The machine gun hobby is an expensive one but shooting an automatic is indescribably fun

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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There were probably at least two people who shouldn’t have been allowed to fire fully automatic weapons at the Knob Creek machine gun shoot. And we were standing before the menu board on the lower range, our eyes and smiles as wide as kids’ on Christmas day.

As a D.C. transplant from Arkansas, my firearms experience didn’t go much further than shooting freshly finished beer bottles with a .22 caliber rifle. I’d made friends with a young photographer, Bryan Tarnowski: a NYC transplant from North Carolina who had experience with a few handguns in a Manhattan shooting range. And not Manhattan, Kansas.

There were more than a dozen options to choose from. There was – among many, many others — the drum-fed STG 34k; the belt-fed Browning 1919; the magazine-fed AK-47. Not that I know what any of this means. But we were hungry to get fed regardless.

Tarnoswki looked at me with a strange half-eager trance and said in one dreamy breath,

“I’m getting the Tommy Gun.” I walk up to the counter and the man politely yelled over the pop of gunfire, “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SHOOT!”


This was like being told the topping options and then asking, “What’s a Pizza?” So I asked for a recommendation, which was a mistake.

“Do you want something smaller or bigger?”

Why the hell would I want something small? I retorted, with a little bit of spit, that I wanted a gun with some real power. He then rattled off a list of options that I couldn’t hear much less remember. I heard “AK-47” and shook my head. Too cliché.

I pointed to the really loud thing the man already on the line was firing. Tarnowski was asked if he wanted the drum-fed 1928 Tommy GTX or the magazine-fedM1A1 Tommy. With my ear plugs in I could have sworn he just yelled, “The Tommy Gun!”

We were quickly whisked to the firing line and both later recalled feeling our hearts begin to rat-ta-tat-tat out of our chests.  I pulled the trigger to my experimental 50-round Taz and was immediately cocooned in a sound bubble. The bastard was loud — really loud – but had hardly any kickback at all.

It’s not a good idea to yell with pure joy while on a packed firing line with men welding very dangerous tools. But it’s also impossible not to. It’s incredible to feel as if you possess and control everything that lies before you while being struck with the sensation that all that power is about to commit a violent crime against you.

I aimed for the truck about 100 yards away, and aimed for the boat across the way. I got pretty good at hitting dirt in the 2 minutes I shot.

Tarnoswki was next. He had similar luck but managed to finish his drum in half my time.  Then it was all over. We had dropped $100 total for three minutes of shooting. That’s about $1.11 for every second – by far the quickest it’s taken me to spend a Franklin.

NEXT: Shooting machine guns isn’t for weenies, or the impoverished

Shooting machine guns – or any gun for that matter — is an expensive hobby and isn’t one for those wanting to travel light. Shooting groups on the main range said they went through about 35,000 rounds each on average.

One group went through 16,000 .22 cal bullets, which come in bulk, cheap. $20.00 can get you 500 rounds. A thousand rounds of steel-cased .223’s are about $180. The 5-inch-long .50 cal’s cost between $3.25 and $4.00 each. The estimated cost of all this fun? Every shooting, he said with good humor, “thousands and thousands of dollars.”

If that wasn’t enough to deter someone from shooting machine guns on a regular basis, government regulations could do the trick. The main firing line was populated mostly with dealers firing their own weapons with a few private citizens toting their own collection.

A license for a Class 3 weapon (machine guns) is $500 dollars a year for dealers. Individuals have to have a $200 dollar tax on each gun. When machine gun enthusiasts from across the country take the haj to Knob Creek, they must submit their travel itinerary to the ATF.

But that still doesn’t deter the real enthusiasts. Dr. Allen Kirchner of Georiga takes the trip up to Kentucky every year with his wife. They collect antique, working machine guns.

Kirchner has been coming to the Knob Creek shoot for the past 15 years, named his dog after Sir Hiram Maxim, the inventor of the machine gun, and is a walking encyclopedia of firearms history.

For this medical doctor, the guns’ mechanical complexities are by far the most fascinating aspect of the hobby.

“You pretty much have to be a mechanical engineer to keep these old things running. You’re always making parts or modify, always making something work that’s not suppose to,” he said. “But it’s just like collecting any antique … we just happen to like the antique guns.”

There are about 10 spots on the main firing line and each spot during the shoot is reserved indefinitely for one individual or group.

Currently, the wait to get a spot on the line is about 35 years, with more than 300 individuals signed up to take the next available spot.  If you’re unsure or nervous about firearms, it might be worth it to head over to the local range. If you think machine guns might be your passion, head on down Knob Creek in April.

And of course you’ll have plenty of time to decide whether you want to pursue machine guns as a hobby. The Daily Caller is number 302 on the wait list.

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