Discovering how to shoot - a day at MSU’s Demmer Center

May 7, 2017

MSU senior Jonathon Chun had never shot a gun before, and had fleeting middle school experience with bow. It was his turn to try hitting the target – how hard could it be?

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Up until mid-April 2017,  I had never handled a loaded gun before – let alone shot one. I had shot a bow and arrow once in middle school, when it was required in our P.E. class, and every shot involved me running and jumping as I let the shot go.

I’d like to think that I was not avoiding the two sports, but a part of me was doing exactly that. For one, I never really looked at them as sports. I was a busy athlete growing up, but not a great one.

I tried every sport possible, but shooting and archery seemed more like hobbies to me.. I correlated shooting with hunting, which is perhaps what kept me away.

Nevertheless, I took a trip to the MSU Demmer Center where the MSU archery and shooting teams practice and train. My plan was to go in, shoot a couple arrows, hit a few bulls-eyes, empty a clip on a Glock and get out before I caused any bodily harm.

Yes, I am now aware how naïve that sounds. However, I used to look at shooting sports from a safe distance and thought of it as a novelty act.

That novelty disappeared within two minutes in the Demmer Center. I was greeted by a liability waiver that made me pause and wonder if this whole journalism thing was worth it.

I trudged on, and began my introductory course with some archery training. I went on a Tuesday afternoon, so the indoor archery range was fairly sparse with just three other people training. Carl Henske was in charge of the range that day and to my profound astonishment, he did not let me start shooting right away.

First, Henske taught me how to set my feet, how to properly hold the bow and to draw back, plus all of the Demmer Center’s safety protocols. I humored him, all the while waiting to prove to him that I had enough hand-eye coordination to hit a bulls-eye.

Finally, it was my time to shine. I was handed four arrows and told to hit a target that stood just nine meters away. I set my feet exactly the way I was told not to, gripped the bow too tight, and missed the target altogether.

Throughout the next hour, Henske graciously re-taught me everything he had already told me.

By the end, I was shooting from 18 meters and actually managed to hit two bulls-eyes.

There were two big takeaways from my time on the archery range. First, it is much harder and much more taxing than I originally thought. Second, it is very addicting. I got so enveloped in figuring out how to hit the target that the hour-and-a-half I spent on the range felt like 20 minutes.

After Henske gave me some final words of encouragement, it was off to the gun range.

Following an introduction to pistol class that primarily focused on safety, Matt Heffelfinger guided me into the range. He is a recent MSU graduate who was an All-American on the MSU archery team, but now helps teach pistol and rifle training courses.

He walked me through how to properly pick the gun up, load the clip, line up the sights, shoot, release the clip, and safely set the gun down. Then, it was time to take my first shot ever with a firearm.

I started out shooting a target five meters away, which seems simple enough. I am here to tell you that it is not. Clammy palms and a stiff trigger finger did me in.

With more help from Heffelfinger, and a heartbeat that was finally lowering, I began to get closer to the target with each round of shots. After 30 shots from five meters out, I decided to move the target to 10 meters and then 15.

What surprised me the most about my experience with both archery and shooting was how calm and steadiness it requires. Simply put, I could not do it. I hit the target a few times by happenstance, but that was only a product of me accidentally pulling the trigger at the right time as my sight line dodged and weaved from side to side. 

When I finally felt satisfied enough with my performance, I made my way out to the lobby to say my thank you’s and good-byes. Jim Stewart, MSU shooting coach, was waiting for me in the lobby.

“So, looks like you made it out alive,” Stewart said, jokingly.

I began chatting with Stewart just as Glen Bennett, MSU archery coach, came up and joined the conversation. We sat there for 20 minutes or so talking about everything from shooting sports to family.

When I finally walked out of Demmer Center, some three hours after I arrived, a few things really stuck out. Most importantly, it was apparent that safety is the biggest priority at the facility. Almost as important, the people who work there are truly gracious with their time and want you to learn while having fun.

The employees at Demmer Center make it easy to learn. Shooting stuff makes it easy to have fun.