Bafflement

This weekend was a little different to normal. A local gun club I’ve joined was upgrading its range and needed a few spare bodies to help out. I don’t have any particular skills in fabrication or carpentry (just basic bodging) so didn’t really know what to expect.

The business end of an indoor range. Oddly like a theatre, but no velvet curtains.

As it turned out, I had one of the most enjoyable and rewarding days for some while. I’m still sore and stiff from lugging stuff about, but there’s nothing like a work day to get to know some of the other guys a bit better.

No matter how hard I try, I always want to look at the arc.

Judging from the comprehensive drawings that had been produced, a great deal of preparation and planning had gone into this work. Today’s task was to ensure the safest possible conditions for the club’s pistol shooters by installing a new set of baffles.

“Warning: emits stars and bangs.” What did he have for breakfast?

Even so, there were a few IKEA moments – ones when the blood drains from everyone’s faces because they think they’ve assembled everything back to front. Thankfully, we hadn’t. This structure probably tops half a ton, so not exactly Meccano.

Adjusting the angle on the big steel baffle before fixing it in place.

The really nice thing was that, if things did go slightly awry, nobody got rattled or lost their cool. It was all puzzled out by discussion, suggestion, trial and error and (much as I loath buzzwords) teamwork. There was also that kind of blokish banter (sadly not much of it printable) which made the time pass easily.

The other end of the steel sheet. It took at least seven of us to position it.

Firing ranges, by their very nature, need a fair bit of maintenance. Frames get shot to bits, debris needs regular clearing out and equipment has to be checked and periodically replaced. This project is part of an ongoing makeover to enhance safety and security at the range.

And in it goes. Palpable relief all round.

After a few hours’ work, the steelwork was safely in place. Supported at each end, bolted in multiple locations and then welded just to be absolutely sure. Now it’s in, it’s not going anywhere.

Job done! So much so that it looks like it’s always been there.

Members like me with muzzle-loading revolvers and long-barrel pistols and revolvers can now resume their sport. It’s a great little 25-yard indoor range and ideal for gallery load development.

More of that as it unfolds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back reloading!

I’ve not really said anything about this, but the last two years have been particularly trying.

Up until May this year, I had my elderly dad living with me and I have to say it was not easy. Old age brings its own challenges, but there were some complicating factors which made it all especially difficult.

In the end, I got so burned out, I pretty much lost my independence and all my hobbies and interests went on the backburner. That’s an experience I hope never to repeat.

I didn’t completely lose my way as a shooter though. There were one or two guns on the list which I managed to pick up in the meantime, such as this Marlin:

Marlin 1895SBL laminate stock in 45-70.

If you’re a cinema goer, you may recall this as being the same model toted by Chris Pratt in the first Jurassic World film. And what a gun it is!

It was to be a few more months before I got to try it out.

Thankfully, exhausted as I was,  I didn’t lose the ability to have a laugh.  It’s a valuable way of letting off steam.

Definitely too much time (and foil) on his hands.

Eventually, I had to stop being an impromptu carer or I really was destined for a tinfoil hat. So, very reluctantly, I had to broach the tricky subject of Dad going into full-time care. Damn, that was the hardest conversation of my entire life.

My father went into care in May and I was expecting to then launch myself straight back into everything.

Nnneeeegh – wrong! Instead, I sat in a stupor for about two weeks, just slowly recharging my batteries and then, eventually, mulling over what I wanted to do with the business and hobbies.

Small steps first – I spent a few more weeks repairing the house and getting my office and dealership space as I need them.

Shelves yet to be filled, but I dare say that will happen.

The various spaces aren’t fully utilised yet, but that is partly deliberate. You always need room to expand and so I’ve built that in.

So much reloadng; so little time!

I feel particularly lucky to have a really nice reloading area. Handloading was another aspect to the shooting hobby which I always enjoyed, but which just died off while I was otherwise occupied. I’ve now started up again and am enjoying getting back into it.

The place needs tidying. That’s next…

I once asked someone what sort of space was needed for a reloading setup and the droll reply was, “twice as much as you originally planned for!” They were right. Reloading expands to fill the space available and then just overflows everywhere. Space – the final frontier. Have plenty of it, if you can.

If you must think, Jon, at least try and look intelligent while doing it.

