My acquaintance with air guns stretches deep into my childhood; though I was not allowed to own a BB gun (inset Christmas Story quote here) all of my friends did, and with woods flanking our suburban neighborhood on two sides and a swamp on the third many a happy hour was whiled away with various sorts of BB-guns and pellet rifles. Pellet rifles were reserved for hunting and Daisy BB guns for backyard plinking. One favorite backyard sport was to clip the stems of dandelions just below the flower from ten feet or so, and I got quite good at this.
Proper spring-piston break-barrels were not yet common in the US so the Crossman 760 Power Master was ubiquitous, but Benjamin multi-pump pneumatics were highly desirable and the Sheridan 5mm was the King of the Hill.
When I was stationed in Germany in the army I was introduced to the likes of Feinwerkebau and Diana top-breaks which were on another level entirely; single stroke top-breaks as or even more powerful than ten pumps on a Sheridan? Yes please!
I wound up buying a Webley hurricane air pistol with a scope in a German shop and introduced myself to a farmer near my post. I asked if he would mind if I shot rabbits along his hedgerows? Why no, he would not mind even a little! He encouraged me to do so and said I should bring any I shot back to the farmhouse. This was a sprawling, ancient brick structure with a thatched rood and the barn attached to one end as a wing of the home.
Two things: in rural Germany a ‘hedgerow’ was not a neatly trimmed line of bushes, it was a strip of forest about 50 feet wide. These divided the fields, providing a windbreak among other things. the second thing is that while it didn’t occur to me at the time what I was doing was illegal poaching. Oops.
So many a Saturday I got up early and trooped out to the farm and wandered the hedgerows shooting bunnies. This was valuable pest control for the farmer, whose name was Heinz. In the afternoon I would take the bunnies to the farmhouse and present them to him. His wife Burgette(?) would clean and dress them, then fry them up while Heinz and I drank beer and appfelcorn and conversed in a mix of bad German and bad English. Then his wife would serve us up fried rabbit and jaegersalat and I would return to my room at the Gasthaus to drop off the Webley, then either return to the post or meet my friends downstairs in the bar. Good times.
Volksfests were also a good time, and there were several locally throughout the year culminating in Oktoberfest which was amazing. Naturally we gravitated to the shooting galleries that were always a feature at these events, and the proprietors quickly came to know us on sight and in some cases by name. I was an experienced hunter and an Expert Marksman, and hitting the tiny moving steel targets from ten feet away was child’s play. My friends were also very good shots so we’d always depart with an armful of prizes to be distributed to random children or pretty frauleins and several bottles of the cheap sparkling wine that were the top prize.
On one occasion in Olsterholz-Scharmbeck, the village nearest the post we approached a familiar gallery and they were very busy. Spotting us the owner summoned us to the corner of the booth and slipped us a couple of bottles of wine, asking us to come back when he wasn’t busy so we could draw a crowd. We were happy to oblige and did so, quickly drawing in the desired crown. Smart man!
The rifles used at these booths were a bolt-action spring-air repeater that fired 4.4mm lead BBs, which would smash entirely flat against the steel targets and drop without really ricocheting. Useful in the confines of the gallery I’m sure! This morning I got to thinking about those times and all of the fun we had and as had occurred to me several times in the intervening decades I thought that I’d rather like to have one of those gallery rifles. But I have never seen one in the US and had no idea who made them. This made it rather difficult to track them down.
I posted about this on Facebook and my friend Lia came up with the answer- these were the Diana Model 30 Gallery Rifle. Further searches indicated that these were all but unobtainable in the US, though they were rather common in Europe. Then I discovered these guns had been reintroduced as the Oktoberfestgewerh. These are fortunately chambered for the common 4.5mm rather than the rare (in the US) 4.4mm lead BBs.
Owing to the omission of the internal shot counters these are a good bit less spendy than the old model; Pyramid Air has them for $169! I am so going to get one. Not right now; my business is still in the throes of the post-holiday winter slowdown. But soon.
With a muzzle velocity in the 350-400 fps. range this will make a fine backyard plinker and general garden gun. Not to mention sparking fond memories from the halcyon days of my largely misspent youth. Plus I think it would look awesome with a Mannlicher stock.
Something to look forward to anyway.
Stay safe and take care,
Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 February 2024