The world’s greatest shotguns

Innovative action designs, unique locking systems and iconic barrel configurations

Many of today’s best selling shotguns and rifles have evolved from the pioneering gunmaking carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries. Innovative and unique action designs, locking systems and barrel configurations were patented back then and are still used today. Similarly, some guns are worth mentioning because of their uniqueness, and the design boundaries they pushed. The Sportsman has picked seven of the most iconic designs for you to salivate over.

The Rising Bite 
by John Rigby & Co.

Named for its unique vertical bolt locking system, the Rigby Rising Bite is one of the most famous double rifles ever made. Increasing manufacturing costs meant that regular production at Rigby ceased in 1910, and the last custom order original Rising Bites left the factory in 1932. 

In 2013 Rigby decided to resume production of this technically complex rifle, and reverse-engineered an original Rising Bite that had been delivered to the Maharana of Udaipur in 1902. All modern models are best sidelock ejectors with dipped edge lock plates and incorporate premium features, including grade 7 Turkish walnut, mirror-bored chopper lump barrels regulated to 100 yards, Rigby pattern full scroll engaving and London Best oil finish.

Price: From £95,000 ex VAT

Bar in Wood shotgun, 
by James MacNaughton

In 1879 the patent for the ‘Edinburgh Gun’ was granted. This early gun was cocked by the top lever but, with a trigger plate action similar to the Dickson, it had an unusual pivoting safety. By 1894, cocking advanced to slide cocking on the drop of the barrels. 

The MacNaughton Bar in Wood, often called a ‘skeletal action’ is a treasure of the gunmaker’s art, combining strength with elegance. When MacNaughton produced the present series, they decided to make only ‘The Bar in Wood’. Considering what improvements, if any, could be made, they opted to keep the pivoting safety but to change the ejector system to a Southgate. This was the only improvement they could make and it has lasted through the years.

Price: From £38,775 ex VAT

Round-action shotgun, 
by John Dickson & Son

John Dickson made the greatest contribution to the firm by patenting the round action gun in 1880 – a firearm that achieved acclaim as the best gun utilising a trigger plate action. They could see the potential in producing a shotgun which would bridge the gap between boxlock and sidelock actions, and thus developed the ‘Round Action’. 

Original patents were obtained in 1880 and related to the unique bar cocking system, operated by the fall of the barrels on opening. In 1887, final patents were granted relating to the ejector mechanism, which is operated by strong coil springs on plungers which are cocked on closing the barrels. Today, the Dickson Round Action is available in 12, 16 and 20 gauge.

Price: From £37,250 ex VAT

The TechnikArt double rifle, by Peter Hofer

The TechnikArt double rifle, patented by Peter Hofer, represents the culmination of a handmade modern hunting rifle. Just like a skeleton watch, it is possible to view the inner mechanisms of this hand-crafted contemporary rifle. The eye-catching .375H&H features a 24ct gold plate which illuminates the entire inside system, while rose gold decorates the outside of the rifle.

The luscious black on the surrounding makes for a fantastic contrast to the gold. More than 300 tiny screws measuring only 0.3mm are used in the construction, and the The TechnikArt also has a built-in altimeter, thermometer, rangefinder, watch, scalpel, barometer, microchip, flashlight and shot counter. For added security, it is fitted with a GPS tracking system and a satellite controlled positioning system.

Price: From £POA

The Tribute, by Joseph Manton

This remarkable 20-bore sidelock game gun took four years and a six-figure investment to develop. It weighs 7.75lb, similar to regular 12 bores, and handles beautifully, the added weight provoking a smooth and controlled swing. Director Ian Spencer explained: ‘Its triangulated barrel design has defeated most of the top gunmakers, mainly because it is so complicated to make. We are now the only London gunmaker with a triple-barreled shotgun in their collection “The Tribute” is hand-made to the “Best London” standards – our unique homage to “Old Joe”.’

Price: From £69,300 ex VAT

The Triumph of Love, 
by Mueller Murgenthal

This totally customised Blaser R93 Conception rifle is magnificent. ‘The Triumph of Love’ is the design and concept of Vivian Mueller from the House of Mueller Murgenthal in Switzerland. The .300WM is adorned with 24ct white and yellow gold, sterling silver, rubies, aquamarines, white diamonds and rare bird’s eye maple wood. The heart-shaped barrel features a ruby bead sight. 

The artwork is designed to depict ‘mankind’s eternal struggle to transit from the darkness into the light.’ Vivian added: ‘The battle between good and evil can be likened to the fight between evil power and the purity of inner freedom. The bipolarity of the theme is artistically provoking and is the base of the creative and artistic concept behind this rifle.’ It was sold by Holt’s Auctioneers in 2008 for £120,000.

The Miniature Guns, by James Purdey & Sons

Purdey’s gunmaker Harry Lawrence’s most famous achievement was a trio of Purdeys in 1935, each one-sixth the size of King George V’s 12-bore hammer gun, to celebrate the King’s Silver Jubilee. With serial numbers 25,000-25,002, they were hand-engraved by revered master engraver Harry Kell. 

Weighing 13 grams, the guns took three years to complete, and their meticulously crafted, 3.5in long barrels even fire their own special cartridges, commissioned from ICI. It is said that the cartridges cost as much to produce as the guns themselves. The guns and a complete box of 25 cartridges are preserved in the Royal Gun Room at Sandringham. Legend has it the King shot moths with the guns, and only gave up excursions when he declared the custom-made cartridges was ‘just too damn expensive’.

Further Reading