Experiences are the gifts that keep on giving

This the holiday season many of us are on the lookout for the perfect Christmas gift idea for the outdoor enthusiasts in our lives. Finding that gift may require us to do some scouting in our favorite outdoor catalog or online outlet, or to take a hike through our favorite outdoor store as we sort through the myriad products available. But what if you are looking for something out of the ordinary?

Oftentimes we think of a gift only as something tangible, something that can be wrapped in a package topped with ribbon and a bow, but have you ever considered giving an experience? I am not quite sure how you wrap one of those, but for folks like us an experience can last much longer than the latest gadget. Plus you can carry the memories with you wherever you go, and with today’s cellphones the photos as well.

One of my favorite experiences was a Christmas trip to Lee’s Ferry, Ariz., with my wife’s father and brothers. We boated the Colorado River, caught feisty rainbow trout, saw scenic red rock vistas, broke a propeller on the rocks and had a great time. Lucky for us we had a not-so broken propeller to limp home on. Almost 25 years later I still think of the experience quite often.

An outdoor experience can be given by means of a hunting or fishing license, or maybe through a guided hunt or fishing trip here at home or somewhere out of state. Then again, you might consider giving your outdoor enthusiast a unique indoor experience with a tie to the outdoors.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience something I had dreamt about since childhood. Having grown up watching movies and television shows about World War II, I always wanted to shoot one of those Thompson Submachine Guns the officers always seemed to carry in those productions. That day finally came.

While doing research for a writing assignment, I dropped by The Gun Store on Tropicana, the first shooting range in Las Vegas to offer its customers the chance to shoot fully automatic firearms. There on the wall was a Thompson, and for $60 I purchased the chance to empty a couple of magazines full of ammo on their indoor range. “This,” I thought, “is going to be so cool.” And it was.

True, the experience was over in the time it takes to shoot 50 rounds through a machine gun, but what a hoot. I’ll always remember how surprised I was at how heavy the Thompson felt and how fun it was to shoot.

Bob Irwin, owner of The Gun Store, began offering his customers the chance to shoot fully automatic firearms in 1988 and was the first to do so in Las Vegas. In recent years a number of indoor ranges offering a similar experience have popped up in locations around town, mostly in places close to the strip. These ranges provide customers with the opportunity to shoot a specific firearm, like the Thompson, or they can purchase a package that includes multiple firearms.

So why offer customers the chance to shoot fully automatic firearms? “For the people that can’t do it,” said Josh Smith, range supervisor at The Gun Store. “For example, England, Australia, Canada — it is illegal over there so they don’t get a chance to do it. When they come over here on vacation they get to experience shooting a fully automatic gun. Then (there are) your gun enthusiasts right here in America. We get lots of tourists from all over the country.”

Darby Neagle, owner of the Gun Garage agrees. “It’s something that is forbidden in their countries and they want to come over here and try it,” he said. “This business is all about putting a smile on someone’s face.”

The challenge is figuring out a way to wrap such an experience so you can put it under the Christmas tree.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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