The Children and Shooting.
I have four children and occasionally over the years they have come along shooting. The older two never really had much interest but came along to have a look at what it was dad kept slipping off to do.
One afternoon one of my daughters came and said can I come she was about 10 I think.
"Yes ok" I said.
Off we went up to a 400 acre farm in Staffordshire It was a nice evening. When we arrived we sat on a fence and had a chat about what it might be like if I shot something. That one moment it would be alive and the next it would be there dead. She replied
“I don’t think I’ll be bothered I like rabbit pie.”
So we had a safety talk, the cartridge belt went on and the Lanber came out of its slip and we went for a walk.
It was a lovely evening there were new lambs gambolling around and the sound of bleating as one or another tried to establish the whereabouts of its mum in the grazing flock. Little white butterflies flitted around the meadow flowers and the sky was a gorgeous blue with huge white clouds torn into wonderful swirls by the jet stream, streaked with distorted vapour trails of high cruising aircraft.
We made our way down the top of a bank of a long lost stream that must have cut this groove down the field over the millennia. There are a few small isolated trees in a rough line and the occasional rabbit hole. The field tailed off at a fence and a wooded drop into the river below.
A rabbit, disturbed by our approach made a break for the fence. I lifted the gun waited a second swung through and fired, the rabbit bowled over and was still a bit of a leg twitch, nothing more. I picked it up. Looked at my daughter, there were some signs of sadness, perhaps the beginning of a tear. That’s not a bad thing, some respect and remorse and a period of sorting out what your feelings are and if field sports are for you is natural I think. I asked “Do you want to carry it.”
“Yes” She said.
Off we went. She was soon a little behind me and having trouble carrying the full grown rabbit. Then I heard what I thought was a junior expletive. I looked round. All trace of sadness and tear had gone to be replaced by one of indignation. She had bent the rabbit over her arm to spread out the weight.
“Its wee’d and pooh’d on me”
She said. I had forgotten to squeeze out the bladder and rectum. I apologised, offered to carry it myself but she replied
“No you have the gun and not likely to get another if you have to put this one down”.
The die was set. We left the rabbit by a gate to pick up on the way back and chatted about the evening, rabbits, how many there were, farming and the Shetland ponies we shared the ground with. It was lovely.
On our way back in the car she asked
“What happens with it now”.
”How do you mean” I asked back.
“Well it doesn’t go in the pie with fur on”
“Oh I see, we can stop and I can show you if you are sure you want to”
So we stopped in a lay by. The lay by used to be the old road created by a straightening scheme and some of it is blocked off. So we took the rabbit and a pair of rubber gloves from my first aid kit and an old carrier bag from the floor of the car and went off into the closed off bit. I had a knife, a folding sturdy lock blade so we were adequately prepared. I found an old marker post long since snapped of in some past road collision to use as a makeshift butchers block and a another bit to use as what the American survivalists term a’ baton’.
I slipped the blade through the skin and opened up the underside separated the skin off the body and using the baton hammered the top of the blade to chop off the legs. I love this Ray Mears stuff. I drew off the skin and open the abdomen and shook out the viscera, removed the head and we had a look at the heart and lungs which she knew quite a bit about from school. That was the job done, we popped it into the carrier bag ready for a wash at home, The other bits were left discretely behind for the foxes and corvids. We got home and as she put the rabbit in the fridge and the kettle on the AGA and I cleaned my gun, we agreed we had a nice evening.
My younger son showed an interest and asked if he could have an air rifle. We were on holiday at the time and as always the local gun shop has its attractions for me. Wendy’s in Bude needed a visit. It had the added attraction for the rest of the family by virtue of being right opposite a chocolate shop.
There were lots of guns in but I didn’t want to buy one a long way from home, but they were very helpful and I have been in a few times since and picked their brains over .22rf and centre fires and bought various bits and pieces there. Back home took us to Cheshire Gun where we bought a Spanish Cometa 200. I had a Webley 4x30 scope on my Airsporter which I fitted to it and he was ready for some target practice. We also bought a target at the same time, four knock down rabbits and then shoot a centre disk and they all pop up. A far cry from the pile of old cans we used to use but it prove to be great fun and we spent many good afternoons in the farm yard plinking away in serious competition to get them knocked down and set back up. The farmer pulled in his tractor one hot afternoon and walked purposefully over. The idea is I thin out his crows and I wondered if he was going to complain about this unauthorised activity.
