Pappy, can we go shoot an air rifle?
by Ton Jones
Ton Jones reminiscing to Gordon and Tim Smith during the 2019 SHOT Show, his story follows.
When we were little, we start out with soda pop and oil tin cans as targets. We’d put them close to us and we’d shoot them. The old soda pop and oil cans had a hole in the tab and we’d try to hit them. And if you hit it, you’d take a step back. And you were not allowed to take a step back until you hit it. We’d practice day in and day out with that Sheridan. Pappy would sit back with his cup of coffee, with his fishing cap on, and sit in the back of his truck and would watch me and my brothers shoot. We’d practice and hone our skills and we were not allowed to go hunting until we made it to a certain mark. But once we made that mark, we got to go hunting with it. So me and my brothers would just practice and practice, we burned through so many tins of ammo, .20 caliber ammo in that Sheridan. Just shooting for hours and it would get to the point where my grandma would say “Pappy, get your butt in here, it’s time for supper.” And we’d say “Just a couple more shots, just a couple more shots.”
Pappy, my grandfather, bought the Sheridan, I don’t remember when, but I do remember it was always there. Inside the cab of his pickup truck, that Sheridan was always there. We were never allowed to touch it unless he was there or my father was there. We’d pester him all day long. He’d be out there in the back of his property, fishing on the lake. We’d be like “Pappy, can we go shoot an air rifle?” And he’d say “Shut up and cast your line damn it.” We’d be out fishing and it would get slow and we’d say “Pappy, can we go shooting? Can we go shooting?” He’d reply, “Shut up and cast your line boy.”
My grandma was baking all the time and she talked us into picking huckleberries and raspberries. She’d say “Go go pick me a pail full of berries to make pancakes or a pie, and I’ll tell Pappy to take you guys out shooting.” We’d come back, covered in berry juice and stained from the huckleberries. And then she’d say “Pappy, get these boys out of the house.” He’d put his cap on, and kind of mutter and take us shooting.
Pappy worked in the aerospace industry and was very stern. To get a praise from him was “You did all right boy.” And get a pat on the shoulder. That was high praise, we did something good! Pappy would be watching the news on all four channels, ‘cause that’s all there was back then. And we’d be saying “Can we go fishing? Can we go shooting? Can we go out camping?” Pappy would say “Go away boy, you bother me.” That was a normal thing. So when he was able to take us out, he’d tell my dad “Get the boys, we are going out to do some shooting.” Pappy would grab a cup of black coffee, jump in the cab of the pickup truck, and we’d drive out in 174 acre farm.
Pappy had a 10 to 15 acre stock pond, that I called the lake ‘cause when you are knee high to a grasshopper, that’s huge. We’d go out there, he’d set up a bunch of cans, and we’d start shooting. Sometimes, we’d turn around and he was snoring. That was the good times of being young with an air rifle. When Pappy started too get to old to pump his Sheridan, of course he was never going to admit that he was getting too old to pump it any more, he said “Bobby get your butt over here.” talking to my dad, “This thing is all screwing up, take it home with you.” That was the hand down of the air rifle. We knew that it was because he was having problems pumping it. I was probably nine, maybe ten years old at the time. Pappy was in his mid 70’s at the time.
Pappy had been in the war. He had worked at the space shuttle project. In the movie Apollo 13, Ron Howard’s brother plays the part of the guy in the control room who runs around yelling. That was actually my grandfather who did that in real life. He didn’t have the easiest, most mellow life. It was high stress, high tension, all the time. When he’d get home he’d work on the farm.
We’d go up to Oregon and spend about two months up there. After we got out of school, we’d all pile in my dad’s pickup truck, a twin cab dually, and make that drive to a little town that was six miles from nowhere. Every few years, we’d have a huge family reunion. The reunions lasted about two weeks. Everybody would camp out, go fishing at the lake and go hunting. That’s where I got the love for the outdoors.
A lot of cooking that I’ve done, was because of those days. I remember them digging a pit and wrapping meat in burlap, throwing it in the ground and covering it hot coals. It was a deep pit roast. The next evening, everyone would be out there digging up the food. That was barbecuing at the family reunion.
Everyone would go out cooking, shooting, target practice, and we all had airguns. Because they wouldn’t trust the young-ins with rimfire. Once you got to a certain age, usually between 9 and 13, depending on whether or not you could hit the hole in the cans, you got a rimfire. A single shot break barrel, .22 short, .22 long rifle. It was such a happy time. “I graduated from an air rifle to a rimfire.” But that catch was, you had to do chores around the house to get the ammo. Pappy would say “Ammo ain’t cheap boy, get your butt out and do some work.” We were always out doing yard work so we could get tins of ammo and .22 rimfire ammo. But I realized that, I could get a lot more pellets for chores I’m doing, than I can get rimfire. We’d do a bunch of chores, take that money and go down to the store. A little corner store, I think it was called “The Corner Store”, real creative on the name. You could get a hot dog, hamburger, toilet paper, motor oil, all the general store style. They had an actual soda fountain there. I was always a biggin, so I’d want a hamburger and milk shake, then I couldn’t afford rimfire ammo. So I’m going to get a tin of .20 cal ammo instead. We’d go back with a stack of .20 cal pellets and covered in catsup and mustard with soda pop dripping all over us. I loved it, I miss it!
