John Lennon was right. Happiness truly is a warm gun.
In Riga with a group of lads, it was maybe inevitable that we would end up gravitating towards an afternoon playing with guns. There are numerous tours available in the city advertising shooting excursions, usually emblazoned with a picture of the world's most famous rifle, the Soviet-made AK-47 ("The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherf**ker in the room. Accept no substitutes" to quote Samuel L. Jackson).
Rather than booking a tour, we decided to make our own way to find Regro S shooting. This necessitated a tram ride across the river into Pardaugava, and then a period of wandering trying to find the place (it is on the main Daugavrigas Iela, sandwiched between two petrol stations). If it is hard to find, there is a reason. The shooting range is located in Cold War era underground bunker. A set of blast doors leads to a stairway of sweating grey concrete. So far, so James Bond.
Downstairs there is a combination armoury / weaponry shop. You will have to provide ID and sign to state that you have read the safety instructions. Then you can peruse the menu. You pay for the bullets, not the gun. So for example each shot with a Glock 9mm handgun costs 0.80 Lats, the AK-47 rifle 1 Lat a shot, the Uzi machine pistol or Winchester pump-action shot gun 2 Lats each. They also offered the Magnum revolver ("Do you feel lucky punk?"), the SPAS assault rifle, and Marlin rifle. We opted for five shots each on Glock, Uzi and shotgun. And of course 5 more shots on the Kalashnikov. Having attended a exhibition on 'Kalashnikov - the Man, the Arm, the Legend' at the Artillery Museum in St Petersburg I was keen to experience the world famous AK-47 for myself. In total this added up to 29 Lats, but the man rounded it down to 25 per person. A good deal - the organized shooting activities we had seen advertised offered 10 shots on Glock, and ten on AK-47 for the same price. Extra weaponry cost extra on top.
The safety precautions were, I have to admit, minimal. A short talk from the main guy before he handed us over to the non-English-speaking Vladimir Putin lookalike who demonstrated with gestures and grunts what we should or should not do with each weapon. We were supplied earmuffs - vital as the movies do not show just how loud these guns are, particularly in the close quarters of the underground chamber we were based in. This did limit the audience for our movie-based jokes however. We got no goggles. This disturbed me, especially when shotgun cartridges eject before your eyes and flashes of flame spurt from the muzzle of the AK-47.
We were each allocated a man-shaped target to aim for. First was the handgun. Thankfully I was not as bad as I feared - seems that those evenings at Scouts with an air pistol were not wasted. Then came the Uzi, made famous by the Terminator films. I was disappointed here - I found it hard to aim and there was very little recoil. The Kalashnikov found more favour. The kick of the recoil and the muzzle-flash let you know you were firing a gun. They let 11-year-old Afghanistani kids use these? I'd have been knocked flat on my back at that age! Finally the Winchester pump action shot gun, which I think I preferred even to the AK. Pumping the stock as cartridges were ejected before your eyes, the muzzle heating up... frankly there was something all too phallic about it!
We were able to inspect our targets between each round of five shots. Chris and Ian quickly marked themselves out as the men to watch out for. Chris peppered the target's vitals with bullet holes, whereas Ian had concentrated on tearing out the paper man's guts. My target was most noticeable for a neat round shotgun hole right between the eyes - something that produced an approving nod and handshake from Vladimir. Ed's target had emerged completely unscathed, something he attributed to his being a pacifist.
Now I consider myself a civilised, sensitive individual. I read the Guardian. I have Casablanca on DVD. I cried when I heard that Joe Strummer was dead. However, there is something about shooting guns that made me feel like such an alpha male. The other guys (apart from Ed maybe) also felt this. Pumped up on adrenalin and testosterone we did not regret travelling all the way out here. In fact, I found myself wishing that we'd plumped for more shots, and more guns. Certainly, I regretted that the presence of targets had introduced a level of competitiveness. Instead of carefully aiming for each shot I would have liked the chance to let loose on full-auto and mow down my paper enemies.
All together, an excellent and enjoyable afternoon. It was a shame that we were not allowed to take photos, not even of us posing with unloaded weaponry, but the fact that we were allowed to take our targets home partially compensated. I would certainly recommend Regro S for a couple of hours of fun with guns!
Daugavrigas Iela 31
(+371) 760 17 05