Friday, August 7, 2015

My dangerous childhood: Air rifles

I used to be into guns. I mean, really into guns. My first exposure to firearms came in the form of BB guns and pellet rifles in my youth.  I still remember how cool it felt to hold my first air rifle, a multi-pump Crosman. With that plastic and steel rifle in my hands, I had no fear. I had fantasies of repelling robbers with my trusty BB gun before I ever saw A Christmas Story. I even kept it beside my bed at night, you know, just in case. I must have fired tens of thousands of shiny little BB's at anything that fell in front of my sights. Cans, soda bottles, action figures, nothing was safe from my wrath. Then one day, my friends and got bored shooting at inanimate objects, and decided to start shooting at each other.

You see, we knew we weren't supposed to shoot BB's at each other, but of course we did it anyway. We even had rules for our stupid airgun wars. We were morons, but we obviously didn't really want to hurt each other.

Rule #1: Multi-pump guns can only be pumped up twice. You see, with those guns, the more you pumped it up, the more powerful the shot was. After careful experimentation, we determined that pumping the gun twice allowed you to shoot at someone without worrying about the BB's puncturing the skin. We can't leave any physical evidence of our stupidity, now can we? That brings me to the second rule..

Rule #2: No aiming for the face. It's bad enough that we knew we weren't supposed to be shooting each other with BB guns, we sure as hell didn't want to get into trouble for shooting out an eye.

Rule #3: Actually, I don't think there was a third rule. There may have been a rule against shooting near cars or windows. Yet again, we were trying to cut down on the amount of physical evidence that proved our stupidity. I could explain away a small welt on the back of my arm. I didn't think I had enough verbal finesse to explain  how the passenger window in the car just shattered, or why there was a small copper BB in the middle of all the glass.

I'm not saying that the rules weren't broken, because pre-teen boys will try to get away with anything they can. Especially if they're the ones that came up with the rules in the first place. My neighbor's favorite ploy was to drop a handful of BB's down the barrel of his gun, then pump it all the way up, effectively turning it into an air powered shotgun. During one of our battles, I was unlucky enough to catch one of his shotguns blasts at point blank range. Several of the BB's actually hit my belt buckle, leaving small dents that were there until I threw it out. The rest smacked into my belly, leaving a cluster of small red welts that looked just like the Big Dipper. I got him back though. My weapon of choice was a Red Ryder lever action rifle. Even if the other guys only pumped their guns up twice, I could still unleash 10 times as many BB's. Sure, it wasn't as powerful as the other guns, but it more than made up for the lack of velocity with sheer volume.

The face rule was the one we held to the most, just because no one wanted to lose an eye, and more importantly, none of us wanted to get into trouble. I was never sure if it was intentional or not, but I manged to catch a couple of BB's with my face over the months we played. I had the advantage of wearing glasses with thick ass lenses, so I was the only one with any sort of eye protection. Even then, I had a BB smack into my cheek and kind of skid into the corner of my eye. That one gave me a chill, but I quickly shrugged it off and returned fire.  I actually watched a BB that ricocheted off my head embed itself in the tree next to me. It's good to know that my head was harder than a tree trunk.

The last time we played was the only time anyone actually got hurt. We were worried that our parents were wise to our little air gun battles, so we trekked back to the woods and split into teams. I have to mention that there was no real point to all of this. Getting hit didn't mean you had to take a time out, and we weren't trying to capture a flag or take over a base. We just felt like shooting at each other. Anyway, I'm walking through the woods when I feel and hear a BB whiz past my head. I ducked behind a tree and heard a couple more smack into its trunk. I peeked around, trying to figure out where the sniper was hidden. My best guess was a clump of bushes about 30 feet away from me. So, I leaned around the tree, squeezed off a shot, and was rewarded with a loud "OW! TIME OUT!" I looked around the tree and saw my neighbor's friend TJ stand up and walk out of the bush, blood streaming down his chin. Initially, I thought it had gone through his lip and busted a tooth, but it turned out it barely broke the skin before bouncing off. We were able to laugh about it once we got him all cleaned up. I think TJ even complimented me on a fine shot. Which, if I'm to be honest, it was. Still, that little bit of blood was enough to bring us to our senses. We never really talked about it then, but I think it made us realize just how stupid and lucky we had been.

