Quite where this year has gone, I am not sure and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow marks the start of the red grouse shooting season here in the UK, famously known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. However, I find it near impossible to describe anything that 2020 has given us so far as glorious! If 2020 was a gun it would be a left handed, short stocked, double discharging, weak ejecting, thin walled, out of proof piece of junk made in London. And sadly, she’s not done with us yet!
At the end of July we would have attended the annual Game Fair and the excitement for the coming season begins from there. So quite what the season has install for any of us, is as unknown as the pandemic itself. Each estate and shoot will have carefully planned social distancing measures in place and I’m confident they can keep us all safe and well, of course, it won’t be like any other season and we will undoubtedly see a small reduction in enjoyment but any shooting is better than nothing, right? We will need patience and more importantly, flexibility which I appreciate is not that easy for the scores of international sportsmen and women who travel to our shores to wing shoot. But fingers crossed the virus is temporary, the shooting industry will weather the storm and we look forward to welcoming back teams of guns from all over the world next year.
Prior to World War II, the demand for small bore shotguns, namely those in .410, did not exist like it does today. One reason was the perception that the .410, the smallest of the shotgun bores, was considered a cartridge best suited for a new shooter like a child or a smaller frame shooter such as a lady. However, despite its size, in the right hands the cartridge can be lethal on even the heartiest of small game such as wood pigeons or rabbits and hares.
In a late 1920’s Westley Richards catalog introducing the “Westley Richards .410 Shot Gun and its Cartridge”, the catalog highlighted these same sentiments:
“For occasional use about the place, and for Ladies. Carefully bored – even and deadly effect”
the catalog continues…
“We say that the .410 is an excellent little weapon for the beginner…yet even the old hand need not despise this little gun…it is a most useful addition to the gun room if only for the express purpose of keeping down the vermin in the close season.”
I’m not sure we all imagined 2020 would be the year of the staycation, but that has been the world we’ve been thrust into. As we emerge positively from lockdown, everybody is in pursuit of making the most of the summer in their home or host nation – and I’m sure like myself, discovering some hidden gems along the way.
Here in the UK we are blessed with a unique and spectacular countryside, especially in the summer months, offering surprises at every turn. Whether you’re an explorer, adventurer, culture vulture, gastronome, antiquarian, naturalist or fieldsports enthusiast, there is literally something for everyone.
The latest guns to be offered for sale at our UK factory is this fantastic pair of 20g droplock shotguns. Completed in 2000 they feature scroll back actions with our patent hand detachable locks, Westley snap lever work, beetle back safety and double triggers. Expertly engraved by Peter Spode with bold floral scroll, Westley name in gold banner and numbered 1&2 in gold in the usual places. Both sets of 27″ barrels have 1/2 choke in them, with 2 3/4″ chambers, engraved in gold ‘Westley Richards England’ on both ribs. Highly figured, handsome walnut stocks measures 14 3/4″ to the centre of the chequered butt, a bend of 1 3/8″ at the comb and 1 7/8″ at the heel, cast off 1/4″. Straight hand grips and gold stock ovals, splinter forends with horn tip and Deeley catch release. The guns weigh 5lbs 10oz and come in their mid tan leather case with tools. They will be on the used gun site shortly.
It’s rare for us to have a pre-owned Westley 20g for sale and even more so a pair in such great condition and specification. The 1/2 choking in all barrels makes the guns a great pair of all rounders and 1/2 choke is ideal for pretty much any type of game shooting, open enough for grouse and early season partridge but tight enough for January pheasants. Many shooting instructors recommend having the same choke in both barrels as often driven targets are shot at the same distance and it also helps to focus your mind on your shooting rather than thinking about what barrel is what choke and the inevitable blaming of the gun for your poor shooting! The stock measurements are ideal for driven shooting with a slightly higher than average comb height, this enables you to see more of the top rib which encourages lead on straight driven birds, helps you keep sight of your target throughout and also enables you to keep your cheek glued to the stock to maintain a proper gun mount, aim and a consistent line on your target.
