When I had Paul Lantuch and Vince Crowley for supper last week, one of the conversations we had was around the time taken to engrave their respective .600 sidelock rifles. Vince was shaking his head at what Paul had achieved in the same time frame he was working on. When I showed him this rifle, that had also been completed in that time frame Vince shook his head even harder in amazement.
To be fair there are 2 very different styles engraving involved here, each engraver has a very different style and finish to their engraving. Later this will become apparent when I show Vince’s latest work and the attention to polish and detail become evident all which is a very time consuming detail.
Tomorrow this rifle goes down to St Ledger for case colour hardening and once again the decision will have to be made ‘colour on or colour off’. I always liked the deluxe R. B. Rodda rifles which were carved engraved and left with colour on, so I am possibly biased. We will judge when it gets back!
The rifle is a Westley Richards .500 3″ NE hand detachable lock double rifle, 2 triggers, automatic selective ejectors, manual safe.
Belgian 9mm Rimfire shotgun of unknown manufacture with an Eley No.3 cartridge. The very simple breach mechanism is locked by the hammer on firing.
On a blog that deals with the most exquisite rifles and guns that money can buy, you may wonder why I am writing about an old ‘garden gun’.
The answer is very simple. If you’re a regular reader of The Explora you probably own or aspire to own a beautiful hand made British gun. Either way, I’m sure many readers have an old gun in their cabinet which for sentimental reasons they would never part with. This old 9mm rimfire shotgun is that gun to me.
When I was 15 my father and I were invited to try clay shooting by a gentleman called Ronnie. Ronnie was well into his eighties and a true old Norfolk boy. No one in our family shoots, and this was my first exposure to shotgun sports. A few years later during my gap year I applied for a shotgun certificate and bought my first gun. Ronnie was always very good to me and introduced me to various small local shoots. When the time came to go away to university, I eyed up corners of my small room in halls, wondering if bolting a gun cabinet to the wall would void my security deposit! However with no shooting club at university I left my guns at home and made up for it by shooting as much as possible during my holidays.
During my final year at university Ronnie fell ill, and one day whilst on the phone to my parents I asked after him. There was a short silence and I knew what had happened. I was in the middle of exams and so I did my best to put it out of my mind, but I came home for a weekend shortly afterwards. Dad told me he had something to show me, and produced a small garden gun. “Why did you buy that?” I asked. He told me he hadn’t, but that it had been Ronnie’s and that his family had asked that we have it.
Old Eley No.3 Long Shot 9mm Flobert cartridge next to a 2½” 12 bore for comparison.
I know nothing about its provenance other than it has Belgian proof marks dating it from between 1924 to 1948. Cartridges come in boxes of 50 where you can find them and it is surprisingly effective at keeping the garden safe from little ‘helpers’! More recently I found a full box of Eley 9mm Flobert cartridges loaded with black powder at the British Shooting Show. These have taken pride of place in my book case next to my modest collection of antique shooting books.
So that’s how I came by this old gun, and why it means the world to me. Using it reminds me of the generous man who introduced me to the world of shooting sports. An introduction for which I will always be thankful.
Thank you Edward, I am sure this is a story that will ‘resonate’ with many of us!
Some 20 years ago now, Westley Richards took on the main dealership of the Courteney Boot Co. range of boots in the USA and UK. It was an ideal and complementary range of footwear for our brand. The simple truth that every hunter needs an accurate rifle and an a great pair of boots for every hunt, led us to look for the suitable boot to recommend to our customers headed to Africa.
I recall very well the sizes of the 2 blisters on the bottom of my feet on the day of my first buffalo hunt in Botswana many years ago. I packed a single trigger .470 droplock rifle and wore a pair of ‘custom made’ moccasins which looked great, but allowed too much movement, in all fairness I had probably not worn them enough before the trip. Anyway after a long day’s march after some buffalo I had to call it a day, it spoiled that hunt and many days after also, whilst the healing took place.
Shortly after this event we took on the Courteney Boots distributorship and we have never looked back. Thousands of satisfied customers have been served over the years and many thousands of miles have been hunted in the boots. The praise for the ‘out of box’ comfort of the range of boots never ceases to come in. Many times at Safari Club a customer will come up wearing his boots and tell me ‘I have been wearing these for 15 years’ to which I would quietly think I wish they would occasionally wear out so I could sell you another pair!
All these years later it gives me pleasure to introduce the latest creation from Courteney in Zimbabwe, the ‘Courteney Selous Shirt’, a safari shirt which Gale Rice, owner of Courteney has developed carefully over the past few years. By bringing together the company’s years of experience in the safari field and collaborating with the local professional hunters, Courteney have, I am sure, produced another winning product that will be well suited in your safari wardrobe for many years to come.
