Monthly Archives: October 2009

Hunting?! Oy Gewalt!

One of the mental obstacles some Jews have to shooting sports is they tend to associate hunting with the term “sportsmen” when it comes to guns. This is not an accurate image of the sport shooting world. Sport shooting includes target shooters, and many shooters are purely target shooters. If you take up target shooting, nobody will ever expect or pressure you to take up hunting.
There is a blurry division within the sport shooting world between competitive target shooters and hunters. Typically, you find people that competitively shoot targets of some sort, people that hunt, and a small intersection of those groups that do both. Again, I have no statistics, but from being in the firearms community for a while I can say that there are “tons” of shooters who have no interest in hunting. If you don’t want to be exposed to hunting, and/or don’t want your nice Jewish boy or girl exposed to it, it is definitely not going to be rammed down your throat by anyone. In fact, I’m sure you’ll find that many target shooters are opposed to hunting for various reasons.

I do not hunt, nor do I have any interest in hunting. I love the outdoors, and it would probably be fun to stalk an animal and tag it with a paint bullet if they ever make a paint bullet accurate enough for that. But I don’t think taking down a deer, bird or other animal for sport would sit well with me. For me, a metallic silhouette match is more than enough animal plinking fun.

I don’t have anything against hunters or hunting. Nowadays, hunters are the real environmentalists in our society and play a crucial role in ecosystems where natural predators have been driven to extinction (often by suburban sprawl). They keep the game animal stocks healthy, because otherwise they would overpopulate and be subject to disease and starvation. Hunters are the only reason we have large open wild spaces left in this country–they’re the ones willing to pay to keep the land from getting developed. In these ways, hunters save far more animal lives than they take. But generally speaking, most Torah scholars I have read suggest hunting is forbidden, or at least frowned on. But again, I’m fine with it, I just choose not to.

Sorry for the digression. My point was, if you are considering taking up target shooting, do not feel there will ever be any peer pressure for you to take up hunting. Competitive target shooting is really a separate world from hunting, even within the NRA.

Dr. Ruth – Lethal Sniper

This might be old news to some, but was news to me. Sex “therapist” Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a former Israeli sniper. From the snopes.com link discussion:

At 16, the orphaned girl moved to Israel and joined Haganah, an underground Jewish military organization. She served as a lookout and sniper but never killed anyone. Says Dr. Ruth of that interval:

“When I was in my routine training for the Israeli army as a teenager, they discovered completely by chance that I was a lethal sniper. I could hit the target smack in the center further away than anyone could believe. Not just that, even though I was tiny and not even much of an athlete, I was incredibly accurate throwing hand grenades too. Even today I can load a Sten automatic rifle in a single minute, blindfolded.”

So to all you nice (and, I guess, naughty) Jewish girls, if 4’7″ Dr. Ruth can learn to shoot, so can you!

Keeping your Sights on Torah


I promised I’d post on some of the ways that marksmanship contributes to our spirituality. I’ve previously blogged about the fact that marksmanship is, in some ways, integrated into our concept of Torah. My way of thinking about it is that there are many ways to study Torah, we each have our own learning styles, and for some people marksmanship is a great medium to better Torah understanding. So here are my thoughts on what we learn about Torah from using “open” sights.

Open sights, or as some people call them, “iron sights”, is a generic term for a firearm that uses aiming posts attached to the gun as opposed to a telescopic, lens based system. In other words, if the firearm doesn’t have a scope mounted on it, its aimed using iron sights, one at the back of the barrel and one up front near the muzzle. I compete with iron sights exclusively.

One of the “secrets” of becoming an accurate shooter is to never focus your eyes on the target. No, that’s not a typo. To be a great shooter, you focus your eye on the front sight of the firearm. The rear sight (closest to you) and the target will be blurry and out of focus if you are doing it correctly. The picture above is the sight picture I strive to have when my 10m air pistol goes off. I’m sure to score a 10 when it does, even though my eye is not focused on the target at all. In another post I’ll discuss why front-sight focus is so important, but if you recall any of your high school geometry you can probably figure it out on your own. If you’re not a marksman, just trust me that when the eye focuses on the target, instead of the front sight, the shot will almost always miss the mark.

But front-sight focus is not easy. Even the best shooters report a constant, subconscious desire to look and focus directly on the target. Of course, its human nature to want to see and appreciate your goal in front of you. In fact, its human nature to think we can just look at our goal directly, keep it in focus, and somehow will it into happening. Maintaining front-sight focus is a constant battle for marksmen. It requires faith in your understanding of the art of shooting, and to reject your instinct to focus on the target.