There were two guns my grandfather had that I always wanted. The old double barrel shotgun that sat next the Sheridan air rifle in the truck. Pappy would say “It’s kind of hard to shoot a bird out of the air with a pellet gun.” So he had his double barrel and his Sheridan in the truck at all times. He passed down the air rifle to my father. About a year before the passed, he passed down the shotgun and his other guns to my dad. A few years ago, my dad past away while I was at Media Day. After the SHOT Show, I went to Arizona to lay my father to rest and me and my step mom went through and separated all the rifles for the family. I said “You know what? I’d really like that double barrel.” My step mom handed it to me and replied “I think they both would want you to have it.”
Now, I have the Sheridan and the double barrel, the very first shotgun that I ever took hunting. Those guns are worth the world to me. I can’t wait to take my son out with the air rifle and do the same thing, shoot the hole in the can and if you hit it, take a step back. And go through the same frustrations that I did. He’s not allowed to sit on the ground, not allowed to kneel, not lay on the belly, just free standing shooting. Once he can stand and shoot and hit the target, he’ll take a step back. Once he meets that certain mark, I’ll step him up to another gun. I can not wait to do that with my son. What my grandfather and my father did with me.
When my Sheridan came back, from you guys repairing it, I got teary eyed, like I am now. Holding it, I said “This is my family.” That air rifle is not just an air rifle that is family legacy, it’s part of our family history. It’s something that I’m going to hand down to my son, and that he hands down and keeps going. It’s going to go wherever we go. My wife said “It came back so pretty.” I’ve been searching for pictures of it, but back then, it was not about taking pictures, it was about spending time with the family. There’s no photograph of all of us together shooting. There’s not pictures of us all out hunting, because usually we were just hunting. When we were out fishing, my grandma would be there with a camera, but when we were out hunting, it was just us. You’d go back to camp and there would be a pack of Levi Garret, a pack of non-filters, and a lot of food to eat. That’s where I had my first drink of whiskey, at a campfire, while hunting. Whoa! That was rough. Let me tell you, that was another special moment.
I remember going deer hunting. I wasn’t actually old enough to shoot a deer, but I wanted to go. We’d mount up the horses and all ride horse back. My granddad would be laughing and put a rifle holster on the side of the horse and slide in the Sheridan. And I got rabbits! I was out rabbit hunting while they were out deer hunting. Of course, looking back now, I screwed up a lot of their hunts. Because, everyone was in this little area, except for my grandfather and uncle who were a little different, they deer hunted different. Everyone is in camo, but they would put out an old metal lounge chair that made all the noise in the world, they’d fold it out, and sit there with the military style tin coffee cup. They’d light up a cigar and sit on the clear cut area of the forest and hunted mule deer. They always got a deer, unless I was there with them, as I was making noise. They’d sit there with their M1 Garand, and I’d be out there shooting stuff and they’d tell me to shut up or be quiet. Having the Sheridan pumped up and I was trying to be quiet, but then I start sneaking to see what they are trying to shoot. Then I’d see a rabbit and “Pop”, off goes the Sheridan. Then they’d say “Damn it boy.” and I’d know I was in trouble. They never yelled at me, granddad would look back and say “Did you get it?” and I’d reply “I got it!” and he’d say “Start cleaning it, that’s supper.” I’d be all happy and tie it to the saddle horn and head back to camp to eat. That gun has been there for everything. That was our family. That was the reason for our family to get together.
To have you rebuild it, means a lot. To be honest, that thing had seen better days. It’s gone through my grandfather, my father, all of my cousins, my two brothers, my other cousins on the other side of the family. It’s been in my pickup trucks growing up, because when I learned to drive, I wanted to go out hunting, so I’d take the air rifle because I couldn’t afford rimfire ammo, but I could afford a tin on .20 cal ammo at the time. Then I’d go out hunting with it.
Even though my father was in the military, the money was not the best. We spent a lot of years where we’d actually have to hunt so that we could have meat at the house. He’d get the staples; rice, beans, tortillas and there were a few years that were really tough. Him raising three boys on a single salary was not an easy thing to do. We’d get the air rifle, go out into the desert and have the air rifle all pumped up, way too many pumps by the way, and we’d get rabbits with that thing. I took it as my dad was thinking we were doing well by hunting. Looking back, it was because it was the only way we could get meat. We’d finish our homework and go hunting or fishing because we wanted meat. It took until my later years to realize that he was not just teaching us on how to hunt or fish, he was teaching us to survive. When things get rough, use what you have and what you are comfortable with. I was comfortable with that Sheridan, I was comfortable with that gun. I knew how it worked, I knew everything about it, I knew what to do to make it accurate and make a humane kill. Because, I was fat back then, I don’t like chasing game now, and I didn’t like chasing game back then. I was never an athletic type, I’m never going out for a jog. You’ll never see make wake and say “You know, it’s a nice day. I think I’ll go out for a run.” That was the way we put meat on the table while learning important life lessons.