This is a selection of new work from the factory this week, photographs that have been on Instagram and now in a larger format here. In this instance I will let the photographs do the talking and I hope you enjoy these new rifles which are on their way now to their new owners!
Vince Crowley and Paul Lantuch in conversation about all things engraving.
It is always a privilege to bring together 2 very talented people in the same occupation together, today was such a day here at the Westley Richards factory. Paul Lantuch is over from USA to complete the finishing work and patination on the Africa Rifle as well as discuss and design of the next projects that follow. Vince Crowley kindly came in to Lacquer the rife for Paul after his work and also show us the .600 sidelock rifle he has now been working on for over a year himself.
So in the factory we had two similar size and style Westley Richards .600 sidelock rifles, two distinctly different styles of engraving, two exceptional projects and two extremely modest engravers who quietly demonstrated a huge amount of mutual admiration of each others work, both of which I can only say is truly exceptional in every respect. You have seen the Africa Rifle and Vince’s rifle will come before you in a few more months, no taster here yet! Paul was saying to me quietly, Wow, fantastic, amazing, I wish… when a man of his talent is so generous with his praise of another you can expect to see some exceptional work. In return Vince was also in awe of the work done by Paul, certainly the pace at which he executes his work so precisely and the variety of techniques used creating coloured inlay metals and other age old techniques, all generously and openly shared.
We finished the day with Trigger and I hosting long conversation and a barbecue upstairs, I did all the cooking and washing up and Trigger served the drinks, did most the eating and held court with the talking!
It gives me great pleasure to put a face to these talented engravers names for you!
Whilst clearing out the workshops yesterday, a process we do to keep on top of all the accumulated bits and pieces and keep the work benches looking reasonably clear and tidy. An old cabinet was moved and this framed notice fell out of the back where it must have been lodged for many years.
We have no idea about the history of this duel and disgraceful events which followed. If anyone can shed some historical light on Captain Mavrogordate and this duel I am sure it will be of interest!
I am not plugging this book simply because it has used our photography on the cover and extensively inside, but rather because it is an excellent reference of modern engraving. Altogether it is very well illustrated and very nicely designed. I am unable to comment on the writing due to my language skills, which being typically English, are nil!
This is a comprehensive work of 432 pages, a large book the same size format as our own book In Pursuit of the Best Gun. Half of the book covers techniques and a general overall look at gun engraving and the second half of the book focus’s on the work of 16 individual engravers.
We have available for collection or delivery from our Bozeman shop, 4 used Fort Knox safes which we no longer require. The safes are as illustrated above, they are clean and in general ‘very good condition’ but with some outside wear to the transfer decal decoration and leading edges of the door.
Fort Knox Titan Model 7241with interior lighting. Externally, the safe measures 72.5″ H x 40.5″ W x 29.5″ D. We have Two left hand opening and Two right hand opening available. 40 Gun capacity each. (4 rows x 10 gun) Electric lighting and digital lock. The normal new cost of these safes is $6000 each, we are asking $2000 each ex Bozeman.
Pleaseemail me or call Kevin Kilday on +1 406 586 1946 if these are of interest.
Update. All these are now all sold, thank you all very much!
Q: Simon, I appreciate that the making of these rifles required the utmost attention to detail and clearly display an unbelievable array of gun-making skills. I am curious to know what was the most difficult element in the making of these guns (I know every craftsman will say their part!)? Neil.
Inspiration can come from a simple old cufflink box.
A: Neil, thank you for your comment on the previous post on the Africa rifle where I said I needed more space to answer and be able to take some credit for the most difficult element, blow my own trumpet for once! I will try and justify that claim!
There were 30 or so individual craftsmen involved with completing this project over a period of 7 or more years, they were separated by the Atlantic, with gunmaking in England and embellishment in USA. Each and every craftsman, as you rightly said could claim ‘their part’ was the most difficult and certainly they could claim that without their individual skills, the project would never have come to completion.
My claim would be that the hardest part is first having the idea or concept for the project and then bringing all these talented people together, over a period of years, to see the idea through and the projects execution.
The starting point for the Africa & India rifles was the gunmaking and in this instance the inspiration came from a Webley & Scott .600 sidelock rifle I bought, and then sold on the used gun side of our business. It was for me the perfect .600, it had both the scale and perfect dimensions for a rifle of this size, one which I often see too small and light when made in sidelock format. The Rodda .600’s were always a perfect size and I am sure based on this same design. We copied the dimensions of this rifle, incorporated the Model C bolting and dolls head and built the 2 rifles. It was a completely new calibre model rifle for us and in itself, a large project of design through delivery. We were of course in familiar gunmaking territory but the execution relied on the whole of our gunmaking team getting their part correct and perfect. People do not realise today how few double rifles of exceptional quality are actually built and that putting a whole project like this together takes more than just idle promises and talk!
