The year was 2001. I was in my fourth year of medical school, and my family could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. My boys were 5 and 9, and we were as broke as skunks. The previous three years in medical school, combined with eight before that as a U.S. Army officer, had made me an absentee dad. It was time to remedy that with a pilgrimage to the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot near West Point, Ky.
Off to the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot
The “Man-Mobile,” as I called it, was a tiny two-door Toyota pickup truck. Its single bench seat was just big enough for me and my boys, and we chained a big Action Packer in the back for our gear. The children had painted over the “To” on the tailgate and replaced it with a likeness of the little green Jedi master from Star Wars. People approaching us from the rear would read “Yota” and know at a glance the measure of the manly men within.
In addition to the obligatory socks, pajamas, fresh T-shirts and deodorant the fairer members of the family insisted we pack, we devoted much of our limited cab space to a 5-gallon pickle bucket topped with junk food. We each bought new sunglasses for the trip, with my boys sporting the Spiderman web logo on the lenses. Before it was done, that little truck was awash to its gunwales in unfiltered testosterone.
A Roundabout Route To Valhalla
This was before ubiquitous cell phones and GPS receivers, and besides, we were dirt poor. We navigated using paper maps read by my 9-year-old. The route took us through Huntsville, Ala., and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, because rockets were cool. When we got a bit farther north, we hit the National Corvette Museum, because sports cars are even cooler than rockets. When we made it all the way to Fort Knox, we took in the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, because the only things cooler than rockets and sports cars are tanks. Along the way, we knocked out Mammoth Cave, because a threesome as manly as we were would clearly show no fear of bats or suffocating subterranean darkness.
The Knob Creek experience is Disney World for gun nerds. You park about half a continent away and hear the Knob Creek Gun Range long before you see it. It seems to rain perpetually in that area, and the wind had a bite. But remember a bit of Ranger lore: Human beings are waterproof, and personal comfort is a state of mind. American males are attracted to machine guns like moths to a flame, and inclement weather wouldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. The first sign we spied when we got to the range read “Flamethrower Rentals.” It could have been -40 degrees, but after that, we would not have noticed the chill.
To the left of the range were stacks of derelict water heaters, condemned cars, various bits of quirky detritus somebody thought might be fun to obliterate with extreme violence and, oddly, a nice-sized boat. Each was destined to have explosives packed into its entrails and be dragged with pomp onto the range for summary execution. I would defy the most delicate gun-hating liberal on either coast to not at least chuckle at the sight of an old water heater launching into low-earth orbit after being detonated by a long burst from a minigun. We laughed until our faces hurt.
The place was crowded with gun-loving men and women of all walks. That means they’re folks you would trust to borrow your pickup truck or keep an eye on your children. There was enough ordnance in attendance to dislodge ISIS from Syria, but everyone was courteous, friendly and respectful. No matter our backgrounds, committed gun nerds typically make good neighbors, and such attributes were on display at the Knob Creek Gun Range in abundance.
The Finer Details
The pole barn was, as the name implies, an open-walled stable on steroids populated by 900 tables filled to the gills with gun-guy nirvana. Ammo, parts kits and general gun goods were stacked high, and the prices were competitive. We struck deals, discovered treasures and made friendships.
“Hands-on pursuits” is a substantial part of the range. Competitions involving submachine guns, assault rifles and old bolt-action military weapons made for proper spectating. There were quirky contests adequate to challenge Rube Goldberg and machine gun rentals in abundance. Many neophytes received their introductions to the fabled 30-round grin.
The main range is where most of the action occurs, and somebody pretty much has to die for a slot to come open. Those doing the trigger pulling on the main firing line are the top dogs in the machine-gun-collecting world. However, the public can push close enough to see the weapons in action, and the diversity of ordnance was impressive. There were submachine guns aplenty, but belt-feds ruled the day. The noise? Staggering. And the action only got better as day turned to night and tracers lit up the surrounding darkness.
Spoils of Conquest
We naturally needed souvenirs of our journey. The boys each picked out a cheap Chinese pellet gun. I bought a British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank). It’s a monstrous spigot mortar that represented state-of-the-art anti- armor technology in 1943. At its heart, it’s a leviathan piece of pipe with a big spring inside, so it was cash and carry.
We humped the several thousand miles back to the truck in the dark and, exhausted but happy, put Knob Creek to our stern. We stayed in the cheapest hotels we could find on the way home, but as we were manly men armed with a Sig pistol, a brace of pellet guns and a British anti-tank weapon, we had little to fear. When we finally approached the homestead, the pickle bucket was about empty, and we were glad to reacquaint ourselves with Mom and baby sister.
I’m told the flamethrower rentals are no more, victims of political correctness and lawyers. However, the Knob Creek folks still hold the shoot twice a year, in spring and fall. There’s something to be said for the likes of baseball, fishing and Boy Scouts. Each has its station, as might primal grunting and NASCAR. However, for pure familial father-child fellowship, nothing can compare to a tiny little pickup, a bucketload of junk food and a couple of acres of machine guns. Such experiences make memories without equal.
This article is from the summer 2017 issue of Ballistic Magazine. To subscribe, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.