Toombs Lewis had plenty of options Saturday at Fort Gordon’s remote Range 16 – and lots of ammo.
“This one is the M2-HB,” the retired Athens, Ga., banker said, stroking the receiver of his World War II-era .50- caliber machine gun.
Nearby were other classics: a rare M3 “grease gun,” a .45-caliber Thompson submachine gun and – perhaps his favorite – a World War I Vickers water-cooled machine gun, built in 1914.
“I’ve got others,” he said. “But you can’t bring along everything.”
Braving windblown rain, licensed machine gun collectors from as far away as Florida, Pennsylvania and Alabama came to Augusta for a blissfully ballistic day of noisy fun.
“We do this kind of special shoot twice a year,” said Fred Perry, Fort Gordon’s outdoor recreation manager. “And this is our 11th year.”
There aren’t many places where civilians with private collections of fully automatic machine guns can get together and safely fire all the ammunition they can afford.
During Saturday’s shoot, the closest targets were 800 meters away. Larger targets, including old Army tanks, were a mile down range.
“Shoot as far as you want,” a range master said at a safety briefing. “Just don’t exceed the horizon.”
First there was setup and fellowship. Then it was time.
“Gentlemen, the range is now hot,” a range master proclaimed, authorizing gunners to fire at will. “Send ’em!”
Among the shooters on the deafeningly noisy firing line was Oscar Bowman, an engineer who traveled from Florida to enjoy the rapid-fire performance of his tripod-mounted .50-caliber DShK, a Russian-made heavy machine gun.
“In this case, we can go out a couple thousand yards – and we get to shoot at tanks,” he said. “I can’t do that at home.”
Bowman’s fascination with automatic arms involves their mechanical intricacy. Other collectors, such as Lewis, are history buffs whose collections span a century of warfare.
Some shooters, such as Dennis Luckey, enjoy firing the newer models, such as the Barrett sniper rifle.
“I love them all,” he said. “But the Barrett is probably my favorite, and it has a range of a mile-plus.”
Automatic weapons can legally be bought and kept, but their owners must undergo background checks, acquire federal permits and maintain proper records.
Firing big guns that can shoot 600 rounds per minute is expensive, with .50-caliber bullets averaging $5 apiece.
Organizing the event requires a lot of coordination, Perry said.
Range officers are stationed every few feet, and strict safety rules are enforced. A medic is always on standby. The post even has to get airspace clearance above the firing range.