags to steady the rifle and demands a steady hand and calm breath from the shootist. It is an exciting sport that combines intelligence, mechanical aptitude and prowess as a shootist. It's a little like golf, settling into a shot that can be exhilarating.

John Wayne's shootist character comes to mind because the story is about a gunfighter seeking dignity at the end of his life. It is not unlike a soldier who is seeking dignity in the civilian world. Often, people express empathy for the homeless vets or ones in crisis, but many don't see that a great number of vets find dignity and healing at the local gun range.

My shootist educates others how to properly handle firearms and he's always willing to share his sport. Many times he has helped first-time shooters overcome their fear and realize that benchrest is an exciting activity.

When we traveled to Montana, former Sgt. Mills took time to instruct each person about the firearm, safe handling and how best to shoot it accurately.

Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. Photos by Charli Mills. Firearms by former Sgt. Mills.


  1. So nice to learn about this.
    Never tried this sport- Shooting. Need hours of practice, skills & precision.
    Have a great week :)

    1. It's surprising how helpful my husband's advice is to first-time shooters. It's exciting to hit the mark. He does all the hard work and we just use up his ammunition! :-)

  2. Replies
    1. We had fun shooting in Montana, but even that simple phrase can come across as negative. I wanted to be able to express the positivity of the sport that the Hub enjoys and the intricacies involved. Thanks for reading/looking!

  3. Honestly, your information about shootist has made me wanna include this feature in my new novella where my character is surrounded by fear...maybe this could be a trigger point for her to come out of it.

    See, I told ya before and am reiterating it, always tickle my grey matter :)

    Thanks for the linkup...always a pleasure!

    1. Oh, wow! That's an exciting possibility! Feel free to use and develop the scene if it gets your character to progress. You are a true story-catcher which is part of being a writer! Let's keep tickling the grey matter! It's mutual. :-)

  4. A very touching post about what it means to be a shootist and the tremendous healing that its role can give to many Veterans. My ex was/is a shootist but he also hunts. Me? I am absolutely useless at aiming and don't trust myself around guns, no way no how. I tried once some 30 odd years ago and that was that! Thank you for explaining to this Brit what being a shootist really means :-)

    1. You actually understand very well what I was conveying. Thank you for that. Hmm, not good at aiming? Well, I just might have to teach this Brit the joys of shooting an AR-15! My shootist has installed a muzzle break so it has no kick! That's what everyone was having fun shooting because it's so accurate (so loud, but we wear ear plugs) and no kick! Thanks for your insightful comment, Sherri!