Death in a Lonely Land

More Hunting, Fishing, and Shooting on Five Continents

Peter Hathaway Capstick; Illustrated by Dino Paravano; Foreword by Don Causey

St. Martin's Press

Death In A Lonely Land
ROLL BACK THE YEARS!
GUNS & AMMO--MARCH 1980
AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION
It is my personal belief that if a man forsakes the great days and "toys" that brought him a wonderful childhood, he would be foolish to start taking himself seriously and forget those same things that brought him the joy of youth as he grows a bit longer in the fangs. Of course, we have to contend with the Bible, which suggests that a man must do away with childish things, but I really don't think BB guns were part of the message. The joy of shooting and teaching the shooting arts must be eternal. After all, who taught David to use his sling?
I'll not bother to give the source of the idea that the only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys. But if you show me a man who takes himself seriously, you will usually find that he's missing a great deal of his own heritage.
So many times now, I have said that shooting is a state of mind, whether with a $50,000 Holland & Holland Royal grade double rifle or the Daisy or the Crosman. To sneer and be "above" such juvenile pleasures comes right off the limit of your moral credit card. What, after all, is the shooting life all about? I believe it is to have fun. So, go on. Take a couple of shots. I'll bet you remember things gladly that were long forgotten ... .
It was just the other day, a bright, clear Southwest Florida morning replete with dueling mockingbirds, soft, rising sea breezes and loafing, poison-green chameleons in the hybiscus when my wife wearily asked me what I wanted to be when--and if--I grew up. Possibly the fact that I had just spilled half a pack of BBs with improved cylinder distribution over the kitchen vinyl had something to do with her query, but then you never really know about women's motives.
She gave me one of those sideways looks (probably searching for an artery near the surface) and held the dustpan, all the while observing that she has three children: her son, daughter, and me. I wasn't really listening, struck by the curious fact that neither Daisy Super Accurate Precision Ground Bullseye BBs nor Crosman Perfectly Round Micrometer Tested Super BBs tend to make the apparently simple transition between broom and dustpan edge without slickly rolling at right angles to pour back under the dishwasher. The other dishwasher, that is. I am applying the empirical processes to this phenomenon, possibly a matter of sectional density or, conceivably, an aberrant ballistic coefficient. Then, it could be that my broom handle needs one-quarter inch more drop at the heel or that the dustpan has a poor wood-to-metal fit and should be glass-bedded.
Despite being six foot eight and having a sense of humor like Irving R. Levine, my wife is really a good woman at heart. She never beats me where it shows in public, sees to my nourishment with astounding zeal, and has seen to it that I am never guilty of Ring Around the Collar. Yet she is a woman and, by genetic selection and sexual definition, suspicious as a low-water brown trout anytime she catches me edging out the back door with a BB gun, muttering and woe-is-me-ing under my breath that I am not really going out to have a crashing good time playing Rover Boys but am, in fact, a serious firearms journalist on a bona fide research project. I flash my press card at her and stand firm. At least reasonably firm. I am working. Employed. Assaying the dizzy heights of semi-solvency.I don't wander around all morning plinking at things and shooting up the new phone book for penetration tests because I like it. God forbid! It's dirty, dangerous work. I would infinitely prefer cleaning out the garage or playing human fly washing the upstairs windows for the party next Friday. But, A Man Sees What Must Be Done and Does It. Like all gun writers, I have a very deep-seated sense of professional responsibility. I am also completely bananas over BB guns of any description, the affliction being known, dependent upon your choice of clinical nomenclature, as either the Red Ryder Syndrome or Crosman's Disease.
Like most of you Faithful, my first frontal assault on the world of shooting was with a Daisy. If I'd gotten a nickel an hour for the time spent stalking mastodons and king cobras down by the frog pond and wandering the nomadic, after-school woods aglow with the sense of satisfaction that only the dry rattle of a full BB reservoir can bring, I'd likely now be living off a stable of municipal bonds on my private Greek island.
