I conversely, do not like footballs. Now, to be clear, I like football, and think the best part of high school was participating in that sport. Some of the guys from the team are pals I have retained into my late 30’s. It is the actual ball I don’t like. I’m not sure how, but somehow in my developmental years, I never really mastered the art of throwing and catching (my Mother would blame the comic books). While this has been a topic of great amusement among my friends, the simple fact is, I don’t like having to catch things thrown at me. So, while I was training with one of the best instructors in America, and having a blast at the best school in South Carolina, I was quietly dreading the possibility that someone would wing that ball at me, and my “fear of the ball” would be made clear to everyone present.
After hundreds of rounds of fire, and learning a new way to process our sight picture, my nightmare became a reality. Early Sunday morning, we were running a multi target course of fire, and were introducing shooting on the move to our curriculum. The final step of the drill was to catch a football that would be lobbed at us after re-holstering. The goal of the drill was to learn to work with our bodies, and not fight our natural abilities to compensate for movement while firing a pistol. I’m not sure if the football was really part of it, or if everyone was just looking forward to the upcoming season of college football. Either way, I had to deal with it…
So, I was called to the starting position, and the buzzer went off. I drew and engaged the two steel silhouettes 10 yards in front of me, and when I emptied my magazines, I turned 60 degrees to my right and started walking toward the final target, reloading and blasting away as I went. Now, on a side note, I love shooting and moving. I’m not sure why, but it has come pretty easily for me. However, I was off my “A-game”, and was whiffing rounds into the berm more than I expected. I started getting consternated, and redoubled my efforts. Finally, I got my groove back as I closed in on the steel target and was relieved to hear that satisfying “ting” as my rounds landed. I reached the stopping point and took a moment to consider why my initial rounds weren’t hitting my target. I turned back to the group, looking for suggestions and input, when I noticed Tim Elmer’s arm outstretched and swinging toward me…what the heck was he…OH MY GOD THE FOOTBALL!
With seemingly milliseconds to react, I re-holstered my pistol, got my hands up and searched for the ball. A brown blur was screaming at my head and then…pain. I had gotten my hands in front of the ball, and it whacked my left hand with what seemed like the power of Thor. It bounced away, and I was immediately concerned how stupid I looked as a fully-grown Southerner who couldn’t catch a ball that I knew was coming. That embarrassment quickly subsided to the sharp static emanating from my hand. While I awaited ribbing for such a bad catch, my left hand darted into my right armpit, seeking protection. The rest of the class quickly realized something had gone wrong, and the Shootlogic instructors present checked in to see what had happened. I assume I had just banged it, and with a little ice, all would be fine in a few minutes. The rest of the day was…challenging. I basically pushed past the stinging, and still had a fantastic time. A little off subject, but as great as Shootlogic classes are, the 2-day guest instructor classes are really great to attend. You should try one. Seriously.
A month passed and my finger still hurt. A high school football buddy (who happens to be a cardiologist now), suggested that it could be broken, and maybe I should look at getting it x-rayed. Then he laughed at my circumstances, as any old friend should. I took his advice to heart when I passed on a Shoot Logic class I wanted to take. My off-hand hurt, and weapon manipulations were pretty hard to do. It had been five weeks, and I was getting really annoyed. Well, it turns out it was broken, and I had bent my finger too far back. The tendons pulled off the finger bones, and a piece of bone cracked off with them.
I ended up talking to another high school football buddy (who happens to be a real life military badass), and he laughed hysterically. I told him that I hadn’t been shooting since, as I was letting my finger heal. The Marine stopped laughing. He was shocked that I wasn’t using this injury as a great time to hit the range and work on my “firing while wounded” drills. He asked if I was familiar with one hand/off hand shooting and reloading and I told him that I was. He asked again, why wasn’t I taking advantage of this OPPORTUNITY to train up that skill set. I really need new friends…
So what’s the point of all this besides a funny story? What does this do for anyone else thinking about heading off to get a little time on the range? Well, there are tons of lessons in this for me, so maybe someone might learn something too.
Keep your focus - This accident happened because I was thinking about my performance on the drill…before the drill was concluded. I lost my focus, and literally took my eye off the ball. This isn’t shooting exclusive advice, but the stakes are higher at the range. I think we’ve all had a bad shot and were still thinking about it while taking the next.
When you have lemons… - My friend was right. I have practiced one-hand and off-hand skills when I’m perfectly healthy, so I missed a good opportunity to put those skills to use, or at least test them under “real life conditions”. Masaad Ayoob endorsed owning an opposite side holster for all defensive carriers, in case your dominant hand ever gets hurt. Let’s face facts not all shooting will be done on balmy spring days under the perfect situations, so I think we should all take a little time to make sure we aren’t completely useless when the conditions aren’t ideal. These things can be done with copious amounts of dry-fire to save ammo if need be.
Don’t ignore obvious problems – Now, this falls out of the prevue of range adventures, but my trip to Nason medical to get an x-ray cost me $35, and took about an hour one Saturday morning. I waited almost 6 weeks to start taking care of this issue. It is now November and I am seeing a physical therapist. This injury happened on August 18th. So, if I saw problematic behavior in my neighborhood, or office park, would I wait six weeks to call the police? If I felt something felt off in my car’s brakes, would I wait 6 weeks to get it looked at? The point being, no problem was ever resolved by ignoring it. It only makes it worse.
Caring about what other people think – I’m willing to bet that no one from that pistol class cares if I can catch a ball. But, in that moment, I made an effort to catch the ball instead of side stepping because I didn’t want to get embarrassed. So, if some delinquent started calling my wife names while I was armed, what actions would I take to look like a tough guy? Sounds silly, but is it? Would I get in a shouting match? Would it escalate? Would I ultimately wish I just walked away? I think we can all see the point. Deep down, we all react to public perception, and it is probably the dumbest thing we do. In this case, some long winded dude broke his finger, so it’s not a huge deal, but I think it’s worth a moment of introspection.
Well, I’d keep rambling on, but I have to go do my finger exercises so I can make a fist again. After that, I’m going to wrap my finger to help with the swelling (yeah, it’s still swollen). I currently do not have a full range of motion in my left hand, and it is unbelievably annoying. This is, ironically, the first injury I’ve ever seen on the range. It wasn’t even gun related. By not concentrating on the task at hand, and worrying more about what I looked like, then tuning up my gun craft, I alone caused it. Considering how “dangerous” guns are, I actually find it pretty funny that a football took me down. It’s safe to say that I’ve always been more nervous around footballs than guns, now at least I have reason.