45-70 Govt is a new one on me. In the intervening two years, I have acquired two or three guns which I have still yet to fire, one of which is the Marlin 1895SBL shown above. I like straight-walled cartridges; they’re nice and easy to work with.

Trail Boss, one of my all-time favourite powders. Or was, until the EU banned it.

Trail Boss is the powder for now. The Marlin can take some very stiff loads but I’m working with very modest ones here. This is partly because all the bullets I have are plain cast lead (without gas checks – the copper gaskets you need to have on the base of a lead bullet being drive at more than 1,100 fps). I’m also naturally cautious when starting a new calibre. It’s a good idea not to go crazy and start making powerful loads until you’re sure of what you’re doing.

Primed and filled, just waiting for bullets to be seated.

A visual inspection of all cases after adding powder. Making sure they all actually have powder and that none are under or over-filled.

Just look at the size of those buggers!

405gr cast lead bullets; real beasts. The 45-70 can fell a bear so it’s a big old round. The cartridge was originally used in guns like the Springfield trapdoor and other single-shot rifles. It’s a 45-70 because it’s 45 calibre and originally would have had 70 grains of black powder.

405gr round-nose, flat-point cast bullets.

Once the visual inspection is complete, I pop an inverted bullet on top of each case. This means I know they are all ready to go and also prevents powder spillage or other accidents if you accidentally nudge the tray.

One of my favourite bits. A handful of freshly made ammo.

And there they are, a handful of newly-made 45-70 Govt rounds.  Anything going into a tubular magazine needs a nice firm crimp, otherwise the bullets can get forced back into the cases under recoil and then the internal pressure goes up.

I’m looking forward to trying them out. It should be good fun.

Tricky setup on Suffolk coast

So, there we were at Saxmundham, setting up for a wedding display. Superficially a warm, sunny day, but high winds on the beach actually made it feel cold!

There was absolutely no open vehicular access to the beach, so my idea of getting my truck down there and saving everyone the effort of lugging it all down a path and across the flint shingle was for nought.

This show was for a friend, so we really wanted to lay on some spectacle. Hence the predominance of aerial shells, including a 7″ strobe at the end.

I’ve never had the experience of whacking wooden stakes into a stone-laden beach, but it was actually rather easy and they all held well. Somehow, hammering into a large mass of round pebbles has the dual effect of making displacement easy and offering sufficient mass to hold the stake in place.

Pete, the groom, who also owns his own pyrotechnics firm, took time to come down and see us and had his picture taken with the finale shell. The couple also very kindly sent us a crate of Bud for after the display.

Nearing the end of what was a very challenging rig. Foiling over the tubes is a good way to prevent flashover (accidental ignition from one item to another) and keep the weather out. It didn’t rain, but you never know in Britain and especially not by the sea.

Thankfully, the wind had dropped a good bit by this point.

My son said I “looked tired and pissed off” when I sent him this. I was actually tired and in pain, but not at all fed up. Me and my fag are a long, long way from anything flammable in this shot, by the way.

And so, it kicks off. About 10.10 p.m. and after a countdown from the crowd, standing a long way off at the top of the hill/cliff/whatever, but lubricated with enough drink to be heard from where we were, down by the control box.

There were three sites in this display; a common setup in pro displays. This was the centre one. My lens wasn’t wide angle, so I couldn’t capture all three at the same time.

A gorgeous golden mine effect, topped with blue stars and some red ones from another item (possibly from the right-hand site).

Strobe shell finale. One 7″ and two sixes. The photo does not do them justice. They were astonishingly nice.

 

New anti-shooting legislation

The shooting sports in Britain are facing yet another random assault by officialdom. Based on no actual evidence at all, there are moves afoot to ban 50 cal rifles out of “fears for public safety” and MARS/lever-release rifles on the grounds that they are “rapid fire”. Unfortunately, the draft “Offensive Weapons Bill” is sufficiently vague in its wording to make future arbitrary bans quite easy.

If you shoot, be it shotguns, rifles or in any other discipline in the UK, you should write to your MP as soon as possible, before the Bill gets it Second Reading and voice your concerns. Please, I urge you, be polite, rational and succint. Make reference to the NRA’s letter to the Home Office and the government’s own assurances that changes to existing gun laws must be evidence-based. Many MPs are in agreement with us that this law is illiberal and a step backwards. We do have friends in parliament; we just need to remind them we need their help with this Bill.

