Charlie Portlock tackles a taboo subject that deserves our attention
Charlie promotes the emotional benefits of airgunning, for those with mental health problems
It’s estimated that up to 25% of the UK population suffers from some kind of mental health issue each year. Of these, it’s thought that over 3% is related to depression and 7% to bi-polar disorder (MIND figures, 2016). If we assume that these numbers are fairly consistent across the different sectors of the population, it follows that many readers will be familiar with depression, either through personal experience or by knowing somebody who has had similar difficulties.
Most people who’ve experienced longterm depression will know that it’s a very distinct experience to that of grief, financial worry or work-related stress where there seems to be an obviously discernible cause. The differences are marked but difficult to explain. I’ve had my battles with the beast, and the black dog can stalk any one of us. ( As have I – Ed.) However, either from the fear of being seen as weak, or from being labelled as unfit to keep guns, the subject is taboo within shooting circles. Often, the only time that shooting and mental health are mentioned in the same sentence is when something terribly sad has happened. This shouldn’t be the case because shooting – and airgunning in particular – can provide an array of coping strategies and remedies. It can even be a part of the cure.
Because airgunning is logistically simple – you can shoot in your garden – I’ve found it to be the perfect ice-breaker for parties and getting to know new neighbours. For some reason – a very chemical reason, but I’ll come to that later – plinking seems to bring a smile to people’s faces. I set up a wok at 20 yards, cans on string tied to trees, Firecap exploding targets at long-range, and various spinners, and just let people get on with it. BB guns like the Daisy Red Ryder are perfect in this scenario and, for me, few things provide a more sonorous soundtrack to a summer barbecue than the gentle rasp of its hard-plastic under-lever loading yet another Copperhead into the breech.
For more regular contact, there is a wealth of target clubs and air rifle ranges across the UK that thrive on welcoming new members into the fold. It’s as much about talking shop and gentle banter as it is about shooting, and I’ve never found the airgun world to suffer from the elitism, protectiveness and occasional snobbery one finds within other sectors of the shooting world.
For those of who aren’t as interested in hosting parties or joining the social scene of a club, there’s always the option of inviting a friend over to put some new piece of kit through its paces or to help out with setting up a scope or zeroing a new rifle. It can sometimes be a challenge to find that all-important excuse for social contact. I’ve never invited a friend over for ‘a cup of tea and a chat’ – the very words make me groan – but I’ve often suggested that we spend a free afternoon knocking over some targets. Naturally, the emotional benefits of both occasions are much the same; the premise of shooting stuff just seems easier for some reason.
As the folk singer, Joan Baez once put it, “Action is the antidote to despair”. She was
right, of course, but sometimes the problem is in finding the antidote for inaction. When things are tough we can often drag ourselves into work, or to the aid of others, and put on a brave show in order not to cause problems. However, sometimes, even this effort can be too much; if there’s no pressing need to go into work or look after the children, then taking the necessary action can be a challenge. Garden gunning can be the answer.
If you have access to a plinking range in the garden, then all it takes is a few slippered steps outside with a hot cup of tea and you’ve aimed a clear kick at the beast. I know several people, including me, who can shoot from a window and never have to leave the comfort of the house, or even the bedroom in my case, to send a few pellets downrange. This small action is a strong move in the right direction.
PUT A SPRING IN YOUR STEP
We’ve evolved to be creatures of movement, and it’s universally accepted in medical circles that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a variety of health problems. Airgunning may be best enjoyed from the bench, but it doesn’t have to be inactive. Ditching the PCP and reaching for the break-barrel will require physical effort and will burn considerably more calories than operating the silky-smooth lever action of your HW100. If you can mix in some field positions like sitting and prone, then you’re close to a mild workout, particularly if you’re not used to being that flexible. If it’s 25 yards to your targets, then a short session spent punching five sets of paper will rack up 250 steps on the pedometer, and that’s not counting the trip to the gun cabinet. Every little helps.
Mental agility probably has little in common with watching TV, where the sorry excuses for quiz shows are about as stimulating as reading the back of a box of cereal. In any case, TV shows test knowledge not intelligence, and mental agility can only be developed and preserved when the grey matter is taxed into solving a conundrum. Crosswords are all well and good, but I find them difficult and unspeakably dull when compared to the precise conscious and subconscious calculations required to send a pellet downrange with high accuracy. Airgunning requires your brain to work in a variety of ways.
As I mentioned above, there’s a very good reason that we sometimes find it difficult to put the rifle down. When I see people miss their mark and then hear them say, almost apologetically, “Just one more …”, I smile because I know that we’ll be in for a long session. The reasons for this are partly chemical and are to do with the reward centres in the brain. Adrenalin, dopamine and serotonin are all mood enhancers and they play an intrinsic part in airgunning. Every time we focus our mind and body to achieve a physical task, we’re not only stepping into a mindful state of flow, but we’re also challenging ourselves to achieve. Every time that our pellets find their mark, we’re winning small victories, and when
Summer is here. A time to cement new habits