After shooting machine guns in Vegas, I had an itch. I wanted more, so I went searching for bigger, better experiences. A search for places that with a .50 caliber machine gun to shoot turned up a place in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was called Scottsdale Gun Club, and their website had it all; a chance to drive a Humvee and shoot an M2 mounted to the top, a chance to do tactical training using simunitions in a customizable shoot house, and a chance to shoot countless different guns at their range.
It was perfect.
I rallied the troops for what would become a birthday trip…for me. There ended up being six of us on this trip, with one of the guys meeting us on day two because he had a family reunion to attend.
We flew into the Phoenix airport, got our rental car, and drove to the hotel in Scottsdale. Our hotel room was a huge, two-bedroom suite, with a separate living room area. There were five beds, which easily fit us all. I was stunned at how cheap it was for the size.
Once we were done ogling the room, we set out to find a drink. We needed to have clear minds for the weekend, so it was a one-drink stop. From there, we set off in search of a place to eat dinner, hoping to see Charles Barkley along the way. Dinner was good, but we never found Charles Barkley (we still had two more days).
The second day would start at the Scottsdale Gun Club. It wasn’t in the middle of a warehouse district, or even in the desert like I expected. Instead, it was tucked in with all the other shopping and restaurants in the area. We found a place to park and headed inside.
Shoot ‘em up
Outside the gun club looked more like a furniture store than a gun range. As you walk inside, the main area is full of clothing racks, gun displays, stacks of ammunition, and all the shooting accessories you might need. Everywhere you looked, the walls were well stocked with rifles and shotguns. The pistol cases seemed endless, full of new and used guns of every caliber. It was fantastic.
Our group spent a moment to process and take it all in before heading to the rental counter. I told them we had an appointment to go into the shoot house. We really wanted to drive their Humvee with the Browning M2 on it. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a place to drive and shoot it, anymore. They somehow lost the land they used for that activity. Bummer.
Before we could shoot anything, we had to go to a safety orientation area. We watched a short video and filled out our “don’t be stupid” waivers.
Speaking of being stupid. I asked if we could shoot each other with bean bag rounds from a shotgun. Our range guy laughed and said, “Um, no. Less than lethal does not mean they are not lethal.” I also asked him about flashbangs, which he said was a possibility.
From there, we headed through a secure door to the shoot house. We spent about 15 minutes getting geared up and choosing our weapons. The weapons were modified to shoot simunitions, which look like a normal round at first glance, but the bullet is little plastic cone with a metal bb and a blob of lipstick inside. I chose an HK MP5 and a Sig side arm. Others chose a short-barrel M4 and the same Sig side arm.
We headed into the shoot house for some basic instruction on working in groups, cutting corners, and entering & clearing a room. Some of the information was common sense, but most of it was a product of trial and error that the majority of us will never experience. It certainly gave me a newfound appreciation for what our military and law enforcement do, and I already thought they were pretty amazing.
Once we had “mastered” the basics, we split into two teams. We were given a scenario, usually leaving one team to attack while the other defended. Both teams got into position, and the instructor told us to begin. All 45 minutes of our training went out the door after the first contact.
Don’t give up ground that you’ve gained…we retreated faster than a vegan at a bacon festival.
Clear a room from the middle out, each person taking a different sector…squirrel.
Needless to say, we were a mess, but it was so much fun.
If you’re wondering if I got shot, the answer is, yes. It was in the forearm, it didn’t hurt that much, and I did bleed. Small price to pay for the experience.
Shooting the MP5 in 3-round burst made me feel super tactical. It sounds dorky, but it was awesome. In one of the scenarios, our two teams converged in a hallway area. My buddy Devin was coming up a set of stairs as I was cutting the pie into the hallway. As soon as I spotted him, I squeezed off a few bursts, with at least a few rounds lacing him up. He was the last one left on his team, so it was the final “kill” of the round, which everybody knows is the sweetest.
As we started running out of ideas for scenarios, our instructor asked if we still wanted to try out the flashbangs. Kids in a candy store.
We all wanted to experience what it was like on both ends of the flashbang. Our instructor pulled out some flashbang rounds for a shotgun to start out. He packed us into the corner of one of the shoot house rooms, cracked the door open, poked the barrel in, and pulled the trigger. Definitely more bang than flash, as the boom rattled your brain. Everyone had a smile on their faces.
For the next 10 or 15 minutes, we took turns shooting the shotgun flashbang rounds into the room with everyone else in it. Each person tried to make it a surprise to those of us in the room. Quickly open the door and shoot. Kick the door open and shoot. Count down from 10, but shoot when you got to 5. Poke the gun over the top of the adjustable walls. It got really creative.
