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Many years ago, when I was growing up, my uncle had this arsenal of weapons that we’d occasionally go out and use to shoot at helpless creatures.

The helpless creature of choice we had at the time was – well, a herd of unruly AMF bowling pins from Michigan that occasionally needed to be kept in line, and while other people might shoot at tin cans that would fall over, we’d set up these old bowling pins on a log, shoot at them, and if you hit them ju-u-u-u-st right, they’d explode.

This was cool.

I learned a lot in those days about shooting things.  I learned about gun safety – for example, when shooting a 9 mm semi-automatic, it is a really good idea to hold it with your right hand, and then cup your right hand and the gun in your left.

It makes for steadier aim.

It makes for a better target grouping.

But most importantly, it keeps your left thumb from crossing over your right thumb when shooting.

Why is that important?

Well, your left thumb isn’t supposed to be crossed over like that because when shooting a semi-automatic pistol, the recoil of a bullet firing pushes the slide back, ejecting the just fired shell casing (the thing that held the gunpowder) out the side as it goes, and loading a fresh bullet/casing as a spring inside pushes it back forward.

It is good to learn things like this before pulling the trigger.

Why?

Well…

I remember holding the gun very carefully, I thought…

I remember looking exceptionally cool, I thought…

And I remember aiming, and pulling the trigger very carefully, I thought…

And I remember the sound of the gun going off, along with a tremendous amount of pain as that slide shot back through the first knuckle of my left thumb.

I still have a scar on that knuckle where the slide cut through it.

Now, being guys, especially guys out in the country, our first aid was, well, basic, and limited.  There was the typical male expression of care and concern, along the lines of “Hey Hey HEY! No bleeding on the gun, it makes them rusty.”  And someone produced something vaguely resembling a wadded up paper towel, or a sleeve, or something, and we wrapped the thumb so it would stop bleeding, and so the guns wouldn’t rust.

After we’d finished firing the handguns, we got out the rifles and really started going at the bowling pins, and I have to say that a .223 projectile, when it hits a bowling pin and goes through that outer coat of white laminate and hits the inner core of hardwood, really makes it clear that you’ve hit something.  A .223 is what’s fired by what most of us know as an M-16, the military version of the civilian AR-15.  Phenomenal amounts of powder, itty bitty hunk-o-lead.  It means that the bullet goes out so fast that the bowling pins – well, they fell over, and like I said earlier, if you hit them just right, they exploded.  If you didn’t hit just right, they’d spin a bit, or wobble, but one thing was absolutely certain: if they got hit by the .223 bullets, they were going down.

==

Fast forward about 30 years or so… I was down visiting my mom with my son and found a large box in the garage, labeled AMF, from Muskegon Michigan – and found it was full of old bowling pins.

I was stunned.

These were obviously descendants of the bowling pins we’d been shooting at when I was a teenager.

And I looked at my son… the descendant of the one who’d been shooting at the bowling pins when he’d been a teenager…

And the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed like a neat thing to do – go out to the same old log and shoot at those bowling pins again with my son, and I thought that maybe I’d use my old .22 and my dad’s .22 rifle and pistol, and we’d go see if we could again attempt to control that burgeoning bowling pin population down there.

So we got the rifles that had been stored, unfired for a long time,

…and got the pistol, that had been stored, unfired, for a long time,

…and found some ammo that had been stored, unfired, for a long time…

In fact, as we thought back, that ammo had likely been sitting on the same shelf since the time my dad had bought it.  Come to think of it, it’s entirely possible that the ammunition was as old as my son firing it was.  We didn’t know that fresh ammo was a good thing at the time – it had just been sitting there on that shelf, I mean, that’s where ammo was, right?

(your line: “ri-i-i-ght….”)

So we went up and set up the bowling pins in roughly the same place we’d set them up many years before, but the log we’d put them on earlier had rotted away.  This time we set them up in front of a large pile of dirt and ash, made sure things were clear, and then carefully took turns shooting at them.

I noticed a couple of things right off.

  1. Shooting at bowling pins with a .22 instead of a .223 doesn’t make them explode, it irritates them.
  2. Irritated bowling pins are dangerous.

And it wasn’t quite as satisfying to hit them with the .22 – they didn’t explode – even after quite a bit of firing.  They just wobbled a bit, like Weebles.  We think that shooting at them like this must have just irritated them, because at one point we had just one standing, and I fired at it, and heard this wriiiinnnnnnnnnggggg sound way, way off to the right just like the ricochets you hear in old westerns…

Hmmm… Bowling pins shoot back?

In fact, that was most interesting – we hadn’t ever heard of that in real life before.

I could just imagine the headline… “Man gets into gunfight, with bowling pin.”

“…and loses…”

No, that clearly wouldn’t do.

But later, we realized that this must have been the shot that took the bowling pins from irritated to angry, and, just like the people shooting that day were related to the people who had shot 30 years earlier – it was obvious the bowling pins were related, too…

And as my son, who looked a lot like me at that age, took the next shot – we could almost hear the one bowling pin we’d been shooting at, furious now, say quietly, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die…” – and the bullet that had just been fired out of the rifle came ricocheting back, not hitting anything, but coming closer than anyone would ever want to admit, close enough to make us decide it was time to put the guns away for the day.

We looked closer at the bowling pin.  It was apparent that it had been hit a number of glancing blows on the sides by other bowling pins, but very clearly had been hit by bullets twice, right up at the top.

The .22 bullets with their little bit of powder and little bit of lead, instead of going through the plastic laminate like the .223 bullets had done with a little more lead, and a lot more powder, simply flattened out and bounced back.  The most distinct marks, not even dents, but marks, that the bowling pin had were those right there at the top, not even ½ of an inch apart, and they looked eerily just like little gray eyes, staring back at us.

We learned several valuable lessons that day.

  1. Never shoot at armed bowling pins
  2. If anything you’re shooting at starts shooting back – it’s a good idea to bug your butt out of there.
  3. And last but not least, regardless of whether the bowling pins look like they’re armed, if you hear them even whisper anything about Inigo Montoya, leave them alone.

Tom Roush

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