The Trouble Shooter
There was the ripping sound of what sounded like automatic weapon fire from perhaps fifty feet away, above and beyond where we stood, shattering the stillness of a quiet Sunday morning. The light breeze ruffled the pine trees, the sky was a turquoise shade of blue and we were in what once was a large gravel pit.
Guatemala is a country awash in weapons, perhaps a legacy of the twenty year plus civil war and the later influx of narco-traffickers and with a murder rate only slightly lesser than the leader, Honduras. Gun control here means using both hands.
I was in the company of a friend and his wife and but due to his high profile in this country, I can’t mention his name. His business card translates to being an ‘Advisor to the Ministerial Office’ He wears a coat and tie, plus a large sidearm. Exactly who and what he advises, one suspects, is a closely held secret and his attitude is that of a benign ‘Dirty Harry.’ As with most detectives, he’s seen too much and he doesn’t smile very often. There’s a world of weary cynicism in his eyes and in a word, he’s slim, trim and grim and favors black clothing after the coat and tie come off. He is, after all, a ‘trouble shooter.’
It was a warm morning and we’d driven perhaps twenty minutes east of Antigua, towards the city, until the turnoff towards Palin, and up into the mountain range that separates the City from Antigua. I’d been told before that the name of the shooting range was ‘Barcenas’ but the signs differed: this was the ‘Poligono de Tiro aka Smart Shooting’ with a tag line of ‘Immediate Reaction.’ I’m personally all for ‘Smart Shooting’ as there’s far too much of the opposite in this tiny Tennessee size country. The logo on the sign was a red bulls-eye, overlaid with a black cross hair centered on the outline of a man holding a pistol. This wasn’t subtle.
The parking lot was half full and the combination snack bar and check-in kiosk contained two young ladies who asked for identification. A sign over the window offered nine millimeter or .45 caliber ammunition for sale, if you wanted something extra to go with your hot dog.
I’d met ‘JC’ a few years previously and once he knew of my interest in shooting, he offered to improve my rusty skills. Today, in the black canvas bag, he’d brought a Glock 9mm, a .32 Smith & Wesson snub-nosed revolver and a long-barreled.22 match-grade target pistol. And more than enough ammunition, ear-plugs and safety glasses, a requirement per the signs around us.
We were on Range #1, in what was once a gravel pit and surrounded by fragrant pine trees and stacks of recycled tires. There were signs along the steep cement stairs coming up, that indicated seven different ranges: at least one for close-up shooting, one for wide open firing and #1, which was long, perhaps fifty feet and somewhat narrow. One of the assistants brought three paper targets, which were affixed to a metal frame down-range, and backed by a large metal plate to prevent ricochets.
I didn’t know it then but this was the first time his wife had fired a weapon. She was a petite, well-dressed blond and as with JC, somewhere near middle age. He took his time, explaining to her how to open the short-barrelled revolver, cock the hammer and aim. It was a perfect ‘ladies weapon’, light of weight and with a an initial five shot pattern from twenty feet, she hit the paper target every time. By the next lesson, she drilled the center. Formidable!
I was offered both the Glock and the Smith but my fascination lay with the long barreled Ruger: the grips were worn, the blueing long gone and it weighed two pounds or more. I didn’t embarrass myself or my companions. I’ve been shooting firearms since I was ten years old but JC started at age six and he was a member of both the rifle and national pistol teams here. As an instructor, it doesn’t get any better.
The shooting range, aka ‘Smart Shooting’? it’s open to the public but take identification. You probably won’t have a weapon, since licenses are very hard to acquire. On a weekend, its a destination for families, at least in the snack bar. It’s a different way to spend a Sunday, instead of going to the mall or the cineplex. Drive east of Antigua for ten miles and look for the sign that reads ‘Palin.’ Two or three miles down that paved road will bring you to the dirt road on the right. ‘Smart Shooting?’ It’s a side of Guatemala that tourists never see. The telephone number is 5517-5015, if you want to call for directions.