I couldn’t keep my eyes open. After a few seconds of gazing through the mud-splattered windshield at nothing but our headlight beams in the pre-dawn New Mexican wilderness, they’d drift closed again as I prepared myself for the day ahead. The general plan: We were going hunting and shooting. Oh, and we were going to blow up a dryer. Using pounds of explosives.
The ‘we’ was me and four Marines, including my then-boyfriend, Winsor. While only one was currently enlisted, they all worked together and you never stop being a Marine: last names and camo. Winsor and I had woken up pre-dawn, loaded up with coffee and burritos (warm, life giving miracles) and ate in the frigid air of an empty Lowes parking lot while waiting for the others to arrive.
Parker* had decided that that January morning was as good as any to finally go coyote hunting, possible because New Mexico has no limits and no closed season. It’s only in the last year that legislators have debated banning the (gruesome, in my opinion) coyote-hunting contests, facing vocal opposition. The moral: don’t piss off ranchers.
Everyone else—Thompson, Gallows and Winsor—were generally looking to practice shooting, and had loaded the backs of their Jeeps and pickups with what seemed to a novice like me an eye-widening array of weapons and gear. AKs, shotguns, rifles, a .45 pistol, ballistic gel, targets, tracker rounds, incendiary rounds, and who knows how much ammo. And, of course, the two-pounds of tannerite—a (totally legal) explosive “reactive rifle target”—for the main event.
I’m not used to guns. No one in my family owns one and I’ve never fired one. But Winsor has many, and weapons are one of his passions, so I was working to be open-minded and, at the very least, be less nervous around them. Because it makes me fixate on statistics like those who have served in the military are far more likely to own guns than those who haven’t, around 45 percent versus 20 percent. And of those 45 percent, more than half own both a handgun and a long gun. And then I spiral into how many people are shot with their own weapons. Not helpful.
Once everyone arrived we caravaned off onto public access government land just outside the village of San Ysidro. We crossed through a mostly dry riverbed and parked near a hill overlooking a steep arroyo where they expected there were coyote dens. Gallows pulled out his call which was supposed to sound like a distressed rabbit. Alas, the bumpy ride over had knocked a piece loose: it now sounded like a broken squeaky toy. The coyotes were unimpressed. I stifled a laugh. The hunt ended up being a bust, and I can’t say I was disappointed.
The sharp crack of guns firing echoed off the surrounding hills and mountains the rest of the day. I reflexively blinked at every shot, the protective earmuffs muffling only a fraction of the concussive sound. Guns = very loud. While they worked at target practice, “zeroing” the scope on Parker’s rifle, and experimenting with the various firearms, I sat atop a nearby hill doing the kind of shooting I prefer: photography.
After climbing down to watch their experiments shooting the ballistics gel, Winsor pulled me aside and asked if I’d like to learn how to shoot. I’d been asking myself the same questions, after hours of watching their camaraderie and noticing their expansive energy. “Not today, but sometime,” I answered with a smile. He grinned back and squeezed my hand, “Can do.”
At last, it was time for the tannerite. Winsor used his .45 to mark a target in the dryer door. We placed the explosives inside and moved back to about 300 meters: what Gallows estimated as our minimum safe distance. When the shot struck, the explosion fractured and contorted the dryer with surprisingly little fire (sadly I love fire, and the movies lied), propelling fragments in every direction: a side panel cartwheeled past us and into the distance.
While I’m still not confident around guns, I enjoy a good explosion. I learned a lot about lures, calls, clay pigeons (not actually bird shaped, fun fact) and shells that day, but I also came to understand Winsor and myself a bit better. I still haven’t fired a gun. And I think there are some guns that should be restricted to just the police and military. But shooting is a sport and a passion that I can relate to.