My favourite rifle ever and why
My favourite rifle ever and why.
Confession is good for the soul. In 1946 my father purchased a BSA Improved from a junk shop near Alexandra Palace. I came along 2 years later but it was another 12 years until I was allowed to use dad’s rifle and a couple more until I could hold and fire it without using a rest. Dad used it successfully to hunt water rats when we were on holiday at my grandmothers in Durham. When he was not using the BSA I was allowed to take it out myself. In the early days when I needed a rest I would enlist the help of a friend. One of us would support the barrel and the other the butt. We would hunt the banks of the river Weir single file. When a likely target was spotted the barrel carrier would crouch down and the butt carrier would rest the rifle on him to take the shot. I don’t remember ever killing any prey with this method and no doubt I lied about our success when we returned from our hunts.
By the time I was 14 I was able to shoot and hunt alone. And shoot I did. During our long summer holidays in Durham I was using well over a couple of hundered Marksmen pellets a day and it was only my meagre pocket money that prevented me from using more. My old BSA had no sight elevation wheel and the sight was pushed down to its lowest possible setting for security reasons and yet it still shot an inch high at 20 yards. Only now do I realise that this may have been because the head of the barley corn foresight had broken off. At the time we thought it was supposed to be that height. Windage wise the rifle was spot on and so if I got my range estimate right it was deadly accurate. I’ll blow my own trumpet here and say that I became a bloody fine shot over those summers. In fact that was my pinnacle as a marksman and it has been all downhill since then. The cocking lever has a distinct ding in one side of the spade. This happened when my good friend John Klepka tried to load the tap before he had returned the cocking lever to the closed position. Somehow John touched the trigger and the lever sprung closed with mighty force. John was lucky to get away with one badly bruised finger tip but the rifle will bear the scar forever.
Back home in Tottenham I would snipe out of the toilet window at sparrows in the Belmont rec behind our house. Dad used to make new washers for the BSA but had never replaced the spring. When I was 15 I wrote to BSA and purchased a new spring that would fit. I remember that it was delivered in a cotton bag tied at the top with an addressed luggage label. In my letter I also asked BSA how I could mount a telescopic sight on my rifle. Remember I was 15. Much to their credit BSA advised me against even trying to mount a telescopic sight on the grounds that it would be expensive and not appropriate to their vintage air rifle. Funny when you think it was only about 50 years old then. The new spring and washer did improve performance but I knew nothing about “running in” periods then so it puzzled me as to why it took so long to reach a new peak.
The butt bore the scars of many years of use and yours truly (15 years old) decided to clean it up. Lots of elbow grease and sand paper followed but many coats of French polish got rid of the dings but also the checkering and BSA logo. There I said it. I feel a bit better now. The second major crime against this lovely rifle was when 10 years ago I hid all my guns in the loft while my wife and I were on holiday in Europe. For some reason the BSA did not react well to this environment and when I later retrieved it from the loft it was a sad shade of reddish brown. I cleaned it up but the etched Lincoln Jefferies patent New Improved had gone forever.
Last year I decided to treat my old BSA. I purchased a reproduction sight elevation screw and a new complete washer assembly. It appears that I ordered the wrong main springs but I am working on getting the right one. I hope these little treats will ease my conscience for the unintentional abuse and neglect I have given her.
I own about twenty air rifles and a similar amount of firearms but if I could keep only one it would be my first, my BSA Improved. It’s sure not collectors grade but you can’t put a price on sentimental value.
Once again I’ll ask Garvin to post some pictures on my behalf.