PUBLISHED: 12:28 21 August 2012
It wasn't so long ago that Paul Howell was an Airgun World regular. He's a talented shooter, who learned the shooting basics during a stint as a .22 target marksman, and he eventually made the move to airguns and specifically hunting. Along the way, Paul learned a whole range of skills, and he even overcame his natural shyness and obtained permission on several pieces of hunting land where he worked hard to develop his technique.
Paul had also joined a club and he was getting well into hunter field target shooting, using the training for HFT to push his field marksmanship still further. I’d seen Paul’s improvement from the start, and I’d helped train him in the core techniques, so his progress was a pleasing thing to observe, and far more so for him of course. Make no mistake, Paul Howell was an accomplished shooter, and his field skills were building with every session. Then, in a fraction of a second, it was all taken from him.
An accident at work left Paul with a severely damaged right shoulder, which was complicated by nerve damage to his arm and neck. This has left him with a series of problems, not to mention considerable pain, and despite heroic efforts to live, work, and shoot his way through that pain, Paul was forced to concede defeat as far as his shooting goes.
In simple, brutal terms, the injury left Paul unable to lift and hold a rifle, so the fact that he couldn’t carry his gear around, build hides, and do the other things we all take for granted when shooting in the field, meant little. No ability to hold a rifle meant no shooting. It was a heartbreaking time for him, to see all he’d worked for denied him, and to be forced to walk away from the sport he loved.
That was exactly what Paul did, for a while at least, but real shooters are shooters for life, and Paul Howell wants his sport back. He’s come to terms with the challenges left by his injury, but he’s determined to reclaim every part of his shooting possible, and I’m determined to help him do that. We don’t know what’s possible, yet, and the only way to see what’s available to Paul is to get out and try stuff, so that’s what we’ll be doing.
Some of it will work, and some won’t, he knows that, but we’ll learn from everything we try, and gradually Paul’s shooting potential will be fully mapped out. If there’s enough of it to satisfy him, Paul will use this as the foundation from which to re-build his shooting. If not, he’s prepared to walk away for good, no matter how painful that would be.
Getting back into shooting could form a major part of Paul’s physiotherapy, so there’s a great deal riding on this. That also means we’re obliged to give this a proper go, and with that in mind, I kicked off ‘project reclaim’ by lending Paul all the support I could.
The fight back
The majority of that support came in the form of my new Idleback chair, which now comes complete with a padded arm support. It was this extension on the Idleback theme that convinced me to, literally, base Paul’s recovery on it. I’m an Idleback user, and fan, and truth to tell I was desperate to get out there and explore the new chair, but instead I chose to make Paul feel really guilty about blagging it off me at pretty much every opportunity I had. The first of those opportunities came the day after the new chair arrived.
Getting on site
The Idleback chair has had a huge impact on my shooting. It has transformed my static hunting to such an extent that I now limit my sessions to preserve the rabbit stocks on my two main permissions. The combination of solid, stable, comfortable, and fully-adjustable shooting seat, and the precision offered by its rifle rest, makes sniping rabbits with a match-accurate pre-charged rifle easier than I’ve ever known it. It’s a total-support form of shooting, and I’d already decided that this was exactly what Paul needed.
Paul’s neck and nerve problems affect his balance at times, but the Idleback would take care of that without a problem. I needed a bit more help for him, though, because I wasn’t sure Paul could get his head into the correct position to use the scope properly. I planned for this by asking the good folks at NiteSite to send me their NS200 unit, which I’ve been meaning to test for a while now.
The NS200, like its NS50 stablemate, uses a camera to ‘see’ through the rifle’s scope, and the image is then transferred to a monitor unit positioned above the scope. This requires a ‘heads up’ position, which can take a bit of getting used to, but I thought it may be just what Paul would need if his neck problems were preventing him getting his eye behind a conventional scope. As with the entire ‘rehabilitation’ exercise, only time and testing would tell.
Cheers for the chair
First job was for me to meet Paul at his single remaining permission, where we discussed his limitations as I set up the Idleback. Paul had brought along his Daystate Huntsman Shadow, which is his lightest hunting rifle, and after adjusting the Idleback to suit his preferred posture, I dropped the Daystate into the chair’s padded rifle support and asked Paul to get himself into the most comfortable shooting position possible.
It took a while, and several more adjustments of the Idleback’s rifle rest, arm support and back rest, but we got there in the end and Paul settled, for a while at least, into the first shooting session he’d had for over a year. It was a short session, just 20 pellets’ worth, and at the end of it Paul was feeling the strain on his neck. We hoped that more familiarity would ease at least some of this, but in the meantime I allowed Paul to massage his neck – there are limits to this partnership of ours! – while I clipped the NiteSite to the Daystate and switched it on.
Site for sore … necks
Even with his neck aching, Paul took to the NiteSite system like he’d been using it for years. His expression changed in seconds, from one of intense concentration, to the happy, smiling person I know and love, in a manly, blokey way. That expression would be temporary, though, if he couldn’t actually hit things by aiming via a TV screen, so I took the rifle off him and went downrange to set up a couple of demanding targets.
A pair of green apples were plucked from a handy tree, a dead, forked twig was sharpened into use as a target mount, and I stuck it into the ground at a range of 30 yards. Those apples were the size of golfballs and made testing targets for someone using a brand-new sighting system, and who’d been out of the game for well over a year.
There was a fair breeze about, too, but Paul didn’t forget his training and placed his televised cross hair on the right-hand edge of the first apple. A squeeze of the Daystate’s trigger was followed by a discreet cough from the silenced rifle, and the satisfying smack of a pellet hitting an apple dead-centre.
Paul was now beaming, and said, ‘I can do this!’, before cycling the rifle’s bolt and splattering both apples with repeated hits. He’s right, he can do this, at least when he’s using an Idleback chair and a NiteSite, and after believing his sport lost for ever, this was turning out to be a momentous day.
And now what?
We stayed in that field for two hours, by which time Paul was exhausted, aching, a bit wobbly on his feet, and he knew, as I did, that there was every chance we could reclaim the essence of his beloved sport. How much more we’d be able to get back, we hadn’t a clue, but those foundations were there and the rebuild could begin.
I’ll be charting Paul’s progress, or lack of it if that’s how things work out, in future issues, and next time out we’re planning to go hunting if Paul’s training goes well.
This series isn’t just a log of one shooter’s battle to reclaim his sport, though. I know that there are many, many airgunners out there who face similar challenges, and I’m hopeful that what works for Paul could prove beneficial for other shooters. We’ll see.