Stay on target
Most of us have fired guns. I mean in video games. We’ve played with hundreds of them in Call of Duty, Battlefield, and every other FPS. Firing the real thing is a different story, and even of some of you have used pistols or rifles for hunting and hobby shooting, you probably haven’t gotten your hands on the more extreme weapons you’ve played with in video games. In the rare cases when it is legal, select-fire weapons (automatic and burst) are extremely regulated and ridiculously expensive. If you’re a member of the armed services, that’s a completely different story, but this is more for the civilians in the audience, including my own nebbishy wiener of a self.
Well, now I’ve fired a machine gun. Ho ho ho.
Fortunately, Las Vegas is a completely insane enclave of tourism experiences, and I was there this week for CES 2017. Those experiences include playing with an absurd selection of military weapons spanning over a century of warfare. I had a free morning, so I went to Battlefield Vegas with a shopping list and a need to play with something deadly. And hoo boy, are there some deadly tools of fun at Battlefield Vegas (and the many other tourist gun ranges in Las Vegas).
Before I go on, I want to make some things very clear. Guns are not toys. Even if they’re fun to use, they are deadly weapons first and foremost, and you need to treat them as such. They’re designed to kill, even if you want to just plink at targets. Safety comes with education and the bulk of that education amounts of three vital rules of gun safety.
- Always assume a firearm is loaded.
- Never point a firearm at anything you aren’t prepared to destroy.
- Never put your finger on the trigger until you are prepared to destroy that thing (keep your index finger over the trigger guard, not inside it until you are about to shoot).
Battlefield Vegas and other ranges like it will walk you through these rules (and they go with an important fourth rule: always listen to the range staff and instructors, and do exactly what they say at all times when you’re at the range).
Also, I’m not going to talk about the politics of gun ownership. So stop.
Now, let’s talk about how rad these guns are, starting out with both the first automatic weapon I ever fired, as well as the first suppressed weapon: the MP5-SD. It’s a submachine gun with a huge suppressor on the end. It’s an automatic, so it’ll keep firing as long as you hold the trigger until the magazine is empty. Wow, it’s fun. I’ve fired semiautomatic pistols before, but an automatic is a completely different experience. With pistols, you pull the trigger; the gun goes BANG!, and a hole appears in the target. With automatics, you hold the trigger, and it goes BANG!BANG!BANG!BANG!BANG! It’s a fast-firing weapon of death, and if you don’t actually use it for death, it’s really neat to shred a paper target 25 yards away.
Using a suppressor teaches you a few things about them. One: It isn’t a silencer. It doesn’t turn the BANG! into a Pffh, it turns the BANG! into a Bang! It’s still loud, and it still sounds like a gun. The difference is the loudness isn’t quite as ear-destroying as it would be unsuppressed. The suppressor also reduces things like muzzle flare and gas expulsion from the barrel, so it’s harder to see the gun being fired. The side effect to this is that the gas tends to blow back against your face. A few bursts with the MP5-SD and it felt like a smoke bomb was set off in front of my eyes. I had to step back and clear the air halfway through the magazine before I went back to shooting.
The chunky square shape of the Uzi is a classic design shared Mac-10, but at the suggestion of an ex-Air Force friend, I went with the range’s more advanced M-11/.380. It’s a smaller, chunkier version of the Mac-10, and like the MP5-SD it’s a fully automatic gun. It also taught me my second big lesson about guns that day: Jams happen, and they suck. I was holding the guns fairly gingerly, and that is not something you should do with smaller automatics. Unless you have a death grip on the M-11, the amount of wiggle caused by the kick of the gun makes the cartridge eject weird and cause a jam, preventing it from firing. It jammed four times with one magazine before I started trying to choke the freaking thing to death (while keeping trigger discipline, of course). And no, without a suppressor an automatic weapon doesn’t blow smoke in your face nearly as bad.
Speaking of things flying in your face, this is a good time to bring up the third lesson I learned at the range. Cartridges fly everywhere when you fire, depending on the ejection port of the gun. You see, the bullet is just the metal tip of the cartridge you usually identify as a “bullet.” The rest is a brass shell holding an explosive that launched that metal tip through the gun. When you fire and the gun puts a fresh cartridge in the chamber to fire again, the shell ejects out of the side or top. Based on how you hold the gun and where your face is in relation to it (like with your cheek against a cheek rest on the stock to accurately aim the gun), this means you might get showered with brass.
They’re light, irritating taps of metal that fall on your head or against your face, but you don’t really expect them when you’re firing. I felt a lot of metal slap against my forehead. So, yes, when I wasn’t getting bukkaked by gunsmoke I was getting teabagged by cartridges.
