I love old guns. I grew up admiring my great-grandfather’s Parker Trojan 16 gauge. My father had hunted with it in his youth but retired it for safety reasons long before I came along. After spending the last three years socking money away to go on our first hunt in Africa, the borders closed and we had some wiggle room in our budgets. Soon, I found myself scouring the Internet for a classic double gun. My father was the one who originally pulled me onto this train, and we were drawn specifically to English guns.
English Shotguns: Not Just Bespoke
English guns have long enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as quality tools built to exacting standards by expert craftsman. But is it possible to buy one of the these without taking out the equity on my house? You might be surprised to know that there is more to the British gun trade than Purdey, Rigby, or Holland & Holland. The truth is there were dozens of companies cranking out well-built guns for the non-aristocratic customer base. In fact, many of these smaller firms built actions, barrels, and other parts and sold them to the big names. The bespoke companies would then conduct the fit and finish portion adding engraving and embellishments. Often, it was only on the very highest grade gun that you would see the entire piece built in-house.
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Two of these lesser pedigreed firearms would eventually find their ways to us. I settled on a 1964 built Webley & Scott 700 boxlock ejector (BLE) 12 bore while Dad found an older Rowland Watson, also a 12 bore BLE. Being one of the most prolific gunmakers in the British Isles, Webley not only supplied parts to other firms but also built their own guns. The 700 series being one of the best-selling. Ironically, the Rowland was likely built with Webley parts.
In the Field
Now we get to the good stuff. Hunting with my Webley is a dream. Light, fast, and low recoil. I have killed quail over dogs, jump shot dove and snipe, and brought to hand squirrels and rabbits all in a single hunting season.
While people have apprehensions about getting themselves tangled or forgetting which one to pull, double triggers are actually incredibly intuitive. On one hunt, I flushed several doves at hand-grabbing distance. My first shot missed wildly but I was able to immediately switch to the rear trigger and drop a bird before they got out of range. That same morning, I folded a snipe with a single crossing shot.
Another time, I was crouched waiting for a squirrel to show itself. It was farther out, maybe 25 yards, and I was ready with the rear trigger. Suddenly, another appeared close by. Too close for the left barrel so I quickly pointed and fired the right. At the shot, the first squirrel made a run and I dropped it with the left. Two shots. Two squirrels. Two yardages. Less than two seconds between sighting the closer one and killing the original.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
These guns, while perfectly serviceable, require special considerations. When looking for the best deal, you will often see guns with 2.5 inch chambers. This is so uncommon in modern actions that the vintage models can be had for quite good deals. But fear not. There are companies that build shells designed specifically for these shotguns. I use a 1oz load of #6 lead in a classic paper hull and fiber wad for all my hunting and have been perfectly satisfied with both the performance and light recoil. RST advertises this load at a muzzle velocity of 1225fps.
If in doubt, check or ask to see the proof marks on the underside of the barrels. By deciphering these stamps, one can determine the chamber length, maximum load, pressure, and approximate when it was proofed and reproofed. Many of the 2 ¾ chamber will be able to handle modern light game loads just fine.
As with any shotgun, patterning helps tremendously. My gun shoots higher than point of aim. This helps with moving and rising targets as I can keep both eyes open and do not even register the muzzles. However, I have clean missed squirrels in the wide open standing still because I “aimed” directly at them with the bead as I would my dedicated squirrel shotgun.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part Two, to be published Saturday, April 3rd.