There have been a lot of vodka martinis over my inlays since that first lever-action Daisy, yet I can still remember every nick in its authentic hardwood stock, including the magnificent hand work I did engraving my initials in bas-relief with a Christmas-new X-acto woodcarving knife kit. When I was finished, halfway through the crossbar on the H, they were able to wire up the tendon of my left thumb quite neatly, although it played hell for years with my flipper reflex on the pinball machines. That rifle, after spitting what must have been a half-ton of BBs, somehow got laid aside and is undoubtedly resting, fossil-like, somewhere in the primeval plasto-metallic sludge spawned by the debris of the culture of Montville, New Jersey. Helluva shame. If you can find it, I'll trade you even for a new Holland & Holland Royal.
When I was nine, I graduated to the Daisy pump gun, a real magnum after the old lever action. But I never liked it that much because all the trajectories and Kentucky windage wired into my circuits were negated by its greater power. It was also trickier to load and didn't have the vast magazine capacity of the lever gun. I went back to the saddle gun with its loop of gen-u-wine rawhide knotted about the ring on the side of thereceiver, the purpose of which accoutrement I never did fathom, except that Red Ryder and Little Beaver both thought highly of it. Later, about the time I was paroled from reform school for conspiring to overthrow the School Board by force, I got one of the fancy hammer versions, the Buffalo Bill Scout. Zowie! I still shoot it in fits of beloved melancholy.
Actually, the use of a BB gun on a regular basis is one of the best possible ways to keep sharp the hand-eye coordination necessary when hunting with either a rifle or a shotgun. Just as snow skiing transfers to water skiing, so does the BB gun transfer many talents to firearms use. Want to teach your son or daughter the elements of lead for wing shooting? Have them spend a few hours popping away at dragonflies or firing at chips of wood in a fast-flowing stream. Even the U.S. Army has found the little guns a valuable training aid for the instinctual act of combat firing, teaching recruits to hit thrown lead washers and smaller items in the air with BB guns that have had the front and rear sights removed.
BB guns have come a long way, baby, since the early push-pull, click-click models of my wasted youth, let alone since their introduction by Daisy back in the 1880s. Recently, I got stuck into the subject again after combing through the sleek new offerings in the rear sections of the Guns & Ammo Annual, and decided to pick an example of the newer developments in the field for evaluation. Completely disregarding the ultra-sophisticated grouping of match and high-performance pellet guns, I settled almost arbitrarily on a new air gun by Crosman, the multi-stroke Model 760XL. Oops! I do beg your collective pardon, Messrs. Crosman; I meant the Model 760XL Deluxe Powermaster with "Deluxe Styling!" and even "Deluxe Features," no less.
Wow! I'll give you this, boys: if you're used to a double beef Whopper, hold the onions, extra cheese, the creature that lay before me was a double helping of larks' tongues on Beluga caviar with Tasmanian leatherwood honey sauce. If that was what BB guns have come to, then I may have been naive about the relationship between Red Ryder and Li'l Beaver. If I'd had that gun when I was fourteen, I would have been the first kid on the block to rule the earth.
No two ways about it, the 760 is a mean, sexy-looking machine that is really far more than a BB gun in the sense I normally think of one. First off, it's a hybrid between a repeating BB rifle (Imagine! Rifling! Ten lands!) and a single-shot pellet rifle offering a wide choice of power selections, depending upon how many times you pump it, between a minimum of two strokes and a maximum of ten. Why not eleven, or for those of you who strike without closing cover, even twelve?
