The barn door

Jim Old is forced to come clean about his airgun-shooting past as he gets back into the sport after a lengthy absence.

Veteran airgunners prepare to be appalled, but I confess I can’t remember the make or model of my first air rifle. Or my second for that matter. I know, shocking stuff. And there’s worse to come.

Gun number one was constantly at my side throughout my teens. It was a pretty ordinary, second-hand, break-barrel springer, but the two of us could devour a tin of .22 pellets in a single plinking binge. I have clear memories of the various nefarious acts we got up to together, including accidentally shooting my dog (he was fine and surprisingly forgiving).

I can remember what the rifle looked like, how it smelt, how it felt in my hands and in the shoulder. I even have perfect recoil-recall. I must have known at the time, but ask me now who made it and where it came from and you’ll get nothing but a blank look and a shrug.

My second gun was a very different affair. Unlike number one, it wasn’t a cherished plaything. It was a tool, purchased to dispatch a family of squirrels who were trashing the garden of my rented Dartmoor cottage and upsetting my elderly landlady.

The gun was very cheap and in the time-honoured tradition of getting what you pay for, it was rubbish. Between my ineptitude as a hunter and the rifle’s unshakable inaccuracy, we reduced the garden’s squirrel population by exactly zero percent.

In my mind, I can still hear them laughing, Alvin and the Chipmunks style, as they skittled off into the bushes after yet another massive miss. I’m glad that this gun’s make and model have been lost in the mists of time. It doesn’t deserve to be remembered.

In contrast, I doubt I’ll ever forget the make, model and vital statistics of the rifle I’ve recently purchased to break my 25-year airgunning drought. After so much internet and magazine-based research, I expect ‘Air Arms Ultimate Sporter’ to be imprinted on my mind to my dying day. At the range last week, an elderly man came over to admire it and ask how it shot.

“Er, great!” I responded lamely, fearing more detailed follow-up questions that I simply wouldn’t be able to answer. Instead, he showed me his rifle and proudly told me that he’d owned it since he was 17. I gazed at the pristine gun, briefly lost in wonder that someone could hold on to something (and look after it so well) for so long.

So what happened to my first rifle? I promised worse was to come and here it is. After seven or eight years of heavy use and very little care it finally died. I remember taking it apart, more out of curiosity to see its inner workings than in any serious attempt to fix it.

The various bits hung around my parents’ place for years before being binned. The beech stock went on the fire. It was an ignominious end for a trusty and once-loved rifle and I’m ashamed to think about it.

It’s possible I’m being hard on myself. I was at that stage in a young man’s life when other things like girls, cars and career seemed more important than anything that had gone before. 

But now that my enthusiasm for airgunning has been rekindled, I’m sorry that my original rifle isn’t there for me to reach for. Perhaps I’ll still have the Ultimate Sporter when I’m an old man, but I know that telling people I’ve had it since I was 49 won’t have quite the same impact.

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