Friday, 26 February 2010

Hubert's Blog Picks: Pyramyd Air Report

Speaking of fine blogs, in case there are UK readers of Rabbit Stew who have not had the pleasure of finding the Pyramyd Air Report I'd like to recommend it. It's a huge and ever-growing encyclopaedia of immensely detailed and careful investigation into all things air-gun and its factual and utilitarian approach makes it a great research tool. I'd suggest using the search facility there to open its treasures as its - by internet standards - vast five-year post archive can be rather daunting to swallow whole.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

US & UK Gun Law & Liberty.

Cork Graham, in a comment below on the petition regarding Scottish gun law wrote:

Man...this is one of the many reasons my Graham's of Montrose ancestors left Stirling, by way of County Antrim for South Carolina in 1774: religious freedom and an opportunity to hunt freely.

...At least I still get to shoot my bunnies with a pellet gun in California:

Though we'll see how long that lasts while we continue following British government with every coming year...Keep up the fight, Lads!


A tired and rather grumpy Hubert wrote in reply:

Thanks for your comment Cork,

I guess that the act of the English government here is actually to devolve gun laws to Scotland so that, in this, they can be self-determining. I don't really have a problem with that except it seems that when the Scots have their own gun law they'll probably choose to outlaw air rifles. To me, an English air-rifler, this seems like a poor outcome for Scotland's air hunters but, in a way though, it's a separate issue and I can't find myself disagreeing too strongly with the wish of the Scots to be self-determining if that's what they want. To be honest this grant of the right to home rule here doesn't strike me as being that comparable to the persecution that spurred the Pilgrim Fathers to take ship or proof that the same repressive culture still reigns on these shores.

I can't really see that there's much in the argument that the UK has a particularly grim gun culture when compared to the US either. The gun laws are wildly different over here and hunting is squeezed, that's true; but I guess it's also true that in most UK inner cities you can still pop out for a pint of milk without having to consider whether to go with Kevlar or a concealed carry - and it seems to me that there is something to be said for this state of affairs. The US has much to recommend it - I continue to nurse pipe dreams about Montana and Northern California and I'm sure I'm not alone in this among UK hunter-folk - but I'm not quite sure I think that, when compared to the U.K, it's the land of milk and honey over there.

The much-derided NHS do patch people up over here without enquiring as to their economic well-being beforehand and if the States were to copy us in this I dare say that there's a few less-well-off inner-city folk who might also welcome a touch of free health care after catching a stray from one of the many drive-bys on offer in the Land of the Free.

Fraternally from across the pond,

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Mouthful of Feathers

It's a treat to stumble across a blog that you really like; 'Mouthful of Feathers' is a very striking collaborative effort with astonishingly beautiful photography and a strong, refreshingly well-written voice. I'm very glad to have found it and happy to play a small part in spreading the word.

Politics & the Fox Hunting Ban

The news today that the Labour Party is pressing the Tories on their plans to repeal the 2004 Hunting Act has left Hubert rather conflicted. Despite the manifest craziness of much of New Labour's 'if it moves, there ought to be a law about it' mindset, Hubert is a life-long, more-or-less tribal Labour voter and tends to grind his teeth and spit profanity at the prospect of the Tories getting back into power. That being said however, the Labour Environment Secretary Hilary Benn basing his opposition to the repeal of the Fox Hunting Ban on the basis that, 'the ban has worked and is supported by a majority of the population' strikes me as a flawed argument given that the overwhelmingly urban population of the UK can't seem to get their collective voting heads into a place where they can sympathise with positions that seem blindingly obvious to the minority rural population.

Central London estate dwellers, for instance, are largely unable to see that a blanket ban on possession of air rifles could be anything other than a good thing if it lessens the possibility of their being sniped at on their way to Tesco's by a sociopathic teen in a nearby tower block; so they'd be quite happy to vote for such a ban despite all the rural folk who see air rifles as an ordinary and safe tool for reducing the damage to crops by vermin as well as a way of getting meat to the table. So in the case of air rifles to say that the 'majority of the population' would support a ban would be to justify a poor political solution on the assumption that a simple head-count is a dependable path to the legislative good of all concerned - and it just isn't.

