If you're in West Point, Kentucky in April or October, it could get a little loud. Actually, check that… it could get very loud.
Those are the months of the Machine Gun Shoot at the Knob Creek Gun Range — and up to 15,000 people converge on the small town (population: 1,100) to fire automatic weapons — or just watch others do so. A select few, though, get to blow things up.
Those smart enough to reserve a spot on the Gun Range's main line, well in advance, get the chance to not only fire a machine gun, but they fire the weapons at barrels of fuel with pyrotechnic charges attached. When hit, the result is a fiery explosion straight out of Hollywood.
"It was something my dad started in the early '70s," says Kenny Sumner, manager of the Knob Creek Gun Range. "It was him and about 10 of his buddies. After the first gathering, they said 'let's do this again' — and each time they did, a few more friends joined in."
Knob Creek's bi-annual adrenaline rush might be one of the larger gatherings of munition-minded thrill-seekers, but it's hardly alone in its class. Big weapon events are seeing a surge in popularity these days.
In Las Vegas, The Gun Store, a shooting range that lets people fire all manner of weapons — from Sig Sauer 9mm pistols to an M249 S.A.W. machine gun — just completed an overhaul of its range, doubling its size to accommodate the growing number of people who visit each year.
"Our clientele is both national and international," says Emily Miller, head of marketing for the company. "The Brits come over and the Australians. We truly have customers from all over the world. They shoot a machine gun – the ones that they've seen in movies … or shot in video games, like the AK47s, Uzis, the MP5s. Most of these are completely illegal for international customers."
Perhaps not surprisingly, the company also offers bachelor and bachelorette party options. (Bachelors are required to wear a pink tank top and skirt as they fire their weapons.) But The Gun Store also offers "Shotgun Weddings" — where couples can tie the knot on the range, then fire off five rounds on a shotgun. (Friends and family who are unable to make the trip to Vegas for the special day can watch on a Webcam.)
Even kids are getting fired up. The Eagle Gun Range in Lewisville, Texas offers birthday parties for children aged eight and older that let the kids fire weapons, after a training course.
Shotguns and machine guns are all well and good, but if you're really looking for something unique, head to Kasota, Minnesota, where you'll find the opportunity to drive a tank. And customers who really want to let off steam can demolish a car with that tank.
Six-year old Drive A Tank is the only place in the U.S. where civilians are allowed to get behind the controls of a tank. For as little as $400, customers drive the Abbot FV433 (a British Army armored fighting vehicle) through a wooded course. For an extra $549, they're able to drive over a car and crush it.
Jousting and Pumpkin Smashing
"You've got to see it to get it," says owner Tony Borglum. "You're sitting in the battlefield area waiting and the Abbot creeps up on you - and it's one of those moments that your heart leaps and your stomach sinks."
Don't ask to fire the guns, though. While that's one of the most common requests from customers, Minnesota law prohibits the firing or discharge of a weapon from a vehicle — including tanks. (Also, the Abbots have been "de-milled" — a fancy way of saying basic parts required for firing ammo from the vehicle have been taken out.)
Fans of older weapons — particularly those from the medieval ages — need to be a bit more creative in their pursuits. While the National Jousting Association will teach you how to compete in tournaments, finding events where you can do so with any regularity is a bit harder.
And if you want to fire something like a trebuchet, you'll have to build it yourself. (Curiosity seekers who simply want to see one in action, though, can attend the annual Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival, where local enthusiasts fling the gourds as far as they can with homemade devices.)
For most adrenaline junkies, though, the thrill of a modern weapon has a bigger gravitational pull.
"It's very empowering for them," says Miller. "It's that lifelong, bucket list kind of thing. And it can be terrifying, which is why if you have a gun, you've got a range master with you. … The 99 cent shrimp buffet is more dangerous."