NOT a BB gun

Years later, I was relaxing at a dock on the pond near my mom's house, when a couple of the neighbor's kids walked down. Billy and Joey, I think they were called. My initial impression was that they were a couple of spoiled brats, and not altogether that bright. Still, I was bored, and they weren't terribly annoying, so I hung out for a bit. Joey was fishing out in the middle of the pond in my boat, while Billy and I fished from the dock. It was all fun and games until Billy asked to see my air rifle. This thing was one of the most powerful pump guns you could get for under $50. I was using it to try and cull the snapping turtles in the pond, since they were ravaging the duck population. I handed the gun over, showed him how to use it, and went back to fishing. To this day, I don't know what made him do it, but Billy pumped up the gun the full 10 times, aimed, fired and shot his brother in the leg. Joey fell down into the boat clutching his thigh while Billy dropped the gun and started freaking out. Joey was able to paddle back to the dock, and when we saw his leg, his brother freaked out even more. You could see the copper BB lodged in his thigh, just under the skin. I offered to cut it out, but judging by how pale Joey got, I don't think he appreciated the idea. Billy had started calming down, and started trying to get me to take the blame. "Please Chris, my parents will kill me if I tell them I did this! Just say you did it." Because his parents wouldn't mind so much if a strange kid shot their son. Then he tried to put the blame on me anyway, saying it was my fault for letting him hold the rifle. I almost had to agree with him on that point. I had seen evidence of his lack of intelligence, and I still handed him a loaded air rifle. After a few minutes of Joey's crying and Billy's begging, they finally left me alone and walked back home. I was a little worried that my folks would get a visit from some irate parents, mad that I had tried to murder their son in the middle of a pond. Thankfully, nothing ever came of it.

I ran into Billy and Joey a few years later on that same dock. As it turns out, they didn't tell anyone what happened for a few months. Then I guess Joey's leg started getting sore, and Billy had to admit what he had done. He made sure to tell me that he took all the blame, almost like he was expecting a pat on the back for doing the right thing. I was more tempted to give him an elbow to the chin, but then that wouldn't have helped matters.

In the end, all of this made me realize something important: The universe will tolerate a certain amount of stupidity. It has to, to keep things in balance. Then it gets to a point where the universe says, "Alright, that's enough of this shit" and it has to teach you a lesson. And when you're taught by the universe, it freakin' hurts.


  1. "no one wanted to lose an eye, and more importantly, none of us wanted to get into trouble"

    Ha! I think this quote pretty much sums up all of us who managed to survive being children of the 80s (and yes, I had a pump action BB gun too, but our main vice was fireworks).

    1. I think the saying should be, "It's all fun and games until someone gets in trouble". Because we still had fun, even if someone got hurt. Sometimes because someone got hurt.

      Ooh..fireworks. That gives me an idea for another "My dangerous childhood".

    2. That quote is genius and rings true all throughout 80s/90s America.

      And yeah, fireworks was the life force to all of our fun too!

    3. Man, we did some crazy things with ground blooms. Pliers, a penny, and some scotch tape. We were like Sid from Toy Story!

  2. My parents never let me have a bb gun, but throwing stars, knives of all kinds, fireworks and even books of matches were apparently just fine. Also: motorcycles, mopeds, playing at construction sites, roaming the streets for all hours without making any contact with an adult whatsoever, etc etc etc.

    1. Kinda funny how that works, isn't it? BB guns are dangerous, but throwing stars and throwing knives, they're cool. BTW, here's a bag of explosives, go have fun. But don't throw them at each other..;)

  3. So many dumb things i did as a kid am surprised am still alive today lol.

    1. If I did some of the same stuff today, I know I'd end up dead.

      Or, sore on the couch for a week.

  4. This is a great post on childhood gun use. I will recommend this post to my 12-year old son. I think it’s time we started going small game hunting together. The info will truly be helpful for my child. I also found the following post, which I think my son should read on air rifles:


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