Well, I've put it off long enough. If you're a gun writer, you just have to take the terrible dangers inherent in the profession as part of the price of earning the tremendous fees we command for these high-risk articles. I picked up the gun in my bare hands and hefted it. (Incidentally, there is a common misconception among anti-gun folk that guns are "slimy." This is not true. They are simply smooth and cool to the touch.) Having determined from the owner's manual precisely which was the "barrel" and which the "stock," I located the Reservoir Loading Port, which, for the sake of keeping this whole thing professional, I shall call the RLP. Having cleverly decided to try the repeating BB action first, I cracked the milk carton of 1,500 Crosman Super BB Perfectly Round Micrometer Tested ammo (SBBPRMT). I took their word for it that it was not just 1,499. Careful not to point the muzzle at anybody I did not want to shoot, I put the gun on "SAFE" and attempted to pour 180 SBBPRMTs through the -inch RLP. After several minutes and the application of some language our younger readers might think unsporting, I got enough in to at least cause some trouble. Ah, but if you think that's all there is to foddering the 760XL, you didn't read the manual. Next, you must transfer, untouched by human hands, eighteen SBBPRMTs to the Visual Magazine (VM), from the R of the RLP. At this I proved expert. The VM is a space that runs along the top of the receiver and acts as the receptacle for the immediate shots to follow, if, of course, I don't screw this thing up. To get the BBs into the VM, you must find the BB Retainer Button (BBRB) and pull it rearward. You then, even if it seems a bit inconsistent, point the gun downward (watch those feet) and shake and twist the rifle as if stirring a super Saturday night bucket of thirty-to-one martinis (Stolichnayavodka, of course). To discourse openly on just why I found this simple would not be seemly. You then push forward the BBRB, which locks in its load of eighteen SBBPRMTs. It's like being halfway to paradise.
You are now, and please don't be overanxious, ready to pump. I'm not going to tell you again how many times because we need you here at G&A, and those subscription cancellations don't do much for my rates. I will advise you, however, that Crosman lists three Shooting Safety Zones, cleverly, A through C. Two to four pumps will throw a pellet or BB 250 yards, which is Zone A. The B Zone is 450 yards, which requires five to ten pumps and, right, I didn't believe it either. Zone C doesn't exist because you can't pump more than ten times. Don't you just love it?
I decided that five pumps would be sufficient to qualify for hazardous-duty rates, which I accomplished with only one, though large, blood blister. Now, carefully avoiding Gramps, the big dog, the suburban split-level, and Mom's new Aspen, I gently worked the bolt. Nope. No BB. Checking page six, I discovered that the rifle must be pointed downward for the magnetized bolt tip to contact a BB in the VM and pull it forward into the chamber. Giddy with accomplishment, I was now ready to fire away!
Laying my firm jaw against the poly-god-knows-what plastic Monte Carlo stock with the "cheek piece that gives the XL a distinctive sporty look," I focused steely, unwavering eyes over the adjustable-for-elevation-and-windage rear sight and centered the hooded (presumably for jungle conditions) front post in its proper notch. Off went the safety as I eased into the creepy 2¾-pound pull. FFFap! barked the 760XL Deluxe Powermaster. Clank! went the center of a Coke can on a log ten yards away, twisting on its axis and toppling to the forest floor. I picked it up and whistled. Right through. In one side and out the other. Pretty impressive, considering this is not an article about the .600 Nitro Express. Up went some paper for grouping, and on went the shooting glasses in case of a ricochet. If you pooh-pooh this, drop a BB from shoulder height on a piece of stone tile and you will find it more lively than a golf ball.
Through the afternoon, I found that the pellets, which are loaded singly through the bolt, gave better performances accuracy-wise, but I preferred the ease of loading the BBs. I've had the gun for a week at this writing, and must give it full marks for what it is supposed to be, a fun gun, but with vastly expanded potential for circumstances requiring greater range and power. Perhaps I have been overly cruel, kidding about the literature, which would be unfair to the gun itself. I think it's a real beaut--accurate, handsome with its spacers and brass-plated receiver--and personally endorse it to the extent of my experience with it, which would include no malfunction at all when instructions were followed. On the Tepeco Speed-Meter sky-screen chronograph, alternating between BBs and pellets, varying the number of pumps from two through ten, muzzle velocities ranged from 202 fps through a very impressive 671. The suggested list price for the 760XL (what do you suppose XL stands for?) is about $43, although in the couple of months before you read this, it may be quoted in Krugerrands.
After looking over the current crop of air guns of all types, it's pretty obvious that there is still no shortage of small boys of all ages in this country, and that's fine by me. Backyards and camping trips just wouldn't be the same without the BB gun, as far as I'm concerned. I know that just as soon as I get to be a real fireman, I'm going to carry my Crosman 760XL right on the truck with me. If my wife will let me.
Copyright © 1990 by Peter Hathaway Capstick.