Before I begin, please go to your fridge. Open the door, and take out one of the bottles of champagne that I know you keep ready chilled for the spontaneous celebration of surprise engagements, unexpected promotions and Tuesdays. Find a flute (or more than one if you’re not reading this alone) and then carefully remove the foil and cage from the bottle. Hand over top of the cork. Twist the bottle slowly. Steady now… Okay, ready?
I’ve been shooting for four years, and last week, finally, I bought my own gun.
That was the point at which you should have popped the cork. If you can, avoid spraying it around the room in your excitement – if it’s all the same to you, a) it’s a waste of champagne and b) I’d rather you didn’t get any on the barrels of my new gun. A few weeks ago now I attended the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club annual conference, a wonderful event about the subject of my last post and first in over a year, Being a Chelsea Bun. Not only has Victoria, Bun Club creator extraordinaire, filled my life with fabulous cake and – though you may well not think this possible – even more fabulous women, and helped me maintain a firm hold on shooting sans-man, but she has also indirectly helped me get my first gun by introducing me to shooting instructor and sharp shot, Ed Solomons. Now I shalln’t embarrass Ed (or undersell the ladies) by calling him as fabulous as they, and nor shall I inflate his ego by calling him easy on the eye – if Facebook is to be believed he gets more than enough of that as it is – but I shall be forever grateful to him, for he found a gun that works for me within my very meagre budget.
I said to myself last year that I was going to save up a grand for my first gun. Then my licence took weeks and months and more months to come through, by which time I’d given up hope, stopped saving and used the money. Then, hurrah, hurrah! My licence came through, and so I started saving again, but unfortunately starting from pretty much scratch. I was just getting somewhere, but then my car needed a new clutch. I can’t remember what came next, but the point is that life gets in the way of saving up for guns. I realised that, until I get a pay rise (*hint*), a grand didn’t seem a viable amount to save up if I wanted a gun any time soon. After hearing Ed speak at the conference on the seventh of June, and meeting him afterwards, I asked his advice. Just two days later he told me about two guns I could actually afford. Not only that, he had one set aside for me. A Lanber Sporter Deluxe, 12b with 29.5” barrels and a set of five chokes, complete with key and little case. So last week I took a day’s holiday, jumped in my little baked bean can of a car, drove up to a lovely M25 traffic jam and after a couple of hours there, on to Sporting Targets in Bedfordshire. And after taking it out for a go, I bought it. It worked; I broke clays. People say you need to go out and try, try, try before you buy a gun, but if you’re on a tight budget, you can break clays with it, and it’s under £400, get on and buy the damned thing. And if you have change from your budget, spend it on shooting a bit – which was exactly what I did with the small amount I had leftover. It may not be the most beautiful gun in the world, nor the stock in absolute pristine condition, but it works, it will provide me with consistency in my shooting, and it can be fitted to me. More than that, it’s mine, and I already love it. My good decision was confirmed in my change-funded post-purchase shoot with a couple of Bun Club ladies (and an associated gentleman) and continued to break clays. Ed got me to have a go shooting with both eyes open and I even broke clays that way, though more practice is most definitely required. I am now armed not only with my very own 12b, and therefore have some consistency, but also a new determination to free up time in my diary to shoot more and practice, with a view to one day, just maybe, competing.
A month ago to the day I moved house. Having somewhat abandoned city life, and given that one of my caveats of a new house was that I could have a gun cabinet fitted if one were not already available for use, it shouldn’t really have been a surprise that I ended up in a house that I can confidently say is as Country as the old, if not more so, complete not only with Aga but also with inglenook fireplace and a row of old fox tails hung up in the hall way. My live-in landlord, disturbingly young (i.e. younger than me) though you soon forget his age once you’ve met him, is a chimney sweep. To answer my own first question, yes, they still exist. I’m sure you knew that if you are even a little bit Country, but until moving here my only experience of chimney sweeps is of them jumping into chalk drawings and dancing on roof tops, all the while singing with an awful cockney accent. When not getting dressed up to appear at weddings, something I’ve unfortunately yet to witness, my young landlord sweeps the chimneys of many buildings, known and unknown, and some of which you may even have heard; Hampton Court Palace anyone? Or how about Buckingham Palace? But more important even than the Queen’s chimneys, if such a thing is imaginable, is the fact that he took me out for a mini-rough shoot last night, and I shot my very first (and second) pigeon.
Lessons learned: 1) you don’t need all that many cartridges if you’re shooting pigeons in our field, but I guess still better safe than sorry. 2) walking around the field with an unloaded gun with broken barrels and cartridges safely stowed in your pocket isn’t the fastest way to get lead in the airm, should a bird fly out. Luckily, I had a good teacher. And lesson three was: be patient. We traipsed around the fields in vain until a pigeon finally flew out over our heads. Typically, it was a pigeon sufficiently savvy as to do this at the moment when the resident chimney sweep was holding my gun for me so I could climb over a fence, thus rendering the irritatingly clever thing absolutely and entirely safe. All we could do was look up at it and swear. We clambered over a couple of fences, and, very inelegantly on my part at least, through another, but still to no avail. Eventually and with some effort, we found a couple of the pesky birds. ChimneySweep kindly flushed them out for me (read: clattering about in the barns trying to scare out two very stubborn birds by making noise and ultimately throwing sticks at them), and thus, as they eventually flew out into the evening air, my gun was christened.
Take two pigeons, add a new-to-me gun, sprinkle over with the lead of three shots fired, and wait until the feathers have settled. Two dead pigeons. Unfortunately feral – so much for pie – but still not a bad start for a gun if you ask me.