I love shooting. I go shooting all the time. It's a great way to improve my skills, clear my mind, and relieve stress.
I have to say, though, the average range trip could be more fun.
Don't get me wrong, safe recreational shooting is always fun. Even shooting basic white paper targets at your average range is a very enjoyable experience. However, that's the most fun your average range has to offer.
You can, of course, up the fun factor through a friendly competition or shooting at a reactive, moving target like skeet. But Elm Fork Shooting Sports in Dallas, Texas, has an even better idea: a literal shooting gallery.
Sitting in a Wild-West-themed station on their extensive outdoor range is a rather colorful and bright blast from the past.
If TV shows and movies are to be believed, shooting galleries used to cover the American countryside with the various fairs and carnivals. But they must've fallen out of favor at some point because I've never seen a real one in real life before. The closest I've come is the imitation electronic shooting gallery I used to play at Knoebels Amusement Park when I was a kid and the nonfunctioning replica at the NRA museum.
After spending an afternoon plinking some targets with .22LR at the real one on Elm Fork's firing line, I have to say I think that's a shame because shooting galleries are a lot of fun. I don't know why they fell out of favor but they never should have. This is a great American tradition that's more than worth preserving.
Elm Fork's is particularly fun since it drives home the Old West atmosphere with the lever-action rifles they have available to rent. Trying out a lever action rifle on a shooting gallery is a great deal more fun than your average range outing, and it's something beginners and experienced shooters alike can enjoy.
The stationary racks of steel plates that line the outside of the mechanical contraption offer a relatively easy starting point. The little steel duck and owl cutouts that glide across the gallery's bottom row up the difficulty, and sense of accomplishment when defeated, a bit. The rabbits spinning around the circular targets in the middle of the old-time carnival centerpiece offer a real challenge. However, the most difficult and most enjoyable target is the off-center mini-gong inside those circular targets.
Hitting that mini-gong produces a delightful musical note—a satisfying crescendo for the symphony of gun shots, bullets cracking off of the steel targets, and mechanical clanking that make up the shooting gallery.
The best part about Elm Fork's gallery? Once you knock down all the targets there's a button you can push that automatically sets them all back up again so you can get right back to knocking them down. Every range in America should install one of these things. Bring back the shooting galleries!
In the meantime, if you find yourself in Dallas make sure you try out Elm Fork's.