Here in the UK the season for hunting Roe Bucks opens tomorrow, April 1st. This diminutive little deer is revered throughout Europe and the stalking and taking of a mature 6 point trophy is considered by many one of the finest hunts you can partake in.
As a tribute to the Roe deer we were commissioned a few years ago to build this beautifully scaled hand detachable lock double rifle in 9.3 x 62 calibre. Weighing a mere 6lb 14ozs the rifle is fitted with Westley Richards patent single selective trigger, a slim semi beavertail forend and open sights regulated at 100 yards for relatively close range hunting.
In this calibre the rifle is primarily intended for the great Spanish ‘Monterias’ where you might also encounter big Red Stags, Fallow Bucks and huge Wild Boar. Nevertheless, it makes a super compact and quick handling woodland rifle and would certainly be great fun to use during the Roe Buck rut in late July/early August when the deer can be called to within yards of the hunter!
It was a fine winter day, in the duck season. I had my pickup loaded with all things for an afternoon hunt. My Labrador, Miss Feather (Miss Duckhill Sheba’s Bournebrook Feathershower) had already occupied her place in the passenger’s seat for several hours as she always did on these days. I had worked through the never-easy task of selecting the gun and this one was well beyond ordinary. It was a Scott Premier 10 bore, with Damascus barrels. It was all done up in ducks as they often were, but this one was decorated with several odd and unusual species of sea ducks. I was almost out the door for the 1 ½ hour drive when I received word that Simon had gone to the other side.
My first reaction was not to go hunting, but then realized that was a very foolish notion, one that would disappoint him deeply. Instead, the day and the GUN would be a tribute. The Scott was befitting almost any occasion, but today it had to be a Westley and not just any Westley, but the finest one I knew. One only has to witness the title of these pages to know Simon valued Exploras and I value them as well. In fact I see them as the most complete and sophisticated firearms ever made. The gun today would be “The Queen of Birmingham” a Deluxe Explora and the most wonderful Explora and Westley I have ever met.
It came to me in a rather unusual way; out of an auction. I saw the gun, held it and crushing-love at first sight would be an understatement. It was glorious and essentially new… and I knew I could not afford it. A mutual friend liked the gun equally, but he had something I did not, an invincible purse. He told me simply to bid and buy the gun. If in the end I could afford the hammer price I could have it, if not I was to continue and buy it for him. I wrote a number, my very last number, down before the bidding began. The hammer fell on that number.
With it I began to perfect Explora ammunition, ammunition that would be ballistically identical to that which the great Leslie B Taylor had created. I used a ballistic technique similar to the originals to get 735 grains (1 ¾ ounces) to go 1250 fps at normal shot gun pressure. Then I developed bullets that would fly like the L.T. Capped originals. In the end I had a cartridge driving bullets that would fly exactly to those glorious sights, each and every one of them, all the way to 300 yards; and be deadly when they arrived.
The Queen performed wonderfully as a shot gun; taking valley quail, rare mountain quail, and ducks with perfection. Its crowning moment came late one autumn afternoon in the Sheep Creek Valley. The great yellow 6 x 6 bull elk walked out of the thick young timber into a room-sized open meadow and stood broad side. I was sitting with The Queen on my knees and made my best estimate of 250 yards and turned up that leaf. I looked at those massive shoulders over the sights, sights that were strangely rock solid and crystal clear. My son was beside me and I whispered, “250 yards????”… “Yes, very close”, was his reply. I pressed the front trigger. The big bullet arced across the valley and landed with a mighty “wok” as the bull lurch into the black timber. We listened, for there was nothing to see and suddenly there was a huge fir-rending crash in the timber, followed seconds later by another when the big bull slid out into a little clearing. The bullet struck the top of the front sight with laser precision, dead center and completely through both of his shoulders. She is a very, very special Westley.
I thought back on these things as we watched the sky over the pretty little pond. It was a still cold, a day without ducks. And then he came, the loan magnificent mallard drake with the most brilliant orange feet I have ever seen. He circled twice and levelled across the far side of the decoys; at 40 yards… almost too far for an Explora barrel. The same right barrel spoke and he folded; the only duck we saw that day. Feather broke ice to retrieve him. To me there was a perfection about it all.
It may seem odd that I waited so long to write this, but it took me time to heal and find the courage to fully address the loss of this wonderful man. While he was a bastion of the trade and a truly passionate gun person I think I miss that dry humour and wit most of all. Some time ago I addressed my Selvyt Pad and Tin for preserving the Westley Detachable locks in these pages. When he received this he feigned being stricken and stunned. He thought he had the only tin and I had poached in this sacred space. But then in virtually his last notes to me, he won the day as always, “Well only real Westley men have a tin”!
