I picked up my friend Darren outside his apartment just a few blocks from my house and he slid into the motorcycle sidecar, snuggling up next to my rifle. We rode out of Portland through Buxton and into Standish, pulling up in the driveway of another friend of mine. Travis was outside loading his arsenal into the back of his Jeep — an AR-15 and a 1911 pistol copy. I know Travis as the bagpipe player and singer from the Celtic-punk band The Pubcrawlers. If you go to their website he’s the serious-looking one in front with the beard. He also knows a thing or two about firearms and agreed to take me to the firing range (gravel pit) and supervise my first few rounds.
We arrived at the old gravel pit a few minutes later. Travis spread out a tarp to catch his spent brass casings as they came out of his rifle. He likes to reload them. I got my Mosin-Nagant 91/30 out of its soft case. I retrieved a bag of shells from the trunk of my motorcycle’s sidecar. Travis, who has owned several of these old Russian military rifles, took a look down the barrel and pronounced my gun the cleanest surplus Russian firearm he’d ever seen. He thought, even though the outside showed wear, that the gun might never have been fired. It might have gotten the dings on the outside from being handled and packed.
I had wondered about that. It was made at the Izhevsk Arsenal in 1943. Had it seen action? Was it ever fired on someone in combat? Had this rifle been the instrument of a German soldier’s death on the Eastern Front? I’ll never know, but Travis thinks it’s doubtful.
Heavy stuff to think about.
Travis showed me the right way to load the magazine, keeping the shell rims from hanging up on each other. I put on my shop teacher safety glasses. I inserted foam earplugs.
Then I stepped up to the firing line.
I was nervous, made worse because I gave Darren my video camera and asked him to document the moment for this blog. Part of the whole reason I set out on this gun curious quest was because I was a little embarrassed to have gotten to 40-years-old, living in Maine my whole life, not knowing a thing about guns. What if this went badly? What if I squealed like a little girl when I pulled the trigger? I’d already been told, by those that know more than me, I’d made a mistake by getting so large a rifle to start out with. They said the Mosin-Nagant, designed to take down a person in the 19th century, kicked like a mule. They said it was going to hurt my shoulder and I probably would only want to fire a few rounds.
I bought the rifle. I filled out the federal papers. I cleaned the Devil’s Snot out of it. I learned to adjust the firing pin. I bought surplus ammo. I was in a gravel pit with a camera on me. It was too late to change my mind.
Travis, probably sensing my inner little girl about to get all squealy, suggested I fire it from the hip, just to see how much kick there was.
What a guy.
I stood there, gripping the rifle stupid-tight at my right side. I squeezed the trigger, not knowing where in its inch of travel it would cross the line, releasing the spring that energizes the pin, that strikes the primer in the back of the round, which explodes, sending the bullet spinning down range.
It surprised me. But it wasn’t that bad. Probably because I was expecting to be knocked over, judging by what everyone told me. It was, however, a little louder than I expected, even with the earplugs.
So far, so good.
I pulled the bolt back and a smoking casing was ejected. A new round popped up out of the magazine. I pushed the bolt forward and the round was moved into the chamber. I brought the rifle up to my shoulder. Travis urged me to hang on tight. I did. I squeezed the trigger slowly.
Off it went again. I felt it that time, but it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t come close to hitting the target I was aiming for, though. Travis said I should sit on the ground and brace the rifle on my knee. It made it much more comfortable and enjoyable. Yes, that’s right, I said it was enjoyable. It was a lot of fun.
The rifle fires quite high, so I had to aim low. In just a few rounds I was able to hit targets about a foot wide. The Paul Simon album was a piece of cake. Small bits of junk, littering the pit, like soda cans, were harder, especially later when I got a little tired. The Mosin is pretty heavy and very long. It was hard to hold the end of the barrel steady after a half hour. I let Darren have a turn.
I also had a go with Travis’ AR-15 and his pistol. It was crazy-hard to hit anything with the pistol. It was a .45 caliber Llama copy of a Browning 1911. It kicked at twisted when I fired it. I was much more nervous with it in my hand than with the rifle. It was so short I was afraid I was going to point it at someone by accident. The AR-15 had almost no kick. It has some kind of spring recoil mechanism. I could hear it in the hollow stock. They were both semi-automatic.
All in all, being somewhat contrary in nature, I prefered my old school 91/30. I liked the act of pulling the bolt back. Plus, I get enjoyment from old things. Those that know me are aware of my vintage 78rpm record collection and my typewriter. I have an oldsy-timesy motorcycle, too. It seems natural that old guns would be of interest as well.
I squeezed out some more rounds and the day wore to a close. There was definitely a peak, when I was getting the hang of it, before my shoulder got sore and my arms got tired, where I was hitting the target on a regular basis. It was hard to keep track between the three guns I fired, but I think I shot something like 40 or 45 rounds.
We put our guns away and cleaned up our mess, though it hardly made a dent in the piles and piles of shell casings and junk in the pit. I thanked Travis and shook his hand. Darren and
I had a sandwich at a nearby store. Then I went home and cleaned my rifle. That took quite a while.
The next day I was faced with a dilemma. I was about to dump the spent steel casings into my recycling bin when my wife stopped me. Was it a good idea to advertise on the sidewalk that I had a gun inside? Here in Portland, when you put your recycling out at night, folks go through your bin looking for returnables. As a precaution, I put them in a pa
per bag. I hope that did the trick. I’ve worked in the news biz long enough to know what a hot item stolen guns are for people looking for quick money to feed a drug habit.So there, I found out a lot more about guns. I have some basic knowledge about how to clean, load and fire my old rifle. But where do I stand on my original moral questions about guns?
More on that in PART FIVE, when I’ve have time to think about it.
POST SCRPT: A reader or two has written to point out though we’re wearing eye and ear protection the video, we are perhaps not being as safe as possible. I won’t disagree. Please don’t take these Gun Curious posts as any kind of instruction. I did not seek certified firearms instructors to learn from. You should, however. I picked my friend Travis and a gravel pit because that’s how I suspect most Mainer’s get their first introduction to firearms. Anyway, I’ll touch on this in Gun Curious: Part five.