Thank you for the short break! With August now all but over, the holidays are finished and the team here at the factory is back to full strength, some form of normality will be regained. Summer is always a difficult time to get gunmaking done, the engravers are on holiday, the case hardeners go on holiday, the barrel blackers go on holiday and when they come back, our finishers have gone on holiday! Two months of intermittent completions now behind us.
Over the next few months we have some super new guns coming up to finishing, The .600 sidelock Africa rifle is in its final weeks of engraving as is another major project being worked on by Vince Crowley. The pair of 4 bore guns just require the barrels back from the blackers and they will then be ready to go to their new owner after a brief stop in the photo studio as will another 20g Ovundo. In the hardening shop with St Ledger we patiently await 5 guns, the set of 3 small bore shotguns a double rifle and the first falling block Farquharson we have built in many years. So some great stuff to show you in the months ahead and I look forward to doing so.
Adam on final assembly and fit of a Take Down rifle.
Stewart preparing a pair of rifle barrels for regulating.
Keith offering up a pair of double rifles to a stock blank for layout.
Josef preparing a droplock shotgun for proof.
Jason on his final 4g lock plate.
James tinning a barrel band with sling attachment to a bolt rifle.
About 50 years ago, all the old action jigs from our machining shop were gathered together and uncerimoniously thrown in a skip. It was the end of an era, but the jigs were not actually thrown in the skip because the machining method had changed, they were thrown in the skip because the management thought we would never make the detachable lock guns again, jigs or no jigs.
Luckily, one of our gunmakers at the time, Peter Stanton, was horrified by this gesture and proceeded to salvage as many as he could from the skip, hiding them under his bench. They remained tucked away there for many years and only saw the light of day when we moved to these new premises in 2008. Here they were spread across the windowsills in the photo studio for decoration due to lack of another place to put and store them. They have been so near the camera for 7 years and now at last in front of it!
I have spoken in the past about how CNC machines that we use today, do on one machine, what we used to do on rows of machines. In the past a machine would be set up with a jig such as those in the picture and perform one operation. It could be a milling jig or a drill position jig, whatever, a batch of actions would be passed through the jig and the operation performed. The batch would then move on to the next machine and jig and another operation was performed, and so on and son on. At the end of the line a completed action.
We now use only 3 machines and the action body travels between these machines on a small datum point pallet. The milling machine does it’s work and then the pallet is released and the workpiece taken to the spark erosion machine where cavities unable to be milled are made, amongst these are the solid hinge pin of the Westley Richards guns. Finally the pallet with the nearly completed action is moved to the wire machine where the final profile is cut. A total of 3 CNC machines and 2 operators versus 40 or more machines and upwards of 20 operators for the same action machining process circa 1910.
We all wear Tweed and we all wear green, so it goes without saying that we all need something individual to make us ‘stand apart’ from the rest of the Tweed clad team. Yes, of course there is a huge variety of tweeds to choose from, loud tweed and quiet tweed, every tweed has a certain attitude and everybody will have a personal favourite and swear it is the very best, the most functional and appropriate, whether they blend into the landscape or stand out like a racecourse bookie.
Two items that can, and will, set you are apart are the hat on the top of your head, and the socks at the bottom of your legs. A splash of colour below and a bit of character on top.
A few weeks ago I did a post about Jason starting to Spot or ‘Jewel’ the lockwork on the pair of 4 bore shotguns we are completing. At the time I estimated about 60 hours of work to complete the locks and how wrong was I. I think now that every part of estimating time on this pair of guns has been wrong!
Jason has been sitting at one of 3 machines it has required to complete this job for endless days now. The first lock he completed, the spots were slightly too large so he started again. The second attempt was also slightly large as well so a 3rd size of spot was chosen. This final size worked well on the plates and all the limbs of the lock.
So how many individual spots are on a lock? This is how he has filled his time, counting carefully!
Lock Plate 3360, Dog 428, Main Spring 519, Hammer 719, Sear 396, Lock Plate 3360 The total for one lock is 5422 individual overlapping spots. Four pairs of locks 21688. Then there are 2 cover plates with 1755 spots and a top bolt with 113 making a grand total of 25,424.
2 More lock plates to go and he is done. I should have had a competition on the number of spots, I know I would not have come close!
I have always been a bit of a hoarder, I think many of us gun collectors are. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of ‘sporting junk’ as my wife would have called it or ‘Sporting Ephemera’ to my mind. In future visitors to our shop at the factory will find a new tag hanging off some nice vintage pieces, items which make nice decoration for a gun room or trophy room or ones that can easily be put back into service for some more years.
