The air rifle is a hugely maligned tool where the press and general public are concerned … and quite wrongly so. There are a reputed four million airgun owners in the UK. In the past it was a relatively unregulated gun so no-one really knows how many are out there, buried in attics or garden sheds. A handful of incidents each year by ne’er-do-goods, irresponsible morons or (tragically) youngsters who have stumbled on an unsecured rifle (and misused it) have given rise to calls in many quarters to either ban or license this superb and efficient pest control tool. As I update this book (2016), Scotland has just introduced licensing for airguns. This, against advice from the senior representation of Scotland’s policing. In the face of reduced spending on policing, there is now a huge administrative burden dumped upon Scotland’s ‘finest’ by a crass and undemocratic decision. A decision based on misinformation and political bias, not common sense and statistics. If you’re reading this and live in Scotland, just bear one thing in mind. It could have been worse. Many of your folk wanted an outright ban on airguns, as do many misinformed folk across the UK.
I firmly believe that this needs to be put into perspective. Personally, I would rather an 18 year old boy asked for an air rifle than a motorbike. His chances of survival to the age of 25 would multiply a thousand fold … and those of people around him. Analyse the illegal or tragic incidents surrounding air rifles and you will find two common factors. The transgressors are usually urban, not rural, individuals. They are usually not youths but idiotic (often drunk) adults. Deaths are usually due to children accessing airguns which should have been secured (and there was already adequate legislation for that. The shift in law to raise the legal age of ownership from 17 to 18 years of age, typically knee-jerk politics, ignored that latter fact. Licensing would be un-policeable, as Scotland will now find … especially regarding all those ‘hidden’ guns. Many readers will appreciate that shotguns have long been licensed. Events over recent years have proved that licensing is worthless in the face of individual, psychological behaviour … which changes with personal circumstance. In my own area, over the past year, two well respected and apparently sane men have shot first their partner, then themselves, with their shotguns following financial or relationship problems. Does that mean no-one should own a gun? That would be ridiculous. Misuse is true of not just guns but also motor vehicles. Yet, strangely, I’ve never heard a call for a ban on cars because some idiot decided to get drunk and kill someone while driving?
Despite all my comments above, I find some of the recent legislation completely sensible. The need for an airgun retailer to register an address. The need to sell ‘face to face’ via a registered firearm dealer (RFD) rather than through mail-order. It all helps to prevent future nonsense and misuse. Some of the current laws (which apply to all form of shooting) are derived from common sense. Such as not being allowed to shoot across the boundary of your permission or having to carry your gun in a slip, with no ammunition in it, while passing through a public place. Simple safety-based rules. The addition of home gun security rules shouldn’t have effected most responsible air gun users … I’ve always lock mine away securely in a gun-safe. I hope you do too?
At risk of over simplifying the law, I’m not going to write a list of current legal requirements for ownership of an airgun. I am simply going to refer you back to the advice I gave in my Safety section earlier … check for legal compliance with BASC. Whenever you read this book … from the date of first issue or in thirty years time, the BASC will have all the relevant data on current legal requirements. It is important that you learn these as non-compliance can cost you financially and also risk a term at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
If you happen to be reading this in ten years time (2026), I just hope that all the lobbying and hard work that BASC, CLA and the airgun press do on your behalf has paid off and you can, under the right conditions, still walk into a gun shop and buy an air rifle to control vermin.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, 2016
I don’t often get excited about guns, strange as that may seem for an airgun hunter and writer. Guns are just the tools with which I finish the hunt or stalk. Of course, having the right gun is important for the hunter and I’ve been very selective with my purchases across the years. Recently, pictures of a very special rifle popped up in the shooting press and I found myself going back to the adverts constantly. This was to be a Limited Edition specification, with only one hundred rifles being produced. I felt exactly as I had at ten years old, when Action Man appeared on the shelves. I had to have one! More than that, I had a specific edition number in mind. I’m hitting a landmark birthday later this year, so as a treat to myself I wanted number sixty! With some help from Nigel Allen of Blaze and Peter Zamit at The Airgun Centre, the desired number was secured and I parted with some hard earned cash to order a dream gun. A few weeks later, the call came from Peter to say the gun had arrived and was ready for collection.