With the fox hunting ban though - and I should qualify this by admitting that I know approximately sod all about the actual practice of this kind of hunting - I'm really not so sure. I can't honestly see that if the aim is to reduce the predation of foxes upon livestock that this isn't better acheived by people simply shooting them in areas where this is a problem - rather than by assembling a giant armada of dogs, horses and fancy-dress riders to chase them across the fields. I understand that the hunts are enmeshed in the rural economy and have a centuries-long tradition behind them but I can't take this by itself as being a conclusive argument for supporting them since there's nothing to stop a tradition, as such, being a thoroughly dumb thing; slavery, the subjugation of women and the death penalty being only the first few of the many 'noble' and now justly-rejected traditions that come to mind. So to argue that fox hunting is a traditional pursuit doesn't do much to persuade me that it's therefore a good one; in fact, I'd say it does nothing.

Fox hunting was banned in England, I guess, largely because it was seen to be cruel; the dogs, when and if they finally find their quarry, kill them in the way that a pack of dogs will and there's much scope here for arguing that this is a 'cruel' practise - by which I suppose I understand a 'less-than-ideally-humane' one. Well, maybe. Foxes, when they find their way into chicken runs aren't themselves noted for the ideally humane way in which they dispatch their own prey - typically tearing the heads off the whole brood before making away with just one of them. Perhaps it's tricky for the Tesco-bound Islington shopper to understand that if they want a nice, 'ethical' free-range egg for their breakfast - and one that costs less than a fiver each - then foxes are, like it or not, going to have to be controlled somewhere along the line.

This might be so, but to say this still doesn't, in my book at least, make a great argument for the control of foxes via packs of hounds and crowds of scarlet-clad folk on horseback.

So, I'm unsure.

The Countryside Alliance (their manifesto here) is an organisation in the UK that campaigns for rural issues and is actively supporting the repeal of the Fox Hunting Ban. I read their manifesto this morning and while it's a little scanty on details it does state positions with which I'm sympathetic. They put the rural point of view very well and I can see that this is something that does genuinely need to be done, but even so I can't quite follow them in their unqualified support for a straightforward repeal of the ban.

I do also, I confess, have something of an instinctive knee-jerk response against the Countryside Alliance, since I felt them, a few years back, to be little more than a front organisation for the Conservative Party. This, I have to say, was mitigated a bit this morning by reading their manifesto, finding myself agreeing with much of it and realising that their Chair is now the Labour MP Kate Hoey.

It's complicated, this stuff...


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Petition against the Scottish Air Gun Ban

If you haven't already done so, please sign the petition (here) to stop the Scottish Air Gun ban. Another 5000 signatures are needed, so please pass the word around.
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Saturday, 13 February 2010

Pistols & Histories

I watched a television programme recently in which the editor of a popular satirical magazine was asked about 'opinion' on the Internet. 'The blogosphere!', he exclaimed, 'You think I should consult the blogosphere? Where everyone writes very quickly about Hitler!' I went to sleep with this on my mind and the next day I woke up and thought, 'well, yes, perhaps it is cranky of me to relate things so quickly to the Second World War?' I went to a post I'd written here a week or so before, found a part of it that contained a reference to WWII German army uniforms and deleted it. After all, I thought, I don't want to be a crazy man that writes about Hitler on the Internet.

This morning I was thinking again about the Record Jumbo air pistol I'd bought in Bristol in the 1990's; I selected the text 'Record Jumbo', right-clicked to do a search and found that the gun was designed by a man called Fritz Barthelmes. (

'The company Barthelmes KG was established in Oggenhausen (district Heidenheim/Württemberg) in 1948 by Fritz Barthelmes. The manufactured products were inscribed and sold with the registered trademark "RECORD”. Mr. Fritz Barthelmes worked over 20 years as a successful senior designer in the arms factory Walther in Zella-Mehlis. He was owner of numerous patents and the designer of the famous Walther P 38.' (

I searched for 'Walther P 38' and found: Walther P38 is a 9 mm pistol that was developed as the service pistol of the Wehrmacht at the beginning of World War II. (

