I’d like to tell you about how I first got into airgunning.

It was Christmas Day, 1972 I think, and I was about 11-years-old. Importantly, I was witnessing the presentation of the coolest present I’d ever seen – an air-rifle. My father, Fred , strode into the room to the strains of the Ray Conniff singers. He had in his hands an unwrapped break-barrel Diana, a present for Roland, my elder brother. At 13, Roland was the intended recipient of the Diana but he just shrugged and got on with opening his other presents.

I, however, was captivated and would remain so for years afterwards.

That was a long time ago but it’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?

Apart from a couple of times soon after that Christmas, Roland never shot the Diana. Although it had been bought for him and not me, I kept it in my room and before long I’d adopted it. It had become mine and Roland never once got the hump or asked for it back. And yet Roland was a boy and I was a girl. Strange that.

During the 1970s we Openshaws were lucky to have quite a large garden… at least it was one which had dimensions suitable for a young girl to shoot air-guns. I spent many happy hours on my own, plinking away, firing pellets at drink-cans and plastic soldiers. Perhaps my parents thought the novelty would wear off – that I would eventually show an interest in fluffy, girlie stuff, but it never happened. Sometimes I would make candles on the cooker (Mum called it a stove), play Stickle Bricks with my little brother or watch Roland gently press transfers onto his Airfix models, but then I’d fetch the Diana and slip away to the garden where I would make our neighbour grumble at the sound of its recoil.

In 1977, at the age of 15, I bought my own air-rifle, a Weihrauch HW50 – another break-barrel model but in .177 calibre. I loved it even more than my brother’s Diana. Throughout the late 1970s, I shot it as often as circumstance allowed, especially during the holidays from boarding school. I was still shooting my Weihrauch in the ‘80s.

By then, my parents had given up hope I’d develop an interest in make-up, handbags or clothes. Inspired by articles I read in Airgun World magazine, I once sought permission from a local farmer to hunt on his land. “Don’t you shoot my cows!” he warned, as I stood looking up at him on his doorstep.

Then 1990 came along and I left home. I was the last of mum and dad’s three children to do so and I didn’t take any of my air-guns with me. In my small 1980s maisonette, I had no garden where I could shoot and little space in which to properly store them. Years later, sometime during the noughties, I noticed the Diana had disappeared, but on finding my 1977 Weihrauch I retrieved it from my ageing parents’ house. From the gouges and scratches on its stock it was clear it had been thrown about quite a bit in the intervening years, perhaps by my father. As soon as I saw it, memories of my childhood came flooding back.

It’s a lovely little gun, I still have it to this day. It’s a simple design, has no cheek comb, recoil-pad or chequering on the stock, nor is it, or has it ever been, as powerful as most modern air-rifles. But it’s made of lovely walnut, shoots accurately and although I’ve mounted a modern scope on it, it still has its original iron open sights. I subsequently got the marks on the stock repaired.

I’m now 55 and the Weihrauch remains one of my oldest possessions. Why is this? What is this strange appeal/obsession with airguns? Gosh, it’s difficult to explain but maybe I’ll try when I write again.

In the meantime; if you’re a lady, you too can develop an interest in air-guns and what’s more; you don’t need to start shooting them as early as I did.

Something else, girls… they’re not just for the lads.

Rebecca Openshaw

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