Paper Puncher: Pistol Marksmanship

Class: Pistol Marksmanship

This was one of the classes where I secretly thought I might have a natural talent. Nothing in my leisurely pursuit of darts, bowling, disk golf, skee ball, or other aiming sports would have hinted at this secret natural skill, but no matter. In my mind, I just needed the proper tool to hit a target. For this Marksmanship class, that tool would be an internationally sanctioned 4.5mm caliber air gun.

During this 30 Class Challenge, I’ve been in quite a few situations where I had limited familiarity with the subject matter. This newness has made me at times giddy, nervous, nonchalant, slow, excited, vulnerable, open, and receptive. This will sound a bit weird, but my beginner mindset for this particular class was most similar to Yoga and Aerial Arts. Maybe it had something to do with holding a pose or developing a particular stance. Maybe it’s that my triceps were getting a workout.

In any case, I knew I was a newbie, so I carefully listened to our Lifelong Learning instructor, Rich , as he taught us the important rules for safety. Then I had a second conversation with my brain about being extra prudent and methodical about this so I didn’t need to be intimidated by the pistol (air gun or not). We learned how to hold and aim the pistol in the classroom. Then we practiced our stance and technique using an unloaded gun, the wall, and a piece of masking tape. At this point I was shooting 10 for 10, not that I was counting.

We were all eager to try hitting a target that was more than four inches away, so we headed down to the practice area in the gym to learn how to follow range commands and load the pellets. Then Rich gave the range command, “fire at will.”

You’re wanting to know how I did, right? Yup, 10 for 10…on the white card (with 6 in the black circle). It was a start. For the next set I nicked the binder clip a few times. Then I had a few sets with grouped shots, precise but not accurate. During these first two class sessions, I was learning to breathe, be patient, hold my stance, be efficient and intentional with movement, see, and move my energy to the next shot. See the yoga and aerial arts connection?

The artistic side of my brain likes to embrace the periphery, but this sport really is about accuracy and focus. It’s easy to get flustered if your results don’t meet your expectations. Amanda, another coach, provided some excellent advice about clearing our heads for the next shot, not letting negative thoughts cloud our game, and not using the word “not.” My biggest takeaway: every shot is separate from and independent of the previous shots, so you have to invest your mental, emotional, and physical energy into being present for the current shot.

This mental strength applies to other sports and I think there’s even an incomplete metaphor for life in there — something about not letting history dictate the future, missing 100% of the shots you don’t take, or (insert sport metaphor here). That first shot got me out of the world of hoped-for natural skill and into a world of practice. With less than three hours of experience aiming for the target, I can feel my game improving. I’m on my way to being a natural.

[Edit: The previously published version incorrectly described the guns we are using. Apologies to Rich, our instructor, for my inaccuracy!]