Twice a year the hills of West Point, Kentucky, light up with pyrotechnics and machine gun fire. The Knob Creek Gun Range is located about thirty minutes out of Louisville past many strip clubs and taxidermy shops.
I have been going to the shoot at least once a year since 2008. Often, the event is covered by the media, generally with the point of view that the grounds are filled with crazy gun-totting NRA members. I really enjoy going for the amazing smoke, but what keeps me coming back is the community.
The first year, I befriended a gun lane holder. There are two ranges — one giant one and a smaller one on lower ground — each with several gun dealers who run lanes. Visitors to the event can pay for ammunition and fire exotic guns. He said it was fine for me to photograph people in his lane, but first, I had to fire a gun myself. He would comp me a round. I had shot rifles growing up at my grandparent’s farm, but had never fired a high powered weapon. He explained how the M-16 worked and helped me get situated and then aim at the old junk cars and barrels down range. He stepped back and I pulled the trigger and saw dirt fly up thirty yards down range. I wasn’t great, but I had great fun. I was feeling really cocky until five minutes later talking to a retired military woman who had come to shoot, explained to me that the M-16’s are considered lame — she used a more graphic word — and if I wanted to shoot a real gun I needed to find a M-14.
People are chatty and friendships are made. People sit and talk along the beautiful wooded path that connect the two ranges. People exchange tips and tricks. My favorite part is several times a day, they clear the top range to check guns and swap out the targets. They let everyone go down field and look at the smoldering debris. Some people love to see the carnage and stand near the fiery cars and appliances, some collect spent ammo, and others just like the hike.
The highlight for most is the night shoot. It is an impressive scene: tracers paint the sky, every ten minutes the ground rumbles and your chest gets tight as the Miniguns power-up. Occasionally, someone hits the jackpot and hits one of the targets filled with gasoline. All the while there is an overwhelming noise and vision that puts you in the moment like nothing else.