A quick update on the little .410 droplock which has featured in a few posts recently. The final stage has arrived and the gun is assembled after case colour hardening. Shot and tested, the barrels will now go to the barrel blackers after a final polish. On return in a few weeks it will be final fitted in a VC case and then off to the USA to do the job it was made for – giving pleasure – busting clays – hunting quail! We sincerely hope it will do each of these equally well!
Another of our increasingly popular Take Down rifles was completed this past week. This deluxe grade sporting rifle, with stunning wood, was built for use primarily in Europe in the ever popular 9.3 x 62 calibre. The rifle is cased in one of our oak case frames covered in elephant hide, lined with red bookbinding goatskin and fitted with horn handled tooling. The rifle is engraved by Frederique Lepinois.
Most people think that hunting is all about killing the game that the hunter is pursuing. That is part of it, but it is a small part, a segment of the overall experience. Being in the bush enjoying nature and the animals makes one feel truly alive, the planning and anticipation of the hunt is equally as exciting. As one prepares for the hunt, equipment is decided upon and for the rifle hunter, a proper firearm is chosen for the job at hand.
I had my May 2016 safari to South Africa all planned in 2015 with my PH Eugene Small, I was taking my Westley Richards .476 double and .318 magazine rifle to use for the game to be hunted. Then at the Antique Arms Show in Las Vegas this January I stumbled into the find of my lifetime, Fredrick Courteney Selous’ Westley Richards takedown .425 magazine rifle. With the help of Simon Clode at this show the rifle is now in my Westley Richards collection. Whoever else has been the caretaker for the past 104 years has taken excellent care of the rifle, the bore is near mint and the exterior is original with minor wear. A truly beautiful piece.
To describe the rifle, it is a Best Quality takedown magazine rifle. It has the patent 5 shot drop magazine, patent use number 35, with floorplate lever to open, patent foresight with hood protector, island rear sight with one standing, four folding leaves. The bore is mint and the barrel is 24”. The checkered stock has a cheek piece for right hand shooter, blank silver initial shield and a horn forend tip. The stock is fitted with a steel grip cap and steel butt plate with cleaning rod trap. It has sling eyes on the barrel and butt stock for the hooked swivels.
I would like to propose a theory, from documentation and records read, on the legend of the .425 rifle and of Mr. Selous. He bought the rifle to take on safari in British East Africa [Kenya] with his friend W. N. MacMillan. It would appear he picked it out from the Westley Richards shop inventory in Bond Street London, and tested it at Hendon, Westley Richards shooting grounds, on October 17th, 1911. This is confirmed by the sales ledger page and states “he was very pleased with it and used 5 cartridges only”. He left for Africa in January 1912 and as the story goes he received the rifle an hour before he was to leave, not wanting to take an untested rifle he went upstairs and proceeded to shoot at the neighbor’s chimney. Pleased with the group he cleaned and repacked the rifle and was off to Africa where he shot Rhinoceros and Cape buffalo with it.
Most .425s came with a 28” barrel. With Mr. Selous being a very experienced hunter one would imagine he might think that a 28” barrel would be a bit long for the bush. I believe the delay in getting the rifle was due to having the barrel cut to 24”. The sling eye on the barrel appears to be in a position for a longer barrel. With this theory in mind I must say that the rifle is one of the most comfortable rifles to carry and shoot that I have ever used. It’s balance and fit make it a joy to shoot and hunt with. If Mr. Selous did have it cut he sure knew what he was doing. It is truly a hunter’s rifle.
Everyone that found out about the rifle said that I should take it with me on safari this year. So plans were changed, the .318 stayed at home and the .425 was prepared once again to return to Africa. The .476 was the main rifle for Big Game and the plan was to use the .425 to hunt for a big Eland bull. The reason being that during reading about Mr. Selous in the build up to the Safari I learned he wanted to go back to Africa to hunt Giant Eland after his 1912 safari where he first used the .425. Fate and WWI intervened, the rest is history.
