I have something of a confession to make that may come as a surprise or even a shock to many who know me. I fairly recently rediscovered an interest that I had in my teens. I like shooting. I derive enormous pleasure and relaxation from it. Now I’m willing to guess that the first image that pops into people’s heads, when they think of men and guns, is of a maniacal group of people blasting away at everyone and everything in sight. How can I possibly be part of such a monstrous culture? I’m sure that many see me as a fairly gentle, unassuming soul; whose politics and attitude to life in general would rule out me picking up any form of weapon. So I’ll try and explain, what it is that I get out of shooting.
Let me start by describing the type of shooting that I am involved in. My rifle of choice is an air rifle. Many people, as I did, started with one of these when they were young. In my case, I discovered one in my parents bedroom sitting on top of a wardrobe. When I mentioned it to my Dad he lifted it down and showed me how to cock it, load it and shoot it. I’ve no idea why he had it, as I’d never seen him shoot anything other than targets at fairground arcades. Anyway, he let me keep it and I happily plinked away at tin cans in our back yard. Eventually I put it away and moved on to other interests. That was a long time ago back in the early 1960s. Moving forward to the present day and I found that the humble break barrel type of air rifle, (also referred to as Springers) has undergone a transformation. It’s still possible to buy Springers, which are so called because the method of cocking them is via compressing a spring. This spring is locked into position until released by the trigger. The rapid decompression of the spring provides a burst of air which sends a small pellet of lead, (or these days it can be a non lead material) on its way to the target. However, this early method of propulsion of the pellet has now been joined by new methods of compressing the air. The most popular of these being Pre Charged Pneumatic, or PCP for short, and this is my rifle of choice.
I’m sure the question in the front of people’s minds is, what do I shoot at? Well, rather boringly for some people, but quite challenging for me, I shoot mostly at A4 sized pieces of card that have printed on them 10 targets, each one composed of ten decreasing circles. The smallest of these circles being just 2 millimetres in diameter, and this is what I am trying to obliterate with every shot. You’ll appreciate the challenge of achieving this, when I tell you that the distance I shoot from is 25 metres. And yes, I actually find this devilishly difficult and frustrating. However, I also find it curiously relaxing and satisfying. I can be stressed out of my mind when I arrive at my rifle club, but within seconds of settling down to shoot, I have completely switched my attention from whatever was stressing me. The degree of focus, concentration and breath control needed to succeed in my chosen sport, means that my attention can’t be on anything else.
This probably sounds like a very solitary activity and of course the actual shooting is. However, there is a social aspect to the sport that fulfills a need in my life that I had been missing ever since I retired. My working environment happened to be very male dominated; something I had largely taken for granted, and I didn’t realise how much I would miss that when I left the world of work behind. Now although more and more women are coming into the sport, it is still very much male dominated. So a spin off benefit to my well being is that I get to share time with other men again. I’ve re discovered the camaraderie, banter and even the mutual piss taking that goes on whenever a bunch of male friends get together. I often refer to the club itself as my men’s shed.
Aren’t air weapons dangerous? Well, yes they are. But I would argue that they are no more dangerous than many household implements. For many years now, the power of air weapons has been set at twelve foot pounds of energy. Anything above this is illegal without a firearms certificate. I once received, quite accidentally, a practical demonstration of just how much damage to human tissue this amount of energy can inflict. I was shot from just a few feet away by a friend of mine who had stationed himself just behind me; a cardinal sin of any type of shooting. The pellet hit the back of my hand and….bounced off!? My friend was mortified. I however, was in agony, I’d never felt pain like it. I had the presence of mind to dash indoors and thrust my hand under a running cold tap, but this wasn’t enough to prevent a lump the size of a gobstopper appearing and then staying around for several days after. I’ve no doubt that even this amount of energy could potentially kill someone. But one would have to hit them in exactly the wrong place, and very accurately from quite short range. A pellet begins to lose energy the second it leaves the muzzle of the rifle. After thirty metres or so it has begun to drop as it loses that energy. By contrast, a .22 calibre bullet, (the same calibre as some air weapons) fired from a rifle has the potential energy to travel a mile.