I woke up with my sides hurting and a little groggy from the late night. Today we are heading into Texas - initially we were planning to head to Dallas, but following the advice we got last night we're going to detour to go to Dallas' sister city, Fort Worth. It's a little further over, but we've been given a few places to go so it's got to be worth a try.
Dallas is one of the few places on the trip where we have a specific objective - whilst in the Lonestar state, we want to shoot a gun. Now I know that this will be divisive amongst my European readership, but it's something we'll never get to do outside of the US (in a relatively legal and regulated manner at least). After a bit of research, we walked into the DFW Gun Range in the centre of Dallas.
It was absolutely booming, both figuratively and literally. Walking alongside the building, you can hear the pop of gunfire pushing out of the walls and when we walked in the reception desk was swamped. Waiting times to get on the range were upwards of two hours but we decided to hand around all the same - the people were friendly and they had guns in large supply, so it seemed to meet our criteria. I'm going to write separately about my reaction to the American attitude to firearms, but needless to say that seeing walls lined with handguns and assault rifles will never cease to be unusual, and a little intimidating, to somebody from the UK.
What's even more unusual is how easy the whole process is. Two foreign guys, neither of whom have ever fired a handgun before, walk into a range and, having submitted their passports and informed the staff of their ignorance, are told that they will have to take a 'new shooters' class but not to worry because it's only about twenty minutes long. The two guys are ushered into a small, windowless room, and laid on the tables are three handguns, some fake bullets and a magazine. A young, but large, man stands next to a lectern. He's dressed in a t-shirt and combat fatigue trousers and has a confident and official air. He informs the guys that they're in the presence of a ex-Marine who went on to train other marines in weapon handling and is a Master Instructor with the National Rifle Association. He efficiently explains the basics of the handguns in front of the guys, including safety rules and generally handling. The guys practice loading the magazine with the fake bullets, inserting the magazine into the pistol, and loading the gun to make it ready to fire. The guys are then instructed in firing stance, both combat and isosceles (the Olympic style), and after twenty short minutes are told they're ready to go on range. With a gun. And live ammunition. After paying their $80, they are handed a real handgun, with fifty rounds of 9mm ammunition, and are given a slot on range.
That's it. We walked on range with our ear and eye guards in place and accompanied by our instructor. I hang up my target, the classic silhouetted man, send it out to five yards and after some brief pointers from our instructor, I made the weapon ready to fire and aimed at the target. The first shot makes me jump, close my eyes and adrenaline course through my body. When I opened my eyes again, the target showed a neat hole right in the middle of the target's centre mass. It's one the most visceral experiences I've ever had. As we shot our fifty bullets, we saw (and heard) people shooting rifles, assault weapons and shotguns that sounded like cannons. We'd blazed through our ammo in fifteen minutes, collected our targets and walked out into a cool Texan afternoon. I think we were both a little dumbfounded (or perhaps shell-shocked is a more appropriate term) as we drove on to Fort Worth. There'll be more on this later.
We arrived in the Stock Yards (known locally as Cow Town) in Fort Worth around 7PM - this is cowboy central, and a little bit 'theme-parky', but we immediately booked tickets for the rodeo and went to have a steak in a lovely little family run restaurant. People here are really polite and welcoming, noticeably so, and the food was great.
The rodeo itself was a really interesting experience. Held in a huge shed, which was incredibly warm, we saw bronco riders, calf roping (which involves a cowboy on a horse chasing a calf across the arena at full speed, roping the calf, turning it over, binding at least three of his feet, and returning to his horse - the winning time was about 11 seconds), team roping, barrel racing and bull-riding. The degree of skill and, frankly, bravery on display was impressive and we stayed right until the end.
After the excesses of the past couple of nights, we're heading back to the hotel to rest up before heading north into Oklahoma. Laters pard'ners...