Passing the baton

John Hooper recounts how shooting has helped form a solid bond spanning four generations of his family

A few years ago, I lost my father to cancer. He had spent his life serving others, first as a police officer and then later on as an Arkansas Game and Fish Warden. He had lost an eye at the age of six, and this prevented him from pursuing his dream of serving in the US military.

He actually managed to make it to boot camp in the Army by faking the eye exam, but then his drill sergeant caught him shooting left-handed and figured it out. 

He always had a love of shooting, and even though blind in one eye, was an excellent shot, especially with a pistol. Many times, he would humble me by outshooting my long-barreled target pistols with his ‘back-up’ .38 Special snub nose.

When he passed away, my brother and I sat down to divide up his small collection of various firearms and knives. He had also left us all of his lawn and garden equipment that neither of us wanted or needed. We decided to sell all the non-keepsake items and do something that would have made our Dad happy.

In his later years, what made Dad the happiest was to have both his boys come home together and go target shooting. This didn’t happen a lot since we were about a thousand miles apart, but we got together when we could. Lots of bantering and challenges were thrown around on those occasions, and you could tell that Dad was enjoying every minute of it.

My brother and I had really gotten involved in air rifle shooting, so we decided on a plan that we thought Dad would have thoroughly enjoyed. With the equipment sale proceeds, we ordered matching Crosman 2240s from the Crosman Custom Shop.

The Memorial Rifle has custom laser engraving, showing the years of John’s father’s life and his initials for Kennith Delton Hooper Sr

When ordering from them, you can have laser engraving done on the air cylinder. We chose Dad’s birth year, his initials and the year of his death to be on both ‘Memorial Rifles’. With the leftover money, we arranged to meet at my aunt’s cabin in Mississippi to visit, reflect and shoot for a week’s vacation.

We installed the LDCs (Long Dust Cover – a device to catch lead particles) and scopes then put up a batch of my favourite targets, spoon spinners. We had a great week remembering past times and poking fun at each other for missed shots. A few weeks later, my aunt was down at her cabin and was very curious about all the silverware hanging in the trees.

Here it is about a year later, and now one of my shooting partners is my oldest grandson. He is thirteen, and like most kids his age, is all into video games and some sports. Luckily, he lives only a short distance away and he loves to shoot with ‘Papa’.

His weapon of choice, you guessed it, is the Memorial Rifle. At first I was reluctant to let him use it, but upon further study, thought what better way to ‘pass the baton’ to the next generation of shooters in my family. He likes it because it is light, accurate and ‘cool looking’ (we had chosen the camo stock variation).

We often go down to the ‘range’, an old right of way path cut through the woods to a factory that is since long gone. Here, we shoot spinners and other plinking targets out to a hundred yards in complete safety.

This is all it takes to make a homemade pellet holder – the one on the left is .177 and the one on the right is .22

One fall day, we took advantage of the unseasonal warmth (we get them regularly here in South Carolina) and went to the range for some target practice. Since it was warm, Nicholas took the CO2-powered Memorial Rifle as his choice.

We had been shooting for about an hour when he exclaimed: “There’s a squirrel!” He looked at me and asked: ”Can I shoot it?” He had never been hunting in his life, but he was an excellent shot, many times outshooting me. Since it was in season, I told him that it would have to be a head shot since the 2240 was not a powerful airgun in its stock configuration

I said: “You will have to stalk closely and only take a clean shot when he is sitting still.” The squirrel was in some trees behind me. I had not seen him, and wasn’t sure if it was even still there. Nicholas got up quietly from his seat and started his stalk as I just listened from the comfort of my folding chair.

He whispered loudly “Can I take the shot?, and I softly spoke over my shoulder “Only a head shot”. I heard the light cough of the Crosman 2240, and then the excited “I hit him!” followed by the thump of something heavy hitting the ground. I was so surprised I almost fell out of the chair getting up to check on Nicholas.

We both walked up cautiously to the squirrel and found him stone dead, with a through-and-through head shot.

I was just as amazed by the effectiveness of the little .22 as I was by the skill that my grandson used to dispatch the critter. I asked Nicholas if he was going to eat the squirrel, at which time he replied: “No way.” After congratulating him on his very first kill, I explained that from now on we don’t kill it unless we eat it or it is causing damage to our property.

I knew that another of my shooting buddies would be glad to fry up the squirrel, and Nicholas could keep the tail as a token of this ‘rite of passage’. I was proud that I had been the one to witness this event, and even more that he had accomplished this momentous occasion using the Memorial Rifle. I knew that somewhere up above, my Dad had a big grin on his face.

John’s son and grandson take part in a little competition on the backyard (garden) range, but it looks like someone may be trying to cheat!

In keeping with my plan to include airgun tips along with this story, I thought about the ‘pellet necklace’ that is a favorite tool of my grandson when we are out shooting.

Toting a tin of pellets into the woods is kind of awkward, and also expensive when they get dumped out on the ground. This pellet necklace was discovered by another airgunner friend of mine, the recipient of the squirrel.

We enjoyed watching videos of a guy across the pond who was an expert at hunting rabbits. You may have seen some of Northern Ireland shooter HuntersVermin’s videos on YouTube yourself. In one video, we noticed him reloading from something hanging around his neck and were intrigued.

My buddy sent an email to him asking about this item. He was gracious enough to reply that it was actually a two-inch by three-inch piece of an old rubber welly boot top.

He had taken a hole punch and punched about forty holes just large enough to press the dome of a pellet through. The rubber was elastic enough to open up for the head and then close around the waist.

If you size the holes correctly, they are easy to load and easy to remove without looking. Add a hole at the top for a lanyard made from paracord and you are ready to walk quietly through the woods with quick access to plenty of reloads.

My squirrel-eating buddy prefers his laced to his scope so that when he grabs one of his rifles, it already has the correct pellet ready to go. I use these even when plinking at the range, just so I don’t risk spilling my ammo. I know pellets are cheaper than powder rounds, but I still don’t like pouring out a $12 tin of pellets that I have had to mail order in.

I’m always looking for old rubber boots at garage sales or at the Goodwill (thrift) shop that I can make a batch of eight to ten ‘necklaces’. I will cut the tops off the boot and cut the flat part of the tops into the correct size.

Three generations of the Hooper family celebrate the fourth, John’s father, by shooting the Memorial Rifle

The rubber-coated nylon material works better than anything else we have tried. I purchased a leather punch from a hardware store that will punch six different sizes of holes. This allows me to make necklaces for the three sizes that I use: .177, .22, and .25.

I will usually make up a dozen or so of the smaller sizes of the pellet holder and give them to Boy Scouts and other shooters that come to shoot at my tournament twice a year.

If you have an old pair of rubber boots or galoshes around gathering dust, give this handy tip a try. You can always use it as an excuse to go buy a new pair of hunting boots. Well, until next time, this is the Saturday Afternoon Shooter saying: “Keep them in the X ring.” 

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