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