There is a time and a place for guns, and in my three decades on this earth, thankfully, I have yet to encounter either. Until now, that is… The lure of recreational shooting to the average chap is self-evident.
A gun is a raw dose of pure man power, and it doesn’t take a hotline to Freud to figure out why. Located at the Armed Forces Officer’s Club, Caracal Shooting Club is open to any-one. Not only does it have a shooting range, but for those unwilling to brave the real thing, there is also a laser simulator. We’re here for the guns, though, and having donned protective glasses and headphones, we’re quickly ushered on to the firing floor.
Thankfully, this isn’t a case of shoot first, ask questions later. First-timers receive the cheerful attentions of Sadique, who wastes no time in getting things ready and stressing safety. ‘These are nine-millimetre bullets,’ he explains, ‘the kind that the police use.’ He points to the tiny glistening casings embedded in the cartridge box. They look innocuous enough. He loads five to begin with and slides the clip forcefully into place, always keeping the gun pointing forwards. Then, legs apart, stance set, with a squeeze of the trigger he lets rip a bullet into the target. ‘Like that’, he encourages, flashing a triumphant grin.
Even with the headphones on, the sound is deafening. As he shoots, a rogue casing flies off and strikes my protective glasses, as if in a calculated attempt to prove their worth. For someone who has never fired a handgun, or even seen one in action, it’s a wake-up call. A faint aroma of gun smoke and a small, scruffy hole skirting the inner ring of the target are all that remain to signify anything has occurred. Sadique smiles and hands me the gun. It is black and sleek; an inoffensive thing when viewed up close.
As I raise it to the target, I’m told to shut my left eye and line up the sights. ‘Always keep the gun level,’ he says. ‘Don’t move the barrel, just your arms, and don’t touch the trigger until you’re prepared to shoot.’ Both my hands grip tightly around the handle, my right index finger pointed along the barrel. Slowly, I feather the trigger, teasing the safety; then, summoning the concentration of a seasoned sniper, I fire.
Even when anticipating the force, it is still a shock. The weapon kicks harder than a Premiership footballer sensing a pay rise, but the effect is somewhat less glamorous. The target proves to be the safest location in the room as my wayward bullet veers harmlessly off into the back wall. ‘Don’t press the trigger too quickly,’ I’m advised. Sadique shows me how it’s done once more. This time I avoid empty casings and watch as he nails another eight points.
Then, reclaiming my spot, legs spread and arms ready, I squint down the barrel with renewed determination and squeeze the trigger – slowly. Despite anticipating the kick, the flash is just as startling, but this time the sound is not so unfamiliar and the result is that a small, clearly visible hole materialises somewhere in the outer rungs of the paper target. From zero to hero – a career as a crack shot is clearly still on the cards.
Sliding the chamber back, as instructed, peering into it to check that the last bullet has been fired, I begin to slip gold-coloured bullet after bullet into the clip. As the shell box slowly diminishes, I get used to the weapon and my aim improves. A success-shaped hole bored right through the centre of the target is testament to a growing confidence and a dose of luck. Bullets thud into the target, one after the other, and gradually my arms begin to feel the weight of the weapon, my aim becoming less particular. Sadique suggests I take a rest.
The smell of gun smoke hangs heavy in the air – this must be how action smells. Finally, I finish off the clip, losing the last few bullets with a sleep-when-I-die-type attitude. Tellingly, the last shot flies off into no-man’s land. Sadique looks displeased and urges concentration, but I’m at last out of bullets and my shoulders sink with the effort, my session over.
Having always looked disapprovingly on guns (and on those who fire them), it was disconcerting to find myself holding, let alone firing one. The dangerousness of these weapons cannot be overstated, but it must be remembered that this is a sport, so the emphasis is on accuracy and skill, and not once did I feel unsafe. It seems there’s a time and a place for guns even in my life – as long as they’re strictly monitored and kept firmly on the firing range.
Caracal Shooting Club, Armed Forces Officer’s Club, 02 441 6404. Dhs175 for gun and lane rental; Dhs100 for 50 nine-millimetre bullets.