I rarely leave Norfolk, my adopted Nirvana. Only for business, weddings and funerals … or to collect a gun. The nearer I drive to London (a place I worked in for years learning my management skills) the more claustrophobic I feel. The wide, open vistas of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire give way to a rural Essex squeezed between motorways and dual-carriageways. The final skate along the A127 to Rayleigh sadly endorsed my view that the nearer you get to any British city, the more ‘tacky’ the environment gets. Advertising hoardings, shoddy businesses, litter and more squashed foxes than I have ever seen in a single ten mile stretch. Essex must be a fox shooters paradise. I don’t state this to upset my Essex friends and readers (I used to live in Hertfordshire, which was the same). The point I’m making is this is why I moved to Norfolk. Sadly, as the infra-structure into East Anglia develops, the more those arterial roads start to resemble the A127. But I digress. I wasn’t on a sight-seeing tour. I was here to collect that gun on this Saturday morning.
Inside the shop, I was greeted by Ben who went off to find my rifle. Peter Zamit came out and we shook hands. It was just after opening time and the shop soon started to fill with prospective customers. As Ben showed me the rifle, one or two customers spotted it and looked over my shoulder, admiring it. I was surprised at the huge surge of annoyance I felt when one customer reached forward and started to rub the laminate stock with his fingers before I had even handled the gun myself! The moment passed and I lifted the rifle to check balance and scope alignment. It was then that I noticed that the stock had no sling swivels fitted. I usually fit my own, on wooden stocks, but I didn’t fancy drilling this laminate artistry myself. Ben took the rifle back-of-shop and emerged ten minutes later with the swivels intact. Superb service. Ben locked the gun into the hard-case and (after a handshake with Ben, Steve and Peter) I set off back to Norfolk. I was back by noon, with an afternoon left to start playing with my new toy.
If, as I did with Pepper, you collect a ready assembled combo don’t ever assume that the gun is set up ready to hunt with ‘out-of-the-box’. Your dealer will do the best they can but they don’t have time test various pellets. You need to test this yourself. Nor can they set a telescopic sight to match the eye-relief you will need to avoid parallax error. That is a setting very personal to you and will depend on whether you wear specs or not. There is a very simple test for correct eye-relief. Take a shooting stance (kneeling will do), shut both eyes and raise the gun to your shoulder as if about to take a shot. Open your shooting eye. If you can’t see the whole sight picture through the ocular lens (i.e. if there is any shadowing) then your scope isn’t set correctly. You may have to adjust it forwards or backwards in its mounts slightly until it comes straight to the shoulder and eye with a clear optic.
A couple of hours of practise and plinking with the new combo left me glowing with satisfaction. The Huggett shroud and silencer combine to make a very quiet hunting carbine. The Hawke Eclipse scope has a bold mil-dot reticule with IR options and crystal clear optics. I was surprised at the weight of that striking Minelli black pepper laminate stock. It is much heavier than the Minelli walnut furniture on Kylie, my other BSA Ultra. Yet that weight is evenly distributed and the gun balances well at the shoulder. Of course, I name all my rifles and sometimes struggle to find a suitable name. This one was easy though … she would be ‘Pepper’. Over those two hours I tried a few pellet types through Peppers barrel (AA Fields, H&N FTTs, Barracudas and Falcons). I finally settled on the 15.9 grain Air Arms Diablo Fields.