In May of this year I was back on safari in South Africa. After completing my quest with the .476 all efforts were turned to hunting Eland with the .425. This was one of the highlights of the safari. To think that you were carrying and hunting with a rifle that was once owned and used by Mr. Selous makes one take pause. It is a magnificent example of the quality that Westley Richards produced in the early 1900s. and It should be noted that that this tradition is carried on to this day. My .476 attests to the fact.
Did I get the Eland of quest? No. We hunted hard for Eland and other plains game, but the bush was very thick this year and with many great stalks, with the .425 in hand we just could not connect with the Eland. Then the last hour of the last day the rifle was use to collect a very large Kudu bull while being backed up by my secondary PH Attie Diedericks. Friends that have seen pictures of the Kudu all ask how big it was, my answer is, “I never thought of measuring it, the pure joy of the experience was using Mr. Selous’ Westley Richards .425”. What a memorable experience it was.
Sharing with other hunters was also a joy of this adventure. At the end of my safari a game capture was setup in the area, some friends of my PHs were helping with this operation. They had all heard about the ‘Selous rifle’ and were eager to see and hopefully hold it. As it was passed around and pictures taken it was a great feeling to think that this rifle brought so much pleasure to these seasoned South African hunters. After all, it was South Africa where Mr. Selous started his lifelong adventure in 1871.
My sincere thanks to Keith for submitting this article and ‘rubbing in’ how I missed this rifle at Las Vegas! It certainly could not have gone to a better and more enthusiastic Westley Richards home and I am so glad, that within months, it has been back to Africa where it belongs!
I should be saving this picture for maximum impact, when the rifle is complete, but I can’t resist and the final photographs will be better anyway I hope. For various reasons I have decided to post the photos as they come from the camera, it shows the process of the rifle completion and the subtle changes that will occur over the next month. Barrel black, patination and detailing of engraving, finish of stock and of course casing, which is where the rifle heads tomorrow for its ‘first fitting’.
This photograph shows the detailed stock inlays of gold and silver and also shows a hint of the dancing impala on the barrels. A heavy protective coat of lacquer has altered the colour of the action and inlays, this is essential during the handling of the rifle whilst we complete the work, protecting the case colours and everything from damage. Once the rifle is fully assembled and functioning the barrels will go for blacking, the action lacquer stripped off and the inlays will be finished to final patination colouration.
I thought that having proved so popular in the previous post, I should show the new sling we have made ‘in situ’ on a vintage rifle, another of the old nails from my safe as one of our regular readers and commentators calls them! The ‘nail’ being my signal for “I want this rifle from your safe”! When it becomes “a rusty old nail” he wants it bad!
So here is my favourite .318 from our collection, a model deluxe in really super condition, not an elaborate rifle but rather a quite plain rifle with some scroll engraving and the beautiful carved ‘Fleur de Lys” checker panels. A perfect, simple and elegant sporting rifle in the classic and most effective Westley Richards .318 calibre. A very rusty old nail I believe!
Thank you to all who have ordered the new sling, this will go into production next week and be despatched accordingly. We will price and confirm orders once we have details. Thank you for your patience. Please contact us if you would like to add your order to email@example.com
In early 2014 I ordered a pair of boots in Bozeman at the shop of custom maker Tony English who had moved, as it turned out ‘temporarily’, next to the Hat Shop I have used now on four occasions. I have had safari and other custom hats made and always very pleased with the result, the company is Rocky Mountain Hats run by the father and son team of John Morris Snr. & Jnr.
The boots just arrived 2 years later and it made me think, I always have a lot of people say ‘2 years’ to make a gun, that is so long, why? So here in one photograph, waiting for an impending trip to USA and getting acclimatised in the new boots, is my pair of guns which take 2 years to build, the pair of boots which took 2 years to build and a carved walking stick which took at least 2 years to get! So we are not the only ones!!
