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Viewpoint: ‘The line is hot’ on the gun range

Cottage Grove police officer Matt Foucault (right) and investigator Shawn Ebeling describe the .223 caliber DPMS rifle during week seven of the Public Safety Department's Citizens Academy. The class took place at the department's gun range in Denmark Township. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)2 / 4
Over-the-should look while shooting the .223 caliber DPMS rifle during week seven of Citizens Academy. (Photo courtesy of Matt Foucault)3 / 4
For a gun novice — and first-time shooter — handing the police-issued .40 caliber Glock 23 went surprisingly well. 4 / 4

Seven yards, 15 rounds, one target.

The police-issued .40 caliber Glock 23 carried some solid weight, but it wasn’t enough to unsteady my aim. I gripped the handle and pointed down range at the rounded ‘A’ section of my target. This was the first time I have held a loaded weapon.

“Ears on, the line is hot,” Cottage Grove police officer and longtime firearms instructor Matt Foucault shouted. “Fire at will.”

Week seven of the Cottage Grove Public Safety Department’s Citizens Academy got us out of the classroom and into the gun range in Denmark Township.

An incredibly loud crack lurched from the barrel of the gun, the recoil jolted my wrists backward. And faster than the smell of gunpowder could hit my nose, the bullet hit my target and slammed into the dirt berm behind it. Just shy of the ‘A’ I fired again — and again and again. Each time within the ‘A’ section.

It was the night I was most looking forward to, but it was also a realm of police work that I had the least experience with.

For many years, I have been quite apprehensive about firearms. I did not grow up in a family of hunters and there was never any real cause for me to shoot a gun, let alone have one. Even with two brothers, one of whom is in law enforcement, urging me to “just try shooting a gun,” I still had some nerves.

Prior to Citizens Academy, the only real interaction I’ve had with a firearm is an old, rusted BB gun that I would shoot pop cans with at our family cabin when I was a kid. Needless to say, my gun status was less than novice. But that did not deter Sgt. Andrea Lindeen from helping me find my stride.

Officers attend regular gun training exercises throughout their career to keep their skills polished. While we were stationary, they undergo timed examinations often involving quick, tactical movements and long range shooting. To pass, 80 percent of the officer’s bullets must be within the ‘A’ section, which on targets, and the human body, simulate the stomach, chest and head regions. They have mere seconds to shoot while I took a couple of minutes.

Slightly dazed from the snappy recoil, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Not only did I just shoot a gun but I shot it fairly well.

Amping up the weaponry with a .223 caliber DPMS rifle, I stepped up to a new target. Equipped with a holographic sight, or a red dot that provides a more accurate aim, the rifle was significantly heavier than the Glock. Staring down that ‘A’ section again, I pulled the trigger. Even with ear protection in, the pop from the fired gun was much louder than the Glock and caused a little bit of disorientation. However, the nearly nonexistent recoil evened out the experience. Getting used to the sound, my trigger finger sped up and I blasted through the rifle’s magazine. My aim wasn’t as accurate as with the Glock, but I blame that on the fact that I was using both the point at the end of the gun and the holographic sight when aiming. Lindeen said relying on just the holographic sight would provide more accuracy. I could have done another turn using the rife. The passive recoil and quick shot made for a great shooting experience.

Lastly, Foucault brought out a Mossberg shotgun loaded with less-than-lethal bean bag rounds. About 25 yards down range sat a beat up plastic waste bin used for long range shooting, and holding spent shell casings. Without enough rounds to let everyone try the shotgun, five of us lined up. One after the other, the bean bags hit the bin with a hollow thud. All four shooters before me hit the target, and not wanting to be the weak link I made sure my aim was dead on. I give credit to the previous experience with the Glock and rifle for helping me hit the bin. Five for five.

While I might not be asking for a gun for Christmas quite yet, I am definitely more open to visiting a gun range again.

Nearing the end of the eight-week Citizens Academy, I have successfully completed two of the three big courses that gave me the most heart palpitations: getting attacked by the K-9 and shooting a gun. All that’s left to do is endure the Taser, a pain I am certainly not looking forward to but something I have firmly decided I will do on the academy’s final night Sept. 3.

Reporter Emily Buss is participating in the eight-week Citizens Academy, hosted by the Cottage Grove Public Safety Department. Follow her reports weekly in the Bulletin.

Video: Cottage Grove police officer Matt Foucault spots as officer Brian Franck demonstrates how to fire a police-issued .223 caliber DPMS rifle.