Next morning I was up bright and early to take Pepper out and try to blood her. I groaned when I looked out of the window and saw the rain. A glance at the digital weather station in my kitchen showed an outside temperature of 20C. Awful weather for a hunting sortie and almost bound to prove fruitless. A glance at the birdbath outside showed half an inch of water and I knew it had been empty the previous night. Many people may not be aware that most British weather fronts pass through within six hours. I took a gamble that the rain would soon pass and set off for one of my permissions. Squirrels and rabbits will take the opportunity to feed after rain. Pigeons and crows will be on the move again, searching for food. I wrapped well against the bitter breeze and, as a concession to his age, I wrapped Dylan too. The old lurcher is showing signs of arthritis now but is still as eager as ever to be out with me and the gun. He moves comfortably in his waxed sheepskin coat (and it actually camouflages him a bit).
I had chosen Garden Wood deliberately. It’s a good haven on a wet winter day with its thick, evergreen yews, box and cedars mixed amongst the deciduous natives. Although you’ll never stay completely dry, there is always reasonable shelter from any heavy deluge. Dylan soon had his nose down and we came upon plenty of squirrel sign. Many of the squirrel tables showed signs of recent activity but with the weather so dire, we walked the woods for two hours with no sign of life other than fleeing roe deer. When feeding at ground level, grey squirrels often actively seek out a low platform to feed on. They will carry their food to a regular spot and eat it there. These tables, usually tree stumps, are inevitably close to the drey and have a good 360o vantage so that the feeding animal can keep a wary eye out for predators. These are ideal spots to ambush in fair weather when you know the greys are foraging. They are also a good indicator of what your quarry is feeding on. Maize kernels tell you that watching the edge of the maize crop could be productive. The yellow cobs aren’t easy to carry and make the squirrels very vulnerable. Gnawed pine cones, by type alone, will tell the diligent hunter what trees the greys are favouring. Squirrels pluck fresh cones from the canopy or new windfalls. They are juicy and nourishing.
The Siberian breeze, though, was relentless. It’s icy tendrils reached through every gap in the hedgerow and in between the trees. In weather like that, especially with a dog in tow, sitting around to ambush quarry isn’t really an option and at the end of my second outing with Pepper, she still wasn’t blooded. Then I faced a week of work before being able to take her out again.
The following weekend, though my fervour was dampened by two days of sleet showers, we still went out for a few hours each day, the dog and I, and Pepper finally got blooded. I’m going to have a lot of sport with this superb rifle.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2016
As all airgun users will understand , I was deeply saddened by the incident in Suffolk this weekend which resulted in the loss of yet another teenage life in an air rifle ‘accident’. My sincere sympathy goes out to the family of Ben Wragge, who must be struggling to come to terms with their sons loss. As an airgun expert, author and journalist it saddened me further, tonight, to hear my local TV news open their report on the incident. They stated ‘following the death of a local teenager this weekend, the ownership of airguns has once again been called into question’. The first point I have to make is that when guns are involved, there is no such thing as an ‘accident’. There can only be misuse or neglect. In my opinion, even if these lads were legitimately using the gun on private land or with the permission of the landowner (as 14 year olds can), there is an adult to be held accountable here somewhere. Why? Because a 14 year old can’t own an air rifle. You need to be 18 years old to own one. So the gun must have been lent to them by an adult. An airgun owner must now also ensure that no-one under the age of 18 can gain access to their guns. They must be secured. Which means either an adult handed them the gun or they had access to an unsecured rifle. If the former is true, were the boys properly educated in airgun safety? An adults responsibility. If the latter is true, an adult breached best practice and (possibly) the law. If one of the lenders was known to be under the age of 14, the boys should have been supervised by an adult aged 21 or over. Now obviously, if the boys were on private land with permission and were joined by a 13 year old, it would be very hard to expect a consenting gun lender to anticipate that. None of which helps resolve the incident that occurred.