To me, the front sight is like Torah. We all have targets in life, whether to be a better person, to be successful in business, to relax more, to raise wonderful children, etc. But if we just look at the target, and focus on the target, it will never happen. Only G-d can will something into existence. You might wake up tomorrow and say, “I want to be a better person,” and truly have that desire, but the desire is meaningless. What is a better person? How do you become a better person? What is a good person? The fact is as human beings, we can never really know these answers with clarity and sharpness. Our targets should all have gray edges that are slightly out of focus. Each of us have eyes that will see the target slightly differently.

But Torah is our front sight. If we try to stay focused on Torah, and accept the fact that our targets will be blurry, if we pull the trigger with Torah in focus and properly aligned, the shot will naturally hit our target all on its own. Torah will give you some idea of what a good person is, how to become a better one, how to raise children, how to be successful, but it won’t provide you with perfect clarity on what those targets really look like. But if you focus on Torah, and try to have clarity with Torah, and allow those targets to blur into the background, your life will naturally arrive at those destinations you wanted. There are things in Torah that are counter to some of our instincts, counter to things that that secular society tells us. But if we focus on the front sight, keep the sights aligned and trust our shot will reach its mark by shooting in that manner, all our shots will be in the X-ring.

And with that, Shabat Shalom!

Why Jews should Own the AR-15

As Jews, we’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of years subject to prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. False rumors and accusations about us persist to this day. Because of our past, we try to avoid rushing to judgment and making uninformed decisions about others.

The AR-15 rifle platform, like the Jewish people, has suffered similar discrimination and oppression, such as being subjected to discriminatory dress codes, exiled from certain lands, and used as a scapegoat by politicians. Today it is accused of being an evil “assault” rifle. Now for the truth about the AR-15.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle. It is NOT an automatic “machine” gun. What’s the difference? Simple. For our purposes, a semi-auto rifle or pistol will fire one (and ONLY ONE) round for each pull of the trigger. A full auto machine gun will fire multiple rounds for as long as you hold down the trigger. Wait a minute, you say…one round every time you pull the trigger? Well that’s just like every gun I know…what’s so bad about that? The answer: nothing. Remember, I said that there are many misconceptions floating around about the AR-15.

The AR-15 is no more powerful than other hunting and target rifles. The most popular round for AR-15 use is .223 Remington, which is readily available at Wallmart. Wait a minute you say, it doesn’t use any special “assault” ammunition? Nope. Again, misconceptions.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why have the anti-gun crowd maligned the AR-15? Why do they want to ban it?

Answer: because of its cosmetic appearance. That’s the only reason. It looks like what an uninformed person thinks an “assault” rifle looks like, so the knee-jerk reaction is to ban it. It does look like the military M16, but it is not an M16. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has recently produced a video to help educate the public on the true nature of the AR-15. But because much of the public doesn’t know any better, politicians still use the cosmetics of the AR-15 to their advantage and scapegoat the rifle to placate their anti-gun supporters. Now you know better.

Should you own an AR-15? Let’s put it this way, the AR-15 is the rifle you want in your family just in case they do try to round up the Jews again. It is simple to use, extremely accurate, extremely versatile, extremely rugged. As long as there is an anti-gun lobby in the US, AR-15 rifles are going to hold their value extremely well, although at the moment certain configurations may be a bit overpriced.

However, I don’t think its a good choice for a first rifle. I think the novice will be much better served by a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic that fires .22LR. It is much less expensive to own and shoot, and a great platform to develop basic rifle marksmanship on if one prefers a semi-auto over a bolt action rifle.

I have recently started using the AR-15 for target competition, and will post about that soon.

Gun Shops, a Jewish Survival Guide

To Jews new to guns, there’s a misconception that walking into a gun shop is going to feel like stepping into a Catholic Church with your yarmulke and tzitzis. That concern is misplaced. Most gun shops are very friendly and welcoming, especially to new shooters, and there is absolutely no reason to feel intimidated. Nowadays, with so many people buying their first gun lately, the salespeople are used to “first-timers.”

But remember, when you buy at a gun shop, you’re paying retail. Don’t be a schmuck! Very often gun shops, like pawn shops, might have a good deal on a used gun. But new guns, almost never. So let me explain to you how to save hundreds of dollars. They key is you must understand the concept of an “FFL transfer“.

