I'd almost forgotten how much I loved shooting.
She's a fine piece of work, the Slavia 631. A .177 spring-piston air rifle, built by CZ in the Czech Republic. Low power and suitable for a basement range, but far and away one of the most accurate rifles in its class (and certainly in its price range). This is not the BB gun of "A Christmas Story" - she's a hefty bit of wood and steel built for the enthusiast who appreciates quality and precision.
I had taken the homebuilt aperture sight off the rifle to try to make some drawings of it, and had never put it back on. So it had lay locked in its case and inoperable for a long time. I don't know when the last time I'd put a pellet through it was.
I'd only meant to put the sight back on the rifle, in preparation for our trip out to the cabin; it was already getting late and I had to work the next day. But, as it seems is the case with anything in the basement, it turned into a somewhat longer affair. Sighting in a rifle is never just sighting it in. You spit some lead out of it for fun, too. It's inevitable.
My own experience with shooting sometimes makes me marvel at the near-complete association made between guns and violence. I know few things more tranquil than my own shooting sessions. Everything becomes about being still and slowing down, about generating a silence broken only by the sound of the shot itself, a loud thwack in the case of this rifle. And then it is quiet again, as I calmly break the barrel and put another pellet into the breech, consciously trying not to move too quickly and increase my heart rate. I cannot understand how some can see only violence in this zen-like activity. The world melts away as I look down the barrel over the sights, and patiently wait until my body settles and the rifle steadies and my lungs are just newly relaxed.
Of course, the groups were shaky after so long, with a lot of "flyaway" shots landing an inch or more from the ten-ring. But the groups tightened and the flyaways became less frequent after a few dozen shots. It started to come back to me, the attention to breathing and sight picture and trigger pull and hold. Spring-piston guns are particularly sensitive to how you hold them, since their recoil produces not only backward motion but also torque; you've got to hold them exactly the same way, with exactly the same pressure on every point of contact between the rifle and your body, shot after laborious shot.
And with the returning skills came the elation and the frustration, those companions with which every shooter is familiar. The disappointment that blankets you when you walk up to the target and find that the group is broader than you thought it was, and the wry satisfaction that lights on your face when it's tighter. Every group with one effort a little further from the mark than the others taunts you like a dare to go back to the line and reload. And back at the line you try. Over and over again. To stand more firmly, to grip the rifle more consistently, to breathe more precisely. And above all, you promise yourself that you won't let the next shot break until everything is perfect.
Usually, I find out that I don't have that kind of patience.
But a tight group in the paper is worth all that effort and more. It's not about the holes or the damage. It's about the intention, about exercising will at a distance, about not missing the mark. It is about achieving with precision something so deliberate. To do exactly what you mean to do. To achieve the goal with no wandering, though gravity and your respiration and your pulse and fatigue all align their wills against you.
My ego is far too fragile for me to dare make a list of all the things I meant to do. And even in those things I achieved, so often what actually materialized was something near what I meant, in the general area of. Seldom exactly. Even at my age, I'm still not that good at this yet.
Because to do as we intend to is far more difficult than we would suppose. Harder still is to do it over and over again, at will. So I keep going back to the line and reloading.