An English Airgunner in New York
PUBLISHED: 16:52 20 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:52 20 July 2017
Stephen Archer gives us a glimpse of the Stateside airgun scene
When Sting wrote his great song, ‘An Englishman in New York’, he was definitely not thinking of me. The New York he had in mind was metropolitan New York City, not completely different, rural upstate New York, and as far as I remember, there were no references to airguns in the song either!
Here I am, an Englishman living in New York, actually near Rochester, New York. We’re 350 miles from New York City – that’s further than the distance between London and Carlisle – and actually only 90 miles from Niagara Falls and the Canadian border. This is the north-east of the USA, and the countryside is green, wooded in a few places, but mostly wide-open fields.
It’s rolling country, due to the glacial moraines left here after the last ice age, and sometimes I’m reminded of the English countryside for a moment, but not for long. There’s something indefinably different about this landscape compared to what we were used to back home in rural Buckinghamshire. Maybe, it’s just the scale of everything.
Permissions - what are they?
Towns are a long way apart. The nearest major town to the west is Buffalo, 70 miles away and to the east, it’s Syracuse, about 90 miles. There’s pretty well nothing between except farms and a few very small towns. Just lots of land, often without a house in sight and this relatively low population density means that many shooters shoot alone.
It’s not uncommon for rural airgunners to have their home on several acres of land so, in this part of the country, there’s little need to find a permission for rural shooters to go hunting. You just step outside the back door. The low population density also means that there are very few clubs for airgun shooters. I’ve spoken to many solitary airgunners who have no one in the area with whom to share their passion, without a very, very long drive, so many airgunners are solo hunters or plinkers, shooting on their own land.
There are some states where this freedom to hunt is not available, and that’s also true in more urban areas, of course. In fact, suburban housing in this part of the US typically has completely ‘open’ gardens. There are no fences or walls between properties, as are inevitable back home in the UK and that can actually make airgun shooting more difficult because here there’s no nice, solid brick wall to prevent errant pellets from leaving your property. Yes, I know that you never miss, but I have been known to occasionally.
Winter sometimes lasts longer than five months, and I mean real winter, with snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Rochester accommodates an average snowfall of 90 inches every winter. Yes, seven and a half FEET of snow a year. If you think that sounds like fun, just try shovelling it! Year after year, after year … you’re welcome to shovel my snow anytime you like.
All houses here have big basements, so that the foundations of the house are safely below the frost line, that’s the depth to which the ground can freeze in winter. This means that many of us are shooting our airguns in the basement for four or five months of the year. Others shoot in the garage, when it’s not too cold.
Similar but different
My wife and I have lived here for 20 years and I still ‘speak funny’. At least, that’s what the locals think because my English accent has never gone away. Of course, the UK and USA are famously separated by a common language. The ‘English’ spoken here is sometimes quite different to that spoken in Buckinghamshire, for example, and spelling is often very different here, too. The editor will need to double-check my articles very carefully for spellings produced by the US spell checker software on my computer. All sorts of things here are similar to back home in England, yet not quite the same, sometimes disconcertingly. It’s the same with airguns.
It’s a long way from Bisley
When I lived in England, I shot firearms at Bisley, mainly military rifles, and I didn’t know what an airgun was - well, almost. So, as soon as I could in the USA, I became the proud posessor of a lovely, never-fired Number 4 Mark 2 Lee Enfield, together with a Yugoslav SKS – the one with the ultra-mean, built-in grenade launcher and bayonet – and a Yugo Kar98k. All were in beautiful, new condition. I thought that I’d come to firearms heaven, but there was a problem. Somehow the shooting was different. Sure, there are shooting ranges, but the social side of club shooting was missing, at least for me. I enjoyed shooting the way I was familiar with at Bisley, with a regular group of friends in our club. Then I discovered that most shooting at ranges near me was primarily for shotguns or pistols. Rifle bays were rather thin on the ground, and mostly only went out to 100 yards. This was a big change from shooting out to 1,000 yards at Bisley.
As I’ve already mentioned, what we do have in the upstate New York is space – lots of space! Our house sits on over five acres of land. Unimaginable back home, but having this much space is quite common here because land is cheap. So, for the first time ever, I found myself with room to shoot at home. Yet, not so much space that the neighbours - and police - would not object if I touched off a few rounds from that Number 4.
For a year or so, I struggled with the problem. I wanted to shoot, but couldn’t find a way in which I was happy doing so, and then a thought occurred; what about an airgun? Immediately, I dismissed the idea. After all, I’m living in a country where firearms ownership is ubiquitous, and anyway, real men don’t shoot airguns, do they?
The airgun idea wouldn’t go away, though. I started researching and discovered that lots of airguns were available, mainly through on-line dealers, so eventually I bought my first airgun and I was hooked!
I kept shooting airguns and, after a few years, decided to start my own on-line airgun business. Archer Airguns Inc. continues to operate and is now primarily an airgun parts specialist. My wife and I started attending the annual SHOT Show, made contacts and gradually became part of the US airgun industry, but something was missing. There was just about nowhere to find information about airguns except from the manufacturers, dealers or rambling on-line forums. There was certainly no US equivalent to Airgun World! So I founded an independent airgun magazine, Hard Air Magazine. It’s available online only, and provides the latest news and independent reviews of airguns at http://www.hardairmagazine.com.
Terry Doe and I met at this year’s IWA Show in Germany and he asked me to write for this great magazine. I was honoured! We agreed that I’d be bringing UK readers regular stories about the US airgun scene and together we’ll explore the similarities and differences between owning and shooting airguns on both sides of the Pond. We’ve already found some in this story so far and I look forward to reporting what unfolds in my part of the world over the coming months.
Stephen Archer is the publisher of Hard Air Magazine.