Thursday, June 16, 2011

My newest adventure: 'Hey Mom, I found the gun that fires when you engage the safety!'

Sometimes I totally forget my roots. I mean, I talk about how no one in my family hunted after I was born, but I forget that my dad - who hunted as a kid - was a total insane-O gun nut.

About a year after he died, we had a big memorial gathering at our house to commemorate him, and that was when Mom decided it would be a good idea to go through all his guns.

Which he had kept under the bed. All of them loaded. All of the time. You know, in case the Hun invaded their rural community or something.

Mom wanted me to have one of those guns - an heirloom that her father had bought when he got home from World War I - and we had enough people at the memorial who knew about guns that it seemed like a good time to go through them. You know, people who could tell whether a gun was loaded, and safely unload it.

As we pored over Dad's weapons cache, Mom remembered one thing: "Oh yeah, one of these guns will fire when you engage the safety, but I don't know which one it is, so be careful!" LOL, safety first, eh?

We got through the whole examination and dispersal process without any mishaps. I took my grandpa's gun back home to Minnesota, where I'd take it to the shooting range once in a while - I didn't hunt yet at that point - and everyone was happy.

Fast forward to this year. I have been pining for an air rifle so I'd have a gun I could use for cheap target practice.

I almost got one back in February when Hank and I both won guns at a California Waterfowl dinner. I was going to trade the gun I won for an air rifle, but when I didn't find one that suited my fancy (or the trade-in value of the gun I'd won), I opted for five cases of target ammo instead.

When summer break began, giving me a lot more free time for practice, I got to thinking about it again, and I realized something: Dad had probably had a pellet gun! I asked Mom about it, and she got back to me with the good news: Yes, he had one!

She brought it to me yesterday, and it was game on.

"Does it shoot BBs?" I asked. I know nothing about pellet guns.

"I don't know," she said.

I stared at the gun, looking for answers. It didn't say anything.

"How do you load it?"

That Mom knew. "Here," she said, pulling back an action that didn't look like anything I'd ever seen before. Then she showed me how to work the pneumatic pump. I pumped it and dry-fired it a couple times, and it seemed to work fine. Good enough to get started, I figured.

I started asking my gun nut friends: "Do all pellet guns take BBs?" I got varying answers. Phillip reminded me that the caliber should be stamped on the barrel, but all I saw there was ROSMAN "140." So, I just went and picked up a bunch of Daisy BBs at my local Wal-Mart, and took the gun out for a spin.

I engaged the safety, loaded a pellet, worked the pump a few times, aimed at an empty plastic Diet Coke bottle and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.


Safety was on "F," not "S." Maybe I needed to re-set? I moved it back to "S," and Pop! it fired into the canopy of the tree over my head.


What an excellent reminder, though, about always keeping your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

I called my mom. "Hey Mom, I found the gun that fires when you engage the safety!"

Or more precisely, it fires when you switch it from "F" to "S" if you have pulled the trigger already. If you haven't pulled the trigger, it's fine. Except for the fact that you fire when it's on "safe" and it's safe when it's on "fire." (It does not, by the way, surprise me one bit that my dad would tolerate this - all the more reason to keep your goddamn hands of his goddamn guns.)

I was glad we were solid on that knowledge, but the rest was still a mystery to me. I could get the gun to shoot BBs, but only if I kept the muzzle tilted up; otherwise, they just rolled out. Obviously, it was not a BB gun.

I did a search online and realized that the funky little action was obscuring the whole name stamped on the barrel: What I had was a Crosman "140," a pneumatic pump, .22 caliber, single shot rifle, made somewhere between 1954 and 1957.

Peering into the opened action, I could not envision stuffing a .22 round in there, so I took it to my local gun store, Wild Sports - where I got both my first shotgun and my first new rifle - and asked the gun guys to help me figure it out.

The answer: .22 pellets, which I must say are the most unlikely looking projectiles I have ever seen. Who knew mushrooms could fly?

I also found a manual for the Crosman 140 online, which makes me really happy, because I'm one of those people who not only knows how to RTFM, but insists on it.

Now armed with information and flying mushrooms, I went out into the field again, put the safety on "F," pumped the gun the recommended number of times (six to eight - thank you, manual), moved the safety to "S" and fired.

Dead Diet Coke bottle!

Well, sorta. This ammo put a big dent in the bottle, but it was really made for paper, so I fashioned a target, pinned it up, and went at it.

Ha! Not flying very gracefully, these pellets. But who cares? This was my dad's gun. The eighth anniversary of his death is coming up in nine days, and I feel a little better knowing now that I've been able to incorporate another piece of his life into mine.

