When the topic of the .22-caliber firearm comes up, people often look off into the distance, grin softly and think back to their first rifle or pistol — and that special person who introduced them to shooting sports as a kid.

As a child, who among us didn’t learn to shoot by squeezing the well-worn trigger of a hand-me-down .22-caliber firearm at rusty cans in a field or fluffy-tailed squirrels in trees under the watchful eye of a loving, older relative?

Now, the beloved .22-caliber might not be the most advanced firearm in an age of incredible advances in ballistics that gives us increasing accuracy at amazing distances but it’s an American icon.

I’ve had a .22 pistol for a while and when I saw that the Arlington-Fairfax chapter of the Izaak Walton League was holding a precision shooting clinic for it, I jumped at the chance. I knew I needed some coaching.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

The Bullseye Pistol Clinic was organized by John Machey and taught by Larry Quandahl, a certified National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor and retired Marine Corps marksmanship trainer. It included both a day in the classroom and a half-day on the range.

In the schoolhouse phase, we covered a lot of ground, starting with the all-important gun safety. Even as an experienced shooter, you can’t hear, or be reminded, often enough about gun safety.

As we all know: “Stuff happens.”

Among shooting “sea stories,” Quandahl drilled us — what else would a retired Marine do?! — on topics such as trigger control, sight alignment, hold, follow-through, grip, breathing, stance, equipment and ammunition.

I really learned a lot.

After a day in the classroom, including spending time dry- firing our .22 pistols under Quandahl’s and the other instructors’ trained gaze, we headed to the well-appointed IWLA range for a morning of live fire in a simulated Bullseye Pistol match.

A match includes three relays of live fire: slow fire, timed fire and rapid fire at a target 25-yards down range, using two different-sized paper targets. Slow fire gets a smaller bullseye while the timed and rapid fire have a bigger bullseye.

The slow fire phase requires the marksman to shoot 10 rounds in 10 minutes. Timed fire requires the shooter to discharge two strings of five rounds in 20 seconds. In the rapid fire phase, marksman shoot two strings of five rounds in 10 seconds.

Let me tell you, shooting five rounds in 10 seconds isn’t easy.

The 300-point Bullseye Pistol match is part of the NRA’s Precision Pistol program. There are also matches composed of 90 shots using the .22, and 270 shots using a .22-, a .32 or larger- and .45-caliber pistols.

Bullseye matches range from the informal league shoots with modified NRA rules to the more formal approved and registered shoots that can lead to competition at the national level at Camp Perry in Ohio.

The good news is that some matches don’t require a fancy, centerfire, competition .22-caliber pistol with a hard-to-pronounce German or Italian name. A less-expensive rimfire .22 will do the trick.

Even better is that precision pistol shoots can be found across Virginia at different levels of competition.

Another option is to see if your local gun club has a league or periodic pistol matches. If not, you may want to suggest that it start looking at developing a precision pistol program.

I think you’ll find that giving Bullseye Pistol a try — no matter your experience, the level of competition or caliber firearm — will bring a smile to your face just like that first .22 did.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. foreign policy geek by day and an award-winning Virginia outdoor writer by night. Brookesoutdoors@aol.com.