In the Wilds of Scotland

Wilderness – noun – definition – an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.
On our small island that we call home, there are few, if any places you can truly call a wilderness. The cities and towns are forever expanding into the countryside with the government’s relentless obsession of building thousands of houses on productive farmland, the dog walkers who see the woodlands as an extension of their garden for their beloved pooch to run riot wherever it so chooses and not forgetting the ramblers who exercise their ‘right to roam’ as if their lives depended on it. For the game, and those of us who chose to pursue it, we’re coming into contact with other people more than ever.

However in saying that, the Scottish Highlands is, in my opinion, our last true wilderness and one that befits its definition. Uncultivated – definitely, uninhabited – mostly, inhospitable – more often than not. An area and landscape that should need no introduction, it still offers a truly wild hunting experience for those who wish to escape the crowd, be surrounded by utter beauty and work hard for their trophy.

My latest hunt took me to a remote and central part of the highlands where my friend from college is the head stalker on a 20,000 acre hunting estate. The vast open hills, lochs, rivers and forests make up this sporting paradise where the Red Stag is king, or monarch of the glen as he’s more famously known. The enchanting hills are steeped in Scottish history and folklore, once home to hardy and violent clans such as the Robertsons, Macdonalds and Campbells, they have in recent history been made famous by the location for films such as Harry Potter and was the setting for the dramatic finale to the James Bond film, Skyfall.

The stalk is a hard one, the terrain is difficult to traverse, the hills are steep and the weather is often miserable, but that’s what I love about it. You have to put in the hard yards and be willing to graft for your game. The sodden ground is energy sapping and the peat hags that crisscross the moor are an obstacle course in themselves.  The deer, however, can cover the ground like it’s not even there. They lie up on knowles which provide great vantage points, meaning the final approach to your chosen stag is more often than not a long and wet crawl through the soaking moss, mud and peat.

The 8 wheeled Argocat, which handles the hills like no other machine, is probably the most unpleasant vehicle to ride in but you’re certainly glad of it after a full day on your feet. It is also the means by which the game is extracted from the hill. Ponies were always traditionally the method used to get stags back to the larder but they are time consuming and often extremely stubborn. There are many stories of pony boys who have hiked miles to retrieve a stag, only for the pony to slip its lead and bolt all the way back to the stable, closely followed by a cursing, irate pony boy.

We spent the first 5 hours stalking and glassing the wide expanse, only to come across several small groups of hinds and young stags. The south west side of the glen was facing a strong and bitter wind, so we hiked over the ridge and dropped down into the sheltered corrie looking for a shootable stag.  After a further hour of bumping hinds we spotted a good stag which was bedded down on a knowle, surveying his land. The wind was right but his view spanned nearly every direction, so it took a further hour and a half of stalking and maneuvering the edge of the loch to get into a good spot from which to take the shot. The rut has just started and a few stags were jostling for dominance, sorting out who was the boss amongst them. My stag was still bedded down when a younger and better stag approached him for a challenge, upon getting to his feet, the shot presented itself and the .270 cleanly dispatched him. The stag, which was roughly 8/9 years old, was past his prime and was certainly going back, the right beast to take and a good representative of a Scottish hill stag. No match in terms of size compared with their lowland cousins due to the hard life and poor diet but every bit the worthy trophy.

For me it’s hugely important to explore, hunt and experience these wild lands. To reconnect with what it is that we enjoy and treasure about the sport. To refresh your enthusiasm for adventure and savour in the solitude of such a place that will hopefully, always remain, a wilderness.

 

Westley Richards ‘Modéle de Luxe’ .500 3″ Droplock Double Rifle

With the African hunting season well under way and members of our own team here having recently returned from their own adventures, it is great to have completed yet another droplock double rifle destined for some action in the bush.

One of the true stories behind the rifles and for that matter guns we build is the fact that they do actually get used! People often assume that these rifles end up in some private collection never to see the dust of Africa, but the reality is quite different.

Whilst recent years has seen a proliferation of fancy rifles, Westley Richards heritage is based on building rifles that do the business when the chips are down. This particular rifle has a game scene that perhaps harks back to yesteryear, yet is as relevant today in rifles such as this .500 3″ nitro express.