This particular gun, with the unusual looking detachable locks, has surfaced on about 3 occasions in my career here, it is one of very few assisted opening hand detachable lock guns we made. If a gunmaker makes ‘a few’ there is normally good reason but I am not going to be the one to own up, or admit what that reason may be! The technical people amongst the readers can draw their own conclusions, Vic Venters can possibly elaborate and I seriously considered sending him the photos with a request ‘can you do a technical description of how this works’!
However I decided to present the locks to 3 of my gunmakers this afternoon, firstly to disassemble and clean so I could take some photos, I also asked if they would mind writing a technical description of how they worked, a challenge they embraced and for which they stayed behind late this evening in order for me to complete this post. I am grateful for both their interest in figuring it all out and the enthusiasm to do so!
When the gun is closed, it is in the fully cocked position. When the trigger gets pulled it lifts the sear out of bent which allows the hammer to fire forward (firing the gun) which in turn takes the mainspring into its semi cocked position, as the bottom of the mainspring comes lower. The forward movement of the hammer pushes the ‘ejector trip rod’ forward and engages the ejector work.
Opening the Gun.
When the gun gets opened the barrels are forced open by the pivoting action of the ‘dog’ under pressure from the ‘assisted opening limb’ and the power of the ‘mainspring’. When the gun reaches full opening the hammer returns to the cocked position, so in ‘bent’ and the ‘ejector trip rod’ fires the ejector work so ejecting the spent case. The gun is now in a half cocked position (as shown in the lock above).
Closing the Gun.
As the barrels are closed the ‘assisted opening limb’ brings the mainspring into the fully cocked position. This pivoting action returns the bottom half of the mainspring to its original position while the top half moves higher creating the assisted opening.
This is one of those gunmaking oddities, practically a one off, that just happens to still be in use to this day, it was never a practical idea to put into production. I am sure it would have been the companies reaction to the Purdey and Holland self openers.
My thanks to Sam, Stuart and Josef for working this out and all intelligent questions will be passed to them… I end this confused!
When making a rifle like this there are for me certain periods of anxiety. The first is when the engraving is completed, in this case after over a years dedicated work by Paul Lantuch, and the gun has to be shipped across the Atlantic and entrusted to brokers, customs and airline handling. An anxious few days – will it arrive.
The second, possibly worse period is when the rifle has been prepared for hardening and leaves our shop for the careful hands of Richard St Ledger and the case colour hardening process. At this point I loose all control and I have been called a control freak on more than one occasion!
I am not sure how long the rifle has been at the St Ledger shop but for me it has seemed forever, months, it has probably only been weeks.
Case hardening a rifle with this level of embellishment is a huge responsibility, so of course it is going to take time. Time to understand all the different alloys that have been used for the rifle, time to prepare the work carefully and time to consider how to pack in the charcoal, the heat, the length in heat all the other mysteries of case colour hardening. On my end anxious days thinking will the colour work, will all the alloys stay in and whatever other drama I can think up in my mind awaiting the return!
Yesterday evening I was able to breath a huge sigh of relief, the work returned and I was able to slowly unpack the parts and see the results of St Ledgers work. I can honestly say I had a grin wider than a cheshire cat as I unpacked the parts and saw the magnificent colours that had been achieved for the background of the rifle. A truly spectacular job and I show it below in a raw, lightly oiled state. This is done as next step is to patinate the alloys and refine the gold work prior to sealing in lacquer for protection.
My Sincere thanks to Richard St Ledger for such a magnificent job. One that these shots don’t do justice to but I hope future ones will!
Discussion from the recent post on the choice of 28g versus Single shot have been lively and one point which was raised was the size of the single shot I placed with the 28g droplock. To throw another choice ‘in the pot’ I have now photographed the only 2 single shot rifles ( which will be remaining here also!!) I have here together, a wonderful little rook rifle that I have shown before and the .360 from the previous photograph with the 28g.
Hopefully the advice will continue to flow in!