'We see the world, not as it is, but as we are'
Occasionally, just occasionally I visit the countryside in search of dinner and/or accuracy. Where for the most part I shoot unloved action figures and empty larger cans in an event we like to call Airgun Frenzy. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry in a good way. I'm not complaining. Here's how it happened.
As we've had a brief respite from the rain, Elfa had gone away for the weekend, and the freezer has been a rabbit-free zone for weeks, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the pellet-to-the-metal and have an afternoons air rifle shooting. With two permissions between us I was hopeful that we'd be able to bring home a few bunnies, and if we didn't, any day out of town is a good one.
Did I mention HunterX was involved? Multiply that by HunterY being there as well, and regular readers will know that we may as well have set Airgun Frenzy in the twilight zone, do do der der do do der der......
HunterX: Air rifles, small game and target shooting Saturday.
SBW: You had me from Air rifles.
SBW: Is Airgun Frenzy still on?
HunterX: Mine 8am Sat.
HunterX: Scrub that. We have to collect HunterY, as near to 7 as you can
SBW: Bell you on route.
We make our arrangements - as ever TBC at the last moment, I prepare a picnic/tapas and hit the road in excellent time. Rather than go to his house where escape velocity may well be impeded by, pretty much anything, we agree to meet in the street at a halfway point. I almost have time for a second round of coffee and danish, after the wait for the cafe to open. HunterX rocks up and we make our way across town. HunterX has a plan. "Y will still be in bed, we'll call him, he'll say we're early and should come in for coffee, we'll refuse and wait for him in the truck, otherwise it'll be lunchtime and we'll still be there."
SBW: "No worries I've laid on a lunch"
HunterX "What does that even mean? 'I've laid on a lunch'?"
SBW: "It means a selection of cold meats, from Spain. a selection of cheeses, from Portugal, an excellent pate, French, some pickles to go with the pate, and plates instead of eating off the wrappers"
HunterY appears carrying a machete, which makes for an unexpected sight on a sleepy west london street on Saturday morning, friday night in south london normal, saturday morning in west london, unusual.
SBW: Where's your air rifle dude?
HunterY: "As St Paul said 'when I became a man I put away childish things'"
HunterX: _________ [Y's famous friend] said that about five years ago at a game fair, and Y has repeated it every time air rifles are mentioned since. Yawn
The cussing, bragging and bickering continue as we drive out of town.
We drive through the flooded fields of the English countryside, that as you may have seen are slowly draining, while its been a tough time for the deer all that sodden ground is about to burst into verdant life, the rains stop for the day and the sun lights up the fields. HunterX casually mentions a few little jobs, all of which could be done with tools and tubes of gloop which I have in abundance. Just not with me. HunterY announces he needs to buy a pair of boots. This is all par for the course. No trip to X's permission is complete without a visit to a hardware store [or two].
Our new friend Kentish Hunter joins us for the afternoon. A true travelling sportsman, he's hunted some very far-flung destinations, and preferring to shoot his own rifle has bought himself a box full of take-down goodness. A Blaser R8 in .243 and what a sweet thing it is too.
Maybe its because I'm an AOH, [adult onset hunter] that the Blaser design appeals to me. Mauser's design is true genius, using the options he had at the time. Blaser's doing away with the bolt and replacing it with a collet that locks the case into the barrel is the next step.
It took me ages to tire of reading the hilarious Blaser knockers online, like all people who know in their heart of hearts that they've lost the argument [they started], the grounds for their dissatisfaction change before the wind. Very few of them are intellectually honest enough to sight either of the two good reasons for not buying a Blaser ; 'I'm not spending THAT on a rifle' and 'If I spent THAT on a rifle I'd want it to be historic or made by one 'smith '. If I lived a life even approaching the life of my dreams I'd have one, but sadly I can't even begin to justify a used R93 let alone the super trick R8.
Like every Kit-Tart I've always thought having tip-top gear that you totally believe in, gives you the confidence to take on the job. Be that Bahco's for wrestling with seized nuts on ancient plumbing or Kifaru/ThermArest for sleeping out in inclement weather. This doesn't seem to be working for the deflated Kentish Hunter who I'd have expected to be full of new-toy-joy but is a font of negativity, even going as far as uttering that most defeatist of phrases "Maybe my wife is right, maybe I'm just not cut out to be a hunter". Que gasps of horror from hunter's X, Y and yours truly.
It happens. I've seen it happen at work, I've seen it happen in love, I've seen it happen to salesmen and to sportsman. It's happened to me.
In Spain, a few months ago, in the campo. The Evil Elfa and I had a shooting competition with her open sighted Cometa .177.
