SHERWOOD, Ore. - If you would have told me a year ago that I'd be pulling the trigger on an AR-15 rifle, I would have laughed right in your face.
"You must have me confused with someone else," I would have said. "You see, I'm absolutely terrified of guns and if I go my entire life without touching one, that will be just fine with me."
I don't know where my innate fear of guns comes from. My brother and his wife are avid hunters, my dad hunted when he was younger, my 85-year-old grandmother was raised with guns (she still owns several of them I recently learned) and my husband was in artillery in the Oregon National Guard.
So you'd think I would be quite used to guns by now. But show me a firearm and my heart starts racing, my palms get sweaty and I feel like running far, far away. They just plain scare me.
So you can imagine my trepidation when my boss came to me a couple of weeks ago with an idea about sending me out to a gun club to learn how to shoot (courtesy of a special media invitation from gunsmith/author Dennis B. Collins and gunsmith Erik Dyal, the founder of Trinity Arms in Newberg, Ore.).
Deep down, I really did not want to do this thing but when your boss gets excited about something, it can be very hard to say 'no.' So I tucked my nervousness aside (heck, it was still a couple of weeks away) and sent in my RSVP.
I was hoping to be able to forget about it for a while but the next day, I received a call from Collins, who wanted to check in with me and make sure I knew all the particulars.
I didn't even bother to pretend to be cool about the whole thing and explained that I was pretty darn scared. "I really am terrified of guns," I told him.
Collins assured me everything would be fine - we were going to be in a very safe, controlled environment (the Tri-County Gun Club in Sherwood, Ore.) and I would be in the company of folks with years of experience handling firearms.
I felt a little better after our conversation, so I put the date on my calendar and tried my best not to worry.
When the day came, I found myself very nervous, but ready. This was an opportunity for me to conquer my fear and I was determined to make the best of it. I would watch ... listen ... learn ... and shoot.
The rifles were provided by Dennis Collins and Erik Dyal. One was a regular AR-15 and the other was a custom AR-15 they built using parts supplied by Charles Daly, Inc.
I stood far away while Collins and Dyal set up the rifles at the range. The AR-15s weren't even loaded yet and I was already starting to feel a little queasy.
Thankfully, it took a little bit to get everything going, which gave me time to calm down. But once I was handed a set of ear plugs, I realized there was no backing out.
Collins fired the first shot and I jumped, of course. I knew I would and that didn't surprise me. What did surprise me is the vibration that went from the ground to my feet and on up my legs. I had no idea that the rifle would be powerful enough to shake the earth.
After a few more shots, I got used to the sensation - and the sound. One of my ear plugs kept falling out and I got a little more 'boom' than I wanted at times, but it was OK.
A couple of other folks, including a KATU photographer and reporter who showed up during their off time to participate, were there as well. Good thing, because I really did not want to go first. Instead, I stood back and watched everyone else take their turns.
Meanwhile, I was handed a box of bullets and a magazine and told to load it up. This proved challenging for me. You see, never once have I touched a bullet and never once have I touched a magazine. I didn't want to act too stupid about the whole thing, but I did have to have someone show me what to do. Thankfully, it wasn't that hard.
Once my magazine was loaded, I watched the others and waited. As each bullet was fired, I felt a little more of my fear wash away and by the time it was my turn, I felt I was ready.
Collins and Melissa Fern (both pictured with me below) showed me what to do - where to place the butt of the gun, where the safety was and how to hold my trigger finger (the idea being to keep it off the trigger until you are ready to shoot).
The instructions didn't take that long and before I knew it, I was sitting down on a stool with a rifle in my hand.
It was now or never, so I got myself situated, lined up the scope and then went ahead and fired off a shot before I had time to psyche myself out of the whole deal.
And to be honest... it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it was going to be. Here's how it looked from my photographer's perspective...
Finger on the trigger and just about to shoot
Me flinching and closing my eyes after firing the shot
Wow... I actually just shot a gun!
Ok... that wasn't so hard! Can I let go now?
After the first shot, I felt pretty comfortable and got very serious about the matter (note the 'OK, let's do this' look in the photo below).
The sight was off (not that I would know... but that's what everyone said) and I never once hit a target. But I could see my bullets hitting the dirt on the hill and that was good enough for me - validation that I was actually hitting something.
I ended up firing off nearly two magazines of bullets and by the time I was done I was actually feeling sort of cool - you know, that whole 'check me out - I just fired an AR-15' kind of cool.
Sure, I didn't really know what I was doing and I probably wasn't even holding the rifle the right way (I never could figure out where my left hand was supposed to go), but it felt good to do something that had terrified me all my life.
I conquered my fear.
So will I ever pick up a gun again? Probably not (it's really not my thing) but at least I won't be scared to even look at one anymore and, of course, now I'll be able to say I actually fired an AR-15 rifle. Wait until the family hears about this.
Shannon L. Cheesman is a Portland-area Web Producer/Reporter who specializes in the outdoors. She writes and reports for Fisher Interactive Network, which consists of 13 local news/information Web sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California.