Mile Marker 17
‘Unregulated shooting range’ brings arousal to the loins of many a purebred Montanan. Mile Marker 17 is located to the north of Billings on the two-lane highway to Roundup. A left turn on to a dirt road leads to a plateau standing proud and lonely above the Great Plains and underneath the vast expanse of blue we call the Big Sky. The public lands outside the cities and towns of Montana remain for the most part untouched and untainted by development. Mile Marker 17 is reserved for every redneck with a gun, a dog, and a lot of booze.
As the dirt road approaches the base of the plateau, gunshots, laughter, and gunpowder fill the stale afternoon air. Every couple hundred feet resides a personal parking area and section of plateau to obliterate, mutilate, and desecrate. Shotgun shells of the rainbow litter the ground. Animal cutouts, and slabs of wood with targets attached are strategically placed along the inclines a few hundred feet up by the more skilled and steady of hand. Along the flat land lie remnants of glass bottles, shards of aluminum cans, and a variety of undistinguishable debris blown up for no other reason than the pure gratification of seeing something destroyed.
I shot a gun for the first time in this wasteland at the tender age of eighteen. The sun beat down with intensity that day. Ben and I pulled up to an empty spot, sunglasses on, cigarettes in hand, ready to shoot anything that looked at us wrong. He unzipped the .12-gauge shotgun from its carrier and grabbed the ammo from the car. I felt powerful with it in my hands. The metallic beauty shone in the sunlight. It commanded my attention, and tempted me with its slender figure. It invited me to caress it, and I embraced its destructive power. I wanted to control that power. I wanted to be that power. I wanted to destroy.
A 2-3/4” birdshot shotgun shell sits in the metallic chamber of the .12-gauge shotgun, ready for flight. I pull the trigger and a firing pin strikes the back of the cartridge at a point called the primer. Gunpowder is ignited sparking a small explosion that changes the air pressure of the barrel sending the wad (a piece of plastic that holds the projectiles and separates them from the gun powder inside the cartridge) charging down the cylinder like a tiny, guided missile. Once free from the confines of the barrel, the wad breaks into several pieces sending 103 steel pellets hurtling toward the objective; the diameter of their hit radius widening as they fly through the air until finally they hit their mark, causing an explosion that sprays thousands of pieces of aluminum can every direction as though a firecracker was detonated from within. I pump the shotgun and an empty, smoking casing is thrown out of the ejection port on the side. It lies on the ground; only an afterthought while the next cartridge is pushed into the chamber waiting for its turn to destroy, and devastate.
This was manhood.