A central summertime feature of my youth was shooting a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I’m not sure how old I was when I got the gun, but it was somewhere around my eighth year. Once the treasured little lever cocking BB, complete with a leather thong adorning the cocking mechanism and a cylinder which held an indeterminate number of pellets (scores of them), was mine, target practice was a part of my daily outdoors activities any time I could scrounge together enough money to purchase ammunition.
The ammo came in two types of packaging – little sealed plastic wrappers which held perhaps 100 pellets and larger tubes, made of paper, holding 250 or 500 pellets depending on the size you purchased. The copper pellets weren’t particularly expensive, but on my quarter-a-week allowance, supplemented by money-earning activities such as picking blackberries, mowing our neighbor’s yard with an old reel-type mower, or gathering poke salad, I was always struggling to meet the considerable demands of my activities.
That was because I could plink away for hours on end whenever sufficient pellets were available. One of my favorite targets was a small collection of silver dollars which were normally kept in the same chest where Momma stored her silver cutlery. They had been given to me on special occasions such as birthdays, and at the time I had no idea that once the first pellet found its mark and left a circular imprint on the coin that any collectible value it had immediately vanished. Suffice it to say that I had a half dozen or so silver dollars pock marked in a most damaging way.
The silver dollar targets took a lot of abuse, but they were not my favorite mark. That was reserved for blue jays, starlings and English sparrows, the three types of birds I was allowed to shoot. Or, to put matters more accurately, to use as targets. Seldom did a pellet find the mark. Starlings (and related species such as cowbirds and grackles) were far too wary, not to mention that they usually traveled in large groups, to provide many opportunities for shots. Pretty much the same was true of blue jays. While English sparrows were less challenging, they tended to hang out in places such as house eaves where they could not be targeted).
You may consider me bloodthirsty, but in the eyes of those who counted, my father and grandfather, those particular birds were fair game. Blue jays had a bad habit of eating the eggs of songbirds, starlings regularly stole the nests of other birds or laid eggs in their nests, and English sparrows could be a real nuisance around houses and barns. On the other hand, had I dared take a pot shot at the likes of a robin, bluebird or even a bossy mockingbird, the end result would have been a vigorously administered dose of hickory tea.
Speaking of hickory tea (and for any youthful reader unacquainted with this term it referred to a spanking or a whipping administered with a hickory stick) and corporal punishment, a BB gun got me into about as much trouble as I faced during my entire boyhood and adolescent days. I was visiting two older cousins, and the three of us had ventured afield trying to get a shot or two at a rabbit. No cottontail was really threatened by a BB gun, but both my cousins wielded slingshots with a degree of accuracy which was quite another story.
On this particular day I had run out of BBs, but as was often the case, periodically continued cocking the gun and firing it just to listen to the pop the little air gun produced. Somehow a pellet had lodged and eventually shook loose. Sadly, that was the moment I decided that the buttocks of the older of my two cousins looked like a most promising target. I plunked him at a distance of only five yards or so, and the conniption he cut was a sight to behold. However, I feel certain it was nothing compared to the jig I danced when Daddy learned of the incident and duly administered a memorable punishment. In addition to the richly deserved spanking, I lost my treasured BB gun.
Looking back, however, that BB gun provided a world of fun, taught me a great deal about marksmanship, and once the unfortunate incident with my cousin took place, implanted in my mind a deep and lasting rule of gun safety. Daddy had already told me, repeatedly, that one’s muzzle never pointed at someone else. Not only had I done that; I had intentionally fired with it pointed at my cousin’s behind.
I still own three BB guns and my granddaughter has one (in hot pink, no less) with which she thoroughly enjoys plinking. She wears eye protection and has had plenty of stern warnings, from her parents as well as me, about safety practices. Sharing the story with her, has made a big impression.
BB guns are the perfect starter or introduction to shooting, and it is my view that they should come before any direct involvement with other, more powerful long guns such as a .22 rifle or .410 shotgun.