CHAR­LIE PORT­LOCK

Char­lie Port­lock tells us why he’s fi­nally seen the PCP light

Air Gunner - - CONTENTS -

Char­lie ar­gues the ben­e­fits of stray­ing from ‘tra­di­tional’ springers to the PCP ‘dark side’

A s a boy, one of my most trea­sured pos­ses­sions was a tra­di­tional Swiss army knife – the one with the mag­ni­fy­ing glass. I car­ried it with me when­ever pos­si­ble, con­tin­u­ally hop­ing that some­body would ask for a pair of tweez­ers, or my as­sis­tance in saw­ing up a small branch. As a re­sult, I’ve been through about five dif­fer­ent ver­sions of that knife since I was 14, but I still carry it when camp­ing and hik­ing abroad. When not in im­me­di­ate use, I stow it in my old tuck box in the back of the car; just in case.

I can still re­mem­ber the first time I cut my­self with it. I was try­ing to open the bar­rel of my brother’s toy shot­gun and I slipped and sliced a cres­cent moon into the pad of the in­dex fin­ger on my left hand. I’m look­ing at the scar now – five stitches. I know more about knife safety now and a ra­zor sharp, fixed blade is al­ways safer. How­ever, I still love the Swiss army knife and if you asked me to choose be­tween my Scan­di­na­vian full- tang sheath knife or the multi- tool, I’d have a very sim­ple an­swer for you; it de­pends.

For skin­ning an­i­mals, prep­ping fire­wood, carv­ing and gen­eral wood­land tasks, the fixed blade will win ev­ery time. For ver­sa­til­ity, size and sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons it would be the lit­tle red and white fel­low, but if you pushed me for prac­ti­cal pur­poses and not emo­tional ones, then I’d choose the Mora ev­ery time. When I know the job that I want to get done, I will al­ways choose the best tool that I have avail­able and by ‘best’, I mean the most ef­fi­cient. I don’t need my tools to be fun or en­joy­able to use, I need them to be com­fort­able and to work ef­fi­ciently. Now when­ever I need a knife I reach for a fixed blade be­cause it’s quicker, safer, stronger and more ef­fi­cient. It’s the same story when I reach for a ri­fle and I’m a bit an­noyed about it.

TIMES ARE CHANG­ING

I love springers – I’ve even writ­ten a lit­tle book on them – and I’ll al­ways en­joy shoot­ing them, but I’ll no longer use them for hunt­ing past 25

“I haven’t been out hunt­ing with a spring ri­fle for about three months and it feels a bit like the end of an era”

yards. The rea­son is very sim­ple; I wound less and kill more cleanly with the HW100 pre- charged pneu­matic, and at much longer ranges, and it’s won­der­ful to shoot with­out the con­scious or sub­lim­i­nal dis­com­fort of doubt. With the PCP I’m cer­tain – not 4/5 or 99% ‘con­fi­dent’ – but cer­tain, that I will kill cleanly. As a re­sult, I haven’t been out hunt­ing with a spring ri­fle for about three months and it feels a bit like the end of an era. I can’t think of any com­pelling prac­ti­cal rea­son to con­tinue to use a springer to shoot live quarry if a PCP is close at hand. Springers are very ca­pa­ble of do­ing the job, but if we can af­ford a PCP then it’s the sen­si­ble choice. If we choose not to shoot one in the field, then per­haps we’re at­tached to springers for the fol­low­ing rea­sons: We’ve never owned one We have no re­gard for ethics We’re un­able to lis­ten to rea­son We’re one of the calmest and most pro­fi­cient marks­men in the UK

This may all sound a bit com­bat­ive, but I can’t apol­o­gise for that. There are greater is­sues at stake here than per­sonal pride, nos­tal­gia or pay­ing lip ser­vice to the bias of our won­der­ful read­er­ship. For hunt­ing, the age of the springer is over. Al­though we must never stop us­ing the break- bar­rel as a train­ing tool and even as an oc­ca­sional hunt­ing tool un­der very spe­cific con­di­tions, it’s re­ally time that we all did some se­ri­ous self- re­flec­tion. For ex­am­ple, I now think that I’d be guilty of gross self­ish­ness if I said that part of the at­trac­tion of us­ing a springer for hunt­ing is in the chal­lenge. Why should my quarry risk se­ri­ous in­jury and pain merely for the lux­ury of my ‘sport’? The re­al­world sit­u­a­tion is that the springer, like the diesel en­gine, is just not clean enough to cut it in the mod­ern hunt­ing field. I don’t like to say it, but the truth is there for all to see. The tech­no­log­i­cal bar has been raised

“Hav­ing grown up with springers, I never thought that I’d want any­thing else”

and I think our own eth­i­cal stan­dards need to rise along with it.