My annoyance with the media over this tragedy is, once again, their terminology and their blame of the gun for the terrible loss. If we are to blame the negligent misuse of a legitimate tool for what is termed ‘accidental’ death … and call for a ban (yes, it’s happening already) then we need to be prepared to ban many other things too. Such as the car, the motorbike, the syringe, the gas boiler, the airplane, the electric plug, the horse, the scooter, the swimming pool … the list is endless. It’s not the ‘thing’ that is to blame … it is the user.
The airgun, in the right hands and used responsibly, gives sport and enjoyment to hundreds of thousands of people, nationally. Without incident. just like the car, the motorbike, the horse, the swimming pool … I think you take my point? Can we please remember that as we grieve for young Ben?
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2016. Republication by agreement only.
An elusive beast unleashes her ferocity on the Brecon hillsides then sets off on a journey to find her destiny, changing forever the lives of all those who come in contact with her. The press have given her a name. The Black Angel. One of her casualties emerges as her Nemesis. Two huntresses, one journey … but which will reach the end alive?
For three days, since her last putrid meal of road-kill venison, she had laid close during daylight eluding her enemy. By night she had skulked and crept, searching out a fresh hunting ground. Lying here now a different, though memorable, scent made her huge heart race. It was blood. Placental blood. Every nerve in her lithe torso tingled. Her muscles tensed as she drank in the rich perfume.
A wild animal unleashes its ferocity on the Welsh hills and sets off a chain of events that will change many lives forever. A bi-sexual blonde huntress, the British countryside, a big cat with a flavour for human flesh and an errant Prime Minister. A fast paced thriller-noire that you just won’t want to put down.
See my ‘Books‘ page to buy.
Over the past ten years I have been writing monthly for the country-sports press and I have also produced eight books. The first two books were through conventional publishing (a painfully slow process, though in both cases the end product was superb). The six books since have been self-published and include my first novel. The thrill of seeing my first magazine article in print, complete with my own photographs, will stay with me forever. Not least because I got paid for it …and have been, ever since. So far, in the shooting and country-sports press I have enjoyed nearly 500,000 published words and, within those articles, some 3000 or more published photographs. My books (apart from the novel) include either my own photography or drawings derived from my images and (using photo-editing software) re-created as sketches. Writing, sub-editing, processing images, matching photographs or sketches to text, submission … all this has been done while engaged in a full time, high profile management career. I can honestly say (and my editors will read this) that I can count on one hand the amount of times, in those ten years, that I have either had an article rejected or have had to re-edit it myself. For the magazines, I have a formula I stick to depending on the subject. That may be bringing the reader along with me on an expedition or offering (as in this blog) the benefit of my experience in short, sharp advisory context. So, here are my top ten tips for grabbing and holding a readership in a specialist subject. I hope you find them useful.
Love Your Subject
If you intend to write about a sport, leisure subject or hobby you won’t succeed with your audience unless they can sense your enthusiasm. The people who buy specialist magazines do so (and they aren’t cheap) because they are passionate about their interest. That’s why hobby writing is such an interesting sector for the budding writer. Scribbling about something you love should be easy, shouldn’t it?
Know Your Subject
If you are going to offer advice, as an expert, on a particular hobby or subject … ensure that you are an expert. Kidology simply won’t work in the leisure / sport / hobby sectors as there will always be readers who a) think they know more than you and b) do know more than you! I can spot a fraud a mile away in my own specialisms and I quickly let them know that. I love competition against my writing but only if it’s genuine.
Involve Your Reader
Draw your readers into whatever you are describing. Paint pictures with your words. Mention your reader by personalising the piece. Use phrases such as “you’ve probably guessed what happened next, dear reader” or “you’re probably way ahead of me on this”. Use suggestions or tips offered by readers in your articles and credit them for it. A surge of pride at seeing their own name in print will make them a fan for life.
