Point Blank Shooting Range (Hodgkins)

This company has multiple locations in Illinois and other states as well.

The first thing I want to mention is that I do not own a gun.  I don’t have a desire to own one.  I do not have a FOID (Firearm Owners Identification) card.  I have just always wanted to learn to shoot a gun.  Knowledge is power – or so they say.

When I mentioned this to my cousin Chris, he immediately offered to go with us to a shooting range and to provide us with some basic safety training.  Chris has had his FOID card for 22 years.  He worked in a gun shop for 5 years.  He owns multiple guns and brought them all over for us to learn about.  So, he knows his sh*t.  Some of the key elements he taught us were how to properly hold a gun (and where to point it) when you first pick it up, how to load/unload the magazine (look at me talking shop here!), and most importantly, how to turn the safety on/off.

The handguns that Chris showed us were (clockwise from the top right): Springfield Armory model 1911 custom built .45 caliber, Colt Python. 357 caliber 6″ barrel, H&K model USP9  9mm caliber, Glock gen4 model 19  9mm caliber, Smith&Wesson model 22-a  .22long rifle cal., and a Sig Sauer model p239 .40 cal

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He also had a couple of rifles to show us (top to bottom): Daniel Defense model DDM4V7  5.56 NATO caliber and a Sig Sauer model MPX with red dot sight  9mm caliber.

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He’s a pretty cool guy to know.

Once we got to the shooting range, I was able to get in with my driver’s license as long as I was entering with someone who has a FOID card.  This location did not require that I be trained by someone on their staff, although they do offer that (and other classes) if you don’t have someone like I did to show you the basics.

Pricing varies by location.  The Hodgkins range charges $19.99 per hour for one shooting bay.  They allow two people in each bay, but you need to pay $7.99 for the second shooter.  They also have a date night package (seriously) on Friday nights for two shooters for only $16.99.  I guess the couple that shoots together stays together, right?

And then we got our Charlies Angels on.  I was nervous from the start because the guns we trained on were not loaded (naturally).  Was it going to be loud?  Was there going to be a recoil?  Yes and yes.  But I had an excellent teacher and he was right next to me the whole time.  He told me that, with the first round that I shot, I just needed to get used to it.  He had me aim for the X in the middle of the target’s chest.  Apparently, all I heard was “head shots”.  BAD.  ASS.

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Total honesty here – I was actually aiming for the X 😊

Every time we hung up or took down the paper target I could not stop picturing one of my favorite movie moments from Lethal Weapon.  Especially the scene with Mel Gibson starting at the 0:50 mark.  (YouTube video courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment).

Besides the human outline, they had many targets to choose from.  We didn’t use these, but you have to be a pretty good shot to play Battleship I would think.


To the disappointment of my cousin, I won’t be rushing out to get my FOID card anytime soon.  I didn’t hate it, it was just not for me.  My SO enjoyed it, however, and is planning on going again soon.  Here is a video of my SO shooting a gun and a rifle:

Ragnarock Axe Throwing

Can I “axe” you a question?  Do you have an “axe” to grind?  Do you have the “chops” to take on some target practice?

Axe throwing is trending as the latest date night/girls night/team building activity.  It is just what it sounds like, but with games.  My SO and I found a Groupon (naturally) for an axe throwing location in Chicago, however,  they are popping up all over the suburbs as well.

At Ragnarock Axe Throwing, you get a 90-minute session that includes training and some throwing competitions in a game-like setting.  The size of your group depends on how many people sign up in each time slot but they cap it off at 24 (split between two throwing bays).  Each bay has an “Axepert” (get it?) to instruct you in the proper way to stand, hold, and eventually, throw the 1.5 lb axe.

Our group had 9 people in it and each bay has two throwing spots so this does move along fairly quickly.  After the safety training portion, they take two people at a time to do some practice throws.  The hardest thing for me was getting it to stick.  I was basically on target with each throw, but I don’t think I was throwing it hard enough.  I need to go in angrier next time.