He does not know this yet, but a Hundred Pounder is making those tracks he is following.
Well they just keep coming! Another .500 3″ hand detachable lock double rifle has just been completed from engraving this week and it once again shows a subtle variation on the classic Westley Richards ‘house’ scroll. Yet another style of carved fence which combines a banner with acanthus leaves, nice indeed.
It seems that we are one of the few double rifle manufacturers actually getting anything out there these days. The beauty of this rifle is that it is going to a young enthusiastic hunter who will use it considerably, once again proving that we build genuine user rifles as well as the fabulous presentation pieces you see on this blog.
Whilst we often associate the sporting gun with the British sportsmen and the great shooting that this country has to offer, it is always worth remembering that the sport of shooting is a truly worldwide affair.
The USA was and still is one of the largest markets in the world for shooting and hunting related products. At one time meat on the table was often through the efficient use of a favoured gun or rifle and the ‘market gunners’ of old kept a very healthy and expanding population fed with what many saw as an endless supply of game birds and animals.
Obviously where there was the need for shotguns and punt guns to take quarry so there was the need for powder and shot to take them. It is therefore nice to see vintage items like the one illustrated here turn up from this now bygone era.
Clearly a salesman travelling companion this very neat case outside inscribed ‘Tathams American Standard’ is a wonderful fold over case that contains inside 20 samples of American shot sizes ranging from the very finest ‘Dust’ to ‘FF’. The quality of workmanship in the whole piece is superb and once again it goes to show the detail that companies once went into with everything they made. The shot itself is perfectly round and was obviously made from a ‘drop’ tower so that the lead shot formed perfectly.
On the edge of the case you can clearly read Patented June 19 1874 which dates the whole thing very nicely. Tatham Brothers was a lead pipe, sheet lead and shot supplier based in 82 Beekman Street, New York. In existence from the 1840’s they appear to have patented many improvements in both the manufacture of shot, bullets and other projectiles, and were heavily involved in supplying the Union Army during the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865. It would appear that the manufacture of lead shot with the company ceased prior to 1907 when their own ‘shot tower’ was demolished. The rest as they say is history.
As loyal followers of the Explora blog you will have seen there is a diverse amount of hunting related items that surface from the most unlikely places. Knives are always a favourite of ours and generally the bigger the better. Take for example the two knives which a client of ours recently acquired from a house clearance in the north of England.
The first is one of the nicest hunting knives that we have seen in a long time, produced by a cutler named W.Thornhill & Co., Kensington, London. The company can be traced back to 1734 and had a very illustrious history particularly under the later leadership of Walther Thornhill whose company name is stamped upon the blade. During the golden age of empire under Queen Victoria the company offered silverware, writing boxes, dressing cases and other luxury goods, exhibiting at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Paris Exposition of 1855, International Exhibition of 1862 and Paris Exposition of 1878. In 1885 the company was awarded the Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria.
This particular drop point knife, the ‘Graham’ is still in fabulous condition with all the original accoutrements, including scissors, boot hook, corkscrew, scalpel, tweezers and pick. The quality of workmanship is really superb when you look at the detail on the spine of the blade which can almost be described as scallop back. The knife comes in a pigskin sheath with beautifully made silver fittings. Sadly the business of W.Thornhill & Co. ceased trading in 1912 which is a genuine shame considering the quality of the work.
Our second knife is a very large folder made by Holtzapffel & Co, of Haymarket, London. With its 6″ blade it very clearly was not intended as your casual pocket knife but certainly the knife of a serious hunter. The quality once again is superb and the address would date it at between 1907 – 1930. The nickel silver pivoting guard which is pinned through the rear of the blade is a really nice touch as are the ivory grips and carved bolsters.
Regrettably no history of the original owner could be found which is a real shame as we are sure there would be some great stories to tell!
Whilst the shooting season may well be behind us now it is always nice to be finishing guns with a view to the coming season which for many is only 6 months away! The pair of guns shown here will certainly be one of the first pairs put to good use when the grouse season starts.
These 16g guns are built with 30″ barrels on our hand detachable lock action with traditional full scroll engraving, case colour hardening, double trigger and Prince of Wales grips. The slim beaver-tail forends are an unusual choice on a pair of guns for the British shooting scene, such forends found more commonly on guns built for the US market. That said the new owner shoots big days and is a big man so the extra surface area of the beaver-tail should make for comfortable grip on a hot peg!