Many of your readership will be highly experienced at your hobby too, though perhaps looking for new techniques or ideas. It’s a big mistake to address your audience as complete novices. It’s also a big mistake to infer that where there are two ways of tackling an issue, your way is always right. I often use phrases such as “I know there is another school of thought on this” or “my preference is …” If you want to build a ‘fan’ base (I hate that word!) you need to take a balanced approach between debate and concession.
Quality, Not Quantity
As well as writing on my speciality, I read a lot about it too. And, boy … do I read some drivel! Most magazine editors will ask for a word-count based project. Typically, 800 to 1000 words will fill a page with a couple of photos. 1500 words with five or six good pics will make a two or three page spread, depending on the publication (magazine or broadsheet). Don’t ever, ever make the mistake of trying to stretch a short subject to fill the word-count. You will bore your readers to death. Better to fit two or three subjects into a long article and give value for money to your editor and readers.
Leave Them Wanting
When you plan any magazine article, try to plan an ending that will leave not just the reader but also the editor wanting more. Throw a teaser in either during the text or right at the end, something along the lines of “I’ve seen rabbits behave in many strange ways, but that’s a whole article of it’s own”. Or perhaps, “Oh? That farmer? A story for another day, I think”. It was actually writing advisory articles which didn’t allow me to expand as far as I wanted to that drew me into writing specialist books.
Engage With Your Audience
This is a bit deeper than above (Involve Your Reader). By this I mean step off your ivory tower and actually communicate with your readers. There has never been an easier time to touch base with your readers. The use of social media allows a fairly easy and safe means of chatting with readers. I love getting written letters and writing back … the old fashioned but much more personal way of communicating. There are rules to observe here, though. Never give your address to someone unless you are confident you can trust them. And watch out for ‘trolling’ on social media.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and in the ten years I been writing I’ve been flattered to death! Rather than let it bother me, I’ve accepted that I’ve educated another generation of writers in my particular field. My response is to keep innovating and exploring different methods and techniques. My own readers will appreciate what I mean but for you, the budding leisure or hobby scribe, that will mean searching your mind for angles that have never been covered in your hobby before. Even if they are controversial.
Be Different And Be Controversial
Don’t accept the ‘conventional’ as always being the right way to do things. I have to do a lot of photography with my articles. Without them, the words would mean little. For some country-sports editors that means sending a protog (professional photographer) along on a hunting sortie. No way, said I. To me, two is company, three is a crowd. The two are my lurcher and I. You can’t stalk and hunt with a noisy protog following you around. So how do I get my photo’s? I wrote in one of my books that I had trained my dog to take them. Some people believed it. Honestly.
Re-Visit Successful Subjects
There are some writers in my field who regurgitate the same formulaic, seasonal articles year after year. That is lazy writing and regular readers will spot it immediately (I’ve read this before?). That is not to say, though, that you can’t keep coming back to the same subjects. For instance, if you write about carp fishing you will have limited subject matter. Each article will have to have a USP (Unique Selling Point). The challenge, the water state, the environment, the weather, the company, the misses, the catches. I don’t fish. I shoot. But in one of the publications I write for regularly, the angling articles (when written this way) could tempt me to pick up a rod! I repeat popular articles, for sure. But you would never recognise one from another. Same subject, same formula, different venue … genuinely.
Work With Your Editors / Readers
The key to unlocking a regular spot in a hobby writing sector is to engage with editors who are experts in those sectors. Producing a magazine or broadsheet month on month, or week on week, is a pressurised job. They need reliable and organised writers. When they find someone who delivers unique copy, good photography, on time or (in emergencies) under pressure … a partnership is formed. I owe my own photography ‘skills’ to one particular editor and his advice. Yet I’m sure that even he would admit that I took that advice a step further. Your readers, too, will subtly tell you what you should be writing about. If you are mentioned in the ‘Letters’ page of any periodical, you’ve cracked it. Even if the letter is negative. Because you have the opportunity to respond.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2016
Ian Barnett is author of “Hobby Writing: Make Your Play, Pay”
Available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00IBL5QOK