Once everyone was comfortable with how to hit the target, we were split up (within our own group), into two smaller groups.  The first game we played was TIMBER.  This is the axe throwing version of horse.  You went head-to-head with someone from the other team and, after two throws, whoever had less points got a letter.  The bullseye has number values within each ring.  Next, we played “21” where each team had to get enough point to total 21.  Exactly.  So getting that last number was challenging.

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After the last game (a version of “hangman”) we moved into the double-elimination head-to-head tournament with our small group.  Of course, they paired my SO and I against each other in the first round.  My shining moment was getting a bullseye in this round to move him into the losers bracket.  Making it count when it matters!

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It was also a requirement that you come up with a “punny” name for the competition.  As you can see from my name tag I was Mrs. Axehole.  My SO was just plain Axehole.

An extra bonus is that this location allows you to bring food and drink into the space.  Alcohol, however, is not permitted.  For some reason the city of Chicago doesn’t believe that drinking and axe throwing are a good combination.

This was also quite the core workout.  I was sore the next day.  But it was worth it.  So grab your significant other, and maybe some friends, and go get your lumberjack on!

Shawnee National Forest – Part II Ferne Clyff Waterfall Trail and Cave in the Rock


The waterfall trail (#5 on the map) is a ½ mile long trail in the Ferne Clyffe State Park.  The park itself covers 2,430 acres and contains 18 trails of varying degrees of difficulty.  The waterfall trail is rustic but not difficult.  By rustic I mean it is not paved or really even flat, but easy to navigate.

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This time of year, the waterfall is typically dry, however, the day before our hike, southern Illinois got an unseasonal couple of inches of snow.  I was hoping, with the warmer temperature that day, we might see a small one with the melting snow.  Sadly, no, but we got some other great views.  During our hike, the sun was shining and the melting snow from the trees made it feel like we were walking through a rain forest.

The precipitation also provided a beautiful snow-covered landscape for our hike.

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At the end of the trail, during a wetter season, you can see the waterfall cascading over the top of a giant rock formation.

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During our weekend trip, we also found our way to the Cave in Rock State Park.  Specifically, to see the cave in the rock.  Technically, this scenic point is just over the border into Kentucky.  So now I can say I have been to Kentucky.  Although there are other trails nearby, this geological wonder is a popular destination even for non-hikers.  I wouldn’t even call this one a hike.  At the base of a fairly short staircase, you can see the mouth of the cave to the left.

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The cave itself is not very deep and there is nothing particularly creepy about it.  No bats or hibernating animals to worry about.

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My favorite picture was taken upon leaving.  The view coming back out was of the sun shining down on the Ohio river.  Spectacular.

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There are so many hiking trails and points of interest in the Shawnee National Forest.  I plan to spend another long weekend down there exploring more of them!

Road Trip: Shawnee National Forest – Part I The Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock Nature Trail

The Shawnee National Forest, in Southern Illinois, consists of over 28,000 acres of land situated between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  There are many different trails to choose from depending on how far you want to hike or how much effort you want to put in.

The Garden of the Gods is one of the most photographed trails down there and for good reason.  It is breathtaking.

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The trail itself is only ¼ mile long and is nicely paved with flagstone.  The sandstone rock formations can be walked across, how far out depends on the daredevil in you.  But you don’t need to risk your life to fully experience the panoramic views from that high up.

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We were there in November and the leaves were mostly orange and there was still some snow from the early snowfall that hit the area a few days before.  This only added to the beauty.

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Rim Rock Nature Trail is nearby and another short hike.  Unless you veer off the path like we did.  More on that later.  The trail itself is a 1.7 mile loop that includes an upper and lower trail.  The lower trail takes you down a steep staircase and then through a maze of rock formations.







From there, the trail is rugged in some places and a bit of a climb back up to the parking lot.  The views along the way are mostly sandstone bluffs that tower above you.

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There is a point in the loop where you can take a side trip away from the trail.  It is another ½ mile path that, unfortunately, does not loop back into the original trail.  So, you have to hike another ½ mile to get back on track.  The bonus, however, is the detour ends at Pounds Hollow Lake.  So you can relax on the “beach” before you head back.