Once you figure out which make and model of gun you want (gun shops and rental ranges are great for “test drives”), you can shop around on the Internet. I’ve had great success with sites like GunBroker.com, GunsAmerica.com, and GalleryOfGuns.com (try various local zip codes with their GunGenie…). These sites are basically like ebay or craigslist, but with guns!

When you find the gun you want at the best price online, the next step is to find a local FFL transfer agent. An FFL transfer agent is a federally licensed agent who can receive the firearm for you, run the necessary background checks and take care of other legal requirements, and then transfer the gun to you. The charge is usually somewhere between $25 and $50 per transfer, and most gun shops and pawn shops that sell guns will do it, shop around for the best transfer price. Your FFL will communicate with the seller and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s get crossed. Yes, very often even after you pay shipping and FFL transfer fees you will probably save significantly over the retail price.

Sometimes, just by showing you’re a sophisticated buyer you can negotiate down the price more effectively with the gun shop. If you show them you know you can get the same gun for hundreds less via an FFL transfer from a wholesale Internet dealer, they are more likely to be willing to wheel and deal. Figure you’re break even if you pay a local shop the Internet price plus shipping and FFL fee, plus maybe a little for their trouble.

As for advice from the gun shop sales people, its hit and miss. There are a lot of uninformed jerks who just want to make a commission. A good test is to ask if the salesman is also a certified NRA instructor. However, by and large, I think you’re better off talking with experienced shooters on one of the many Internet forums, and don’t rely on gun shop sales people too much. There are exceptions, and usually its the case that the owner is the guy/gal you want to deal with.

The only real gun shop “etiquette” you need to know is to always ask permission before you dry fire a gun, and ask the safe direction to point it when you do. Also, when the salesman hands you a gun for examination, insist he show you that it is unloaded. Most salesmen will do this automatically, but you’d be surprised how many idiots don’t. Never, ever trust that someone is handing you an unloaded gun unless you’ve seen so yourself…no matter who it is.

Lastly, if you can, it always helps to bring along a knowledgeable chaver (friend)!

UPDATE: Scroll down for Stuart’s comments and advice…excellent insights! As he says, the Internet is the place for accessories like magazines and holsters. Check your local laws (especially in the Peoples’ Republik of Kalifornia) but usually it is perfectly legal to have any non-serialized (usually only one part on the gun bears the serial number) gun part shipped directly to you. The same goes for bulk ammunition purchases, you can save a bundle by ordering online. Several thousand rounds of your favorite ammunition will probably fit in a space no bigger than shoebox in your closet. Occasionally, you can find deals at local gun shows as well.

10m Air Rifle for Jews

My intent behind this blog is to especially focus on marksmanship, i.e. precision shooting. But precision is a relative term. 10m air rifle and pistol involve extreme precision, because the rifles and pistols used are capable of one-hole accuracy. Because they are shot from a relatively short distance (you guessed it, 10 meters or about 33 feet), the scoring rings are tiny.

Air rifles and pistols are great first “guns,” and great last guns if you still believe good Jewish boys and girls aren’t supposed to have real guns. Both 10m rifle and pistol are Olympic sports, and great fun for all ages. The NRA has an air rifle program for juniors, and kids can compete at the regional and national levels.

The rifles aren’t toys…your Jewish mother will still be worried because you can put someone’s eye out…the pellets leave the muzzle around 600 feet-per-second. Learn to handle them safely. They can kill small rodents, and some people use these rifles for that. Target pellets usually won’t penetrate drywall. Traps are usually made of steel, but some people get by with a cardboard box filled with rags. You can also use putty in a box, and then there won’t be any sound upon pellet impact.

This evening I shot the target above that will serve well for discussion. There are actually four shots in that hole in the middle. But I flubbed a 7 (any shot that breaks the higher scoring line is awarded the higher point). Consider that all five shots fit within a dime, but my score on that target was not so good. Is that kind of challenge up your alley?

Getting started in 10m rifle is relatively easy. First you need a rifle intended for 10m competition. I’m going to throw some big numbers at you, but relax…think Total Cost of Ownership. Smart Jews buy used cars, or luxury cars that hold their value. The same approach can be applied to firearms. You can buy a high end model and sell it a few years later for about what you paid, or you can find a real bargain in the used market and enjoy high-end luxury at a discount.

