Zen and the art of riflery

Bonding over bullets

Posted 7/10/19

It is a zen ritual of sorts as Robert Monica loads a .308 caliber cartridge into his Howa rifle, closes the sliding bolt, peers through his scope at the target 100 yards away and gently squeezes the trigger.

“You’ve got to calm down and forget everything,” he said. “You can’t be thinking about anything else.”

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Zen and the art of riflery

Bonding over bullets


It is a zen ritual of sorts as Robert Monica loads a .308 caliber cartridge into his Howa rifle, closes the sliding bolt, peers through his scope at the target 100 yards away and gently squeezes the trigger.

“You’ve got to calm down and forget everything,” he said. “You can’t be thinking about anything else.”

That kind of marksmanship is what introduced Zen ideas to the West, when a German scholar’s 1948 book “Zen in the Art of Archery” described a traditional Japanese approach to archery and introduced the idea now known as muscle memory.

Monica, in his 80s, has been shooting at the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association range off and on for the past couple of decades. He said squeezing off each shot clears his mind.

The point is not to loose a fusillade, but to fire a few rounds one at a time with a pause for introspection between shoots.

“I am not into the high-speed stuff,” Monica said.

The time expended also allows the barrel to cool off, which makes the rifle more precise, said John Minor, Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association Treasurer, during a tour of the range at 112 Gun Club Road in Port Townsend.

“You can’t just keep going. The barrel gets warm and they don’t shoot the same. It would be inaccurate.”

That is because a warm barrel tends to bend, Minor said.

Different marksmen have different definitions of accuracy.

“If the bullet holes are not all touching, you are not having a good day,” Minor said.

Monica does not subscribe to that philosophy.

“I don’t care if mine touch,” he said. “I just like sending them down there when I do shoot.”

That is why Monica prefers a .308 caliber bullet.

“The smaller calibers are more accurate, but I am a traditionalist,” he said.

Sending rounds downrange in a safe and controlled environment is highly enjoyable for Steve Blazina, a member of the club.

“The most enjoyable element is the actual shooting,” Blazina said. “That is what we are here for, the practice of the sport. The skill of whatever you are doing, whether it is long-range rifle shooting or rapid shooting of steel plates. It is all practical shooting.”

A family sport

Blazina is passing along his love for the sport to his grandson, Rider, 11, who goes with his grandfather a few times a week to the range to shoot a .22 caliber rifle and other firearms.

“The AR-15 (a military-style rifle) had the most kick and is definitely the most fun,” Rider said through an ear-to-ear smile.

Rider’s favorite part of the sport is the sounds the guns and targets make.

“You get to make things go bang,” he said.

But, Rider has also been drilled by his grandpa and clubmembers about how to be responsible with a firearm.

“Safety rules are rigidly followed and people are grateful and appreciative of any help they can receive to make sure that occurs,” Blazina said. “Here it is totally controlled. Bullets go in one direction, into the berm.“

Blazina said it has been wonderful to bond with his grandson over the sport.

“It is something we can easily do together. I am past the age where I can go play football with him.

“I certainly can’t swim as fast or run as fast as he can. This is a sport I can take at my speed and he can take at his speed and we can have equally the same amount of fun.”

Rider said he is not yet as good of a shot as his gramps, although he is gaining ground.

“We shoot pretty close to the same,” Rider said. “But, I shoot with an optic. I started using a pistol after Christmas with iron sights. That was a pain. Then I got used to it. Now I am back to the rifle with the optic.”

Betty Wynstra, who has been a member of the club for the past two years, often arrives with her daughter Michaela Steiner, 11.

“It is nice learning new things and having fun,” Steiner said, adding she is also interested in firearm safety protocols and how she and her mom can protect themselves.

Wynstra is a domestic abuse survivor, and finds a sense of protection in being proficient with firearms. She intends to pass along that knowledge to her daughter.

“You want to be able to protect yourself and not be put in positions like that, so knowing how to properly use it and be safe is important,” Wynstra said. “It gives you a little extra confidence.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of fun too, Wynstra said.

“The more you practice the better you are at anything. It is fun to tease each other when you might miss a shot or two. It is nice to see how you progress as you go and how much better you get.”

Comparing proficiency against the self, and not others, is the only way to go, said Minor.

“You can only shoot against yourself.”

Still, there are plenty of mentors to help a person new to the sport improve, Wynstra said.

“It is a good place to shoot, to learn for me and my daughter,” Wynstra said. “They are very welcoming and helpful and knowledgeable.”

It does not matter that Wynstra and Michaela are female in what could be considered a masculine sport.

“I started shooting when I was seven,” Wynstra said. ”I grew up fishing. It was all stuff I was used to, but it has been nice coming here because the guys have really taken me and my daughter under their wing. They have been really helpful. We want to learn, they want to teach us. That has been great.”

Wynstra said the first group she shot with at the club consisted mostly of women.

“There were 32 people, and 29 of them were women. Several of them joined because they didn’t feel discriminated against.”

A steady shot

Jim Dolan, a club member for the past three years, shoots regularly at the range to retain his proficiency.

“I enjoy the sport,” he said. “It is a very safe sport. It is a very needed sport. It also gives me protection and self defense.”

Dolan owns and regularly practices with a Glock 17 Luger pistol and a Springfield XDS, handguns which are both chambered for 9 mm rounds.

He expends about 200 rounds per session, he said, and aims to sharpen his hand-eye coordination.

“These ranges are very important because safety in shooting has a lot to do with muscle memory and practice,” Dolan said. “Once you get out of practice, the memory goes and you have a problem.”


It isn’t just the sport itself that draws folks to the range, but the camaraderie they find with fellow members, Minor said.

“To my disappointment, I don’t shoot hardly at all anymore. In order to enjoy being here, I don’t have to shoot. I enjoy shooting, but I enjoy visiting people and being here and doing things, too.”

Minor often volunteers his time at the range.

“I sit in the gatehouse here at least two days a week and sometimes more. I enjoy being here and visiting with the guys because anyone who comes and shoots for sport, they are nice people and are easy to get along with and a joy to be around.”

There are currently about 500 members in the club, Minor said.

For more information about the club, visit jeffersoncountysportsmen.org.


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