“Hey up youth,”
I wasn’t sure which one of us he was addressing,
“Can I have a go”
We handed him a rifle and a tin of pellets. We wondered if we were going to get another go, I was glad there were more pellets in the car.
“Thanks” he said after about half an hour
“That was grand” swung back up into the tractor and was gone in a roar of pm10’s.
The time of the air rifle was coming to its close and he was expressing an interest in a shotgun. He asks for very little and it was good weather at the end of the summer holidays. I had a bag of change I had been collecting for a year or two and decided to cash it up and get it bagged and see how much there was. Well it came to a couple of hundred pounds so come Monday I nipped into the bank and asked if I could cash in a bit of change,
“Yes” she said no problem if you bank with us.
So just on lunch time, just as she was on her own I called in. It took both hands and a considerable hoik to get the bag up onto the counter. She looked at the bag, the bank was empty she started to weigh the bags. Now if you have ever bagged up a fair amount of cash then you will know there is always the odd bag or three that’s light or over so she started with great dexterity to pop coins from one bag to the other, was that a slightly exasperated look or was I imagining it. Customers came in behind me. Rushing to get their banking done in the few remaining minutes of their lunch hour. Not a good plan today. The bank filled up, coins clinked and eventually £208 pounds in nice light notes came over the counter. I left the bank with a ready smile for the queue behind me.
We went off straight away to a gun shop about 20 miles away, they only had one and it was very well worn, and that’s being polite. A screw was missing and it folded in half, almost flat like a poachers gun, the action was sloppy, it had fired a lot of cartridges. We went off to the next shop, a much better one in my opinion and one I use quite a bit. This time we were offered coffee and taken up stairs and given seats. We had decided on a 20 bore over and under. I wasn’t going to be fancy in our price bracket nor would it be new but safe and reliable would do the job for us. There was a lovely Berretta but it was far to expensive, I could see he liked it but while I was prepared to chip in some extra cash but regrettably could not stretch this far. But the other lesson here is you have cut your cloth according to your means. So he tried the cheaper one, an Italian rather plain gun, but I liked it. But then I do like cheap. We had it. It seamed to fit him not to badly, the stock was rather straight with was a good thing as he is left handed and has a right master eye so we would have to see how the shooting went. The shop threw in a couple of boxes of sixes to get him started and I bought some more along with a second hand gun slip. We were set up for some trips out together. We looked at the weather as we left the shop and wondered if we could get out this evening.
As it happened other family members had other plans and it was a few days later that we pulled into a north Derbyshire farm yard and got ready to go out into the fields, there is about 400 acres. I gave a strict safety talk and we went off guns unloaded to start with. We walked over to the foot of some old mine spoil that stretches up the hill towards the old capped shaft, I have dropped a plumb line down it and its 90 feet to the bottom assuming it didn’t hit an obstruction, stemple of false floor. There was an old post lying in the foot of the wall and I propped it up and he carefully loaded his gun and with a little direction fired his first shot. Bits flew of the post, so that was a good result. We walked over and inspected it, shot holes peppered the front and the back was white with wood fibres punched out as the shot passed through in spectacular fashion, a good demonstration of the destructive power of the shotgun. It got the message home that care was of the essence and there are no second chances. To be fair he had always been good and never taken the slightest liberty with his air rifle.
Now with both chambers loaded but our guns broken we set off in search of a rabbit or two. We had staked out a warren before from the cover of some old mine workings with the air rifle but had no success, so we knew there were some about. There was the sound of motor bikes as some green laners came up from the pub towards the next village they had to stop to open and close gates. We walked on as quiet settled around us again. We are quite high up here and the land stretches away in all directions, the sky was huge. We came to a gate ourselves. We stopped I said to him
“Take a look to the left, there is often a rabbit sat out between the wall and the cattle trough”
He had a look and reported there was one there.
