[Editorís note: The following is Herald reporter Amelia Arvesenís first-person experience using a firearm for the first time as part of a Zombie Shoot Out event in Ottawa.]

In my purse, I have a little box of 30 long rifle bullets. Iím not sure what to do with them besides keep them hidden under my notebook.

The ammunition was left over from a lesson Tuesday at The Gun Guys, 412 S. Main St., Ottawa, in anticipation of a Thursday night Halloween Zombie Shoot Out at the indoor shooting range. The holiday-themed benefit event raised $210 for the Franklin County Cancer Foundation, Tim Van Leiden, owner of the store, said.

In the darkened range, black lights shone through zombie cutouts, illuminating purple and orange targets positioned on their heads, heartless chests and guts. A backdrop of cobwebs added to the apocalyptic scene.

Using a .22 semi-automatic rifle, I punctured two of six targets in the first activity. With a .22 semi-automatic handgun, I made six more direct hits. My overall score (8 shots of 54) suggests my brains should have been eaten by the nine zombies left unscathed.

ďAny shot is good for a first-timer,Ē someone reassured me.

Itís evident I have absolutely no dexterity, especially compared to 32 shooters equipped with their own firearms who went through the course the night of the event. Thatís because before Tuesday, I hadnít touched a real gun nor had the desire to pull any type of trigger.

For me, celebrating Halloween from year to year typically looks more like empty chocolate wrappers littering my trash cans, one lonely, plastic jack-oí-lantern in my apartment and a last-minute, usually tacky costume. Iím all for new traditions, including zombie encounters, but guns were last on my radar.

ďWe need your help! We must suppress this Zombie outbreak!Ē the event announcement on the Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau website read.

But my help? Probably not what the folks at The Gun Guys were expecting. Twice I was asked, ďAre you familiar with guns?Ē Both times, I shook my head no.

A 30-minute lesson with Mark díAugereau, a retired Ottawa police officer and employee at the shop, put me at ease. The crash course involving safety, how a bullet discharges and what exactly a magazine you canít read is, gave me the information required to feel comfortable behind what can be used as a lethal weapon.

díAugereau asked me to repeat the four critical ground rules: A gun is always loaded, never point at anything you donít want destroyed, keep your finger off the trigger until itís time to shoot and be aware of whatís behind your target.

Having not grown up around guns, I have a conservative, some might say ignorant, view of their use. With the recent wave of gun violence in the nation and changes to gun laws in Kansas, some people seem to be more cautious of guns than ever ó others not so much.

Ironically just last week, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about how I donít care to ever own gun. Theyíre dangerous and loud and unnecessary, I remember saying. I took extreme caution even at the range. At one point in the middle of my timed zombie shootout, díAugereau even said, ďYouíre jumping.Ē

But I realized instruction from a professional and time behind a gun in a safe environment were what I needed to melt away my discomfort. Iím still not convinced Iíll ever own one, but I can understand the wide appeal and range of uses. Thereís no denying the rush and sense of invincibility I felt with my arms held steady, hands gripped tight.

Van Leiden said he sees, at most, a few new shooters in his shop every week. Group lessons based on skill level gives even experienced marksmen a review of safety and proper technique.

Not much preparation was needed besides purchasing a pack of ammo. Dressed in slacks and red ballet flats, wearing added eye and ear protection, I fired two practice rounds Tuesday.

Thinking of next year, Van Leiden said heíll look to add different types of targets ó maybe spookier zombies ó and somebody hinted at a fog machine. Though for me, having the lights off was enough to impair my visibility.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, or more likely, if I ever need to protect myself, Iíll know what to do. Plus, I have 30 bullets left for practice.

Amelia Arvesen is a Herald staff writer. Email her at aarvesen@ottawaherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AmeliaArvesen.