March for me in this trade has always meant visiting the IWA Outdoor Classics exhibition in Nuremberg, Germany, which this year runs from March 7th -10th. IWA is the European version of the SHOT show in USA.
Started in 1973 with just 100 exhibitors IWA now boasts about 1300 exhibitors and attracts 38,000 trade visitors over the 4 days of the show. Over the last 40 years IWA OutdoorClassics has developed into the most important international product show for hunting guns, shooting sports, outdoor equipment and equipment for official agencies, especially for law enforcement and personal security.
The primary purpose of my visiting IWA has always been to see the various Turkish walnut gunstock blank dealers who congregate there, much easier to see the 10 or so dealers there in 2 days than travel around Turkey visiting them, taking many days. The price may well be more here but it gives us the opportunity to select and get what we want or walk away, rather than feel obliged to buy something, purely for having traveled many miles to see wood that might, in fact disappoint, but not wanting to return empty handed.
Wood buying for gunstocks is a very personal thing, as a gunmaker we need to offer various styles for various tastes, different levels of quality from standard ‘very good’ to exhibition. We each have our own preference and style but that doesn’t alway suit our clients, variety has to be catered for. Selecting wood has often been compared to selecting wallpaper, everyone likes something different, dark or light, striped or burl. Whatever the choice the layout of the wood has to be strong with correct grain, this has to be checked on every blank and probably 80% of the 1000’s of wood blanks offered is unsuitable for our guns and especially rifles.
Each stock blank is expensive, at €1000 – €3000+ a pop one can quickly run up a large bill. With the amount of wood you look at during the show seemingly endless, I find my eyes can quickly glaze over, making the choice from the 100’s of blanks impossible, you have just seen so much and doubt your choice. Most of the buying is done before the show even starts, during show set up, this day is the ‘wood wars’ when people are trying to be the first to get their hands on the best wood being unloaded by each seller. This puts extra pressure on the situation, if you put something down, it is grabbed by someone else!
Hopefully the wood will be good this year. We will soon see!
I first met Chris Soyza in our Grange Road factory showroom back in 1987, shortly after I joined Westley Richards. Chris was, at that time, justifying or even hiding his addiction to guns, rifles and gunmaking to his family back home in Malaysia by taking endless degree courses at our collages.
Chris is absoloutly passionate about guns, gunmaking and hunting. He has spent his life hunting and being involved in the gun business in its many forms. In his early years he was buying and selling guns sourced in England, he then started travelling and buying guns, and more especially rifles, from far away places like India, Australia and Africa. These he would repatriate to England and refurbish with the help of gunmaker Bob Harvey and then sell on to finance his habit or keep in his collection.
This collaboration with Bob lead to the forming of J L Wilkins and the production of a limited quantity of best quality double and bolt action rifles. These can be found occasionally in the American market in a range of calibre’s from .300 to .700. The rifles were very well finished and produced hunting rifles, built under the guiding eye of a man who has spend many a day in the bush using them.
In 2007 when I was preparing to move to the new factory, I was looking for some help with managing the production and introducing the apprentice scheme into the company. Chris was suggested as a candidate by Giles Marriott an English gun dealer. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask Chris as I had always seen him as an independent person doing ‘his thing’ in the gun trade, making guns and taking them hunting.
The past 7 years have proved this was a very well considered choice. Chris has, over this time, contributed to the gunmaking team in many, many ways, but without doubt the most important being the training and implementation of the apprentices whom he has introduced and ‘fathered’ through their time here at the factory, as well as the the continuing program to source more young talent. These are the new life blood of the factory.
Chris has today moved on from Westley Richards and is off to warmer climates to hunt elusive animals and no doubt dig out the rifles my father never managed to extract from the Indian Maharajah’s!
Everybody at the factory wishes Chris the very best for the future and thank him for the wisdom he leaves behind.
Everyone on our stand at Las Vegas Safari Club this year was enchanted by the enthusiasm and knowledge of young Ian Holehan, son of custom rifle maker Patrick L. Holehan. Ian was a frequent visitor to our stand which he describes in an email to me today as “it was the funnest, holding and seeing all those amazing guns, everyone I met on your booth was so kind and welcoming”
Ian was entertained and shown guns by collectors Ron Holden and John Ying, educated in some finer details of guns and gunmaking by author Ross Seyfried and NRA director Lance Olson amongst a host of others who were taken in by his youthful enthusiasm.
I think all of us involved in this business enjoy seeing such enthusiasm in the next generation and I hope I have been, at his request, the first to send over to Ian in USA details of our apprenticeship scheme at Westley Richards!