The page that I read about the P.38 didn't contain any reference to Barthelmes, so I followed another link and found: Fritz Barthelmes, born in Zella St Blasii in 1899, deserves to be remembered as the designer of the Walther P. 38, developed in the 1930s when he was chief engineer of Carl Walther Waffenfabrik of Zella Mehlis. The relevant British patent for the locking system is, after all, granted jointly to Barthelmes and Fritz Walther, and it is clear from the testimony of surviving employees that the concept was due more to Barthelmes than Walther. Fritz Barthelmes escaped from what was to be the Soviet Zone of a partitioned Germany in the summer of 1945, settling in the village of Heidenheim, where, ironically, Fritz Walther's fortunes also began a post war recovery. There he formed 'Fritz Barthelmes KG' to make metal goods and, later, starting and signal pistols. Barthelmes died in 1973. (

While I clicked these links another set of links and associations started to open up for me; not between items of data on different servers this time, but between the thoughts and memories that occurred to me when I read phrases like 'designer of the Walther P. 38', or 'service pistol of the Wehrmacht'. I wondered about Barthelmes' escape from the advancing Russian army: what must it have been like to live in Zella-Mehlis at this time? I found a piece about the American 778th Tank Battalion in 1945: On the 11th Division drove. It was almost impossible to keep up with cities and towns reached and passed: Schleid, Rosa, Suhl and Schleusinger all by April 10. Enemy resistance was crumbling; everybody in the battalion who wanted a Nazi souvenir had one, from shiny new pistols to helmet and flags. Suhl and Zella-Mehlis had plants that made hand guns and machine pistols. The plants were full of weapons and parts in bins. The G.I.'s had plenty of ordnance to trade and sell to the Russians at war's end. (

I thought about how strange it was that the gun I bought in Bristol in the 1990's was designed by the same man who'd designed weapons for the German army. At this point some things that my father had written about his time in France during the war came to my mind; he'd been the pilot of a Lancaster that was shot down on its way back from having bombed the V2 rocket site at St. Leu D'Esserent in June 1944. He'd parachuted out of the burning plane and, separated from his crew, had spent some days and nights hiding on his own in the countryside. He was discovered eventually by a group of farmers and Resistance members. I remembered what he wrote about hiding in a corn field: 'I stayed there all day. I had a drink and sucked some Horlicks tablets. The children passed again going home and they still didn't see me. Being summer it didn't get dark till late. I could see a wood in front of me so I went for it. It was an eerie wood with big holes like graves with stacks of wood in front of them, (I realised after they were made as trenches to hide in) it was nearly dark and the wood ended abruptly, one pace and I was out in the open. I stopped dead, someone was standing on the railway bridge about 100 yards away. I didn't move. I stood for minutes hoping that he had not seen me. He moved away. To the left there were some cottages and to the right there was a farmhouse. I decided to cross the railway lines and go across the next field. I was halfway across when I heard a shout, three men were running towards me. In my jacket I had my gun, a Smith and Wesson 38 bore revolver. I took it out. I didn't know what to do. The man whom I had seen on the bridge was the leader of the men, he was the leader of the resistance in that area. With his second-in-command Bernard and the farmer they were the three men who had come to help me. (I was limping quite badly with my knee I had hurt landing). He had been worried when he had seen me because the train on the railway lines I had crossed had been full of German troops.'
My father stayed with the farmer and two members of the Resistance. 'I helped them make the arm bands they wanted for their unit which was about 200 strong, stamping them and painting them with the tricolour & the Cross of Lorraine. Then they realised I was a trained armourer so they dug up all the old guns they had hidden in the church yard next to the farm house under the grave stones in the cemetery and I cleaned Lugers, German and Italian automatics and shotguns which would have blown up if they had ever been fired.'
'The farmer's dad was a baker by trade and he baked bread every day. The trains on the line stopped outside the farm gate, they dropped off coal and he threw loaves into the cabin for them. Other trains traded in tobacco from Belgium. At the back of the château was a wire enclosure about as big as a tennis court with wire dug into the ground. It was full of rabbits (wild ones) so we had lots of rabbit pie.'

'I had two bolt holes, one was through the back window and under the foundations of the house, it was about 18 inches square. The Germans that patrolled the railway line had decided to inspect the property, they did not expect to find anyone, it was just a nuisance trip. Two Germans saw the farmer in the farmyard and stopped to chat to him, we heard a shot so I went to my bolt hole in the back through the window, Bernard followed me and removed the slab and in I went. I had to crawl in some 15 feet and turn the corner so I was out of sight if anyone flashed a torch. If I had been found the Germans would have shot everyone in the house. I could hear things scratching about, I didn't know if it was rabbits or rats. It was very frightening. It turned out that the German soldier had been playing with his gun and when he had put it back in its holster he had fired it and hurt his foot. Bless him.'

