Ah, well, I said, I really need to go out and do some more zeroing. I've done a bit but I'm not quite there yet. The thing is, I really don't want to sit on the farmer's land and fire off forty-odd shots. There are people that live nearby and there are cows around and stuff - and I don't want to irritate the neighbours or wind up the farmer because I'm paranoid about losing permission to shoot on the land and all. So I've been putting it off for a day or so I guess...
Sue then told me all about her recent Village Fair: serving ice cream all day, a Hog Roast, then a boozy evening in the pub with a crowd of Morris Dancers. Sounds tremendous, I said, sounds great! God, I wish I'd been there...
After we'd finished chatting I thought about going into town and doing some shopping and, at the prospect, a great cloud of gloom fell on me. No, sod it, I thought, No, I won't do that; I'll go out and get this zeroing done instead.
I set off and soon found a nicely isolated little spot - away from the farm - where a chap could do a bit of zeroing in peace. I'd zeroed a little already - a couple of days before - at 18 yards but, thinking about it, I'd realised that almost everything I've ever successfully shot has been at a distance of about 25 yards. I decided today that I might just as well zero at that distance - so at least I'd know where I was for the range at which I most often find myself shooting. So here's my first 25 yard group with iron sights:
Well, I thought, it's untidy for a start - but it needs, at least, to go right a shade and perhaps up a wee bit too. So I gave the adjuster wheels a spin and produced:
Signifying that I'd got my directions mixed up and had confidently turned the wheels the wrong way. I'll spare the reader the half-dozen intermediate sheets where I inched back to the right and skip instead to:
Where I realised I'd gone too far to the right - and was still a shade low. A couple of clicks back and one click up produced this seven shot group:
O.K, I thought, that'll do.
I packed up and decided to have a quick wander through the fields. Just over the first stile I saw a rabbit right in front of me. I wasn't expecting that. I seem to spend a lot of time when I'm out hunting deciding that such-and-such a place, way over yonder, will be the likely spot to yield rabbits or pigeons and I set off for that place and - usually - blunder across quite a few animals on the way. I frighten them off every time precisely because I'm not thinking that there'll be anything to shoot at between the point I've started from and the place I'm making for. Today was one such occasion: I wasn't expecting to find a rabbit there and I didn't have my gun out of the bag. By the time I'd got the rifle out and loaded it - even as quietly as I could manage - the rabbit had heard me and fled.
I looked around and saw some pigeons in the middle of the same field and decided to see if I could crawl over to them. Crawling with an open-sights rifle and no scope! What a revelation! What a joy! It's hugely better than trying to stalk with a dirty great scope on the gun: you can hold the rifle in many different ways, all of them easier than with the scope in the way; you don't have to worry about banging the fragile scope and, best of all, it's much lighter to carry. I covered the ground - for me - fairly swiftly and then nervously levelled the sights on the closest pigeon. This - and there's no big surprise here, I suppose, but it still took me aback - is much harder than with a scope: the animal is a great deal smaller, seems a very long way away, and focusing on three things at once is no joke for my middle-aged eyes. Nonetheless, I took the 20-yard shot and - to my amazement - got it.
I went to the abandoned orchard after that and got a rabbit, too. A thirty-yard shot this time - but taken standing. The scope weighs 700g, one-and-half pounds; I could never hold the near-twelve-pound weight of the rifle plus scope steady for more than a few seconds when I'd tried standing shots before. Today, though, it seemed perfectly possible to keep the now-lighter rifle steady enough for such a shot. The transformation is a revelation, really.
Productive as they both were - and enlightening, too, each in their own way, these scope-less shots - neither of them would make it into a textbook for the new school of clinical, turn-the-animal-off-like-a-light, air-rifle hunting. I had to dispatch the flapping pigeon with a blow from the side of my heavy lock knife and break the neck of the still-kicking rabbit. But I did get food for the next few days and I also got confirmation that - though there's more practise needed, to be sure - hunting with iron sights is certainly possible.
To close, in a not-entirely ironic celebration of the 'Old Ways', here's a short video my friend Sue made of a group of what looks like well-oiled Morris Dancers, all doing their West-Country-thing in a dark, crowded and jovially noisy pub.