Lapsed shooter Jim Old gets back into airgun shooting and wonders whether he can even hit a barn door after years away from the sport
“How long have you been shooting?” It was a straightforward question and should have been easy to answer, but I paused and frowned, chewing my lip.
I was filling out a form to allow me to use an airgun range. Its previous queries had presented no problems. Have you ever been detained under the Mental Health Act? No. Are you an alcoholic? I don’t think so (I wrote no). Are you addicted to drugs? Do you have a criminal record or are you the subject of ongoing police investigation? No, no and again, no.
The guy behind the counter began drumming his fingers. I was clearly over-thinking the whole ‘how long’ question. I worked it out. I can remember exactly when I shot an air rifle for the first time – Christmas Day 1983.
I was 14, and the mysterious gun-shaped gift under the tree revealed itself to be the best present my parents ever gave me. I’m 49 now, so there’s your answer, my finger-drumming friend. I scribbled ‘35 years’, feeling like a fraud.
There was no way to verify this dubious claim. If the form had gone on to ask if those had been 35 continuous years of shooting then the answer would have been ‘absolutely not’. If it had enquired how long it had been since I’d last fired off a pellet, I’d have responded; ‘I dunno, bloody ages.’ Decades have passed, if I’m completely honest.
I signed and dated the paperwork. The chap took it from me and stuffed it swiftly into a drawer without even glancing at my answers.
As I followed him to the range, I reflected that he couldn’t care less how long I’ve been shooting, or apparently whether or not I’m an escaped mental patient with a long criminal record of drink and drug-fuelled transgressions.
I guess the form is there for his insurance company to fret over should I end up doing serious damage to something or someone.
It was lunchtime on a weekday, and I’d deliberately chosen this time to get the best chance of having the range to myself. Even if this wasn’t my debut airgun experience, it might as well have been, given all the time that had passed.
If I was going to make mistakes, I’d rather not do it in front of an audience. But opening the door, I found six or seven shooters already in there. Each of them, I’d hazard a guess, with at least 35 years of continuous airgunning experience behind them.
I’d been warned that mornings at the range were generally block-booked by a competitive group of retirees. I’d assumed they’d be gone by one o’clock. However, there they all were, still chatting and shooting. It was the last thing I wanted.
But they were kind and welcoming. They picked up on the fact that I was new to the range (rather than the fact that I was practically clueless), and talked me through the safety and target-changing procedures. I thanked them and settled myself at the end lane, where I methodically went about getting ready to shoot.
I removed my brand new rifle from its case, loaded my mags and plumped up my bench bag. Soon there was nothing left to do but actually fire my gun for the first time and hope that I could hit the proverbial barn door, while half a dozen experienced shooters looked on.
I squeezed the trigger and the pellet smacked into the lower edge of the target. Relaxing a little, I smiled to myself and reached to adjust my scope. It felt good to be back.