My Airgun Heroes
PUBLISHED: 13:53 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 09:45 23 April 2012
Steve Harper's a hero of mine on several levels, and, truth be told, I'm a tiny bit envious of him. Make that hugely envious, and for good reason.
You see, Steve is one of those priceless, gifted people who somehow combines the opposing talents of slightly mad scientist, and laid-back, seriously cool guy. It's a fine state if you can do it, and no one I know does it better than Steve Harper.
When it comes to inventing stuff, especially guns and gadgets for the advancement of airgunkind, Steve Harper is a genius. Now, that term is often pitched at anyone who comes up with a good idea, but Steve merits the title of genius by the old school standard. He doesnt just produce the occasional bright idea or clever tweak; Steve Harper invents entirely new concepts, develops the hardware to make them work, and then re-develops them to make them work better. While hes doing all this and he also does it beyond the world of airguns he exudes an air of calm, contagious control, where stress is invisible and panic simply cant exist. Im sure Steve must freak out occasionally, but in all the years Ive known him, Ive never seen or heard of a sign of it.
Spark of genius
It seems like a lifetime ago when I was first summoned to the Harper family residence in leafy Buckinghamshire to witness a phenomenon known then as the Harper Wolf. This was a pre-charged pneumatic, multi-shot pistol which ran an electronic action off a push-button trigger. I saw for myself the unlikely progression from a very basic pistolish prototype, to the minimalist styling and maximum performance of the Wolf pistol.
Where I gawped in muddled confusion at the bent ironwork and tubes which housed a tangle of sophisticated electronics, Steve explained the Wolfs workings with the manner of a kindly counsellor. I understood some of it and pretended to understand the rest, mainly because I was embarrassed that Steve had to drop so far from his natural technical cruising altitude to be on my level.
Miles away and some years later, a clever chap named Tony Belas recognised the potential of the Harper electronic airgun system, and when Tony took over Daystates airgun marketing, he commissioned Steve to develop the Daystate Mk3, which has since morphed into all manner of amazing variations. Its fair to say that Steve Harper has had quite an effect on the way we shoot these days, but his expertise isnt limited to the electronic medium. Steve has some serious engineering smarts to his credit, too, as I found out during my recent visit to Harper Towers.
Whenever I visit Steve Harper he shows me some sort of glorious gadget or other, and this time around it was a .25 calibre Daystate Huntsman hed tuned to 70 ft.lbs. at the muzzle, which was producing 15, full-powered shots from its standard, stubby air reservoir. This isnt just remarkable, its astounding, but thats the level at which Steve Harper operates. The mechanical reason for the performance I witnessed centred around the Slingshot Hammer system, one of Steves many inventions, without which that little Daystate would struggle to produce three shots at that power, let alone 15.
Steve Harpers workshop is the archetypal mad inventors muddle of perfect order and utter chaos. He knows where everything is and flits about in there without disturbing anything. Its as if the clutter of tools, dies, part-works and metalwork respects him and prefers not to trip him up or fall on him, as would surely happen should I so much as set foot in there.
Happily, as I stated earlier, Steves calm is contagious and I always leave any encounter with him in a far more relaxed state than when I arrived, which was exactly what happened last time out. By the time Id left him, Steve had shown me a couple of large-calibre rifle projects hes working on, plus hed entertained me with various stories, including the one where hed rigged-up a full-sized witch and ducking stool arrangement over the Harper duck pond during Halloween, and caused a traffic jam in his village because of it. Life is fun at the Harper house, and Steve plays a major part in that, but theres also an unsung heroine involved in all this, and its time she, too, took a bow. Let me introduce you to Judith Harper, Steves wife, and the priceless force for good that she and her husband represent.
The kids are alright
Steve and Judith Harper foster children. Theyve adopted, too, and over the years, this tireless, selfless couple has fostered no fewer than 70 children, while doing more than their bit for the local community. These days, Steve and Judith are proud foster-grandparents, as the children theyve helped over the years have become parents themselves. Personally, I can think of no greater endorsement than to give that many children the help they need, and to see them progress through life. That endorsement belongs only to truly special people like Steve and Judith Harper, and its this that makes them my heroes.
Im proud to know Steve, Judith and at least some of their extended family, and I hope this all-too-brief tribute to them shows why. As a sport, were blessed with a wealth of fine people, and youll be meeting some of them as this series unfolds. So, the next time some tabloid throws a lurid example of the airgun menace, or some such nonsense at you, remember Steve and Judith Harper, and the other airgun heroes youll see here. They may not make the tabloid headlines, but well know who they are and what theyve done to deserve their hero status, and I think thats the least we can do to for them.