Guncases, cartridge magazines, WR fishing tackle, books, bags, knives, photographs and pictures are some of the things to be found amongst the new merchandise. Please look out for the new tag as shown above as you browse the shop.
This shot shows a couple of things. Firstly some very nice engraving with great attention to little details which is something I find extremely important when engraving these rifles. All the various parts are somewhat disjointed on a bolt action and the engraving can therefore afford to change in style along the rifle, creative embellishment of small areas. Here you see a combination of styles which work well together.
Secondly I would like to point out that the square bridges have quick detachable bases for a telescope incorporated but covered up. If you look close you will see the small slots for your nail to pull off the sliding covers which will reveal a dovetail slot to which the scope is affixed. These mounts are the Smithson system, not revolutionary but beautifully made and eminently practical.
Westley Richards .410 with engraving by Alan & Paul Brown.
The Westley Richards .410 hand detachable lock shotgun pictured above has received a huge amount of compliments as well as many offers to purchase, during its travels with us at the shows in USA and UK over the past few years. If I may say so myself, it is a gun worthy of the praise, it is truly elegant.
So, I suppose it is not at all surprising that a small start up gunmaker in USA has attempted to imitate the elegance of this gun whilst launching their own range of new guns. Flattery indeed, and my thanks to the company for the recognition. I did in fact know this gun would be copied when I spotted the owner of the gunmaker, stealthily photographing the gun with his iPhone at Safari Club a few years ago.
Another, perhaps more audacious copy of our guns was the pair of Westley Richards .410’s which went through Rock Island Auction a few years ago. These were 2 traditional scroll engraved guns which were then polished off and re-engraved in the style of the Hummingbird Gun. There was no mention that these guns were, what we call over here ‘Tarted Up’ rendering them in my opinion as totally unoriginal and junk.
What puzzles me most is how people with money to spend on this level of engraving are incapable of creating something unique and different, there are so many subjects and styles we have not tried.
The new USA made .410.
The original Westley Richards Hummingbird Gun engraved by Rashid Hadi.
The re-engraved pair of Westley Richards .410 in style of Hummingbird gun. Engraver unknown.
A nice picture from India of a man aiming a Tranter with a skeleton stock. My Father visited today and gave me this to add to the walls. We often see these pistols at the arms shows but very nice to see one in action and one fitted with a skeleton stock which, to me, is very unusual.
After six or seven good to very good seasons and a general feeling in the Grouse world that rather like Gordon Brown’s view on the economy, boom and bust was a thing of the past, the 2015 Grouse Season is almost certainly going to come as a serious shock to many of us. Owners, Keepers and Guns are facing the prospect in places such as the Peak District and much of the West of the Pennines, of a disastrous Grouse season with many Moors cancelling completely, and only a few real bright spots such as the North York Moors and parts of Durham and North-East Northumberland.
Grouse shooting has been a cyclical business for generations and that was part of its attraction. You never knew from one year to the next whether it was going to be good or bad, largely because of the Strongyle worm. This worm thrived when Grouse numbers were high, but consequently when they caused a crash (often called the 7-year cycle), the lack of hosts being the Grouse themselves, enabled the worm to die away and hence the whole process of rebuilding host numbers could occur. Higher, wetter Moors which are often the most prolific for Grouse because of abundant insects in the right years, were particularly badly affected by Strongyle worm which loved the moist ground conditions.
Although medicated grit (which is literally a piece of Cornish quartz grit coated with a worming agent which cleanses the gut of the Grouse of Strongyle worms) has been around for over 30 years, it was only about 7 years ago that developments occurred which allowed a much more effective medicated grit to be produced. This has undoubtedly led to the phenomenal Grouse numbers in recent years, with record after record being broken on Moors up and down the country. Even the Scottish Moors which have been in the doldrums for many years, have shot some phenomenal bags over the last two or three years.
Added to the major breakthrough in the effectiveness of medicated grit, which has allowed much larger quantities of Grouse to be overwintered i.e. left on the Moor at the end of the season, leading to many more pairs of Grouse breeding the following spring, has been the very significant improvements in Moorland Management largely as a result of investment by new rich Moorland owners. This has included the employment of many more Keepers, the purchase of better machinery, reducing sheep numbers and improving the acreage of heather capable of hosting and feeding Grouse as well as a better understanding amongst all concerned of how to optimise Grouse numbers. The end result has been a bonanza in recent years which have probably comparable to the heyday of Grouse shooting back in the 1930’s. It is worth noting then that there were far more Moors in existence than now, with driven Moors even being present in Wales from the North Coast almost down to Cardiff itself. Indeed the record day’s Grouse bag on a Welsh Moor was at Ruabon in August 1912, when 887 brace of Grouse was shot. The tragedy is that there are now no “proper” driven Grouse Moors left in Wales and indeed a paucity of bird life over much of Wales, due to uncontrolled vermin levels.
