Monday, May 10, 2010

Home on the Range

What could be a more American way to spend the afternoon on Mother's Day, especially in the wild, wild west of Arizona, than to do a little target practice at the local shooting range? Here in Phoenix, we have the USA's largest publicly operated shooting range, courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The Ben Avery Shooting Facility has been a destination for gun enthusiasts since 1960. The range is also listed as one of the city's 33 "Points of Pride," along with the subject of a previous blog post, and perhaps its very antithesis, the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Ben Avery was busy on Mother's Day this year. The only spot available at the 67 gallery target practice area was #46, right between two portly young men shooting semi-automatic assault rifles and a husband-wife team practicing with their revolvers. We had asked for a "quieter" area. Our team provided the quiet pocket with our 22 rifle, which created a comparatively peaceful interlude between the two neighbors. But rest assured, we all had ear protection, a must for target practice! Brooke's was nicely accented with her signature flower hair clip.

Being a vegetarian and left leaning peacenik type, my personal purpose in shooting is entirely related to sharing good times with my son, who, like most young boys i've met, has a hard-wired fascination with weapons along with an amazing talent for making gun sounds. We purchased a pack of targets, your standard bullseye format, from a collection of alternatives that included bunny shapes, squirrel shapes, bird shapes, and of course, human torso shapes. Brooke proved to be the most skilled among us, shooting tight clusters at each of her five targets.

What interested me most at the range, though, other than the sub-culture(s) of folks gathered there, was the significantly altered vegetation (oh, that botanist in me!) on the lower slopes of the range. After fifty years of target practice, has the soil been altered due to the decimation of squirrels back there? Does this cause a change in hydrology, making it more difficult for shrubs and cacti to grow? What shrubs and annuals DO persist on that part of the hillside? (Yes, I am a hopeless nerd.) One day, I'd love to walk out there with one of the Game and Fish biologists and take a closer look. The fifteen minute cease fires aren't long enough!