I use a Feinwerkbau 300S (German) that I bought used for a little over $400. 20 years ago it was the top of the line Olympic rifle that sold for twice that. New 10m rifles from Feinwerkbau or Steyr (Austrian) go for about $1500, but you can find them used. My rifle is charged by a lever that cocks a spring piston, whereas the “modern” technology is an aluminum cylinder you fill off of a scuba tank. There are a few American 10m rifles, but they tend to fall short in the quality of the trigger. If you’re considering a 10m rifle for a junior, keep in mind the NRA has rules about which 10m rifles are legal for certain matches, i.e. some makes and configurations are allowed and some aren’t, so do your homework first.

Once you have the rifle, your costs are minimal after that to get started. You just need pellets, which are really cheap at about $5-$10 for 500. Over time if you get competitive you can add more gear. You can practice at home, even if you don’t have a 10m line you can use a shorter distance and just scale down the target for practice.

Youtube has some videos you can check out and see a 10m match in action, but honestly if you’re not a participant, watching a match can be like watching paint dry. If you’re interested in learning more about 10m air rifle or pistol (I’ll blog about pistol soon), drop me a line, I’ll be glad to help.

The NRA is not a Scary Place for Jews

Too many American Jews think “rednecks, confederate flags, and pickup-trucks” whenever the NRA is mentioned. But the truth is that the membership of the NRA is a reflection of all Americans, including Jews and other minorities. Although the initials stand for National Rifle Association, the NRA is at the forefront of many issues and activities in the world of shooting sports and the Second Amendment. Female membership in the NRA is literally exploding, as is the female presence in shooting sports. As I identify top Jewish competitors in NRA sponsored events, I’ll post their biographies on the blog.

What many people don’t know (even most Jews who belong to the NRA) is that recent past NRA president Sandra Froman was Jewish! The article gives Froman’s response to her anti-gun critics:

Predictably, Froman has a different take, one that she considers legitimately Jewish.

“Our history teaches us that it is our obligation to ensure that there is justice,” she said. “And I believe that people have an obligation to protect themselves, to protect their own lives, to protect the lives of their families. And you can’t do that unless you have the means of self-defense.”

Froman added: “There was a saying when the Colt 1851 revolver was invented that G-d created men, but Colt made them all equal.”

I’ve been to several NRA clubs, and I know many, many Jews involved with the NRA at different levels. I know several Jews who’ve gone to the NRA conventions and competed in the National Matches. Bottom line, the NRA is an outstanding organization, full of outstanding menschim.

(Jewish) Spirituality of Marksmanship

Anyone who has seriously pursued marksmanship as a hobby will agree that there is a spiritual aspect to the game (or art, as some call it). Whether your game is Bullseye pistol, smallbore rifle, archery, 10-meter, or high power, you’ve probably been told to read Zen and the Art of Archery. Its not a bad read, but the fact is you don’t need to go fumbling around with Asian philosophy to find a spiritual dimension to marksmanship:
Did you know that the word for sin in Hebrew – chet – comes from the sport of archery? So does the word Torah, which refers to the Old Testament scrolls and the text they contain.

When on Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, Jews all over the world recite over and over again in the holiday liturgy the words “al chet,” which are usually translated as “the sin,” what they are really saying is “the missed mark.” Hebrew has no real word for sin. There are one or two other words that refer to what we think of as sin, but none that actually mean “sin” per se.

The word Torah means to take aim. Thus, the Torah teaches us to take aim. And sometimes we take aim and miss the mark.

What’s the bull’s eye? Judaism has 613 mitzvot (commandments), and while observant Jews try to hit them all, most Jews do not. All those mitzvot are meant to help us sharpen our aim. Torah teaches us how to aim in a righteous manner and in a spiritual manner. And each time we aim and shoot, each time we try to hit the target by performing a mitzvah (singular of mitzvot), we remember G-d. We aim towards G-d. If we hit the bull’s eye or even come close, we actually connect with G-d. That’s what Torah and mitzvot are all about.

(From What’s Archery Got To Do With The Jewish High Holy Days? By Nina Amir)

Your development as a marksman and your spiritual development as a Jew can go hand-in-hand, i.e. the practice of a shooting art can be integrated into deeper understanding and better practice of Torah. We each have our own learning styles. Some by listening, some by reading, some by following example. Even within those learning styles, there are big differences among people. Some can glean wisdom from a short fable, others only through lengthy dissertations.

For me, marksmanship has definitely served as the right medium to expand my understanding of Jewish thought and Torah. If you’re of like mind and can share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via email. I will begin adding my own insights in future blog posts.