Incidentally, this is not a uniquely British phenomenon. Other nations who share our outlook on sensibly regulated shooting have adopted this mindset. Canada is currently undergoing similar trials with the passage of Bill C71 through its Parliament. Over there, the Liberal government has rubbished the previous Conservative government’s policy of common-sense firearms regulation and, again on no real grounds at all, decided to introduce a welter of paperwork, making sports shooting much more difficult for the law-abiding.

It’s over to us, the law-abiding shooters. We are the most closely regulated bunch of sportsmen out there and we need to become much more vocal or we will just go on losing more and more shooting disciplines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sky full of magic

I’ve just spent a very interesting few days with a professional fireworks company down in Oxfordshire, Illusion Fireworks.

Some fan slices doing their thing for the crowd.

I’ve been doing fireworks displays with various people on and off for quite a few years but, compared to some of the seasoned pros at Illusion, I’m really just a rookie and there was a massive amount to learn. So, I went down to Wallingford to attend Illusion’s company training day and then help out on the display.

The newer members, learning all about fuse.

It was a boiling hot weekend; almost ideal weather conditions for pyrotechnics. On the Saturday, we split into two groups with the more experienced people learning about the electronic firing system and the newer people like me going through the basics of how to rig and de-rig the Illusion way.

A beer outside, after the training.

We learned all about fusing and tools and equipment we would need. We also got to see what happens when fireworks malfunction and the rigourous measures that are in place to ensure everybody is safe should anything go wrong.

Watching demonstrations of various effects.

In the evening, we had an absolutely fantastic meal at Anokhi Indian Restaurant in Wallingford. It was, quite simply, the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and the hospitality was superb. I’m hoping we’ll go there many more times in the future as a group.

Hooray for Indian grub! This was the best.

Illusion is a member of BPA, the British Pyrotechnists’ Association and provides displays all over the country. Like I said, I’ve worked with a few in the past but Illusion’s standards are incredibly high and its director, Karl Mitchell-Shead, puts heart and soul into his work designing truly memorable displays.

 

Karl, kneeling before the firing site 😀

It might not seem like it, standing in the audience, but professional fireworks displays take an awful lot of preparation and even for relatively small shows, the crew will normally be on site for most of the afternoon prior.

Looking clapped out after raking up.

In the best of traditions, rookies usually get handed the mundane jobs to do. So, I pre-empted this by volunteering to rake up dry grass on the firing site. This meant we didn’t end up taking bags of grass home with our firework debris.

Dorney Court, one of the oldest houses in the country.

The evening display was at Dorney Court, a popular venue for couples getting married. This particular evening, we were putting on a demo night so that they could see one of our pyromusicals and hopefully book up both at Dorney Court and with Illusion.

And we’re off. The demo night begins.

I was fortunate enough to get pretty much a ringside seat. I and another chap were asked to keep an eye on the dry grass so that the lawn didn’t get singed. Thus, we sat relatively close to the action, at a safe distance but out of sight of the crowd.

Gorgeous red crossettes fill the sky.

One thing I can say after that weekend is that I must have got two years’ worth of exercise in about three days! There is an awful lot of lugging about of equipment, hammering in stakes, fusing, running wires and cleaning up to be done. But it’s all worth it at the end when you hear the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd.

“I don’t like the tails!”

That’s what many people who dislike mice or rats will give as a reason. Personally, the tails have never bothered me. It would soon bother the animal though, if it didn’t have its tail . A mouse relies on its tail for balance and to control its body temperature.

– I once found eight mice inside a 410 shell box I had given them. They had opened just the one corner and all got inside. How they managed to breathe still baffles me. –

Mice come in a huge variety of colours and markings, but most of mine tend to be either selfs (single colour all over) or sealpoint, bluepoint (like the respective feline breeds) or sometimes tans (dark top, lighter underbelly and with a clear demarcation).

– Basil was enormous. Fully grown, his body alone was 14cm long. –

If you decide to get mice as pets, please do consider getting them from a breeder. Mice from breeders tend to be larger, more resilient and and better socialised. Pet shop mice are generally smaller, poorer specimens and often totally stressed out due to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. That said, one of the loveliest pet mice I ever had came from a shop in Norwich.

– Niffler. A truly incredible little creature. She really attached herself to me. She was actually a pet shop mouse and tame from day 1. –