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.