So these pieces of writing come to my mind; some are are easy to think about and some are less so. It's easier, perhaps, for me to dwell on the objects than it is to think about the people that were caught up in all this; so these links hinge around the kind of question - were the guns that the German soldiers carried Walther P.38's? - that I see to be at a certain remove from the life of the situations themselves. Or is it perhaps that these things come up because they are linked in my mind by the word 'pistol' and each set of ideas is connected to this central point like spokes to the hub of a wheel? Whichever way it is, when I read about the career of Fritz Barthelmes, this is what comes to my mind. So thoughts about very ordinary objects - about an air pistol - do seem to link very swiftly for me to material that is tightly bound up with events in the Second World War - events that I can only say have for me the most vivid personal interest. Perhaps it's easy to underestimate how much this might be a shared experience for those of my generation? If this is so and we get a glimpse of this through the preoccupations of those who write on the Internet, perhaps this genuinely startles us?

Or I should we accept the view that we're crazy to be drawn into questions like this? These things, after all, did take place more than sixty years ago, twenty years before I was born; perhaps I should be embarrassed that the threads of my associative life are so knotted up with these supposedly distant things?

But embarrassed or not, surprised or not, these links are there; and up to what point, I wonder, is it admissible to publicly confess that this is so? Beyond what point exactly does it become an indicator of a suspicious irrationality to acknowledge the material that does in fact concern us?

There is a risk in disowning these things too quickly, I think; because perhaps it goes so far for us that these associations are not merely things that we have, not just things we possess - like an air pistol, a knife or a pair of shoes; perhaps there's more at stake? Following these links, on the Internet and in memory, it occurs to me that aside from what I have - my things and my thoughts - there's much of what I am that's bound up here too; perhaps these associations are so foundational as in some way to be the material from which we are actually made, the threads out of which our lives are woven? If we dismiss the seeming strangeness of our own particular memories and associations, embarrassed by the insistence of our personal links and concerns, maybe we run the risk of somehow disowning ourselves?

My father never spoke during my childhood about his training as an armourer - not one word; he wrote these things only a few years before he died in 2006; so, in Bristol in the 1990's, I knew not the first thing about them when I found myself compelled - for reasons that were far from clear to me then - to buy an air pistol designed by Fritz Barthelmes.

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Thursday, 11 February 2010

Record 'Jumbo' Pistol.

I was living in Bristol during the 90's and working in what was called a 'therapeutic community', a kind of half-way-house for people who'd somehow managed to get themselves described as having 'mental health problems'; it was based in a very large, stained-glass-window-filled old house at the top of a hill in the south of the city. At the bottom of the hill was a shop selling air guns and - when I'd finished a day-shift - I'd walk down the hill and wait outside the shop for the bus that would take me home. While I waited, I'd look in the window at the pistols and rifles.

I wanted an air pistol; I'd had one when I was a teenager - I'd spent a happy summer shooting cans with my girlfriend in the back garden of another friend's house after school - but now it didn't seem to fit that well with the kind of person that I thought I was; now I was some kind of a counsellor, a serious, grown-up who'd put away childish things. This kind of person - so I thought - they just didn't buy air guns. But the window drew me and the guns on display inside seemed compact and thrilling to me; they were charged with some sort of energy and potential that I wanted - even though I felt like I shouldn't.

The man in the shop showed me a few guns and then he picked up a small one with a wooden handle. 'This one,' he said, 'it's popular with handgun owners,' he flipped the pistol over and slid back the base to show me the space inside the hollow hand-grip, 'they fill this compartment with pellets and then it weighs about the same as a hand gun - so they can practise their shooting with the same kind of weight.' He handed me the pistol and that was it. I walked out of the shop with the gun in my bag and waited for the bus home with a keen feeling of excitement whirling around in my head.

