Hunting a couple of times a week over the last eighteen months I've now got this shooting thing sorted, have I? I must have learned how to shoot by now, surely?
Well, no. Learning is still something I do every time I go out - as my session yesterday made clear.
A beautiful day. Out in the fields I plonked down against a fence and - soothed all the while by the pastoral music of the M6 motorway directly behind me - popped fifty-odd shots thirty yards across a field into little A5 paper targets I'd pinned to the base of a tree. I'd scrawled a series of biro circles on the paper, all roughly an inch in diameter.
My first effort appalled me: a ragged, two-and-a-half inch spattering, low and to the right, with flyers out to four inches. A thoroughly miserable group. Clearly my zero had drifted but I was still all over the place in terms of group coherence.
I took off the scope adjustment covers and gave it two clicks left and two clicks up. This is lazy of me - it's better to do the horizontal and vertical adjustments separately but it's just not the way my head works.
Well, O.K. That's a little better. Slightly tighter, somewhat closer.
As I carried on shooting I began to become more aware of how I was holding the rifle and how I was breathing when I let go of the shot. My instinct is to hold the gun tightly - left and right hand both - hold my breath at the point that I fire and use the whole fleshy pad of my index finger to pull back on the trigger. For me that's natural, it's instinctive - but it's all wrong. Tony at the Penkridge Air Rifle Club has several times said to me, 'You've gone blue, lad!' when I finally drew in a great whooping breath after a rigidly tense and airless ten seconds of trying to get a shot off.
I began to make the effort to keep the cycle of my breathing regular as I watched the cross hairs rise and fall on the target - trying to pull the trigger in the pause between my breaths rather than manufacturing a longer interval by ceasing to breath at all. Things started to get better.
Another two clicks up. Another two clicks left.
I began to think about my grip on the rifle and the way I squeezed the trigger. I've learned that it's vital to let springers rest on your hands and move freely when you fire them - fighting the recoil by holding tight only makes things worse. So I tried to pay attention to how I was holding the gun. When I'm firing groups the idea 'God, I'm a lousy shot! Gotta get better!' usually ends up making me hang on for grim death, tense as hell. So with each shot now I tried to loosen my mortice-like grip on the stock and relax while I fired.
Once again, the group got a little better. Two more clicks up; two more to the left.
Tony has also mentioned trigger-finger placement to me at the club, 'Just use the tip of your finger,' he'd said, 'right at the base of the trigger - that's all you need.' So each shot I took I tried to notice how I was touching the trigger. 'Rekord' triggers on Weirhauch rifles are famed for their sensitivity - they really do repay your attention and the less force you exert on the trigger, the less you make the gun wobble when you shoot. The less it wobbles, the more accurate the shot.
Still a little bit shy of the centre mark, I gave the scope adjusters one click up and one click left. Then - relaxed as I could get, holding the rifle loosely, breathing evenly and using only the tippy-top of my finger on the end of the trigger - I fired off five shots.
Whoa! A heaven-sent group, a thing of beauty! You'd better stop shooting right now, I thought, and get your camera out before you put a flyer in there and mess up the pretty picture...