My parents bought me a second-hand Diana Model 23 .177 air rifle in 1984. The bluing was well on its way out and the cheap beech woodwork bore the marks of a life of hard graft. A series of hatches were etched into the stock, like those marked on walls by sentence-counting prisoners, doubtless denoting quarry accounted for by the previous owner. Plain, worn and underpowered as it was, to me my first gun was as beautiful and as precious as a Purdey. That West German rifle, along with a small brown terrier of dubious breeding called Skip, led to countless adventures and hour upon hour spent in stalking rabbits and pigeon.
Thinking back to my fierce hunter’s pride in owning such a gun and the joy it gave me, I decided it was time my son shared in these delights. Charlie had shot a few pellets through my own air rifle, a clumsy yet workmanlike Gamo I use for potting rats and squirrels in the garden. Its weight and size led the boy to adopt all manner of contortions to fire it, yet with the gun rested on a feeder, he managed to connect with targets — empty cartridges, plastic discs and all order of objects that react when struck. Shooting at a paper target is all well and good for adults interested in grouping but for youngsters, seeing targets leap dramatically when hit is much more exciting.
Charlie and I had spent days scanning the internet for the best air rifles for youths. All manner of outlandish looking guns were on offer from umpteen different retailers. Prices ranged from tens of pounds through to thousands, optics worthy of assassins seemingly de rigueur. Overawed by all of this choice, I switched off the laptop and the boy and I drove to a proper gunshop.
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