Sunday, September 30, 2007

International Range Bowling Day

As I announced last week, today is International Range Bowling Day. I spent the day with family and friends playing the Next Olympic Sport. Over 200 Crayola ® rounds were expended, and at the end of the day I didn't win a single game. I placed last in the first game (which D.W. won), and second in the last game. (The last game was won by my brother's girlfriend, who had never fired a gun in her life).

As we played, it occurred to me that to the general public its origins are clouded in mystery. This is the story of how it was developed to become the phenomenon it is today.

First, a word...

I rarely mention Range Bowling without being accosted by somebody about how terrible it is that we're promoting weapons, we're encouraging killing, yada, yada, yada. To those people I say, “Get a life, you ignorant putz.” Football doesn't encourage mugging, though quarterbacks get sacked; baseball doesn't encourage stealing, though bases are stolen; Range Bowling doesn't encourage killing, though shots are fired.
First of all, we have extensively tested the equipment. It is safer than a pellet gun. One look at the pins after using pellet guns tells the story. The pins struck by crayons are always and invariably undamaged. Those struck by pellets are dented. Those struck by BBs are punctured.
We use a real gun in part because the irony of using a weapon for entertainment isn't lost on us. It's ludicrous, and fun. But it's also safer than the “safe” alternatives I mention above. Finally – and importantly – it gives us an opportunity to teach gun safety with real guns. We treat the guns at all times as if they are loaded with live ammunition, though live ammunition is banned from the premises. There are penalties if you fail to follow gun safety rules (namely, you're ejected from the game). We wear eye protection. We use the safeties on the guns. All this for wax pellets fired without a charge. You probably stand a better chance of getting injured playing catch in the front yard.
As a result of all of this, Range Bowling isn't just fun; it's educational. Our kids are responsible around weapons. They're not fearful, ignorant, or frivolous.

The History

I've always had a habit of opening my house to strays, strangers, and temporary guests. The “guest” at this time, around 1994-1995, was my brother Robert. One of Robert's skills is reloading ammunition, so when he moved in he brought his reloading equipment with him. Basically, this sort of thing consists of casings (the stuff you put the powder in; primers (the thing that blows up when the hammer hits it, causing the powder to ignite; bullets (the lead part that kills or injures); and a press mechanism for putting this stuff together.
Also at that time my son William was about 8 or 9 years old, and like most young kids he owned crayons. He had a tendency to leave them around the house.
One day I idly picked up a casing while talking to Robert. In my other hand I had a Crayola ® crayon that had been left on the floor. Noticing that they were about the same size, I casually slipped the crayon into the empty casing and broke it off flush with the end of the casing. When I wondered aloud whether the wax pellet could be used as a bullet, Robert surmised that the charge would most likely melt it completely, but that the primer alone should expel it from the barrel of the pistol. He proceeded to load the casing I was holding into his .38 revolver and fired it at a corrugated cardboard box across the room.
It bounced harmlessly off the cardboard. From about 3 feet away a crayon fired at the box penetrated the first layer of the box, but did not penetrate the corrugation. As it turned out, this is pretty safe, so long as you don't point it at somebody's eyes. In fact, it's safer than a BB gun or even a plastic pellet gun. The wax doesn't damage the revolver either, though you most assuredly should clean your gun before putting it away. It was safe enough that we could envision an indoor shooting range.
The next order of business was finding appropriate targets. The crayon won't travel more than 40 feet, and has such a low velocity that paper targets are invulnerable at that range. William had some plastic bowling pins, though, and they did fall over when struck properly.
From there it was a short step from target practice to actually bowling for point.

Why now?

It's time, that's why.
Actually, this is the best time of year to introduce people to the sport. I live in South Carolina, so my rules of weather apply, but barring the occasional hurricane, this is the least blustery time of year. That makes it a lot easier to play outdoors, if firing crayons in the house makes you way too nervous.
Secondly, it's the best time to get the proper equipment. Those plastic bowling pins are pretty much seasonal items. At the end of September the stores have put away their Back To School specials and have started to put out Christmas merchandise. The decorations may be for Halloween, but the seasonal aisles in Wal-Mart are starting to fill with toys, toys, toys... including plastic bowling pins Don't worry if you can't find the pins. Just use ten empty 2-litre soda bottles. Just get some pins when you get the chance... they're better.
Sadly, this year I couldn't find the pins! I had given away the set I used previously, thinking they'd be easily replaced, and then I couldn't find a set to save my life. So, it was the Dr. Pepper company to the rescue. I sucked down ten Diet Dr. Peppers over the last couple of days, and spray-painted them With the caps on you get a lot of pin action, so set them a little bit further apart than you would place bowling pins.

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