Take a Flying Leap

After all the prerequisites, we get to start shooting traps. I load a shell into the barrel and snap the gun shut. I get situated with the gun and look out toward what resembles a submerged baseball dugout. Inside, the mechanism that releases the targets oscillates from side to side, so each time a new target is released, it comes out of a new area. I take my aim and yell, "Pull!" to Pat, who presses a button that releases the clay target. Closely following the disc as it flies into the field, I pull the trigger, and...

I miss.

This continues for the next fifteen shots — following the target and missing, and then missing again. I console myself by thinking no one hits targets the first time they go shooting. So I let Crystal take over and, much to my dismay, she hits almost every target. So I just suck.

When we finish off our box of 25 rounds, Pat takes us over to start skeet shooting. (In the neighboring trap-shooting area, five high school kids are taking turns calling out, "Pull!" and destroying every target in sight. These guys — and girls — are serious. Pat informs us that these shooters are with a collegiate Olympic league.)

Skeet shooting, fortunately, is a lot easier than trap shooting.

In this game, the targets come out of buildings on either side of the shooting area. Depending on where you stand, the targets are either shot toward you or past you. I have no idea what I do differently, but I probably hit two-thirds of the targets coming toward me. But still, Crystal, a regular Annie Oakley, beats me again.

No matter. A little success is enough, and the following weekend I go shooting again. This time, I go with two coworkers, Matt and Paul, who have also never shot before. Their friend Danny owns a few guns for hunting and has some property around O'Fallon.

This time we're shooting at paper targets stapled to a wooden board, so it's a lot less discouraging. (And though this scenario sounds sketchy, I assure you Danny is an experienced shooter and teaches us a lot about gun safety and etiquette.)

I shoot four different guns this time around, all with calibers that mean nothing to me — a .22-caliber rifle that was pretty easy to aim and shoot, a .22-caliber pistol that makes me look and feel like Kate from Lost, a 12-gauge shotgun, and an unnecessarily loud and ridiculous 30.06-caliber rifle that requires bullets that cost $1 each. According to the bullet holes in the targets, I'm not too terribly bad with these guns, especially the rifle and pistol. They aren't exactly bull's-eye shots, but at least I'm hitting something.

Anyway, the boys, who are more concerned with blowing up golf balls and soda cans, came in with low expectations for my shooting. Because anything girls can do, boys can do better, right? In reality, I'm at least as good (if not better than) both Matt and Paul.

And after two weekends of shooting guns of all sizes, I think it's safe to say that this girl from St. Charles is now a bona fide badass. It's totally worth it, too. Not only is shooting a fun new experience, but it's also pretty cheap. Even if you don't have a friend who lets you shoot for free, some ranges are really convenient for amateurs — they allow you to shoot without a license, have affordable gun rentals (around $5) and bullets. Really, it's cheaper than a case of Miller and a bag of White Castle.

You have no excuse not to try shooting at least once this summer. Your inner hoosier demands it. — Julia Gabbert

Anyone who has grown up outside the city should be willing to vouch for this: Summer ought to consist of at least a little dirt, dust and mud. Everything from hiking to attending rodeos to driving four-wheelers helps you actually earn that daily shower. Best of all is getting off-road — riding or driving an all-terrain vehicle through acres of rough land, the wind whipping by and cooling you even as the sun blazes overhead. The open air and roar of the engine make you feel invincible as you power past trees and lakes or take control of hills.

The best days for off-roading are the ones just after a rain, when the ground is still wet and the mud splashes up the back of your arms and legs. It's great to get muddy just for the sake of getting muddy. You'll feel a surprising sense of accomplishment after successfully ripping through a giant puddle, coating yourself and your vehicle in the sloppy mess. Mastering an ATV takes practice, old clothing and the constant reminder that, yes, mud always washes off eventually.

If you're stuck in the city and dreaming of a way to get off the asphalt path, the ideal situation for popping your off-road cherry might be a rental. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anything near St. Louis with ATV rentals, as the insurance is too high.

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