Was it westerns on black and white TV such as Rawhide or the BSA .177 break barrel air rifle belonging to my dad propped up in the back of his wardrobe the kicked off my interest in shooting. I remember dad having it out once as I came in the room. He swung it through the “Hilda Ogden” flight of mallard hung on a beam in our living room, I really wanted a go but the rifle was far too heavy for me and dad was not in favour of guns at all. He certainly did not want me brought up with them. But then as a small boy and later as an adult he had seen two world wars.
I think the real interest was sparked from visits to my Auntie’s and Uncle Sam’s in Cheshire. There house was out in the country, there were kennels for the dogs. Sam although a businessman was also a country man.
One of my primary memories is of him coming home from shooting and setting up a folding drop leg coffee table covering it with news paper and cleaning his shotgun. Watching it stripped and balls of news paper pushed through the barrels followed by oiled ones and the smell of 3 in1 oil. The way he looked down the barrels from each end checking for fouling I copied with a duster on a black plastic pop gun of my cousins. With it cocked you could poke the duster up the barrel. I really like the sounds as it was all reassembled the clunk of barrels back into the action and the snappy click of the fore end going on. Then there was the gun cabinet. Walnut with a leaded glass front and the key always in the lock. There was a fold down door in the base for the cleaning tackle and a little shelf at the top for odds and ends. I knew I was not allowed in there and never would have broken the trust under any circumstances. I spent hours looking through the glass. There was a sbs hammer gun a Greener I think and a pair of model 25 AYA’s then over the years others came and went a semi auto, the odd single barrel, a pump action .22 rf and probably others I don’t remember. The other fantastic thing was his cartridge store, draws of paper cased cartridges separated by wooden dividers. I loved sorting them and repacking them.
John my cousin had a Webley .177 break barrel air rifle for his birthday, it was child size, I think he was nine and I was eight. My dad died and I spent some time with them during the holidays and things. My auntie Audrey set up a bean can on the back of the sand pit and left me with a tin of pellets. It was fantastic I hit it eighty eight times. They were surrounded by woods and it was not long before I was off on little expeditions
Eventually I shot my first sparrow with it. It landed on a fence post and I fired off what would now be the patio. Knocked it off the post, excited I ran down to look and found it dead. Then I cried, that something that was alive was now dead and I had done it. I wasn’t proud and never said anything about this first experience, until recently to my Auntie and Uncle. The old BSA was still at home but too big so for my birthday mum saw I was hooked and bought me an air rifle a .22 made in Czechoslovakia from a long since departed sports shop in Hazel Grove, Stockport. The next day we set up a piece of carpet as a back stop in the workshop at the back of the pub we lived in.
When I was eleven I won a book token at school and we were taken to a big book shop in Manchester. I chose The Sporting Gun by Karl Forbes. It was fantastic. I still have it. It gave advice, taught safety and shooting techniques and Zorro and I made the game carrier.
I grew into and out of the BSA and wanted a BSA Mk1 Airsporter they were expensive Ł25. I looked at them in magazines and at the CLA Game Fair. I worked during the holidays for my step father who was a builder and earned a few pounds a day. On the day I earned enough I phoned Jack Hallam, who owned and lived at the local gun shop and who knew my granddad. I asked if he would open and sell me an Airsporter as I couldn’t wait any longer. He kindly agreed. It was lovely, packed in its long box in moulded polystyrene, complete with targets and pellet catcher. Eley Wasp were the pellets we preferred but often Marksman were cheaper, we knew nothing of trying different pellets for accuracy etc.
While at Uncle Sam’s I went with him to the local keepers home, I always found this amazing, pheasants about the place, rabbits hanging, traps bundled together I was fascinated. Bumping down estate tracks in the Landrover watching puddles fly over the fields from the wheels, us in the back with a couple of Springer’s and Labradors.
Sam was a gun dog trainer in his spare time and there were always several dogs around and every night after work he would take them out down through the woods and over some fields to a pond where sometimes he would do some training. I well remember the gruff scolding tone when the dog was not doing well and the softer warm encouragement when it was going better. I loved these little mini trips. Uncle Sam was somewhat gruff and not always easy to understand. When very small I found him a little scary and remember being pleased once when on the way to their house Auntie Audrey said Sam was out shooting today, how things change. Sam was quite a writer to and had loads of articles published in magazines and he wrote a book on dog training, I still have my signed copy. Its very 1960’s but still a good read.
