The four stages of man are infancy, childhood, adolescence, and obsolescence.

– Art Linkletter


Maybe some of you think we here at MO have done a bit too much with the bikes ‘n’ guns connection over the last year, but bikes ‘n’ guns are just too good a pairing, like whiskey and cigars, Cagney and Lacey, or bacon and… Well, anything is good with bacon. But guns are a great analogy for motorcycles, and as I’ve rediscovered shooting, it’s been shedding new light on my motorcycle riding as well.

I’ve been riding for almost 30 years now, but I haven’t done much serious work with guns for a very long time, so this year I bought an AR-15 replica chambered for .22LR cheap and fun to shoot, don’t cha know and got back out to the range to see how much I had forgotten in the 25 years since I had last shot for a score in the U.S. Marines. Just like getting back into track days on an RC 390 or Ninja 300, a .22 is cheap, light and easy to handle: the perfect way to ease back into shooting.

I’m not trying to humble brag (although nobody tries to humble brag, otherwise it’d just be bragging), but in my four-year stint in the Marine Corps I shot Rifle Expert three times out of four. But even if I hadn’t shot Expert the highest classification even an average Marine rifleman is far more skilled and accurate than your average civilian shooter. Don’t believe me? Go to your average rifle range, and you’ll see guys with $2,000 AR-15s, equipped with the latest in optics, shooting from a benchrest, supported position, barely hitting a target at 100 yards. The first time I saw that I figured it takes all kinds, and of course there would be a few novices, but then I started noticing it every time I was at the range. It wasn’t like when you’re on a group ride and you notice there’s one or two slowpokes, riders so slow and unskilled you wonder how they got their motorcycle home from the dealership. Sometimes it’s the majority of the people at the range, especially on weekends.

Learning to shoot the right way… but it's not the only right way. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bridget Keane.

Learning to shoot the right way… but it’s not the only right way. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bridget Keane.

I mean, I can understand missing a standard NRA target at 300 yards, but at 100? The Marine Corps’ rifle qualification course starts at 200 yards, with low-tech iron sights, and we had to hit a man-sized silhouette at 500. The rifle could not be supported by anything but a good body position. At closer distances, 200 or 300 yards, we also had to shoot from the sitting and kneeling positions, as well as hit a three-foot-wide target “offhand,” that is, standing, with no sling to support the weapon. To graduate from boot camp and avoid repeating the last two months (which trust me, is less fun than it sounds), you had to score 190 points out of a possible 250. Imagine having to be within 25% of the fastest lap time at your favorite racetrack to be allowed to ride there it’s kind of the same thing.

Does that sound hard? According to some of the feedback I’ve gotten from various discussion forums, hitting a target with a mere 5.56 round at 500 yards is close to impossible. “No way could you hit anything with irons at that range,” is a common sentiment, often partnered with stories of how they heard somebody did that once with some kind of gun, but not with an M-16, no way. What you need is one of those $15,000 sniper rifles, which is like saying you need to buy an RC213V-S to drag a knee.

I know it’s possible because I did it, many times. But just because I can do that and you can’t doesn’t really mean anything. I stumbled upon an excellent blog written by one Todd Dow, a rifle enthusiast who wrote for several years about the basics and fundamentals of rifle marksmanship, something sorely lacking in the mainstream guns ‘n’ stuff press. Those publications and websites seem to focus on product reviews and political ranting, which are entertaining but of limited practical value. Can somebody just discuss technique, please?

Luckily, Todd does, and he’s not dogmatic about it. I’ve been circling around like a dog chasing his tail, frustrated that I can’t practice the techniques I learned back in the Reagan years because of range rules mandating certain positions or my creaky, flabby body mandating avoiding certain positions. And I noticed that I suck almost as bad as the noobs with no training at all. But those guys are idiots, I thought, and most of the people I’ve met in the gun world can’t know shit about marksmanship because they aren’t jarheads like me.

There was a lot of fuss about allowing women into combat roles, but a target (or enemy soldier) doesn't care if the hole punched into it was from a man or woman firing the rifle. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis.

There was a lot of fuss about allowing women into combat roles, but a target (or enemy soldier) doesn’t care if the hole punched into it was from a man or woman firing the rifle. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis.

That sounded a lot like a victimized point of view, so it was time to look inward. Todd’s last entry addressed the pitfalls of being unwilling to change or to look at new methods. “Things evolve. Methods become more effective… Getting stuck is a pretty effective way to become obsolete. You are likely to disregard effective changes as being flash-in-the-pan trends, while you are actually being left behind.”