Sniper rifles are the preferred weapon of campers like myself, and I know I love to cheese spawns in games like Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch with a good scoped weapon, so I tried out a sniper-configured SCAR-H assault rifle. The SCAR-H is an automatic rifle like the M-16 or AK-47, but this was set up for semiautomatic fire with a magnifying scope on it. And you know what? When you pull the trigger while looking into the scope, whatever’s in those crosshairs does actually get a hole in it! It’s really cool to witness, and it meant I got a three-shot grouping on my target’s head that I’m pretty proud of. Not too proud, though; Battlefield Vegas’ indoor range is only 25 yards, which for a scoped sniper rifle is basically equivalent to mashing a Zapper against your TV while playing Duck Hunt.
Speaking of the M-16 and AK-47, I tried out a next-generation assault rifle in the same vein. The IWI X-95, or Micro Tavor, is the assault rifle the Israeli military is the future standard infantry weapon for the IDF. It’s a bullpup weapon, so the grip is located in front of the magazine instead of behind it, like most other assault rifles. And it is one high-tech, unassuming little murder machine. For an assault rifle it’s pretty compact, not too much larger than the MP5-SD (submachine gun; the difference between the two is that assault rifles use rifle rounds and are usually larger, while SMGs use pistol rounds). Really sturdy, really stable, surprisingly light. It didn’t kick upward much, which was a factor for the MP5-SD and the M-11 (when that one actually fired, at least). It’s a really neat design that feels high-tech compared with older, more conventional assault rifles and submachine guns.
Then I tried the machine gun. Yes, the machine gun is its own category of weapon, and it’s bigger than an assault rifle (and usually can hold much, much more ammunition). I fired an M-249, a beast of a weapon lighter than the M-60 and M-240, but still fed by a belt of bullets and featuring a huge handle on top so you can feel like Roadblock from G.I. Joe. No, I didn’t two-hand it like an action figure because I’m pretty sure the range master would have kicked my ass, but just holding the thing against my shoulder and firing it with a bipod to keep it steady gave me a sense of the power of this kind of weapon. It fires the same ammunition as the Micro Tavor (5.56x45mm NATO), and at about the same speed (800 rounds per minute), but it can fire more, farther, for longer. Thanks to its longer barrel, its effective range is about 150 meters further than the Micro Tavor, and because it’s fed with a belt instead of a magazine you can keep firing as long as you feed it. Even if the bullets are the same size, you can’t help but feel more badass hefting a heavier gun on a bipod and continuously firing instead of bursts, with breaks to replace the magazine.
The M-249 didn’t have the biggest kick of the guns I tried, though. The really nuts weapon was, of all things, a shotgun. The Vepr-12 is a Russian-made automatic shotgun. That means it fires as long as you hold down the trigger, only it sprays shotgun rounds instead of smaller bullets. That means there’s a lot more force behind each shot, and when they come one after another the gun hammers into your shoulder. Just five rounds gave me both respect and incredulity for the weapon. It’s fearsome and crazy and can send the barrel just flying straight up if you don’t hold on to it.
Battlefield Vegas had two other guns I didn’t try, but they still made an impression. Assault rifles and machine guns have nothing on a minigun (think Team Fortress 2 Heavy. Yes, that’s an actual weapon). The minigun fires 4,000 rounds a minute, and (I dare you to read this and not hear it in a Russian accent) it costs $200 to fire it 1.5 seconds. I didn’t fire it, but I heard other customers who did, and it sounded like a chainsaw having angry sex with a helicopter. It tore the paper targets it was pointed at to shreds. It was loud, jarring, and I kind of wish I tried it out (but $40-50 a pop for a bunch of different assault rifles and machine guns was better literal bang for my buck than $200 for just one big gun).
Then there’s the Barrett M107A. It’s a semiautomatic rifle that fires. .50 BMG rounds. .50 BMG is a huge cartridge designed for the Browning Machine Gun (including the M2 “Ma Deuce,” which Battlefield Vegas charges a whopping $300 to fire because the bullets are so big and expensive). The first time you hear a pistol go off, you’ll be surprised by how loud it is. Even with ear protection (and you need ear protection at a gun range), you will hear that loud BANG! of the pistol. Now, imagine if the bullet it was firing, and the explosives used to propel it, were about 20 times bigger in volume. That’s .50 BMG. Every time someone fired the M107A it sounded like a god was angry with the range itself. All of the other guns at Battlefield Vegas make loud BANG! and BANG!BANG!BANG!BANG!BANG noises. The M107 makes an ear-shattering, chest-shaking explosion.
What did I learn? Well, firing a gun in real life isn’t like firing in a video game. The ideas are totally similar, but there are huge piles of skill, safety, and body conditioning necessary to fire the real thing well. Good grip and shooting form, along with getting used to the kickback of the weapon, is essential to actually hitting what you’re aiming at. Even if the sights aren’t accurate, if you don’t hold the gun correctly and look down them properly, you won’t get sick headshots. Also, 360 no-scopes are not only incredibly unrealistic, but will totally get your ass kicked out of any shooting range.