It’s morning frost on the hood of a land cruiser that crystallises a complex layer of thorn scratches, lacerations and claw marks from decades of exploration; a cool breeze on your face as you drive around for hours in the hunting rig, blissfully daydreaming until you’re ripped from the reverie by cat-claw thorns tearing through two shirt layers and drawing blood.
It’s the smell of parched topsoil getting its first drink of rain as the monsoons precipitate their arrival; the taste of a hand-rolled cigarette after lunch, lit by the same match that sets an early-season management fire, which in turn brings a chaotic hurricane of birds to devour the winged insects fleeing from the climbing flames. Or it’s a midday nap under the shade of an acacia tree with pant legs tucked into your socks to prevent soldier ants from biting ankles tender from tracking buffalo, only to be woken by a lion’s call a few hundred yards away, then not being able to fall back asleep because it might’ve been closer.
There are some things in this world that defy conventional description, where language can fall short of communicating these experiences or the complex meanings behind them. In the same way that an inspiring dream or revelation can evade articulation, I’ve always found it difficult to describe my love for Africa to someone who has never been. However, that has never stopped me from trying to understand the root of this passion that has inspired so many artists, writers, adventurers, hunters and conservationists over the centuries.
In my experience there is little sentimental middle ground; one either can’t endure the harsh elements, relentless insects, and logistical chaos, or one absolutely loves it and the charms sink deep into one’s bones, never to leave. Africa becomes a calling that must be answered and many have pursued it relentlessly even to their demise. But what is it exactly that we love so much? Ask anyone who’s spent an extended amount of time in the bush and they’ll probably tell you that it’s small observations of the senses that provide the vibrant source of what we know Africa to be. These are things you often don’t realise until later, having to reflect on the source of mild melancholy that creeps in once you return home.
Here at Westley Richards we are proud to be developing some of the world’s finest gunmakers, engravers and leather workers. None more exemplify this than our recently appointed foreman Stuart Richards, who at 29 has seen over 300 guns and rifles pass through the factory.
In September 2020 he will celebrate 12 years with Westley Richards, rising through the ranks of the company, capping it off with his instrumental role in the creation of our new exhibition rifle “The Forest Rifle”. It is clear that our dedication to working with young talent, giving them unique opportunities and watching them thrive is at the very heart of the Westley Richards DNA.
Single shot rifles have always held a fascination with rifle shooters. From earliest times they were the benchmark for accurate shooting and held sway for decades as the rifle of choice for serious competitive shooting. Most of the major British sporting arms manufacturers have at one time supplied single shot rifles from flintlock through to the centre-fire breechloading era.
Westley Richards referred to its rifle as a ‘sliding block’ rifle whilst other makers and modern literature refer to it as a ‘falling block’ action.
When I first arrived at Westley Richards, one of the areas that really impressed me was the quality and depth of photography the company had produced over the years. This in large part began with Simon Clode, the former Chairman & Managing Director of the company, who as a young man developed a keen interested in the medium while studying art at the British Institute in Florence. It was during this time of experimentation with cameras, darkrooms and composition that Simon established his uncompromising eye for fine detail and appreciation of aesthetics.
A gun or rifle is a canvas for something truly unique for a visionary group of collectors. Individuality is what sets them apart, and for a select few, that extends to commissioninga Westley Richards ‘special project’.
Westley Richards has a long history of producing super high-grade guns and rifles,with ‘Modèle de Luxe’ and ‘Modèle de Grande Luxe’ gracing our early 20th-century catalogues. Production of such masterpieces reached their peak in the 1930s, the heyday of the Maharajas, whose commissions set the standard in gunmaking quality at a time when British manufacturing was at its very zenith.
The late 1980s was to see the resurgence of such quality with Westley Richards’ very own ‘Gorilla Gun’ and later ‘Rhino Rifle’ signaling the beginning of a new age of highly-embellished pieces, as collectors from the USA embraced the unparalleled quality of craftsmanship offered by British gun and rifle makers.