THE CON­FI­DENT CHOICE

This re­al­ity was brought home to me re­cently when I ran a 1-1 guided hunt­ing course with a jour­nal­ist from Cum­bria. He’d only ever shot an old break- bar­rel in the gar­den and had very lit­tle shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but wanted to learn more about hunt­ing for the ta­ble, and per­haps go out for a rab­bit. I al­ways ex­plain to clients that we won’t shoot any live quarry un­til we’re com­pletely pre­pared both psy­cho­log­i­cally and phys­i­cally, and I stip­u­late that we need to be hit­ting a 10 pence spin­ner 5/5 at 25 yards from the bi­pod. I started my guest off with shoot­ing my HW97K (un­der­lever) from bench rested at 20 yards, to build his con­fi­dence and safety aware­ness. We then moved away from the range to the field to shoot the HW100 at 25 from both prone with the bi­pod and sit­ting sup­ported.

In the end, my guest left with a rab­bit taken at around 22 yards af­ter a short but ex­cit­ing stalk, jok­ing that it had been too easy. I’d pre­pared him for a longer, more chal­leng­ing out­ing and for greater ranges, but in the end it all came to­gether very sim­ply. How­ever, un­der­ly­ing the ease of the out­come was my com­plete con­fi­dence in the hard­ware and in his marks­man­ship, which we’d worked on for sev­eral hours. It would never have been eth­i­cally or even prac­ti­cally pos­si­ble to take a novice on a jour­ney like that with a springer – not with that level of con­fi­dence.

Con­fi­dence is re­ally the key here. Both my guest and I knew that with the HW100 he would hit what­ever he aimed at; I just couldn’t have said that with the HW97, great ri­fle though it is. As I’ve shown be­fore, when I com­pared it with the S410, in the right hands the 97 can give any PCP a run for its money, but with one shot mak­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween a clean kill and a wound­ing, who can tell for sure whether it’s go­ing to be a good day or a bad one?

LATE TO THE PARTY

Hav­ing grown up with springers, I never thought that I’d want any­thing else, but such is the way with many things that we hold dear to us. We can of­ten over­look ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ments in favour of emo­tional at­tach­ment or habit. Op­po­nents might well ar­gue that this kind of tun­nel vi­sion is an in­di­vid­ual right; ‘If I want to do things this way, who are you to tell me any dif­fer­ent?’ and that ar­gu­ment is fair enough as long as nobody else is in­volved. It be­comes prob­lem­atic though when there are dis­tinct im­pli­ca­tions for an­i­mal wel­fare. We could deny all the tech­ni­cal im­prove­ments that PCPs of­fer over springers, but we’d still be left with the sim­ple fact that the PCP is the more eth­i­cal choice, more bor­ing per­haps, but un­doubt­edly more eth­i­cal. To re­fute this and its im­por­tance would be like re­ject­ing elec­tric trains be­cause they don’t run on steam, or driver air- bags be­cause they’re dif­fi­cult to fit into vin­tage cars.

I’m con­verted and I feel a bizarre pang of loss for the old ways, and giv­ing up hunt­ing with springers feels like I’m some­how dis­hon­our­ing the mem­o­ries of my child­hood. I don’t love my HW100 any more than I love a ham­mer, but I do love where it takes me; a place of calm and clin­i­cal con­fi­dence in my shoot­ing that I’ve never been to be­fore.

THERE’S STILL ROOM

I be­lieve that ev­ery shooter should own a springer and that we should all reg­u­larly prac­tise and train with them. They’re fan­tas­tic for am­pli­fy­ing poor tech­nique and for re­mem­ber­ing what ‘real’ shoot­ing feels like. They’re per­fect for back- gar­den plink­ing and for knock­ing over closerange squir­rels or pi­geons, but for me at least, only ever from rested from now on. Shots from sit­ting rely far too much on chance and even if, like me, you can group well from sit­ting at 30 yards, there will al­ways be a flyer in the field – and it’s that flyer that wounds. If we’re hon­est, when we need a tool, which one should we choose? The one that does the job ev­ery time or the one that doesn’t? I think you know the an­swer. All the best for the high sum­mer. Char­lie

ABOVE: Springers are in­te­gral to what I do

BELOW: I train my guests with springers

RIGHT: The HW100 gives me 100% con­fi­dence

ABOVE: There’s al­ways one flyer

BELOW: We owe our quarry ev­ery chance of a clean death

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