Have Guns Will Travel - Mike Yardley Reminisces
Now, today health and safety reigns supreme, but, when we were young and foolish, we all did really dumb stuff. For example, and I am not proud of it, my first moving target was my grandmother. She would wear whale bone corsets, and, being a woman of short but stout build proved to be just too tempting a target once I had perfected the art of using an ancient bb pistol. Now, it is a terrible thing to admit to, even though I was about 12 at the time, but I think the truth should out (especially as there is a moral in my tale – several in fact).
I would give her a bit of forward allowance as she came down a spiral staircase, and, provided I got it right, she didn’t notice because of her armour plating. One day, of course, she forgot the corset, shouted loudly on the impact of the brass ball, and boxed my ears (as I thoroughly deserved). Some of my friends, I remember – and I shudder when I do – were dumb enough to have fights with more serious airguns in the woods on occasion. None of them were seriously hurt thankfully, but kids have been very badly injured in such incidents, typically losing the sight in an eye. Boys, untamed, do this sort of stupid stuff – they need guidance (as indeed does anyone new to guns).
Now, let me make something else clear, careful guidance, proper supervision, and specific education are the answer to such misuse of air-weapons not legislation in my opinion or any form of compulsory testing (though I might support the idea of compulsory attendance at an uncertificated safety awareness course before the issue of certificates or purchase of an airgun). In my case, meantime, it is significant that I had no father to put me straight (like many kids in the inner city today). I learnt most things the hard, dangerous, way on a farm by myself (including how to make improvised explosives which also nearly led to disaster on several occasions).
On the firearms front, I grew up very suddenly. I was out in a field with a friend and a gun looking for rabbits. We were both about 15. I saw a bunny in a hedge and mounted in preparation to fire. The mate with me grabbed the barrels shouting “No!.” The rabbit was no such thing, but a woman who had been looking for berries who put her head through a hole in the hedge at ground level. I saw a rabbit. I can still remember it. BUT, I broke a cardinal rule, one which I had never been taught – I was about to shoot where I could not see. My friend, later a successful pilot, saved the day, and, I have been paranoid about passing on the safety message ever since. It is so important for young people in particular. Never, Never Let Your Gun etc...
Mike's Grandmother Shown Right - One of the first women commissioned in WW1
A few years later, I learnt when studying at uni about something called gestalt psychology. It is a phenomenon about the way the human brain interprets information in ambiguous circumstances (it’s a bit like one of those dot to dot pictures where you have to draw in the lines to make an image – that’s what the brain does). When there is incomplete input (i.e some of the dots are missing), the brain has a tendency to make up the rest. Your eyes are not a camera meantime, they send input to the brain for processing and interpretation. From infancy, we learn to complete the picture based on expectation and probability.
The bottom line is that sometimes you can actually see things which are not really there. Everyone who shoots game should be aware of this – and, meanwhile, of course, never shoot into cover or where there is not a safe back-drop. Never horseplay with guns and ALWAYS point them in a safe direction assuming they are loaded at all times. Good habits and drills become so ingrained that an unconscious red light will switch on if you break them or come close to breaking them.
One more thing, if there are any young people you know, and who you can help, make the effort (even in a small way). You just might prevent a tragedy, they may not all be as lucky as I was. Indeed, I was in a gun shop the other day and saw, horrifically, a toddler playing with the triggers of his father’s closed an unproven shotgun (which was on the floor in an open unzipped slip). I knelt down to the little boy and said kindly but quite firmly: “you must never do that, it is very bad, VERY bad. NEVER touch you daddy’s gun” I looked up at his father as well: “You really must explain to him that he must never touch your gun. It might prevent a terrible accident.” I hope the message got through. You get the point, though.