Mr. Adventure: Having a Blast
Killer instincts run wild—and true—with an AK-47 in hand.
Proshchay, moy malen’kiy bumazhnyy drug.*
I was handed the loaded AK-47 by a man I had met only hours before. It was the first time I’d ever touched a Kalashnikov. Black, cold and utilitarian, like a can of olives well past its expiration date, it’s built to convey your point succinctly. I unlocked the rudimentary safety above the trigger and felt the weight of the weapon as I surveyed the landscape before me. Time was running short and I was going to need to prove I was worthy of being here; that I was the right man to take this shot.
But it was so frigid—I could barely feel my fingers. One look at my iPhone revealed it was a mind-numbing 61 degrees. My God. And by now a crowd had gathered. No doubt word had spread through the compound that a visitor was displaying marksmanship skills not seen since Buffalo Bill ventilated a nickel from 100 paces on horseback. I could hear them use words such as “savant” and “stunning” and “journalist.” You’d think they’d be used to this kind of stuff. Altair Training Solutions specializes in things such as tactical firearms training for the military and government as well as SWAT and law enforcement agencies. They have courses in everything from introductory pistol usage to high threat protection, where you learn things like how to bail out of a motorcade under fire. (Hey, stuff happens—might as well be prepared.)
Altair is housed in two former prisons: one in Collier County, another in Hendry County (the latter seems redundant). Why we have such things as empty prisons with a Republican governor I’ll never know, but luckily each location is so far from anything that it is perfectly acceptable to fire guns of all calibers constantly without fear of bothering the neighbors. Of course, who is going to complain to a group of heavily armed people?
To get to the Collier County location you need to take I-75 to exit 80 and then drive south along Route 29—a road that warns you panthers may cross at any time. The town is called Deep Lake, thanks to a natural sinkhole. I think you’ll agree that when a sinkhole is your town’s most distinctive feature, the best course of action is to open a maximum security prison that would become known as “Alcatraz of the Everglades.” A prisoner housed at the camp was shot dead for trying to slip away from his work gang.
This particular Altair location is the smaller of the two and still has a few prison cells in their original condition, but most have been renovated into fairly Spartan rooms for overnight guests taking some of the business’ many classes in awesomeness. They even plan to build a pool to give the place more of a resort vibe. Some of Altair’s multi-day courses feature barbecues and live music for attendees. It seems times sure have changed in the middle of nowhere.
But it turns out I was just as capable of picking off a running convict as the guards who used to watch this place back in the day. Right-handed. Left-handed. Two-handed. It doesn’t matter. I’m an ambidextrous killer capable of assassinating targets near and far (FYI, near is easier). And by “targets” I mean things made of paper, wood or metal.
After an hour or so of gun safety theory in what may have been the prison’s former mess hall, Assistant General Manager Jim Conklin (who owns what may very well be the only Mercedes-Benz baseball cap to come in camouflage) was kind enough to give me a sampler platter of what Altair does and fully expected to be dealing with someone who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from inside said barn. But as soon as he handed me one of his several Salient Glock 17 pistols, a light went on inside of me. It seemed plausible that in another life I was a gunslinger. (Feel free to Google “The Ballad of Irving.”)
But before we could shoot, I discovered I was missing an essential part of firearm fashion: a belt. Turns out if you’re shooting pistols you should have a holster. And if you don’t have a belt, your holster just ain’t gonna look right. Luckily, a spare belt was found and my initiation into what can only be characterized as “secret agent, first-class” could continue.
Just as in the movies, Jim had me shooting, popping spent magazines and reloading in a matter of seconds. Targets were taking a beating and I was considering changing my profession from adventurer to trick-shot artist. That is to say until Jim moved us from the big metal targets that went “clink!” when you hit them to the small bowling pin-sized metal targets that made a sound I can’t share with you because I never hit them. Not once. I shot upward of 200 bullets at those little targets and didn’t even scratch the paint. Jim knocked them off like they were connected to his trigger finger. It was disheartening.
But he could sense the skillset within me. He knew that all we needed was a lunch break from Subway and my killer instincts would kick back in. Although, Jim is quick to point out that their training is not to kill someone, but rather to stop them. There’s a difference. They probably taught that on day two.
We moved from Altair’s side yard target area to the back, where tables were lined up in front of paper targets and rifles (AR-15s and AK-47s) and shotguns (12 gauge Bennelli M4s) were laid out like a Charlton Heston wet dream. And like Moses taking a different approach to Pharaoh, Mr. Adventure found his stride with the AK-47.
According to Wikipedia (the go-to source for militia-related information), AK-47s are the weapons of choice for Soviet military types and banana republics across the globe (old navys still prefer M-16s). Recent reports note that the price of AK-47s are at an all-time low and that in Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Congo and Tanzania prices are a reasonable $30 to $125 per rifle. In fact, the black market is so saturated that prices continue to plummet. Back in 1986 an AK-47 would cost you 15 cows in Kenya. By 2005 that price had dropped to four cows. Today the prices are even less—people caught on that once you handed over your cows and were given the gun you could just shoot the guy with your cows and take them back. Altair offers a course where you can build your own AK-47 and then take it home for approximately $2,000. Naples pricing, you know.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, discovering I may have been secretly trained by the Soviets in a past life. (It’s funny how the mind wanders.)
“Aim for the center of the chest,” Jim said. “Check your stance.”
It turns out you want to sit low in your stance. Not quite a squat, not quite a stand, it seems proper marksmanship starts with the perception of gastrointestinal discomfort.
“Now just pull the trigger,” Jim said.
BOOM! The paper target exploded into a thousand pieces of confetti, thanks to a small charge hidden behind the target’s heart.
“Damn! First try! Try the next!”
“Damn! Two in a row?!?!?!? … And you didn’t even flinch at those explosions. You … You didn’t even flinch. Huh. That’s, umm, that’s odd,” Jim said. “Why didn’t you flinch?”
I just handed the rifle back to him. “I’m afraid it’s time for me to go.”
*In case you’re wondering, that means “Farewell, my little paper friend” in Russian.