The engraving aspect of the Africa and India rifle project started with a desire of mine to ‘trump’ my fathers project of the ‘Boutet Gun’ engraved by the Brown Brothers, which was completed as a speculative gun in 1985. This gun remains the single longest project executed by the Browns and I recall they took a year or more to engrave and embellish the gun. I certainly remember my father sweating to get it back, to be able to sell it and recoup his costs, an expense I am sure he could ill afford at the time. Efforts to get them to do another similar length project 30 years later fell on deaf ears, a shame, but understandable, their place in gun engraving history required no further justification….’at that time’ I will add as I believe gun engraving is getting better and better by the year and believe that the ‘King or Queen’ of the modern era of gun engraving is yet to be crowned, on that point I am sure.
There is some amazing new engraving talent to draw upon now, engravers who just need the commissions and time to show what can be done. Exceptional engraving takes time and money, realistically very few engravers are ever given this time in their careers. The ‘heroes’ of the ’80s, Ken Hunt, Brown Bros, Coggan have had most of the modern money thrown at them by the recent (1990-2015) period collectors and much of this work remains unseen. I have seen a lot if it and feel much is repetitive and indifferent, engraved for a very small group of clients who led their own design.
Paul Lantuch is one such engraver, immensely talented with classical drawing, engraving and jewellery making skills to his credit. I had offered the India project to Rashid Hadi and Vince Crowley and they came to me with a huge budget and no design. I declined and offered the commission to Paul by telephone 10 minutes later accompanied by an email folder of images I had selected for the design style, he accepted in principle and sent me an email the next day “am in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York researching India project, designs to follow shortly”. I knew at that point I had made a very good decision and one that has led to many fine guns in the years since and I hope to come!
Personally, I am very passionate about gun engraving, it can either ruin or enhance our guns, I have experienced both shock and surprise on a guns returning from engraving in the past and now firmly control that emotion with discussions and drawings during the process with the engravers.
I have always liked having large, long engraving projects running, Rashid Hadi, Peter Spode and Vince Crowley are amongst the engravers who have done many major carved and elaborate works for Westley Richards. I enjoy giving opportunity to new talent and in this I have been fortunate in having the patrons to support this desire over my years here, patrons who have allowed me the freedom to work directly with the engravers, which is important.
On the whole I believe as owners or managers of the company we have a wider knowledge of firstly what ‘has and what has not been done’ but more importantly, what works on our individual style guns and I think it is almost a duty to show off on our guns what can be achieved at any one time.
Thus Neil in this instance I will take the credit for the hardest part, making it actually happen!!
Any of you who head to Africa for safari will encounter, on your first visit, the use of shooting sticks, these are carried by the PH and provide an instant and stable rest for your rifle. I know I was unfamiliar with this practise 25 years ago when I went on my first safari, using them correctly took some time and practise, the height, the grip and flexibility all take getting used to. I don’t recommend taking expensive screw apart tripod sticks to Africa, it is weight and bulk you don’t need, rely on the PH and his sticks as he will place them fast and effectively giving you chance to concentrate on your quarry. I do however recommend practise with simple sticks which can easily be made at home.
I asked my long time friend Robin Hurt, one of the most respected Professional Hunters practicing today, who has carried the shooting sticks for many a mile, to write a short piece about the importance and use of the sticks which he has kindly done.
Robin Hurt with his 20 year old shooting sticks close to hand.
Accurate rifle shooting is all about a steady position and trigger squeeze. Without these two basic principals, most people will have difficulty in shooting rifles accurately. An unsteady rest leads to trigger snatching and a resulting badly placed shot. In the hunting field a good rest for ones rifle is crucial as no hunter worth his salt wants to injure or wound an animal – the objective is to hunt the animal in a sporting and fair chance manner and to take a deliberate clean shot.
The problem is that good natural rests to support and steady the rifle are not always at hand, for example an ant hill or a tree trunk. Also one is often faced with long grass or low scrub bush, making a lying down or sitting position shot impossible . This is where the African Shooting Sticks come in handy. The sticks can be set up in seconds, at the precise time the quarry is seen, without the need to possibly spoil the stalk by casting around looking for a rest. Off hand shooting, except at close range under 50 yards and on wounded game, is not to be recommended for most hunters.
My first shooting sticks were made for me by my Wata ( Waliaingulu ) elephant hunter tracker in 1963. In fact it was a simple bi pod of two wooden limbs of just under 3/4 inch diameter, 5 1/2 feet long, lashed together with strips of car tyre inner tubing. The lower tips of the thin poles were sharpened, so as to give proper purchase on the ground and not slip. It was an effective tool – but not perfect. All professional hunters at that time used these wooden bi pods.