But I think I'm gonna take it to a gunsmith to have that safety worked on.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Chris in Music City, USA said...

I can hear my grandfather saying the same thing as your dad did in that situation, Holly. Papa, was the one who introduced me to fishing and just being outside in general. Like you I have come lately to hunting but not in as dedicated a manner as you have. And far less successfully, needless to say.
I love reading both your blog and BF's blog. And I have my copy of the book and keep hoping that a date in Nashville gets added to the book tour.
chris in Music City

wilkersonr said...

Great story Holly and a great reminder for sure. We had a similar story around here involving a 22 revolver. A family member who shall remain nameless and know better. was handling the gun and the barrel was froze. He looked in the cylinder five was empty. However it held like most 6 shots. He started to dryfire it when I grabbed his hand. Enjoy!

Holly Heyser said...

Chris: Hank is working on new events every day, so there's hope!

Wilkinson: Holy moly!!!!

We have a few stories like that in my family as well. I have an uncle who dryfired a shotgun in his house in suburban Los Angeles and put quite a big hole in the wall. Oopsie!

I know this Crosman is "just a pellet gun," and from my reading I think it's capable of 800 fps at best. But at close range, that could still do some damage - can we all sing the Daisy rifle chant from "A Christmas Story" together? "You'll shoot your eye out!"

Brian said...

Cool story Holly,

We used to use .22 and a .177 cal BSA Meteor air rifles as kids. You get other cals too e.g. .20 and .25but .177 is ubiquitous, followed by .22. Velocity will be dictated of course by the pellet you use but it would interesting to see if an older .22 cal air rifle can attain 800fps. If it can, thats a pretty potent air rilfe you have there!

Heirloom arms are cool! Thanks for sharing.

PS I would avoid dry firing the pneumatic action. As kids we would double load our air rifles as the increase in cylinder pressure made them 'diesel' - IOW create enough pressure to make the oil in the action smoke slightly - not smart haha

Ingrid said...

I feel a little better knowing now that I've been able to incorporate another piece of his life into mine.

I totally get this Holly. My dad died too young (age 62), and even though it's not guns I have as heirlooms, the few "pieces of dad" I do hold, make me feel eternally connected to the man I miss so much. Your heirloom makes for a particularly great story.

Josh said...

Gamo makes the most awesome hunting pellets out there - a bb embedded in a hollow-point. Devastating, and it flies like a shuttlecock.

Phillip said...

Glad you got it all figured out, Holly.

Geez, if I added up all the hours I spent slinging BBs and pellets... well... I spent a lot of time. It's amazingly good practice, although you wouldn't think so with those rainbow arcs and oddball fliers.

Big fun when the paper targets get old... go buy a bag of those plastic army men, set up two sides, and have a war with Hank. Winner is the one who still has soldiers standing.

For info on the airgun, you can find a lot of good stuff at Pyramyd Air's site:

jryoung said...

Cool story. There is something special about guns as family heirlooms because they are an object that is useable. All heirlooms have different sorts of "value" to the user, but since guns have an operation to them the user gets to experience them like those that came before him/her.

When my Dad's father passed his guns were distributed to my Dad and my uncle. My uncle pass a couple of years ago and the guns when to my cousins who have no interest in them. After several casual hints from my father to my cousins he finally asked if he could have them for me and my brother and our sons.

Funny enough they were thrilled to get rid of them and even more thrilled that they would be kept in the family. I'm excited to travel to Idaho later this summer and finally get my hands on it and take it home with me. I never knew my grandfather, but it will be very special for me to enjoy the gun just as he did, and hopefully take a deer or two with it.

Mike Dwyer said...


My hunting pals all started out with air rifles (and so did I). Most of us rocked Crossmans in .177. They also make pointed pellets. A lot of us Kentucky boys took our first squirrels with them. Those guns were pretty accurate but head shots were a must. It made you really work on your accuracy. I miss my gun though I still plink quite a bit with the Red Ryders that both my daughters have. There's something so satisfying about that plink against a metal can.

Bobby Nations said...


Great find on the air rifle. It won't be enough for the turkey that you want to take with one, but it will be great for pretty much any small game that you care to chase. A stock 140 should be capable of about 12 foot-pounds of energy (say around 600 fps with a 14 grain pellet). I think that you could probably hot rod it a bit more than that, but it's not really worth the effort as 12 fp-lbs will humanely take just about any small game animal with proper shot placement. Shot placement is key as you can't generally depend upon the pellet expanding much.