When we all had a turn, I asked about doing a “real” flashbang. He asked how many we wanted. They weren’t cheap, so I ended up being the only one to buy one.
This time, our instructor staged the guys in the lower area, which had concrete block walls. Everybody got to the back of the room, away from where the flashbang would be. He told everybody to close their eyes and open their mouths when the flashbang came in the room.
I set up outside of the room with the instructor. He gave me a step-by-step of what I needed to do. There were two key pieces of advice he had for me. Number one, throw the grenade, not the pin. Number two, gently toss it in the room toward the corner. Apparently, most people are so amped up, they throw the flashbang into the room too hard and it ricochets back.
All I could think was, “yah, yah, I’ve got this, now give me the grenade.”
He handed the grenade, I pulled the pin, opened the door, and rocketed that damn flashbang into the room. It bounced off two walls as I pulled the door closed. I felt like I just tossed it in there, so thank God it didn’t come back to me. The instructor was right. Amped. Up.
BOOM. Seriously, I was behind a concrete wall, and it rattled me through that. I started laughing uncontrollably. Perma-smile might not be the word for this one.
I opened the door, again, and went in to check on everybody. They all looked a bit disoriented. Each of them had their own depiction about what had just happened. Jim motioned with his hand at his chest that the boom had just thumped him. Devin pulled up his sleeve to show us his shrapnel wound. There was nothing there. He swears to this day that he was hit by shrapnel that left a scar. I love that guy.
That was the last act in the shoot house. It was time to head back out to shoot machine guns. We all bantered and joked on our way out, with the instructor laughing about how hard I threw the flashbang into the room.
Back out in the rental area, we looked over the rental wall for what we wanted to shoot in the range. It was another tour of the guns we loved using in video games; HK UMP-45, SCAR-L, AK-47, PPSh-41, Desert Eagle .50, and a few more I can’t recall.
It was a long day of shooting, and we needed lunch. We headed out and grabbed some food, then drove back to the hotel. Most of us could have taken a nap, but I had booked another activity for the afternoon. There was a place called Arizona Soaring on the other side of Phoenix that had gliders that you could fly. If I recall, only four of us did gliders.
Desert flying…er, gliding
The glider place was out in the desert near the Estrella mountains. When we pulled up, it was a lot of dirt, a single hangar, a little office building, and an airstrip. Not that I expected an international airport, but it felt a little bit more “budget” than I wanted for the first time flying in a glider. At least they didn’t need a top-notch mechanic to keep the engines working.
If the bare essentials of the operation weren’t enough to give me pause, the sign-up process should have put me over the top. I signed a waiver, gave the cashier guy my credit card, and waited for my pilot. My solace was the voice in my head telling me that this is what glider operations look like (they had a website, how backwoods could the be).
As I walked out with my pilot, we discussed the flight and what to expect. We would go up, he’d give me a basic overview of how the glider controls, and then hand me the controls. After 10 or 15 minutes, he would take the controls back and do some aerobatics before landing.
We were towed up to altitude with a small prop plane. I took the controls, as expected, after getting the overview. Not wanting to break something, I did small movements at first. It was amazing. Just banking the glider in one direction was an awesome feeling.
Now, I ‘d like to say I went full “Top Gun” from there, but I’d be lying. It was a lot of easy movements, doing my best not to lose altitude too fast. We hit the altitude where the pilot would take the controls back. It was aerobatics time.
Looking back now, it would have taken a lot for me to break the glider. There was a g-force gauge in the cluster, which I recall jumping both positive and negative throughout the remainder of the flight. The gauge was a perfect visual for what my guts were doing inside my body. I really wanted to enjoy every moment of this experience, but found myself savoring the time between stunts. I’d fix my gaze on the dash and take some deep breaths before looking back outside at the ever-changing landscape.
When we landed, I was relieved we were safe, and left wanting more. One by one, we all landed and came over to watch the other gliders in the air. Devin was the last to land. He walked over to where we were sitting, looking white as a ghost with a tinge of green.
Apparently, Devin had all but challenged his pilot to make him sick. Instead of getting a bunch of time with the controls, he spent most of his flight getting spun like dough in an Italian pizzeria. By the time he landed, his stomach was in knots. To his credit, he never threw up. However, he had no appetite and looked like crap.
The trip back to the hotel was filled with stories of our individual flights. That, and giving Devin a lot of grief. We all crashed on our beds at the hotel until it was time to leave for dinner.
We spent the rest of the night eating, drinking, and exploring the club scene in the greater Phoenix area. I’m already in TL;DR territory, so I’ll push part 2 of this into another blog posting soon.