Presented in our dark tan lightweight leather case with tools and gold leaf leather label, they make for a wonderful package which the new owner will have years of fun using. Hopefully the grouse numbers this year will be kind to him!
Whilst we are best known for our hand detachable lock (droplock) shotguns which are the mainstay of our shotgun production, it is always nice to see our sidelock side by side shotgun pass through the factory. At present we have several pairs of 12g, a trio of 16g, several 20g and a 28g passing through the works.
Our sidelock shotgun is built on a round body action with assisted opening, Southgate ejector work and exhibition walnut as standard. We offer both pinned and pinless locks with the majority of exhibition grade guns now moving towards pinless so that the engraving is uninterrupted.
Here we have a lovely pair of 12g guns with elaborate relief scroll, carved fences and traditional game bird scenes. The rounded lines of the guns lend themselves to a wrap around format of engraving that is certainly very elegant and keeps everything flowing. The wood is once again outstanding, another signature feature of Westley Richards best guns and rifles.
When it comes to shotgun shooting, eye dominance plays a pivotal role in the shooter’s success and can totally change the style in which you shoot or the gun you use. There are various types of eye dominance and some weird and wonderful ways to deal with them. For the lucky ones, we have absolute dominance of the eye looking down the rib, in my case right handed – right eye dominant. No action needed. For the nearly lucky ones, they have predominant dominance, meaning one eye is nearly but not quite fully dominant, this normally doesn’t cause any problems with the right amount of cast on the gun but some people need to squint the weaker eye so the other becomes fully dominant. For the not so lucky, these are the ones with true cross dominance, i.e. right handed but left eye dominant or vice versa. Actually quite common and there are a few remedies such as a squinting/closing the opposite eye, use a full cross over/eyed gun or, depending how ambidextrous you are, shoot from the other shoulder. Easier said than done! Intermittent or occasional cross dominance can be caused by poor focus or bad gun mounting and indeterminate dominance is when both eyes are fighting for control. Lastly we have central vision, where neither eye is dominant, so to combat this either put a patch on the opposite eye or shoot a central vision gun. Although every gun is different, normal cast measurements for a central vision or sometimes known as a semi cross over gun are: 1/2” at the comb, 7/8″ at the face, 3/4″ at the heel and 7/8” at the toe. The stock is often swept at the face to allow the head to move over further to create the central vision down the rib without the cast at heel being too dramatic. If you have absolute eye dominance it is certainly a bizarre sight picture when mounting a central vision gun but you have to admire the skill in the stocking and the ingenuity to overcome this, what I can only imagine, quite an annoying eye dominance to have. But I have no doubt the well-seasoned central vision shooter can shoot as good as any other eye dominance and I should imagine it would be quite fun to watch!
Recently through the WR doors came this interesting pair of Westley Richards 12g sidelock ejectors with central vision stocks. Completed in 1962 they have 26” barrels with double trigger, Holland style hand detachable, sidelock actions engraved with a large floral scroll. The dark, well figured stocks measure 14 3/4” to the centre of the butt and are cast off 9/16″ at the comb 3/4″ at the face, 15/16″ at the heel and 15/16″ at the toe. The guns are in overall very good condition and will be on our used gun site shortly. I’m sure there is a central vision shooter out there, somewhere!
Stocker, Keith Haynes, taking detailed cast measurements.
It’s rare to have central vision or cross eyed stocks on new guns these days but it certainly was much more common place between wars and for those of you who have been to the factory, you will remember the painting we have on the stairs of Colonel H.H. Shri Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, an esteemed cricketer who played for England and was said to be one of the best batsman of all time, standing proudly with two shot lions and a cross eyed stock double rifle. From the research done several years ago, we assume that the rifle in the painting is his Holland & Holland .240 cross eyed stock double rifle, which he ordered in 1922.
New in this week from engraving is another of our traditional hand detachable lock double rifles in .500 3″ NE. This particular rifle has been built on a heavyweight frame as the client requested that the rifle weigh close to 12lb 8ozs on completion. Aesthetically the additional size at the breach ends makes for a nice sweep in the barrels which will become more evident once the rifle is finished.
Engraving wise we have another variation on our traditional ‘house’ scroll. In this instance the fences have been carved with a design that complements the scroll very well. The game scene of a mean old looking buffalo combines carving with fine detailing, as opposed to the more rounded carving of animals you get to see, which often lacks lifelike details. There is a nice perception of distance with the scene that should be highlighted more when the cover plate is blacked in the traditional manner.
We are looking forward to getting this one completed and out to the hunting field this year where with a bit of luck it will take a big buffalo or two!