I lived in a built-up part of the city but across the busy main road outside my flat was an area of woodland - slightly litter-strewn - with a railway line running to one side and then a few steep fields of long, scrubby grass that rose up to to a clearing and a vantage point called St. Werburgh's Hill. Groups of students and locals would often go up the hill in the evening to light little fires, smoke dope, drink and look at the city lights while trains rumbled by in the dark. I'd put the pistol and pellets in my bag, walk across the road and then wander around the woods - on and off the dirt paths - loading and re-loading the pistol and taking shot after shot at the plentiful coke cans, discarded prams, traffic cones and other bits of nameless, rusted junk that had been dumped there. People would walk through the woods now and then and I'd stick the gun in my bag and wait till they'd gone before starting again when it was quiet. There were certainly birds and squirrels in the wood but the idea of taking a shot at them never occurred to me; if anything, I felt disgust at the thought that anyone might do such a thing.

A dismantled red-brick bridge with its centre span missing sat on two sides of the railway line there and, after having dashed across the tracks in fear of my life and set up a row of cans on the other side, I'd cross the line again, climb up the bridge support and then sit there and take a dozen shots at them across the track. The pistol was fairly low-powered - I'd been disappointed when I realised this - but even so, I found that these twenty-yard shots would often end with a satisfying crack and rattle as the can span away with a pellet inside.

Back in the flat I'd sit in the evenings and take pot-shots across the room at paper targets I'd designed on the computer at work. I bought a bag of little metal darts with soft-feathered nylon tails and I'd lie on my settee and listen to the traffic straining up the hill outside while I fired dart after dart into the painted wooden picture rail that ran around the walls of the room.

I got rid of it in the end; I've no idea why. I sold it back to the shop that I bought it from and forgot about it.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Epitaph for year one.

I've been posting here a year now.

I'll not be going shooting for a little while since my rifle's currently being worked on at Sandwell Field Sports. Its action was described to me, prior to going in for treatment, as sounding 'like a skeleton masturbating in a biscuit tin'.

So on that note, I'll start the second year of the Rabbit Stew Blog.

Cheers all,


Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Penkridge Air Rifle Club

After strapping a hefty Weihrauch to my back and huffing and puffing up the A449 on my push-bike, I spent a lovely Sunday morning recently at the Penkridge Air Rifle Club. It's a field target set-up and, after a little while on the plinking range, I walked and fired the 18-shot course, happily chatting and comparing shots the whole time with a young, fellow springer-using chap who'd just finished a game-keeper training at the nearby Rodbaston Agricultural College. It's a great pleasure to meet folk who are also interested and involved in the shooting world and it's a double joy to share with them the challenge of shooting fiendishly positioned little metal replicas of rats, rabbits and pigeons.

The targets are set out and around a fine old stand of trees on the shoulder of a little hill which overlooks a gently twisting stretch of the pike, chub and perch-laden river Penk. The targets on this day ranged between ten and fifty yards; some more or less on the flat but the majority down varying slopes towards the water. It's a real work-out for your distance estimation and trajectory judgement - like a visit to the gym for your air rifle skills. By the time I'd finished the course I felt like my shooting had really improved, a great feeling - and it was a lot of fun, too: hugely enjoyable, in fact.

It's a tremendously laid back and friendly club; there's not a trace of any who's-got-the-most-expensive-gun mentality among the varied crowd of shooters; safety is certainly taken seriously but this doesn't mean that there's a culture of humourless regimentation in everything; there are cups of tea to hand down at the wood-stove-heated portacabin clubhouse and giant sausage and bacon butties being produced on a barbecue just outside - little short of heaven for air rifle folk, in other words.

One of the other great pleasures of meeting a crowd of fellow air-gun-heads is the chance to look at and chat about the huge variety of different shooting set-ups that people bring to the course. I got a chance to look for the first time through a really good quality Nikon 3-9x40 ProStaff scope. I'd never seen one of these before and I was genuinely startled by the luminously precise clarity of the patch of riverbank that it revealed to me; I really had no idea that scopes could be this good, that the quality of a set of lenses could make so great a difference to the sight picture; it was unbelievable, really - like stepping out of the optician's office for the first time in a pair of long-overdue new glasses. This particular scope, I was told, costs about £170 and, while that's about 165 quid beyond my pocket right now, I'm definitely going to put one of these on my wish-list for second-hand acquisition in the future.

I also got to handle a new, Birmingham-made, BSA Ultra Multishot which was a remarkably light and compact little pre-charged pneumatic. Almost a rifle in miniature, it nonetheless had a very stylish and determined air to it and I felt a pang of real reluctance handing the gorgeous thing back.

All-in-all a fine and fun day out: I pedalled back down the A449 with a smile on my face and I'll surely be returning soon.