With the grouse season well under way and the partridge season just around the corner, buying a gun is going to be tempting. Whereas historically people would think that traditional English-made guns have a stratospheric price tag, perceptions are dramatically changing.
Although you still pay top dollar for the hand-made, beautifully crafted option, there are new makes and models appearing that take less time to produce and don’t cost the earth thanks to modern techniques. Even if you are lucky enough to have a hand-made Holland and Holland in the gun cabinet, for shooting larger groups of high flying birds, you are probably going to be wary of putting larger cartridges through the barrels.
Also, over-and-under shotguns have become completely acceptable on the high bird driven days, which has increased the popularity of the Italian gunmakers from Brescia. Side-by-sides are still a common sight on the grouse moor and some would say they do give a slight advantage. Personally, I think there is nothing better than seeing a team of guns using side-by-sides. Some of the best shots I have witnessed have cleanly dispatched a high driven pheasant or partridge with an antique British 20-bore side-by-side from the family gun cabinet.
If you are relatively new to shooting, it will be likely that your first experience was with a basic over-and-under Beretta at a shooting school. Beretta are an excellent Italian gunmaker and have been the go-to-gun for many people coming into the sport as they require minimal maintenance and are perfect for both clays and game.
Launched in Tuscany at the beginning of July 2014, the 690 Field III is the latest in a new generation of Beretta boxlock over-and-unders. This latest gun follows on from the 687, the Silver Pigeon III and the Silver Pigeon deluxe, continuing the line of Beretta’s coveted field guns. Steelium barrels guarantee precision while minimising weight.
The new action is a modernised development of the tried and tested 680 series with the stock manufactured from specially selected high grade walnut, oil finished and roll marked game scene engraving. Well-balanced, the 690 Field III is a lighter gun than the previous 687 models due to the re-engineered barrels and fore-end design.
Taking their inspiration from the Italian gunmakers, the Purdey Sporter crosses the boundaries between clay and game. Retaining the fine balance and distinctive feel of a Purdey. The Sporter shares its ancestry with over-and- under guns of the early 20th century, such as those of Boss, Edwinson Green, and Woodward. In 1968, the boutique Brescia gunmaker Perugini & Visini produced their own version of the Perazzi design, and then, in 2005, joined with Purdey to make important design changes and developments. This resulted in the Sporter.
Essential components including the action body, trigger group, extractors and monoblocs are machine made in their Hammersmith factory, then shipped to Brescia in Lombardy. Here, Perugini & Visini fit the barrels in the monoblocs, attach high-grade walnut stocks, and carry out the engraving.
The assembled piece is then returned to Purdey in London for proofing, regulating, and hand finishing. By working with Perugini & Visini, they are able to bring you a Purdey shotgun in a significantly shorter time that shoots as well as it looks. The three years spent developing the Purdey Sporter ensure the right balance between machine and handcraft. The result is a gun of extremely high tolerance that will guarantee long- term mechanical integrity and strength, but still with the coveted Purdey name.
The Holland and Holland Sporting was created with a similar ethos in mind; originally designed for the booming US clay market and since then has developed as a clay and game gun. Completely made in-house at the Kensal Green factory, there is more machining than the Royal, but the Sporting is still mostly hand made. In the rack at their Bruton Street store, most of the guns are now set up as game guns with fixed chokes, a solid rib rather than ventilated and a half-pistol grip. This is a complete crossover gun that is extremely strong, very reliable, and available from £45,000.
An iconic name in English gunmaking and one of the few revered brands actually still British owned, Boss & Co. have been in continuous existence over two centuries building sporting guns and rifles of the highest quality. Boss has been responsible for major technical innovations in gunmaking.
John Robertson, the proprietor of Boss at the turn of the 20th century, produced the first reliable single trigger in 1894 that earned universal acclaim. In 1909, the Boss patent single trigger over-and-under shotgun was a radically new version that was strong, very light and the most handsome ever produced, contrasting to existing over-and-under guns that were large and heavy in comparison.
Moving forward to the present day, Boss are still family owned and Boss guns are still hand-made in-house by highly skilled craftsmen using the same traditional methods as they were 100 years ago. As Boss pioneered the single trigger over-and-under, many manufacturers will refer to their own guns as ‘Boss styled’, which is a great reference point for our over-and-under guns.
The current build time for a Boss gun is approximately 2 1⁄2 years, not more than 20 guns (side- by-sides and over-and-unders) are produced each year, thus making the Boss over-and-under very desirable with a total of 650 in various calibers produced since 1909.
Things are changing in the gun world and there are some new English gunmakers on the block that are taking the spotlight. Ray Ward, William & Son, William Evans and Longthorne are just four of the names making their mark. Longthorne, a family owned business, have a king amongst their clientele with six guns on order, all English and made in-house. All of their current models are true side locks with a superior trigger pull and available in all gauges.
They are the only English manufacturer achieving Magnum Steel proof in the UK. Their guns are lightweight and strong with a typical 12 bore with 30” barrels weighing in circa 7lb making them appealing to clients who do not want to lug a heavy gun across the moors. Their entry-level gun is the Hesketh over-and-under 12 bore which retails at £13,900.
William Evans, based in St James’, have successfully worked with Grulla Armas of Spain to create the Pall Mall side- by-side shotgun and with Caesar Guerini of Italy on their over-and-unders, known as the St James. Both guns represent excellent value from respected European manufacturers with the finishing processes applied by British craftsmen.
The youngest London gunmakers are Ray Ward of Knightsbridge. The Pheasant model was the first pair of Ray Ward 12 bores to be produced and were named due to their suitability to shoot high birds. The engraving on the Pheasant is a unique design, specially directed by John Ward.
There is a precise but subtle gold inlay across all areas of the action. Completely made by the best English craftsmen, these guns offer the true bespoke experience from choosing your engraving – to having the gun fitted by John Ward. However, these guns are probably not suitable for the budget of someone new to the sport at £150,000 for the pair, all made to order.
Perazzi, another Italian gunmaker based in Brescia, won every gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, which speaks for itself. Over the past few years, they have become much more concerned with making a good game gun as well. The EJ Churchill Crown is testament to this, again, with the Perazzi accuracy and durability combined with EJ Churchill’s expertise in making and finishing a British game gun. Zoli and the Blaser F3 are other guns well worth a look at for your first gun.
However, whatever gun you choose, the most important thing is to get it fitted to you properly and that you have some excellent instruction in the field. I can personally recommend Adam Calvert and Simon Ward, but however much you pay, if the gun does not fit you properly, it will greatly detract from your shooting experience and enjoyment.
This article is taken from a previous issue of Gentleman’s Journal. For more information, subscribe here.