Super vivid case colour hardening adds greatly to the deluxe relief scroll.  

Many a story filters back to the factory of how a charge was stopped or a serious incident averted by the swift handling and serious firepower packed in the twin barrels of a Westley Richards double rifle. The double rifle is considered by many the ultimate weapon of choice for the hunting of dangerous game and has stood the test of time since the first heavy breech loading black-powder bore rifles of the late 1800’s.

We very much hope that this rifle begins its own series of tales over the coming years and that we remember why such rifles are considered the pinnacle of gun making.

For some hunters a nightmare, for others the day they dreamed of!!!!! 

Full case colour hardening of all the metal components lends a touch of uniqueness to the finish of this rifle.

Stunning walnut as always!

Cased extra hand detachable locks – a typical addition with droplock double rifles.

A One-Owner .410 ‘Royal’ Holland & Holland

  A Holland & Holland .410 bore The “Royal” Model bar action sidelock ejector finished in 1964 and displaying all the hallmark patent features of Henry Holland’s collaborative designs.

A wonderful little gun recently showed up at the U.S. Agency, a Holland & Holland The’Royal’ Model in .410 bore. Finished in 1964, this gun was acquired from the family of the original owner and it remains in original, as new condition.

Henry Holland was apprenticed to his uncle Harris Holland in 1860 and by 1876 the two formed a partnership creating the firm “Holland & Holland”.  Among the firm’s fifty-one patents, it is Henry Holland’s ‘Royal’ model sidelock ejector, Holland’s flagship hammerless double gun or rifle, that remains one of the main reasons guns from this maker are among the most sought after in the World. I would also venture to say, it is most likely a Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ that pops in your head when you think of a sidelock shotgun. The ubiquitous design is used on the best guns offered from makers in England, Spain, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey all the way to Japan and it remains the most copied sidelock action design in history.

   A 1901 Holland & Holland advert from The Badminton Magazine  

  A best quality Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ stocked with a long LOP over a thin leather recoil pad. The stock oval still retains the initials of the original owner “JFT”.

Today best quality shotguns in .410 bore and 28 bore are in high demand worldwide by both collectors and shooters but this is a relatively new phenomenon. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the rapid development of hammerless breach loading gun designs in England was largely fuelled by the sport of shooting driven birds. Shooters were looking to fill big game bags and a pair of 12g guns became the standard for most shooters. While they may have been a bit less effective knocking down a late season pheasant, the smallest bore sizes like the 28 and .410 were considered more appropriate for women or youngsters. As a result these bore sizes are most often encountered as trade made, lesser quality guns with smaller, youth sized stock dimensions.

However, discriminating American hunters preferred the smaller bore sizes for North America’s smaller game birds such as grouse, woodcock and quail. Moreover, the small-bore guns with shorter barrels and lighter weights lend themselves to the American style of walk up shooting over dogs that often occurs in heavy cover. Between the two World wars, the American’s start to fill the English gun maker’s books and a trend emerges of English guns being made in more “American” configurations. By the time gun making resumes in England after World War II, the U.S. had become the biggest market in the World for sporting arms and as a result, the English made guns we encounter from the post-war era reflect this heavy influence of “American” preferences.

That said, while there was an increase in the demand for small bore guns and, as a result, an increase in their production, they remain quite rare, especially in a best quality gun.

This .410 bore is fitted with all of Holland’s hallmark patent features such as hand detachable locks, single trigger, ejectors, self-opening mechanism and the house style ‘Royal’ engraving. In addition, the size of the action is wonderfully filed and scaled, the engraving is beautifully cut and the fit and finish is superb. This is a best quality Holland in every respect.

The ‘Royal’ was originally introduced in 1883 by Henry Holland and John Robertson. Holland’s patent single selective trigger design, arguably one of the finest in the English gun trade, was finalized in 1897. In 1908 the hand detachable lock, or lock plates that are removable by unwinding of the lever on the left side, was patented by Henry Holland and Thomas Woodward.

The unmistakable Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ engraving developed in the late 1890’s. 

Holland’s self-opening mechanism was patented by Henry Holland and William Mansfield in 1922.