Iron Sights shooting Range

John Hanacek / Guardian

A mere 25 minutes away from campus lies an NRA-lover’s wet dream, sitting inconspicuously off Highway 76 toward Oceanside. The Iron Sights Shooting Range offers a laid-back atmosphere and chance to spend an afternoon engaging in one of America’s favorite hardcore pastimes: shooting big-ass guns at things and feeling like a baller for as cheap as $12, if you have your own guns and ammunition.

As a newbie to the world of weaponry, I took a few friends for moral support when I visited the range, but the guys behind the counter quickly put us at ease by relentlessly cracking jokes. Still, they clearly knew their shit. After noticing that I was documenting the experience with iPhone pictures, an employee named Larry told me to put the phone away until we got into the shooting lanes and warned me that he wouldn’t hesitate to fight a woman who tried to “case his joint.”

Before I could summon up the cop-action movie references necessary to figure out what the hell he was talking about, I was asked to select my weapon of choice from the endless rows of seemingly identical guns. I arbitrarily picked the 9mm X-Five Competition, thinking that it looked basic yet BAMF enough, while my friend went with a menacing shotgun, the Remington 870.

As someone who’s never held a gun before in my life, the informality of the process was slightly unsettling. After filling out a short questionnaire in which I confirmed that I had never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, had never been diagnosed with a mental illness and wasn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol (because hey, it’s not alcoholism until you graduate), I suddenly found myself standing in a room full of people, a live and fully loaded weapon surreally resting in my sweaty palm.

We ditched the generic targets circle-shaped targets, opting instead for posters depicting a cartoonish zombie and a blown-up photograph of “Wifebeater Chuck”  — a sneering, mullet-sporting thug pointing his glock straight for your face and wearing (you guessed it) a wifebeater.

“Hold the gun like this with your right hand,” Larry demonstrated, calmly. “Then wrap your left hand around it like this. Don’t do it like this, or else you’ll blow your thumb off.”

Next thing I knew, I had my protective head and eye gear on and was headed straight for the 24-lane indoor shooting range. We were assigned to lane six, hung up our target and loaded our guns. Larry handed over our ammunition — 125 bullets total between the three of us. Time to shoot some bitches.

Before coming to the range I had envisioned being barely able to restrain myself from running around in circles, recklessly shooting into the air and screaming “Yippiekayay, motherfuckers!” at the top of my lungs, but now that I actually had the cold steel in my hands, all I wanted to do was make it out of the building with both my thumbs intact. Yet, after unloading the first round of bullets on my 9mm — and having a fair amount actually impale Wifebeater Chuck — I relaxed a little and started enjoying myself.

Then came the fun part — time to shoot the rifle. Word to the wise: Shooting rifles is fun, but for the love of God, lean into the damn thing and place all your weight against it before you pull the trigger, or the gun will shoot back into your shoulder and leave you bruised for days. Despite the pain, I’d say spraying the targets with enough bullets to take down a whole army of zombies was the highlight of the experience.

As my adventure came to a close and I walked back out to the shop and removed my headphones, Larry glanced up at my poker-red ears.

“The police say that’s the sign of a true methhead. … So next time you score [some meth], come on over here and we’ll have some real fun.”

Though the whole experience turned out to be pricier than expected — $86 to rent guns, ammunition and shooting time for three people — it was a pretty badass and exciting way to spend a weekend afternoon, and something tells me that I’ll be back for more.