The first to shoot is to put a hole in the pressed steel lid of an old food tin, after that it's how close to the hole for scoring. The sun is going down and the holes are illuminated from behind. Elfa's pellets make the 'phutunk' sound as they cluster around the hole in a tight group, mine are 'pa-ting' sounding different and no holes are appearing. Elfa is beside herself with glee 'don't be too hard on yourself I was trained for this with my dad when I was a kid' she crows, smirking in mock sympathy.
I review my memories of each shot; it all felt so right, the hold, the breath, the settle. I'm falling into my confusion; the gap between practice and feedback seem out of sync. Confusion becomes despondency. Whupped by mi chica.
In my minds eye I can imagine what she'll say as I leave the house for future hunting trips. I'm actually future-pacing my self-doubt. My despondency reaches a new low.
Where it would have remained if the coyote god hadn't made the the wind blow.
For the second time a gust brings the lid down from the fence, this time I go to re-hang it. As I bend to pick it up I see the Zen of this thing, beaten into the metal.
While Elfa's pellets have clustered around the hole, mine are all in a tighter group where they struck but didn't puncture, the tin's embossed rim. About 20mm to the right and 15mm low there are deep dimples, deep deep dimples, where pellets have landed in the craters of previous pellets. One on top of another.
Oh the power of negative thinking.
I can see how Kentish Hunter must feel. Twelve long months have passed between his last deer on the ground, and they were punctuated with a lost deer. The guilt and uncertainty have drained the poor chap of his confidence. I've stalked a lot more than I've shot deer, you've got to be a sport about it, 'it's called hunting not shopping' and all that. But I haven't bought myself a brand new Blaser R8. If I had I'm not sure I'd be so sanguine about it either, the rings on that thing cost more than a perfectly good preloved deer rifle.
There is something in the sportsman's code. Scrub that. There is something in the hobbyist's code, even if he'd said 'maybe I'm just not cut out to make my own mayonnaise" the very fact that he prefaced it with the words 'maybe my wife is right' means that, in the style of fellow freemasons seeing the summoning of aid symbol, Hunters X and Y were now honor-bound to re-inflate his sense of 'Hunter-ness'.
HunterY sets Kentish Hunter up on the range with targets at 100, and 200 meters. Y is an excellent range captain, there is something very avuncular about him as he calmly breaks the procedure down into steps. Kentish Hunter puts round after round within the deer killing zone. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch it. There is a discernible flicker, a long unused neural pathway illuminates as his synapses reconfigure towards 'can do'. Clouds both climatic and metaphorical are blown away from the range and we're in clear sunlight.
Kentish Hunter: "even if I don't get a deer I'm happy". "I think we can do a bit better than that" HunterY
Kentish Hunter offers us the chance to shoot his rifle, HunterY likes to pretend he disdains the Blaser brand [range captain and lead controversialist], HunterX knows I want to have a go and taps his watch like a station master concerned for the smooth running of a timetable in mussolini's Italy.
The 'Settle' or preparation to take a shot, it turns out is something fairly easily practiced, and as its gun-less can be practiced anywhere. That feeling of narrowing my focus of attention can be recreated, and by practicing with the hands of a clock the feedback on how fast you're moving between states, helps you to get faster at moving between generalised alertness and the narrowed focus required. The zen of shooting never stops fascinating me.
With our thoughts we make the world.
As the sun was now falling towards the trees, HunterX sets out his plan for the remaining shooting light, Kentish Hunter in a highseat for Fallow, with me and him to take on the curse of the were-rabbits with our .177's. Before the air rifles can leave their slips HunterY suggests another likely highseat for me to sit in.
Climbing into it I wasn't to wait long before I was able to invite a Roe doe to dinner with HunterX's .243 'cull gun'. A Tikka with its bolt knob replaced with a plastic sphere. It doesn't look as trick as those 'tactical' milled aluminium knobs, but seems loads more ergonomic than the OME or the tactical knob [there's a joke in here somewhere] and was only $10.
As I'm making the rifle safe to climb out of the seat, there's the muffled ping of another .243. Did he? Has the jinx been broken?
HunterY and I are working our way through the gralloch when Kentish Hunter appears dragging a Fallow yearling. I say dragging, but his feet weren't really touching the ground, he's flying. Usually a firm handshake is the order of the day, but this time we all hug him. Kentish Hunter wears a grin that would shame a Cheshire Cat for the rest of the day. Later I casually ask him if he's still thinking of selling his R8. Apparently not. But he does have plans to buy a new scope, a .308 barrel and install a deer hoist in his garage.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to readers new and readers regular for having shop-bought mayonnaise in the fridge. There is no excuse. None.