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Me, My Dog, and a Daisy BB Gun


I was born in Des Moines, Iowa, but I spent my early childhood years in a small town called Prairie City. It was as bucolic as it sounds. I played Little League baseball. I played football in my backyard. I played basketball until my fingers cracked and bled. I was an all-American boy.


I rode my bicycle a lot and had a good tree house with four walls and a roof. I played in a nearby creek and caught frogs and played in the mud. I had a Shetland Sheepdog named Buck. There was even a horse pasture behind my backyard where three horses frolicked. This idyllic setting was everything a boy could need on his way to becoming a gentleman scientist.


I was a fair shot with my gun… honestly, I was pretty lousy. But I did manage to hit more than a few sparrows with my uniquely weak Daisy Model 99 BB gun.


The Model 99 is distinctive for its two aperture sights. The rear sight is a metal disk roughly the size of a penny with a hole through the middle of it. The front sight is a metal tube about an inch long and inside of that is a thin, vertical, piece of metal. It’s sort of like the bottom one-fourth of crosshairs. The two aperture sights really helped me frame-up my shots. It was the BB gun equivalent of a scope.


The Model 99 is also distinctive for its very slow velocity. Daisy’s website says the similar Model 499 will shoot a BB 240 feet per second. The slow velocity wasn’t all bad. From the vantage point of the shooter, I swear it was sometimes possible to see the BB fly through the air. It was the BB gun equivalent of tracer fire.


This might strain credulity, but I also swear there were times when I hit robins (I know, I know, but I was a little kid) in the chest, sounding a hollow thud, and they would just fly away. I figured I hit right on a bone and didn’t get any penetration. As for the sparrows, sometimes a shot would stone-cold kill them, but sometimes they would flutter on the ground for a while. 


I took most of my shots sitting on our stoop in the backyard aiming at birds on our gravel driveway. I went back to my old house a couple weeks ago to measure the range. It took a minute to explain to the current residents what I wanted to do, but they let me. It was 30 feet from the stoop to the driveway. Daisy’s website says the similar Model 499 is designed to “shoot a BB as accurately as possible at a distance of 5 meters.” Sure, I missed a lot, but I feel a little better about it now.


Aside from the usual affects of wind and gravity, I don’t know if the sights were a little askew or if the gun put a spin on the BB; but at the range of 30 feet, I had to aim slightly to the right and about an inch above a sparrow’s shoulder to get the shot to hook into the target.  


My greatest shot had me firing from my backyard, all the way across the side yard and front yard, and diagonally, at a bird perched on a power line above a neighbor’s driveway. It wasn’t a mere sparrow but a blackbird of some kind. This was big game for such a small gun. 


I measured, and it was a distance of over 100 feet. At that range the sights wouldn’t do any good. I had to put so much lob on the shot that I would be looking at the sky above the bird. This shot required something much more artful, for this shot I had to look out over the sights and use my instincts. I knew from experience that I had to aim high, and to the right, and with the additional distance even more so. This potshot was a moon-shot. So with a rudimentary reckoning of ballistics, and a devil-may-care attitude, I squeezed the trigger… 


The wind must have been behind the shot that day, because to my utter astonishment the bird went into a spread-eagled tailspin before crashing to the ground.


“Release the hound!” I thought, as I threw open the gate. I ran toward the bird and Buck ran everywhere else. I learned that day why they call his breed a Shetland Sheepdog and not a Shetland bird-dog – that dog won’t hunt. 


I quickly moved to inspect my trophy bird. As I neared, I could see that I had only winged it. Unlike the sparrows I shot, this bird acted largely unfazed. The bird proceeded to drag itself away, stopping periodically to make screeching noises. I don’t know if it was my little boy nature or all of the cartoons I watched on TV; but as the injured, flightless, bird made its way across the county highway, I remember hoping an 18-wheeler would come by and flatten the bastard. 

April 29, 2012