A Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa program offers guests the chance to learn, up close and personal, about guns. Lots and lots of guns.
I was told there would be a Gatling gun.
The opportunity to crank and fire the Civil War-era precursor to the modern-day machine gun is what made me take Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa up on their offer of a press trip in the first place. The Colorado resort last year added an optional package called Evolution of the Weapon that offers the chance to experience using a variety of arms ranging from throwing knives and tomahawks to modern guns such as an AR-15. On the flight there, as our airplane began its descent toward the snowcaps and mesas dotting the arid brown high desert around the Grand Junction airport, I was already imagining myself behind the gun, blasting away at bull’s-eyes and kicking up dust in the landscape.
But there’s been a miscommunication, and the Gatling gun isn’t at the target range this day. Instructor Steve Dow has picked out an assortment of weapons he thought would make for the best experience and, incredibly, the Gatling gun isn’t among them.
Sensing my disappointment, he clears up my misconceived idea of the gun, which is based almost entirely on its appearance in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
“It’s not like everyone thinks, where it’s like a machine gun,” he assures me. “It’s more like, ‘Bang ... bang ... bang.’ ” Anyway, he goes on, it’s mainly for bigger groups. As it’s just my fiancée, me, and him out there (normally, the package requires a minimum of four guests at $125 each), we quickly forget about the missing gun and get busy with the firearms we do have.
We start with a Ruger Vaquero .357, a single-action revolver inspired by the Colt Single Action Army, “the Gun That Won the West.” As we fire away, he tells us about the other weapons available in the package: throwing knives and tomahawks, blackpowder rifles, and longbows. Learning to throw bladed weapons so they stick instead of clanging off the target takes so much practice that we could spend half the time doing that and retrieving our misses. Blackpowder guns are fun, but the process of loading them is laborious, and wouldn’t we rather spend our time pulling triggers instead of measuring gunpowder? As for bows and arrows, he recommends we just sign up for the archery session instead. I’m convinced: This assortment of guns allows us to maximize the amount of lead we send through (OK, and sometimes past) our targets.
Next up is the Henry Big Boy, a lever-action carbine that takes the same ammunition as the revolver (and offers a lesson in how much barrel length can improve accuracy).
Then, for some real precision firing, we try out the pinhole sights of an 1871 Sharps .45-70, the legendary buffalo gun. The massive gun, he tells us, is capable of hitting targets at 1,500 yards with open sights. (I, on the other hand, am not.) Our shot groupings get tighter and tighter as we move on to the scoped guns: the Springfield Armory M1A (the civilian version of the M14) with its bruising kick and the Savage Hog Hunter.
Our hands-down favorite, though, was the AR-15, an infinitely accessorizable semiautomatic rifle with which we hit targets almost at will.
As the day winds down, he tells us about the next toy — excuse me, gun — he wants the resort to buy: a Remington 2020, a “smart gun” with a digital scope that can lock on its target. It sounds like something from the future. But if I ever get to go back, I’m going to insist on revisiting the past — I will not leave without cranking up the Gatling gun.