What do you do with your pumpkins after Halloween? Some people eat the remains of their jack-o’-lantern, some throw them in the compost, some leave them to rot on the side of the road.
UBC Shooting Sports, however, gather as many decaying pumpkins as possible and line them up for target practice.
With the UBC Sikh Student Association, UBC Shooting Sports held a ‘pumpkin shoot’ at the Thompson Mountain Sportsmen Association in early November to celebrate the end of the spooky season.
Throughout the school year, the club regularly holds two types of off-campus shooting events: trap shooting and rifle/pistol. While all the club’s events are open to beginners, most executives said that trap shooting — which involves shooting a moving clay target — is better for beginners due to the simpler guns and cheaper ammunition. Meanwhile, rifle/pistol events typically involve stationary targets and a wider variety of guns. The club occasionally hosts firearm safety courses and introductory firearms classes as well.
Due to a pumpkin’s non-aerodynamic shape, the pumpkin shoot was a rifle/pistol event. While this may not have been ideal for a newcomer like myself, the promise of exploding pumpkins made up for any potential inconveniences I was to face.
Preceding the day’s event was a safety demonstration and a briefing of the range rules by a team of certified volunteer range officers, many of whom are club alumni. Following this, ear and eye protection was distributed to everyone.
“Safety is number one,” explained Cole Canofari, the VP external. Failure to abide by range rules will lead to a warning or even an immediate ban from the club. Throughout the shoot, the firearms were monitored closely by the volunteers and supervision was required for anyone without a firearm licence.
“[Unlicensed people] will always have a volunteer like me standing directly beside them, literally ready to grab the gun if anything goes wrong,” explained volunteer and club alumni Jake Moersch. Moersch insisted, though, that issues rarely arise, and most of what the volunteers end up doing is controlling the direction of the guns to ensure no accidents occur.
While waiting for my turn to try out the firearms of the day, I had time to speak to the executives of the club.
Coming from India, club president Jai Sodhi explained that he grew up viewing shooting “as a sport.”
“There’s thousands of school kids [in India] competing in matches going for [the] Olympics,” he said. “So I was like ‘why is it not happening here?’”
“[People in Canada] associate guns with hunting or law enforcement, but they don't see the sport side of it,” said Sodhi. "That's what we're trying to promote."
While the club aims to be as non-political as possible, it is well-aware of the controversies and perceptions surrounding their hobby.
“There’s kind of that American perception of it with all the incidents that happen down there … Canadian firearm culture is not like that. It’s heavily licensed, heavily restricted and registered,” said club treasurer Joe Latam. “I think people don’t realise that because they’re so inundated with US news.”
After joining the club, VP Admin Nicola Fong said she learned there are major differences between Canadian and American gun cultures.
“It’s not a self-defence weapon in Canada. You should see it as a hunting [tool], you should see it as a sport,” said Fong.
The club is finding success in their goals to spread the sport, as there are currently over 180 members — close to three times as many as there were in 2021. This can also be partly attributed to their retention rate, which Sodhi said is near 90–95 per cent.
While speaking to members, I gained the sense that it’s not just the guns that keep people coming back for more, but also the community.
“I think the people are amazing. After events we help clean up and then we grab dinner together sometimes, that’s very fun,” said Ada Keles, a member of the club. “It’s also very safety-oriented, so I know I can trust everybody.”
Eventually, the time came for me to give the rifles and pistols a shot (pun intended). I can’t say for certain whether my shots made contact with any of the pumpkins, but I was successfully prevented from shooting a far-off pile of dirt, thanks to the volunteers.
By the end of the day, the range was filled with the scents of warm chai, gun smoke and pumpkin guts; a smell that could have been a best-selling Bath & Body Works candle. While their next event may not have the same pleasant pumpkin spice smell, UBC Shooting Sports provides students with a friendly, supportive and accessible environment to try something new and exciting — and that alone is worth going for.