Air Rifle for Christmas

Foto 02 o021All the boys in the neighborhood had at least one, some two. We called them air rifles.

You cock it with the handle and then “fire” a single chuff of air. A hand at the end of the barrel would feel the air but 12″ farther out you’d hardly notice. Regardless, it made a nice loud “Bang!”

Unless you jammed it in the dirt, that is. You needed slightly moist soil so it would stick together and you would push the muzzle in about a half inch and kind of twist and scoop at the same time to get a good plug. The dirt and tiny embedded pebbles would fly several yards when fired. You really could put an eye out.

These were actually BB guns but the tiny barrel and related parts were removed. I don’t know if they were sold fully assembled and parents figured out how to downgrade the BB gun into an air rifle, or perhaps the instructions had a special note to this effect. Or, since everyone’s “air rifle” was missing the BB-size barrel insert, most likely is that the gun was simply sold that way with an option to upgrade later.

But that didn’t bother us. On the contrary, knowing the puff of air wouldn’t travel more than a foot made it safe to aim and shoot at each other.

The mock Army games on Christmas morning began as soon as one kid appeared within range. It quickly escalated as newcomers hid behind bushes in one backyard until the coast was clear, sprinted across a driveway into the next backyard to dive down behind another stand of bushes, and then carefully aim at “the enemy” across the yard. The loud noise when fired made it obvious to the intended target that he was under attack, and from which direction. So immediately after each shot, the shooter had to be up and moving to duck around a corner out of sight before scrunching into the next bush.

But sometimes, especially with plenty of time for a smooth, straight-back pull, sights steady and aligned on the enemy’s torso and finished with a clean break on the trigger, he was a goner.

“I got you!”

“Naw, you missed.”

“Unh, uh, I shot you right through the heart. You’re dead.”

“It only clipped my shirt. Didn’t even draw blood.”

As it escalated, attacker and victim would soon be face to face arguing the accuracy of the weapon, the ability of the shooter, the merits of the target’s cover, the effect of wind and the play of light and shadow would all be under loud consideration. But before anything could be settled, a newcomer with his own new Christmas present air rifle would sneak around a corner to quickly shoot, cock and shoot again and drop both as we argued in full view, red face to red face.

If someone got really mad through all this, they might take a shot with a mud-plugged barrel. When you got hit with that spray, you knew it — close up it would really sting!

“Hey, cut that out! You’re not supposed to shoot it that way.”

[Evil smile, says nothing.]

“I’m tellin’!”

But we knew that if we lingered too long, we’d soon be in someone else’s sights as the game went on.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

4 thoughts on “Air Rifle for Christmas

  1. Great memories! Grew up in a W.Va. neighborhood with 96 children within 2 blocks . Most boys had this rifle in 1955-1958. My dad admonished me to not shoot dirt clods out of it because of eye danger. When he saw me stick the muzzle into the ground, I had my prize taken away for a week. That was a very long week. After months of faithful service, the nut that secured the cocking lever came off, so I just chucked away the lever and made mouth noises for shot sounds. An old man neighbor saw my lever- less rifle, and had me retrieve the lever for re-attachment. He was my first Gunsmith!

    • Thanks, GringoEd.
      Your neighborhood sounds very much like mine but we had an advantage — if the weapon failed and the shooter had to resort to his own sound effects … … well, John’s became a BAR with an infinite cartridge, and Bebop’s broken air rifle rotated between a completely silenced sniper rifle, a .45 caliber Tommy Gun and, on rare occasion from as much as a block away, a 155 mm Howitzer.

  2. More kid stuff: fall, 1958 the USMC Reserve offers a firearm safety/marksmanship program to all Wood Co.,W.Va., 6th grade students. First two Saturday afternoons are safety classes and demonstrations at the Reserve Armoury on Anne St. Instructors are all WW2/Korean War combat vets. This is no- nonsense, serious instruction. ” if you ever shoot towards me in the woods hunting, I will Shoot back! My 30-06 rifle can shoot through a tree if you try to hide. Be sure of your target!” We have nothing but respect and admiration for these guys. They are our heroes, and so are our Dads. Armoury contains walls filled with racks of BARs, Garands, M-1 carbines, Flame throwers, mortars, and M1919 MG’s. I am age 9. I am in heaven! Next several Saturday’s are snapping-in and live fire at the Ft.Boreman Rifle Club. So many kids from my neighborhood attended, our mothers had to carpool there and back in shifts. No kids every had a better childhood. No kids ever learned muzzle discipline from better teachers.

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