Roger Hurt’s Tracker ‘Lekini’ with his shooting sticks and hearing protection.
Then there was a natural progression to more effective tri pods; using the same materials, but with two of the limbs being 4 to 5 inches longer and a shorter middle limb in the centre, again bound together with strip rubber tubing to give flexibility and strength when opening the sticks. This tri pod had now became an effective rest, for as steady a shot as possible in normal hunting conditions and used daily by most professional hunters.
To this day I carry wooden shooting sticks, home made by my trackers, using car tubing strips to hold the top sector together. My current sticks are now over twenty years old and used on every hunt. They never leave my hunting car and are as essential to my equipment as is a high lift Jack! The advantage of the natural materials is quietness. I have no problem with the commercial shooting sticks available, other than that they can be noisy, being made out of plastic or light metal tubing. But, they are useful for practice.
Robin Hurt following client HH Al Thani out of the bush, sticks to hand as always.
The way it works is that I always carry the sticks personally, and set them up according to my clients stature; by spreading the legs wider or closer together simply adjusts the rifles rest height as the need may be. The client follows close by and directly behind the professional, allowing quick and easy access to the rest.
Another huge advantage of the shooting sticks is that if your quarry is moving or partially blocked by bush or other cover, you can simply rest your rifle in a ready position until such time as an opportunity presents itself, set up immediately to take the shot . By the way, one of the biggest mistakes made by hunters is moving too quickly and in a rushed manner to place the rifle on the sticks. Quick movements are immediately spotted by game . Preferably a slow fluid movement of the rifle on to the sticks is what one should
Roger Hurt and client on the sticks. Note the forefinger grip on the forend.
Practice shooting off sticks will prove invaluable to better coordination and accurate field shooting . Practice standing , sitting and kneeling using the sticks . For sitting and kneeling I use one of the upright limbs and use my hand and fore finger to lock the rifle in position. For standing shots I personally also like to anchor the rifle on to the sticks by wrapping my left hand fore finger around the rifles barrel / fore end and holding the sticks where they are bound together, with the rest of my hand .
My son Derek, a professional in Tanzania, carries two sets of sticks – a short pair for sitting and kneeling shots and a normal long set for standing shots . His tracker carries the shorter pair and simply passes them to Derek when needed. I am too set in my ways to learn new tricks and only use one pair that I adjust as needed!
For longish or difficult shots on windy days , over 150 yards, I will often offer extra support to the hunter; by holding the sticks with both my hands and my body bent in a slightly crouched position, that in turn gives my shoulder as an added rest for the shooters elbow . This in effect gives a two position rest .
Lunchtime picnic use for the tripod!
Shooting sticks have other uses – they can be used as snake tongs to capture snakes ( not advised ! ). On one occasion in South Sudan I used the sticks as a spear to impale an unfortunate forest Guinea Fowl when I didn’t want to disturb the area by shooting! Here in the Namibian mountains, they make a useful walking stick in our difficult steep terrain! I often use them to carry small game as on a pole hung between two people ! Last season one of our P Hunters fended off a furious warthog with his sticks , when they surprised it charging out of its resting place in an Aardvark’s hole! I have used them as a make shift fishing rod by tying some line with a hook on one end! Yes, they have all manner of uses apart from being a splendid rifle rest!
Some further tips that may be found to be useful are :-
– Never rest the barrel on the sticks – always the fore end. Metal contact with the sticks will result in the shot going high.
– For standing shots, stand with your legs well apart. This will help stabilize your shooting position.
– For sitting shots, bring up your knees so that your elbows are rested. This will greatly improve your shooting.
– To make your own sticks, choose saplings that are strong and straight, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Strip off the bark. Hold the sticks upright, and cut to length. As a height measurement, cut them at the level of your eyes. The centre limb should be 4/5″ shorter . Bind all three pole’s with rubber strops tightly at about 1 1/2 inches below the top of the shortest sapling. You can tape or rubberized the twin stabilizer arms on the longer poles for added quietness and support.
– Get in the habit of taking off the rifles safety in one movement in time with placing your weapon on the shooting sticks.
– Don’t place your rifle on the sticks with the fore end and your hand grip too far forward as this creates a seesaw effect.
– If your making your own shooting sticks, try to find hard wood poles that are as straight as possible. Any bends found after de barking can easily be sorted by holding over a fire and straightening the heated sapling .
– Lastly practice makes perfect. Make or buy your sticks and make yourself familiar with them and their use. Go to the rifle range or some other safe place and practice shooting off them.
Good hunting !
Robin has 2 very successful hunting operations in Africa where he operates fromNamibia and Tanzania.Please follow the links for further information.
I will be discussing with our stick makers in England the manufacture of simple sets of these tripod shooting sticks with some details by our leather shop for protecting the rifle.