Whitney Lock had never shot a gun before Sunday, but said she’d always wanted to.
Lock and her friend Kenise Lewis had come to The Machine Gun Nest, a Frederick shooting range to try their hands at some target practice.
Lock looked a bit uncertain as Ted Matthews, one of The Machine Gun Nest’s staff, showed her the basics of how to hold, load, and handle her pistol.
Lock said she felt more comfortable after Matthews’ tutorial, as she prepared to head in to the range.
Lewis had been to the range once before, and said she liked the staff’s focus on education, not just shooting.
Educating customers who may not be familiar with guns is a big part of the range’s job, said Matt Jones, one of the owners.
“Everybody likes the fact that they understand how a firearm works,” he said.
The Machine Gun Nest is one of several Frederick County businesses that seek to give customers a participatory activity, rather than just a passive experience.
The key is providing an experience outside of people’s everyday life, said Mark Stevanus, the owner of Heavy Metal Playground.
The Boonsboro business lets people operate heavy equipment, learning how to operate the buckets and dig, how to play a variation of basketball that involves getting a ball into a stack of tires, or getting to use your 4- to 7-ton excavator to demolish a car.
The experience tends to draw a very enthusiastic reaction, Stevanus said.
“You wouldn’t be able to print some of the words we hear,” he said.
Stevanus and his staff give customers an introductory safety talk beforehand, and keep in touch during a session using headsets.
With the machines operating far apart on a flat surface and moving about 5 mph, the most dangerous part is probably walking to and climbing in and out of the equipment, Stevanus said.
The excavators they use are mid-sized, topping out at around 7 tons.
They don’t use larger equipment “because of the intimidation factor,” he said.
Frederick County will have a new experiential business in mid-July, with the opening of Tree Trekkers on Old National Pike just east of Frederick.
An aerial obstacle course with ziplines, swinging bridges, tightropes, and other obstacles, they’ll offer a wide variety of options for different ages and experience levels, said Missy Conner, the company’s director.
A former high school teacher, Conner had worked different summer jobs with groups such as the YMCA and Outward Bound.
No longer teaching but still an educator at heart, she sees the business as a chance to work on things that can’t always be taught in a classroom, like confidence, communication, risk judgement, independence and curiosity.
And with options for youth groups, school field trips, and other groups, there are lesson plans that can be incorporated into the fun, from learning about nature to calculating the speed of someone swinging on a zipline.
“It’s a very versatile experience,” Conner said.
The education angle is something that Jones emphasizes as well at The Machine Gun Nest.
He estimates that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of their customers are casual gun users, people who may only shoot occasionally or, like Lock, have never fired a gun.
After the Parkland shooting at a Florida high school in 2018, the range hosted a group of women that had gone to an anti-gun violence march in Washington, D.C. and wanted to learn about guns and experience them for themselves, Jones said.
“That was a really productive afternoon, because we got to answer a lot of those questions,” he said.