The question that was constantly asked at the recent Game Fair held in Yorkshire, was why this year it has all gone so wrong for the Grouse over so much of England and Scotland. We have got used to simple answers even for complex questions and surprisingly despite the amount of time, effort and money that goes into producing the Grouse we love to shoot, we still know remarkably little about why they do well or badly. Weather undoubtedly plays its part and this year it has played a major part. Although the South of England has had a remarkably dry spring and summer, that is not the case with the North of England and much of Scotland. The winter there stayed late and we “enjoyed” incredibly low temperatures at the end of May and for much of June. Temperatures are always significantly lower in elevated places such as exposed Moorland and although the Red Grouse is a sub-arctic bird, it does need some warmth at critical times so as to allow insects to hatch, which form an essential part of the young Grouse’s early diet. The interesting thing is that there is considerable variation in how Grouse in different years can cope with bad weather. In some years, they will do well even when there is prolonged rain, to include at critical times and the chicks are very vulnerable much better than they do in other years. Almost certainly this is to do with the condition of the hen and subsequently the chicks and as a result, if they are in very good condition, they will deal much better with bad weather than if they are not. This is all logical when one considers that if we want hen pheasants to lay many fertile eggs, we feed them with a high quality protein-based layer pellet. With sheep if we want them to have a high lambing percentage, they will be fed breeders nuts and we do not expect race horses to run well if fed on poor quality grass. The problem is that we regard heather as heather, rather than understanding that sometimes the heather plant is much more capable of being a high nutrient food than it is in other years.
My view is that this year, we have suffered from a combination of poor weather over much of the main Moorland areas in the UK and at the same time and for some unknown reason, the birds themselves have not been in first class condition. There is a real likelihood that this has had something to do with the high numbers of Grouse that we have been carrying for quite a few years now and again this is similar to what happens with other high-stocked animal populations. The fact that we have been able to keep alive by use of medicated grit, Grouse that almost certainly would have died in earlier years, may also be playing a part. The worry we have now is that after such a poor summer in our Moorland areas, with little warmth and sunlight, how this will affect Grouse survival over the coming winter and then their ability to lay, hatch and rear good broods next spring. Given the shortage of young Grouse that have survived this summer, we are in desperate need of a really good hatch and survival rate in 2016.
In a way, I am glad that yet again the Red Grouse has been able to confound us, but perhaps wish that it had not so dramatically cut my own shooting days down! This year, will go down as generally one of the poor Grouse years, but I suspect that as a result, we will try harder to fully understand what has contributed to that. The great thing about “Grouse men” is that they have to be optimists and we are now turning our attention to 2016!
Mark Osborne is a Director of William Powell Sporting, one of the main Management and Letting Agents for Grouse Shooting in the UK. www.williampowell.com
Mark Osborne is one of, if not ‘the’ most successful managers of grouse moors in recent history. I am very grateful for his agreement to write this quick report and share his knowledge for the readers of The Explora.
We don’t see a lot of these little Martini action miniature rifles, especially in the take down format. This one we have for sale is in very nice condition for its age and is in its original rook rifle calibre of .297/.250, this is even more unusual, it not having been tubed to the more modern .22LR. or messed around with in any other way. A very nice small piece of Westley Richards gunmaking history.
The Westley Richards Martini was developed after the Monkey Tail rifle during a period of rapid development of military type firearms. It was shipped in 1000’s to South Africa and was deadly in the hands of the Boer soldiers.
“In 1868, Westley Richards developed a hinged falling block breech loader. Indeed when the falling-block Martini rifle was adopted in 1868 as the standard British Infantry rifle, it was found to have infringed Westley Richards’ patents (1931 of 1868) in “the principle of its construction”. The British government was obliged to pay some £43,000 in Royalties.” Extracted from ‘In Pursuit of the Best Gun’ 1812-2012.
Top a .577/450 Martini made for Orange Free State 1883 and below a Martini cadet rifle in .310 made for New Zealand in 1910.