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I already cannot wait to go back in the Spring or Summer to see everything in bloom!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Food Hall: Eataly

Not to be confused with a food court (the fast food variety usually found in shopping malls), a food hall is an artisanal shopping and eating experience all under one roof.  The concept is said to have originated in Europe and is fast becoming a go-to dining experience here in America.

Since we were going downtown for a smaller activity, we decided to make a day of it and include one of the more well-known destinations, Eataly, into our plans for the day.

Eataly is an Italian food hall concept that was brought to America through a partnership that includes famous Italian chefs such as Mario Batali*, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich.  They have locations in Los Angeles, Boston, and two in New York.  The one in Chicago is considered to be the largest in the U.S.

This two-story location is overwhelming when you first walk in but, fortunately, they have a map and guide that walks you through each department so that you don’t miss out on anything.

Self guided tour

We decided to do the self-guided tour and, as directed, we started upstairs and got a glass of wine.  You can walk around with it so, sure.  From there, we hit the olive oil department, and this is where you realize what you have really gotten yourself into.  ROWS and ROWS.  I had no idea there were so many types and flavors of olive oil.  I expected this from the wine department but not olive oil.  Every department is like this.

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And bring your appetite – hence the Girl’s Gotta Eat connection.  There are a few sit-down restaurant style options.  They are smaller spaces, but we had no problem getting seated.  Take away counters are available as well for sandwiches, panini, and other Italian specialties.

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But don’t fill up upstairs.  Once you get back down to the main level you have way too many desserts to choose from.  There is a gelato bar, pastry counter, cannoli bar, and Nutella station.  Oh, and coffee.  I’m getting full just remembering this visit.

So, all in all, this was a great way to spend a couple of hours together and share some great food as well.

*For those of you who are aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against Mario Batali, Eataly has terminated its relationship with the chef and all products bearing his likeness have been removed from the shelves.

Day Drinking – Whiskey Acres

Whiskey Acres Distilling Company is a true “seed-to-spirit” operation.  A certified “farm distillery”, Whiskey Acres is located in DeKalb, IL.  The Walter family decided to turn some of their farm land into crops to be used to produce their own brand of whiskey and bourbon (and some vodka too).  The corn, the wheat, and the rye are all grown right there on their land.  And you can tour the farm and distillery to see where the magic happens.

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They started opening the distillery to the public in 2014.  Our guide, Cherise, has been leading those tours since they opened.  Her knowledge of the process and passion for what they produce added to our fun-filled experience.

The tasting room is open from 1:30-8:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and again on Sundays from 1:30-5:30 pm (from April thru November*).  Tours are given at the top of every hour.  The cost for the basic tour is $10 and gets you the tour, a tasting, and a souvenir shot glass.

You can upgrade your tour to include a full drink (or two).  This was a no-brainer.  Especially when they had bourbon slushies on the drink menu.

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The journey begins with a view of the farm and a story about the history of the family and the crops they grow there.  What I found fascinating was the variety of corn they grow and the various flavors they can instill in their spirits as a result.  The photo below shows some of those “specialty” corns.

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From there, you get to see the stills and learn about the distilling process.  They discuss the mashing, fermenting, and barreling of each batch they produce.  After that, they age it, bottle it, and ship it out themselves.  They even host “bottling parties” that are open to the public.  I definitely want to get in on one of these.

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Once your tour is over, you are welcome to stay on the property and enjoy more of their libations.  They have a really cute cocktail patio and even encourage visitors to bring their own snacks or lunches.  We packed up a small cooler with cheeses, crackers, peanuts, etc.  It was a beautiful sunny day and they have plenty of seating.

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*They are currently in the process of building a new visitors center.  The plan is to have it completed by the end of November.  This new building will enable them to remain open year-round.  The current visitor center is only 400 square feet and feels like a cozy bar.  Except that, with 40 people in our tour group all trying to buy tour passes and cocktails, it felt less cozy and more cramped.  The new visitor center will be around 4,000 square feet and will seat around 60 people (with more than enough wiggle room for standing room only).

Old visitor center

New visitors center

I was able to see the new building when I was there, but it had only just been framed out.  I guess I will have to go back again to get all of you an update.  Twist my arm.  This was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.  I highly recommend taking the road trip!