“How about shooting it then”
I suggested. He looked back over the gate raised his gun slipped off the safety and took aim. I waited and waited. Its going to die of old age soon I was thinking but kept my mouth shut it was up to him now. May be he wouldn’t shoot at all. Bang.
“Got it” He said.
“Watch it” I said” Be ready to shoot again if it gets up”
We opened the gate and walked up to the rabbit, it was dead. I picked it up and we took a couple of photo’s, then put it in the game bag. Later it became a nice pie.
He asked if I was off shooting could he come along. It was a foul early September evening. It had been wet all day and was still practically blowing a gale and the sky looked black with the promise of a shed load more of the same to come. But, to separate him from the x box and get out in the fresh air had to be a positive thing. So we gathered up our winter gear, he is a bit short of shooting clothing so he had on his big black anorak but it did the job. Off we drove to the farm wipers on full, spray everywhere and not many other adventurers out on the roads. The farm yard was awash with brown water and as we waded our way to the fields the gateways were flooded. We made our way down the hard track through the fields to our left part of the fields were flooded. I said
“ These flooded splashes are really good for attracting ducks. The rivers are in spate and the ducks move off to these areas where worms and insects are brought up by the water and the food is plentiful.”
We were getting wet and I was beginning to think that may be there was such a thing as a bad day shooting. May be the rabbits would be flooded out and swimming furiously round the fields bedraggled, tired and waiting to become organic pie filling. No such luck. He said
“Dad” in the voice I was secretly pleased to hear,
“ Shall we pack it in and go and get a hot chocolate” I said.
But then just as happens in shooting the weather was forgotten. Against the black swirling low sky I picked up movement. Six mallard wide to our left, “Watch them, they often circle round”
They disappeared over towards the farm. We set off in that direction, it was towards the car after all. This was his second trip out rough shooting, so I advised he take a shot if we came across them even if they were on the ground. As we skirted a field some way still from the farm where I thought the ducks were far to our left, above the sound of the storm and the rain on our hats and jackets there was a distinct “quack” to our right.
“They are here” he said.
I looked and all six were in the gloom at the side of the splash I had talked about earlier.
” Shoot” I said.
We turned and the ducks lifted, the 20 bore fired and the left hand mallard folded I fired both barrels and two more slashed into the water.
“Well done mate”
I was chuffed to bits for him. We went and picked them up. This miserable night transformed by success.
“Just one thing I reminded him, you do have a second barrel”
“Oh yeah” he said.
So three shots three ducks all flying I was really proud, he had shot well.
On a nice sunny Sunday morning I went out to the bin and just as I was about to close the door there was the distant sound of gunfire. The local clay shoot had just kicked off, we took up our guns and cartridges and nipped the two minute up the road and booked ourselves in. He had never shot clays before so we had a chat about safety, etiquette and pretty much that you won’t hit anything behind. Left handed, right master eye never done any before perhaps we should have a small wager. We set of round it was sunny and warm. The first stand was a standard and a mini on report from behind, we watched those before us, I wondered what I could do to help and decided he just had to get on with it and a few were hit. We moved on sporting stand to sporting stand it was a good time and we were enjoying it he did well and we were both pleased. As stand ten was completed I started to tot up the scores and realised he had hit over 20 “mmmm,” I thought, then with the last two stands added on he had got twenty six, ex fifty on his first go at clays. When I returned to shooting and went there I hit nine.This left hand right master eye rubbish, is just that then, rubbish. We had a brew and a bacon buttie, a bloke across the table heard us talking and asked how he had gone on,
“A natural talent there” he said.
Later I bought my own trap and we had many good times making our own sporting and practice layouts over a small quarry. He liked clay shooting more than anything else, he liked to take out his gun and shoot it rather than carry it round for ages with the off chance of a shot.
Gradually the x box seems to have won out, but perhaps the seed is sown, the guns and the ammo is still there and its often been known for someone to have a lay off for a while. Lets hope its temporary.