One afternoon Sam said get you coat and wellie’s we are going out. I climbed into the front of the Landrover. I loved being in the front. He struck a match on the steering wheel hub and lit his pipe. Off we went to Newton’s the keepers, we were going beating. I had no idea what this involved and was nervous. Grab a stick and come with us bang the bushes and just walk in line with us don’t get out in front. It was great pheasants exploded out of the cover, guns fired and pheasants folded up crashing to the ground. Later in the dusk I was stood with a gun and to see the three foot long dull red flames from the barrels was fantastic the pickers up dogs running to and fro for them, I picked up a couple of used cartridge cases and later carefully folded them shut. I was sorry when we returned home. It was everything the sounds the smell the dogs, beaters, guns what an experience.
I met a new friend at school and we started to get some ground to shoot on, he had a Realm Tornado .22 under lever, a bit like the Airsporter except it was bright yellow. Zorro (his real name) and I fired thousands of pellets. The garage wall behind our house was pebble dashed with lead. We speculated how close putty was to the density of muscle.
A farmer came to see my stepfather, I got the drift of what was going on he had a grant to build a cowshed, and then had it done on the lump. So he had no receipts for the work, he wanted some fictitious ones, so I jumped straight in and asked about some land to shoot on, well he couldn’t really refuse. Although my stepfather did.
We spent days on our ground. Talking watching waiting for pigeons. Staked out in a ditch under a green tarp. So far the high light had been when I shot the scare crow after heavy rain and water poured out of it. The one afternoon a few pigeons landed in front of us, probably by mistake rather than to our lino cut decoys. Zorro fired and we heard the strike, they all took off, watch then he shouted and sure enough a few seconds later on folded and fell from the sky. I don’t think high fives were the thing then but you get the idea we were ecstatic and went to pick it up.
The whole thing was plucked stuffed and roasted. How things have changed, now its quick breasting out in a few seconds. But we’d had a success that was everything.
At the back of the house was a railway line in a cutting with fields on the far side. I saw jackdaws feeding in the field opposite our garage. I walked down the lane and over the railway bridge, climbed over the edge of the bridge onto the railway banking and keeping below the sky line made my way along the banking, Looking carefully slowly over the top they were still there. I aimed and fired, thwack, down it went, this time I ran home to get my mum to come and have a look.
I was approaching fifteen and one lunch time saw Zorro and I slip out of school and off to the local police station. The duty PC did not look impressed to see to lads in school blazers asking for shot gun certificate application forms. Lucky we never wore our caps. E got then filled in and off they went. Zorro’s came back first and one morning he rang, he had a shot gun did I want to go shooting. We met up. It was a single barrel Argyle. What a step forward. He had a shot to try it out. I nervously had a go and we laughed a lot, the release of nervous tension. I had been worried about the kick. We later found out that occasionally it had a nasty habit of opening on firing and ejecting the case into your fore head.
Uncle Sam called me and said come over when your certificate comes. A few days later it came and we went over. Here you are he said handing me a single barrel 12 bore. It was a Webley, barrel a foot thick which was as well as it was rather pitted. But I had a shotgun.
We carried on shooting and more fell to our shot guns and more again as our shooting improved gradually over the months. At one point when school boys cash was short we went into the gun shop and asked what was the cheapest cartridges he had. Out came a white box with black arrows on marked WD 1918. I think they were 12/- all I can say is they went bang, produced copious quantities of smoke and blocked up the barrel with deposits.
Sam organised a local charity clay shoot and I was invited. He gave me a box of 7’s when we arrived and I hit 9 out of 50 DTL. But I loved it to be somewhere and fire more than the odd shot was great.
He took me pigeon shooting and his friend looked after me. I was sat in a proper hide, real decoys out in front. sitty tree to my right, it was great. I shot a few. I am sure I talked when I should have been listening and shot when I should have been watching, but so is the way of the young and inexperienced. He was very patient with me.
Walking along a wall a rabbit bolted from my feet I fired just as it was about to go over the edge of a rise and bowled it over the list was growing as was the food on the table.
In the summer holidays Sam said coming out tonight we are going duck shooting. I was thrilled to bits. We met Newton and went off together in the Landrover with a couple of Spaniels in the back.
I was installed in the bushes at a tree surrounded flight pond. A small patch of sky visible in front of me. I was covered in midge repellent. I knew the others were close by. Safety was in my mind. It got darker. A disembodied voice said here they come.
There was a thrumb sound, something passed through my bit of sky at mach six. Bang, bang, bang around me splash. Thrumb, thrumb, Bang, bang. I raised my gun and tried to swing onto some. Eventually I fired, nineteen shots later. One crashed down in the wood behind me. A halt was called and the dogs went out to bring back the bag.
The Teal were put in the Landrover what fantastic colours, we hung them on hooks in the big shed.
Sadly some time ago my uncle passed away and I was asked to speak at his funeral. I mentioned him as a countryman, a man who fostered my interest in the out doors, gave me confidence, time and opportunities. The gift of my first shot gun. My cabinet today still contains this badly pitted old gun and the small dinky Webley .177.