Huh. That sounded a lot like me. And not just on the rifle range. When I’m riding a motorcycle on the street, on the track, even tooling around town, I get signs that I’m not as cutting-edge as I used to be. I’m so far behind the pack on my regular Sunday ride the first guys are leaving the smoke break as I’m pulling up. At track days, by the time I’ve warmed up enough to be comfortable in my group, everybody I’m able to pass has gone home for the day. No fair! And I don’t feel as relaxed blasting through city and freeway traffic as I used to everybody else just goes so fast these days. Or maybe it’s me.

I used to think of myself as pretty open-minded and forward thinking, but somehow, somewhere along the road, I became set in my ways. And not only set in my ways, but getting left behind. I have no idea which tires are best or how to optimize traction control or who does the best job reflashing ECUs, whatever that means.

Author getting instruction from sportbike guru Nick Ienatsch, c.2010. It didn’t stick. Photo: Alfonse Palaima

Author getting instruction from sportbike guru Nick Ienatsch, c.2010. It didn’t stick. Photo: Alfonse Palaima

I’m now obsolete, and I can do one of three things about it. I can complain about it incessantly (done!), join a community of early to mid-90s historical re-enactors (we’re going to call it “Seinfeld Village”), or try to mash my brain cells into new patterns and learn a thing or two. Whether it’s a paycheck, a finish line or a paper target, how you get there isn’t as important as the actual results.

There’s a guy starting a new job on January 20th that’s proof of that. It’s time to splash some cold water in my face and get to work.

Gabe Ets-Hokin is earning extra money during the holiday season dressed up as Festivus Frank at the local shopping mall. Children who defeat him in a Feat of Strength get an unadorned seven-foot aluminum pole as a gift.

  • Campisi

    It has a very high strength-to-weight ratio.

  • Starmag

    Get off my lawn! Damn kids.

    • Jack Meoph

      But mow it first, because I threw my back out yesterday and it takes two weeks to get it back in shape. And the rains coming so my arthritis is going to kick in and I’ll probably be out for at least a month.

  • TC

    The guys you saw at the gun range ‘barely hitting the target’ at 100 yds with a $2,000 AR-15? My Colt HBAR will group under 1 MOA all day long. Maybe you are thinking of the guys riding $30,000 Harleys that are holding up traffic on mountain roads and won’t pull over to let the soccer moms in their SUVs pass. Gunpowder and gasoline don’t mix, Gabe. Stick to motorcycle writing.

    • I know an AR15 can be very accurate, as I wrote in the article! But a tool is only as good as the person using it, as you well know.

      • TC

        And ‘New and Improved’ isn’t always. I have never once crashed a motorcycle because I locked up the front wheel due to lack of ABS, and have owned a couple of ABS equipped bikes. There’s a tradeoff between the improvements offered by more complex systems on motorcycles, versus the cost and maintenance issues. I have read that it can cost upwards of $1500 to replace the shock on an ESA bike. And I wonder how many riders have crashed their new bikes with gee whiz technology because they were looking at their display screen and trying to scroll through the adjustment menus?

        • I agree in general, but there is a lot of crash data that suggests ABS does indeed prevent crashes and has doubtless saved many lives. I’ve had many crashes where I DID lock up the front wheel and have been in many situations where ABS saved my bacon, for shizzles.

  • mooner

    The guys you saw at the gun range ‘barely hitting the target’ at 100 yds with a $2,000 AR-15?

    Kalifornia??? But is is very true – Marksmanship (and riding skills) are a very perishable skill.

  • john burns

    I stay sharp shooting whatever’s on the cover of the Outdoor Life duct-taped to the garden wall out the back door with my open-sighted Red Ryder. Full-metal jacket BBs.

    • SerSamsquamsh

      That’s sitting in your outdoor compostable California toilet no doubts. Range to target; 11 inches.

  • StreetHawk

    Bit of a long stretch to try and justify motorcycle content.

  • JMDonald

    Shooting expert at any time is special. Practice practice and more practice. I have two BMW’s. Therefore I am an old guy. I don’t play well with others and at this point I’d like to think I don’t suffer fools. Obsolete, no. As long as you still can you are far from obsolete. Riding and shooting are skills. They bring a certain joy when doing them. Shooting expert is icing on the cake. Ride to live live to ride. Shoot to kill. Metaphorically speaking of course. Working is slavery. If you don’t believe it just answer this question. How long in any given year do you have to work to cover your tax burden? Exactly. Ride safe you bastards.

  • SerSamsquamsh

    Shooting eggs with my .22 is my favorite cuz the explode.

    Knowing you are obsolescent and being fine with that is the key to middle age crisis.

    Ride on Gabe!