Editor’s Note: Part One can be found, here.
In the first installment, we explored a little bit of background in the British gun trade and shared some stories from the field. In this article, we will dive deeper into the guns themselves and how to buy them.
Most English guns will be built such that they should fit most people reasonably well. There may or may not be a slight cast to the stock to help aid eye alignment to the rib. Looking at an older gun the first thing you may notice is that it just looks smaller. Everything is slimmer. This is good because it improves handling over a clunky weapon with a 1×6 for a stock. Gun fit and balance is and always has been paramount to good shooting. Therefore, it is foremost in the design and build of British sporting arms.
My gun’s wood is plain. Good, but not fancy in the least. It features the classic splinter forend and straight grip. The engraving is machined and there is very little in the way of accoutrements. The Rowland has a higher-grade wood and finish with a Prince of Wales grip with better engraving and beautiful scalloped fences. Both have deep bluing and lock up with the reassuring *clunk* of a bank vault. There are two basic lock types: boxlock and sidelock. Without going into too much detail, boxlocks are simpler and usually cheaper while generally being stronger than sidelocks.
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Chokes on English guns are easy enough to understand. They go True Cylinder, IC, ¼, ½, ¾, and full. The Webley features 25-inch barrels choked ¼ and ¾ on the right and left, respectively. This was usually meant for general purpose small game hunting and could tackle a wide variety of ranges and scenarios. The Rowland is a bit heavier with 28-inch barrels choked ¼ and full. This was meant more for driven game and pheasants, which would often require longer shots. The extra heft up front helped with the swing whereas the lighter, shorter Webley provided an advantage in quick shots at close range. Both weapons are well-balanced and shoulder wonderfully.
Traditionally, the front trigger fires the right barrel, which is normally the more open choke, while the rear trigger fires the tighter-choked left barrel. The ejectors, known as Southgate mechanisms, do not engage unless the barrel is fired. If you down your bird with the first shot, only the spent case will eject when you open the action.
Price and Value
With a little research, I found I could own one of these fine guns without selling any organs. Win win! How much? Well, it varies and depends on the brand, condition, and rarity. But you can safely expect to pay between $1200 and $2000 dollars for an excellent condition vintage shotgun. Also factor in buying a specially made double barrel case as it is not recommended to transport a gun assembled in the back seat of a truck.
I realize these are not budget gun prices, but these are not truck guns we are talking about. Though not to the extent of their royal grade cousins, they still required several sets of skilled hands and the overall functionality would be on par with the best. In their heyday, they never were cheaply manufactured. There are cheaper doubles that will give years of service, but I do not think you could ever find a gun of modern manufacture at this price point with the same craftsmanship. If you value the coolness factor like I do; you will not find a better deal. The lowest prices are in the UK itself. These are deceiving, however. You can expect to easily double the cost or more with importation. Do some research, scour sites like Gunbroker, ask questions, and find what strikes your fancy.
These tools of wood and steel have souls of their own. Like hunting with the old monarch of camp, they are full of stories of years gone by with a presence unmatched by anything produced today. Pull one of these out and everyone takes notice. In the woods and fields is where they belong. It is my hope in writing this series to inspire someone else to continue the legacies of the old shooters instead of letting them live out their days forgotten in some dusty place.