I'm currently rehabilitating a Crosman 120 myself, so I'm a bit jealous that you have a working version to play with :-). The 120 is the previous model to the 140. The 140 uses an improved valve that prevents valve locks due to over pumping. So, 8 pumps is the limit. Additional pumps won't net you any increase in velocity.

There are several folks who can handle any gunsmithing that you need done to it and some of the best are located there in California. If you just to have fun, here are some interesting write-ups on the 140. (search for 140 ... he has about 10 posts on two different rifles)

Tom Gaylord has written many times over the years about the Crosman 120/140/1400 line of rifles. Here's a search results page for his postings.

BTW, air rifles are easily as ammo fussy as rimfires if not more so. I would recommend that you pick up sampler pack of good quality pellets (JSB, RWS, Crosman, etc.) and find that right ones for your rifle. With the right pellet, I wouldn't be surprised to see you capable of 1 inch groups out to 30 yards with practice. The guys at Straight Shooters put together an excellent selection for about $35 that will get you well on your way to finding the pellet that shoots best.

Holly Heyser said...

Brian: Yeah, I don't dryfire lightly - I just needed to get a feel for the gun before I put ammo in it.

Ingrid: You have my sympathies and understanding entirely. I miss my dad. Just hearing music he liked or seeing a movie he loved can bring me to tears. Like "Patton." God, he loved that movie. And the music too.

Josh: OK, next outing, bows AND pellet rifle(s)!

Phillip: Army men! That sounds ridiculously silly and fun. Hank's a damn good shot, though - pretty sure he'd kick my ass.

JR: Glad you got those back in use! A gun is a terrible thing if you don't want to have it - much better for it to be in the hands of people who not only appreciate it, but are comfortable with it. I think the only reason I was comfortable with the first gun I got (my grandpa's) is that Hank had started shooting again and I knew he'd go to the range with me.

Mike: Yep, I like the sound. On the plastic Coke bottle, anyway. Don't have any aluminum around the house.

Bobby: After a couple shots with this, I quickly realized this isn't a turkey gun. But that's OK. I love the idea that I could use this for small game instead of my shotgun and be forced to aim much more carefully. I'm fine with forced discipline!

And I'll definitely check out some of those links, because I'd love to learn more. There's also a great book on the rifle that was my grandpa's, but it costs, for some reason, $150 or so, and the gun shoots so "off" that I can't hunt with it anyway, so I'm not willing to invest that much in the reading.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Holly, is that photo really your family? Little you with your gun-toting Dad and uber-glamorous Mom? I'd kill for a back story like that. I suspect I'm the first member of my family for generations to own a gun, and the only thing my parents will leave behind when they die is a bunch of books and a condo in Florida.

Hil said...

Agree with Tamar, that family photo is epic!

Mark said...

Holly, great story! We often hear the phrase, "As american as Apple Pie." Well, I think one of those "As American as..." phrases should be about Dad's (or in my case, Grandpa's) rifle. I just can't think of a better item to be handed down through the generations. You are blessed to be a part of that great tradition!

Holly Heyser said...

Tamar: Yes, those are my parents, but that's not me in the photo - it's my cousin. I was born about ten years later. It's so funny though, the thing about the back story. Dad was so emphatic about gun safety - don't touch them, assume they're always loaded (because they were - that my sisters and I just stayed away from them.

Hil: Yeah, it's one of my favorite photos ever. I had that as wallpaper on a laptop for a while, and when I plugged my laptop into a projector at school, the students went apeshit over that photo. One said, "Are they dressing up for Halloween?" I replied: "No. That's just what my parents did." Ba ha ha ha ha! My students are mostly city kids, and I love bringing a little country exposure to them.

Mark: Don't you know it! And I think my dad would be so happy to see me appreciating these things too. And surprised!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Crazy about the "safety trigger"!

My dad had a pellet pistol that fired those same odd projectiles. We didn't use it much, but I'm pretty sure it was powered by one of those little, silver CO2 canisters.

SimplyOutdoors said...

That's an awesome story, Holly. I'm sure you're dad is just smiling, knowing that you're using his gun.

And I'd get that safety worked on, too!

bfs said...

next best thing to a coke bottle or a paper target is a phone book. it also gives you a pretty good idea of how hard your ammo is hitting the target--just flip to see what page the pellet stopped and you can do some rough ballistics comparisons among your brands.

also given the number of free phone books lying around in this mobile phone age you will have endless refills for your target practice sessions.

Holly Heyser said...

Wow, that's a great idea! Love the measurement technique. :-)