Char­lie Port­lock tack­les a taboo sub­ject that de­serves our at­ten­tion

Air Gunner - - Contents -

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.


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

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