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December 07, 2009
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Stupid shooting range tricks: Recalling momentary lapses in judgment

Well another year is coming to a close, and as we end each year, we tend to look back a little and talk about what’s happened. It so happens that this year we’re entering a whole new decade so we also get to look back the events of the past ten years. But I’m not going just look back to last year, or even to the last turn of the century. Today, I want to look way, way, back, to “the old days” when cops were always doing stupid things with guns. As a group we seem to be better behaved these days, or maybe I’m just far enough removed from the road to not hear the best stories. I’ll spin a few tales I know and maybe some of you in cyber-land might be inspired to add a yarn of your own. Except for stories with personal involvement, make sure they remain generic enough to protect the guilty (and stupid).

Now, sit back and enjoy the collection of “stupid range tricks” I’ve accumulated over my years.

I'll Shoot Anything
Despite what you might have seen on the original “Dirty Harry” movie, few officers or agencies routinely hit the streets with a .458 Winchester Magnum. But I vividly recall the day a police officer showed up at the range with an honest-to-God .458 Winchester Magnum rifle and a couple of boxes of ammo. That event took place in my younger (and more foolish days) when I would take a dare to “shoot anything.” Even a badly stocked .458 that would almost permanently relocate your cheek bone. If my memory serves me correctly, I made it up to about 10 rounds from the .458, but I had no desire to try for 20.

Sticking with the “I’ll shoot anything once” category, I once fired a sawed-off, single-barrel, break-action shotgun that had been seized in an armed robbery incident. The crude “pistol” had about eight inches of barrel and no stock of any sort. So, I donned a heavy leather glove, and tried a couple of different hand positions on the frame to see where I could grasp it without having a sharp corner-punch in my palm upon firing. The action opening lever was also gone, so I opened the action with a screwdriver, dropped in a 12 gauge trap load and gritted my teeth. Surprisingly, the recoil wasn’t that bad. So using the despicable “double-dog dare” my friend, Lieutenant Terry Cremer, produced a round of Magnum 00 Buckshot.

Of course I took the dare, my manhood was at stake.

At the shot, the tiny shotgun bucked free of my grip, flying high into the air, where the action opened and the empty shell ejected itself. At least that’s my best slow-motion recollection. I also remember my right hand hurt like hell for several days. Terry still laughs so hard he almost cries when I tell the story.

Varmints, Critters, and Guns
Having spent most of my years patrolling rural areas or small cities, four-legged animals are featured prominently in many of my stories. In the last few years we have seen police officers handle rampaging zoo critters ranging from tigers to circus elephants. They’ve done so with .223 rifles and 12-gauge shotguns, although these guns weren’t exactly designed for that mission.

Wile E. Coyote There was a state trooper with a great “coyote on the interstate” story. One quiet night on a rural stretch of interstate highway the trooper saw a coyote running down the grass shoulder ditch and decided the dog posed a “traffic hazard.” So, he pulled over on the shoulder, no doubt adjusting the spotlight for good illumination. When Wile E. Coyote froze in the spotlight beam out by the right-of-way fence, the troop hit the button to roll down the passenger side window and drew his trusty 9mm for the dirty deed. His written report made no mention of whether the coyote bit the dust ... only that he had mistakenly rolled down the back window on the passenger side of his patrol car. The 9mm hollow point made mighty short work of the front passenger side window.

When .22 Just Won't Do In one small community, the police officers were tasked with animal control duties. That included setting live traps for the never-ending stream of opossums and raccoons who wandered into town looking to make a living from our garbage cans. The department kept an old .22 revolver around for dispatching the wayward beasts. One young officer who grew up in a big city and had never before killed an animal with a firearm, failed to make a clean brain shot with the little .22 and was horrified to see his intended victim flopping around like some creature from a movie about the “undead.”

Having lost all trust in the little revolver, the young officer promptly drew his .40 caliber Glock and ended the raccoon’s suffering, apparently with spectacular results. He became instantly famous in the department for his verbal report to his fellow officers, made in the form of a question. “What do you get when you shoot a raccoon in the head with a .40 caliber Glock?” He was grinning from ear-to-ear when he finally gave up the answer ... Glock-a-mole!”

Star in the Windshield When I worked in Wyoming, all of our road deputies carried patrol rifles, racked up in electric-locks. Most of us carried personal rifles of several varieties. One guy had a Beretta AR70 chambered for the 5.56 NATO round. Apparently, Italian weapon designers wanted to make sure empty brass wouldn’t build up around your foxhole, because that thing would eject its empty brass almost as violently as the projectile was launched from the barrel.

We all took our defensive firearms practice pretty seriously, so if a jackrabbit, coyote, or stray prairie dog became a “target of opportunity” on a remote county road, it was engaged in the course of refining our long-distance, small-target shooting skills. One morning as I pulled into the department parking lot, I saw the AR70 deputy looking intently at his windshield. On approach, I saw a pretty significant “star” in the windshield. “Looks like you took a pretty good hit from a rock chip, huh,” I quizzed him. But, as I drew close, I could see that the outside glass layer of the windshield was unharmed. The chip was on the inside! While knocking off a jackrabbit, Dan’s AR70 had chipped the windshield from the inside with the violently-ejected empty. I helped him pick out all the brass from the defroster vents on the dash of his 4x4 and we hurried into the building before the sheriff arrived for the day. We saw the sheriff scratching at the windshield chip when he noticed it, and we all remarked later how we had never seen a rock chip quite like that one.

Sewer Rats and Wadcutters To prove that stupid animal shooting tricks aren’t unique to the boondocks, there was a friend’s story of a dark and stormy night in a bigger city. The oppressively hot July night was especially steamy in the aftermath of a brief thunderstorm. And, my friend told me, a hot steamy night like that always brought out the big rats that lived in the city’s storm sewers. This was in the days of the universal four-inch .38 revolver, so when the rats came out on third shift, the boys would drop by the station for a handful of .38 Wadcutter target ammo. As careful as they tried to be with the evening’s entertainment, I suppose it was inevitable that one of those soft lead bullets skipped off a concrete gutter, landed somewhere it shouldn’t and got someone one of those tough to explain stuttering sessions in the Chief’s office.

Too Many Great Tales to Tell
Then there was the bale of rain soaked newspapers and the .41 Magnum in the squad room story and the blown-up .38 revolver story and the shot-off radio antenna story. But they’ll keep for another day. I hope you’ve noticed that all my stories end with no humans being harmed (beyond a chewed-out butt).

Please stick to that format with any stories you contribute in the comments below.

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

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