The poorer sibling?

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British Airgun Show 2014, anyone? Airgun Shooter magazine’s Nick Robbins calls for airgunning to receive the recognition it deserves among the shooting industry

As a younger sibling, I’ve had a lifetime of inevitable comparisons with my older brother.

From exam results that I had to match or improve upon to competing with my brother’s achievements on sporting fields, my life has, at times, felt like a constant attempt to prove myself.

It’s not just a case of doing this for others – the biggest battle is trying to convince myself that what I’m doing is worthwhile. The cricket club I turn out for has so many siblings playing for it that the end of season ‘better brother’ awards are the most hotly contested.

I can relate to airguns – and airgunners – for this very reason. Seemingly thought of as the poorer relation to the fullbore shooters, airgunners are dismissed by some as hobbyists, or worse, as those happy to play with toys. This discord is never better seen than at the fairs and shows that, like family reunions, bring all the family together and expect everyone to be happy while leaving some on the kids’ table with uneven chairs and smaller portions.

At the Midland Game Fair last year, airguns were shunted into the far corner in the ‘Airgun Expo’. While it sounds great to have an area all to ourselves, stepping off the stand and looking down gunmakers’ row tended to highlight the disparity. While those who knew what they were looking for would wander over, the mass of more casual traffic stayed on the busier, well-trodden path rather than venturing up to the airgun area.

It was a similar story at this year’s British Shooting Show, which was, by all accounts, a great success. Stoneleigh Park, or the National Agricultural Centre as many still know it, was the home of the Royal Show, and many in the industry have praised the royalty-approved surroundings. Warm halls, large ceilings, good lighting and comfortable surroundings: the ideal stage for the British Shooting Show, then.

Well, unless you were shunted down to the kids’ table. Fittingly for the NAC, ‘Airgun City’ seemed to have been built in a cattle shed. Corrugated roofs, cold, uncovered floors, a dank and dark atmosphere, separate from the rest of the show and exposed to the elements. It was with not a little envy that we peeked into the sumptuous surroundings in which shotgun and rifle traders were set – it was clear who the ‘showcase’ traders were seen to be.

Shedding the airgun aversion: Airgunners are dedicated buyers, so how about a show dedicated to airgunners?

Shedding the airgun aversion: Airgunners are dedicated buyers, so how about a show dedicated to airgunners?

But why is this the case? I’ve been leafing through Gun Trade News’s recent ‘How’s Business?’ columns, and every month at least one retailer – and not just an airgun-specific one – has said that air rifles, air pistols, or airgun accessories have been selling particularly well. Data borne out in Airgun Shooter’s Airgun 100 poll, which again talks to those who sell all forms of shooting equipment.

Even retailers at the BSS reported having solid weekends on the airgun front, and footfall was brisk – despite the conditions.

I believe the prevailing view is that airgunning is an ersatz replacement for rifle or shotgun shooting. Punters aren’t interested in both, but one or the other – and those interested in the other, which is almost always airguns, are less likely to spend big money. Airgunning is the Phil to rifle shooting’s Gary Neville; the Shane to clay shooting’s Brett Lee; the Dannii to game shooting’s Kylie Minogue.

BASC estimates there are four million airguns in the UK – so that’s four million air rifles or pistols that have been bought at some point, with the related buys of pellets, optics, cases, slips, CO2, moderators, stock modifications, diver’s bottles and filling equipment. Airguns are big business. They are not an afterthought, or an inferior form of shooting – and they don’t deserve to be treated as such.

Perhaps it’s time that airguns were given a show to themselves. Not a ‘City’ or an ‘Expo’, not an area tacked on to the end of an existing show, but a weekend-long celebration of the wide and varied world of air-powered shooting. There’s enough variety to keep it interesting – with match pistols and rifles, FT equipment, replica CO2 pistols, Bell Target, the Olympic disciplines, HFT and HFT-Extreme, plinking and hunting – with equipment tailored for all of these disciplines. Perhaps the ‘weaker sibling’ needs its time in the spotlight to break free of the misinformation, not just to graduate from the children’s table but to stage its own dinner party, with airgunning as the guest of honour.

It surely has its advantages. Airguns have no seasons – and shops report to us that airguns tend to have all weather conditions covered, bar heavy wind of course. When the nights draw in, hardy shooters will opt for the lamp or torch, while the longer days see early mornings spent targeting the roosts of carrion birds and pigeons. Perhaps this is why airgunners are left to explore the cattle sheds at shows – they are, for the most part, used to dealing with these sorts of environments on their permissions.

Airgunners may not always buy into the same lifestyle that the CLA expounds as ‘the country life’, but they do buy – at the shows, online and in-store – and they engage with their sport through the three successful magazines and the myriad forums devoted to their shooting (on which some criticism has been levelled at the BSS’s layout).

Airguns are important to the UK gun industry as a whole – not only in a retail sense, but also as they introduce many people to the world of guns. So it seems churlish to alienate them in this way.

With the BSS promising to learn from the complaints it has received this year on parking and organisation, let’s hope airguns can take a deservedly more prominent place next year.

Nick Robbins

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