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Simulation Just Isn't The Same

I am fortunate to have a 14-year-old grandson who is wildly interested in military history. He can hold his own in a discussion about the Battle of Gettysburg or the virtues of a Focke-Wulf 190. Something that sets him apart from other 14-year-olds is the amount of time he spends reading books. Don’t get me wrong, though. He plays a lot of video games, as well. In fact, a lot of his “feeling” for military history comes from these games. And while they can impart statistics and performance values of individual weapons, these games are mere simulations. This became apparent to my grandson the other day.


Last week, my grandson asked if I would take him to the range for an afternoon of shooting. As my big brother says, “ANY day at the range is better than a day at work,” so I quickly found an afternoon for us to go shooting.

That morning, my grandson decided he was going to get into the spirit of the day. When he came down for breakfast, he was wearing a steel Bulgarian helmet that he had bought at a surplus store. He told me, “I am going to spend the day wearing the helmet so I can see what it is like.” When we finished breakfast, I knocked on his steel lid and said, “I will see you at 1PM. We will head to the range, then.”

When I returned to pick him up, he was no longer wearing the steel helmet. “Where’s your helmet?” I asked. “It was too heavy,” was his reply.

We loaded a few weapons into the car. He had decided he wanted to shoot three rifles (with which he had video game experience): A Model 1861 rifle-musket, an M1 Garand, and an AR-15. I was excited, too. It was going to be a great afternoon of shooting!

After paying our range fee, we carried our gear to the firing line. I slipped the rifle-musket from the sleeve and set up a loading station. He knew all the steps for loading…he had either read about it or played it. “Draw rammer!” he commanded after I had charged a round into the muzzle. “Ram cartridge!” came next, followed by “return rammer” and “prime!”

“Hmm, he knows his stuff,” I silently considered as I offered him the first shot. His young boy stature could barely shoulder the rifle, but he managed.

“Wham!” As the smoke cleared, we peered at the paper target 25 yds. down range. He made an attempt to wave the smoke from under the sheltered firing stall. “I didn’t know they stunk so bad,” was his first comment, followed by, “I never knew one gun would make so much smoke.” Even though he had learned a lot from his Gettysburg video game, these two basic muzzle loading features gave him a new perspective.

He didn’t want a second shot. He thought one was enough. So, we returned the rifle to its sleeve (with me thinking, “great…one or 20 shots, the cleaning time is the same!”)

He indicated he wanted to shoot the M1 next. I loaded an en bloc clip of ammo into the rifle as he told me how he had “used one” hundreds of time in Call of Duty. He knew it was a semi-automatic, 8-round rifle, that made a “cool ping” on its last shot.

The M1 was just as heavy as the muzzle-loader, so I suggested he take up a sitting position at the bench. He adjusted his ear muffs (I had him put plugs in, as well), slipped his shooting glasses on, and nuzzled up to the wood stock. He took aim, squeezed the trigger and “KABLAM!”

The .30-06 nearly rocked him off his seat. He didn’t even look at the target as he got up and said he we done with that gun.

Okay, so I slipped the M1 back into its sleeve, thinking, “One or 100 rounds, the cleaning time is the same.”

Finally, I opened the case to reveal an AR-15 with an ACOG sight and collapsible stock. Several 20-round magazines were in the case, as well. He genuinely licked his lips.

“My buddy has one of these for playing Airsoft,” he explained to me. “It’s a Polar Star PR-15,” he declared with the confidence of any deeply rooted collecting or history geek. “It’s super cool,” he told me before making a motor boat sound with his tongue and lips. “That’s what it sounds like,” he shared with me.

As he lifted the AR from the case, he was excited. “It isn’t as heavy as the others,” he said, almost with a hint of optimism in his tone. I began to explain how to load a magazine in before he interrupted, “I know, I know!”

A spent percussion cap and one empty .30-06 round were the only signs of his previous shots as he saddled up to his former sitting position at the bench. With “eyes and ears” in place, he placed the “dot” on the target and squeezed the trigger. KARBLAMMM!” the .223 cracked. He turned to me as he laid down the rifle. “That’s NOTHING like my friend’s Airsoft gun,” was how he indicated he was done with that rifle, as well.

At this point, he had fired exactly three rounds through three weapons that he thought he knew. Each one was a major eye-opener for him. They were nothing like his video games or sophisticated Airsoft experiences.

I could see his interest in shooting was going to fade quickly. I had to act fast to restore his faith in his ability to enjoy shooting a rifle. I asked my grandson’s help carrying the other weapons back to the car. He was dejected but seemed glad shooting was done for the day.

Because squirrel season opens in two weeks, I had slipped my little Henry .22 caliber rifle into the car when we loaded up for our shooting day. I was planning to take it up north where I would wait for the leaves to fall and the squirrels to begin running the branches.

As we neared the car, his mind and conversation was already on to other topics. When I opened the hatch on the VW, he saw the fourth gun case containing the Henry. “What’s that?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s the rifle I take squirrel hunting,” I answered just as I realized their might be a salvageable opportunity at hand.

“You have seen cowboy movies, right?” I asked him. “The cowboys always have those lever action rifles,” I explained as I simulated the cocking of an invisible Winchester making the “chck-chck” chambering sound.

“Yeah, I have seen those,” He perked up. “What’s it look like?”

I said, “Well, we can’t unsleeve it here in the parking lot, so why don’t we walk back to the range?” I grabbed the carrier while handing him a 500-round box of .22 shells.

“Wow…these are heavy,” he declared.

“Well, that’s 500 rounds. Each bullet is actually pretty tiny.” He was nibbling on my bait.

When we got back to the firing line, I pulled the little lever action out of the sleeve. After opening the chamber to indicate it was empty, I handed him the rifle.

“WOAH! This gun is light!” he declared, as he shoulder it and took aim at an imaginary target down range.

“Go ahead,” I suggested. “Work the action a few times.” I knew that lever action would hook almost any fish, no matter how disinterested or disappointed he was in other weapons.

He ran the lever two or three times. I showed him how to safely lower the hammer. We talked about how to load and handle the rifle.

I opened up the box of .22 rounds. He looked on before I invited him to take out a few. “They sure are smaller than those others,” gesturing to the spent .30-06 and .223 round still on the bench.

“Go ahead. Drop four rounds down the tube like we talked about,” I encouraged. After he loaded the rifle, I told him to take his place at the firing line. “Go ahead and shoot all four.”

He worked the action, “Chck-chck.” In a standing position, he took aim. “Blap!” went the first round. He turned to me and smiled. “Go ahead, chamber the next round—cowboy style!” I said, returning the smile.

Chck-Chck went the rifle. “Blap! Chck-chck. Blap! Chck-chck. Blap! Chck-chck.” With the last round ejected and the chamber open, he turned to me, smiling bigger than I have seen him smile after playing a video game.

“It’s just like in the movies!” he hollered, not realizing the difference wearing ear muffs makes. A few other shooters turned to me and smiled. They knew that this kid had just made a break-through.

He reloaded that tube several times and fired until he had at least 100 empty .22 casings scattered on the bench and floor. At that point, I said, “We better get home. Your grandmother is expecting us for supper.”

“Awww…do we HAVE to go?” was his reply. I told him we did, but added, “We can go shooting again some time.” He smiled without saying anything as we walked back to the car. And when we got home, the first thing he did was rush to grandmother to show off his target.

The moral of my story? While movies, video games, and even “playing warfare” like air soft or reenacting can be fun, they don’t hold a candle to a good day at the range.

Teach a kid to properly enjoy firearms and we can,

Preserve the Memories,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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